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Guatemalan genocide got assist from US, Christian Right, and Israel

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The conviction of Rios Montt for genocide in Guatemala during his short rule (1982-1983) has brought that episode back into the news. The death toll during the Guatemalan civil war was estimated at 200,000 by a UN commission, with the overwhelming majority of these casualties (93 percent) committed by the army, though only a portion during the reign of Rios Montt. The record is one of mass slaughter, mass rape, and possibly the worst human rights violation in the Western Hemisphere in the last 50 years.
As anyone who followed human rights issues back then knows, the Reagan Administration supported the Guatemalan regime, with Reagan personally defending the dictator, claiming that he had “great personal integrity and commitment.” Elliott Abrams also claimed that the human rights situation was improving–precisely when it was at its worst.
The Guatemalan regime had many supporters–the Reagan Administration, the Christian Right, and several other countries, including Israel, Taiwan, and the fascist regimes in Argentina and Chile (see the NYT).
Politics makes strange bedfellows: the Argentinian regime was notoriously anti-semitic, and yet Israel and Argentina both played a role in supporting the murderous rightwing forces in Central America.  Israel supported Somoza*  and the contras,  and notably, the Guatemalan military.  
The history here seems to support the notion that during the Cold War Israel did serve as a “useful” ally to the US, if one considers military aid to some of our most murderous allies “useful”. 

*For Somoza: (“Our Own Backyard: The US in Central America, 1977-1992 ” by William LeoGrande, page 24)

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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20 Responses

  1. marc b. on May 18, 2013, 11:46 am

    i had previously linked to a great article by cheryl rubenberg of the middle east research and information project detailing israel’s military role in guatamala and the genocide there.

    central america has been one of the sites for neoliberal laboratories for social and economic innovation. see also honduras, with its recently aborted experiment in the 21st century ‘company town’, rationalized of course with high-tech, entreprenurial mumbo jumbo.

  2. Ecru on May 18, 2013, 11:54 am

    This is all par for the course for Zionists. They fought tooth and nail for the world to agree that only Jews really suffered during WWII, irrespective of all the other victims of Nazism, denied the Armenian Genocide (until they got upset with Turkey) and supported South Africa’s oppression of the native majority.

    To a Zionist it can’t be genocide if the victims aren’t Jewish.
    To a Zionist it can’t be a crime unless the victim’s Jewish.
    To a Zionist there’s no such thing as a Crime Against Humanity, just Crimes Against Jews.

    And that includes the “Liberal” Zionists.

    Now I wonder if Guatemalan’s start kidnapping Israelis involved in these heinous acts and putting them on trial – how will the Zionists respond. Cries of anti-semitism no doubt.

    • Daniel Rich on May 18, 2013, 4:32 pm

      @ Ecru,

      How to spot a ‘liberal zionist’ in a car.

      Blinker to the left, when time to move, turn to the right.

      • Sumud on May 18, 2013, 10:53 pm

        How to spot a ‘liberal zionist’ in a car.

        Blinker to the left, when time to move, turn to the right.

        Very good. Applies to Obama also…

      • Ecru on May 19, 2013, 2:40 pm

        Nicely put.

  3. Stephen Shenfield on May 18, 2013, 12:26 pm

    Israel sold plenty of arms to the “notoriously anti-Semitic” Argentinian junta. The Zionists don’t really care about anti-Semitism, and don’t even pretend to except when they can use it as a political tool. Remember that Israel owes its existence to the aid it received from another “notorious anti-Semite” — Stalin.

    • Donald on May 18, 2013, 11:39 pm

      I haven’t looked it up, but I think some neocons in the US attacked Jacobo Timmerman when he criticized the Argentinian regime as anti-semitic. Timmerman was tortured by the regime.

  4. American on May 18, 2013, 2:12 pm

    By PHILIP TAUBMAN, Special to the New York Times (The New York Times); Foreign Desk
    July 21, 1983, Thursday
    Late City Final Edition, Section A, Page 1, Column 2, 856 words

    Israel, at the request of the United States, is sending weapons captured from the Palestine Liberation Organization to Honduras for eventual use by Nicaraguan rebels, according to senior Reagan Administration officials. The arms shipments, which began recently, include artillery pieces, mortar rounds, mines, hand grenades and ammunition. They are part of an enlarged Israeli role in Central America that was encouraged by the United States as a way of supplementing American military aid to friendly governments and supporting insurgent operations against the Nicaraguan Government, the officials said. Israel’s coordination with the Americans marks a departure from its previous activities in Central America as an independent supplier of arms. The new role brings Israel closer to acting as a surrogate for the United States.’’

    Hum….I know the US part but I’am not getting the point or import of the NYT article above except it appears to push the idea that faithful ally Isr was being the US errand boy and it was‘donating” weapons captured from those nasty PLO boys to the CIA cause…LOL. We already know that Isr was involved in the hairbrain US scheme to arm the Contras cause US thought the Sandinistas were communist……what ended in the illegal and covert Iran Contra scandal starring Elliot Abrams and Oliver North. There is hardly a US operation of this type (meddling) that when you go thru it, beginning to end, doesn’t look like a bunch of teenage boys out of school for the summer who came up with a ‘super project’ to entertain themselves and ended up setting fire to several houses in the neighborhood.

    Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

    Late 1984: Neoconservative Lands Position at NSC, Suggests Israel Might Help Free US Hostages

    Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel (see 1983), gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon” (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance.

    Trip down lran Contra memory lane:

    Nicaragua 1982
    Beginning in the early 1980s, the Reagan administration gave arms, money, and equipment to the Contras. The CIA gave $50,000 to training and arming the Contras in 1981. The CIA took out operations of their own: in 1982, a CIA trained team blew up two bridges in Nicaragua. The United States saw the Sandinistas as Communists, and felt the need to stop them. The United States’ Congress viewed the Reagan Administration’s anti-Sandinista policies with extreme skepticism. Their efforts resulted in passage of an amendment in late 1982 introduced by Representative Edward P. Boland to the Fiscal Year 1983 Defense Appropriations bill. This first of a series of Boland Amendments prohibited the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the principal conduit of covert American support to the Contras, from spending any money “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.”[1]

    The majority report stated, ” The Central Intelligence Agency was the U.S. Government agency that assisted the contras. In accordance with Presidential decisions, known as findings, and with funds appropriated by Congress, the C.I.A. armed, clothed, fed and supervised the contras. Despite this assistance, the contras failed to win widespread popular support of military victories within Nicaragua.” After the Boland Amendments were passed, however, CIA no longer supported the contras.[2]

    Nicaragua 1984
    Reagan’s posture towards the Sandinista government was highly controversial. His Administration definitely circumvented the Boland Amendment, although it is not clear what he personally knew and ordered, and what was done in his name by White House staff and the then-DCI, William Casey.

    A number of actions were taken by National Security Council staff, actions that the Boland Amendments had forbidden to the CIA. While the CIA, as an organization, was not allowed to act in this manner, Director of Central Intelligence William Casey took part in White House/NSC discussions and actions to follow the Reagan policy.

    The NSC staff’s efforts to assist the contras in the wake of Congress’s withdrawal of funding took many forms. Initially it meant extending its earlier initiative to increase third-country contributions to the contras. Casey and McFarlane broached the subject of such funding at a June 25, 1984, meeting of the National Security Planning Group (NSPG), consisting of the President, Vice President Bush, Casey, (National Security Advisor) Robert McFarlane, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Vessey, and presidential adviser Edwin Meese III. Shultz warned that any approach to a third country could be viewed as an “impeachable offense”, and convinced the group that it needed a legal opinion from Attorney General William French Smith. McFarlane agreed and told the group not to approach any foreign country until the opinion was delivered. McFarlane said nothing about what he already had obtained from the Saudis.

    Questions arose as to the propriety of certain actions taken by the National Security Council staff and the manner in which the decision to transfer arms to Iran had been made. Congress was never informed. A variety of intermediaries, both private and governmental, some with motives open to question, had central roles. The N.S.C. staff rather than the C.I.A. seemed to be running the operation. The President appeared to be unaware of key elements of the operation. The controversy threatened a crisis of confidence in the manner in which national security decisions are made and the role played by the N.S.C. staff.

    As a supplement to the normal N.S.C. process, the Reagan Administration adopted comprehensive procedures for covert actions. These are contained in a classified document, NSDD-159, establishing the process for deciding, implementing, monitoring, and reviewing covert activities.[3]

    After the Boland Amendment was enacted, it became illegal under U.S. law to fund the Contras; National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Deputy National Security Adviser Admiral John Poindexter, National Security Council staffer Col. Oliver North and others continued an illegal operation to fund the Contras, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal. At that point, members of the National Security Council staff continued covert operations forbidden to the CIA.’’

  5. lysias on May 18, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Gen. Videla, head of the Argentinian junta, just died in jail. His obituary is in today’s Washington Post.

  6. seafoid on May 18, 2013, 4:55 pm

    Israel will sell arms and expertise essentially anywhere there is money.
    Most controversies coming out of trade with war zones like DRC will usually have an Israeli fixer in the middle.

    Which brings me onto kidney transplants in Israel which are often organised by Israeli fixers (because kidney transplants are abhorrent under Orthodox Judaism) between clients paying $100K+ and donors from poor countries who may get as little as $1K.

  7. riyadh on May 18, 2013, 5:05 pm

    You are considerably understating the support Israel gave to Rios Montt. He once told ABC News that the success of his anti-leftist operations was due to the fact that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis.”

    • Donald on May 18, 2013, 11:33 pm

      “You are considerably understating the support Israel gave to Rios Montt.”

      Sigh. I wrote a very short piece pointing out the connection between the Guatemalan genocide and Israel and provided the exact same link you provide, along with other links that flesh things out more.

  8. DICKERSON3870 on May 18, 2013, 6:42 pm

    RE: “Elliott Abrams . . . claimed that the human rights situation [in Guatemala] was improving–precisely when it was at its worst. . . The Guatemalan regime had many supporters–the Reagan Administration, the Christian Right, and several other countries, including Israel . . .” ~ Donald Johnson

    MY COMMENT: Elliott Abrams, the Christian (Fundamentalist) Right and Israel (including Israel’s American supporters like AIPAC, ZOA, CUFI, etc.) are “as thick as thieves” (to say the least, as we like to say “down here” in “these here parts”)! ! !

    • DICKERSON3870 on May 18, 2013, 7:01 pm

      P.S. SEE: “Elliott Abrams’ Dark History in Latin America and the Struggle for Justice”, Written by Cyril Mychalejko, , 2/03/12

      [EXCERPTS] Elliott Abrams, a former high level State Department official during the 1980s, testified last week that the Reagan administration knew that Argentina’s military junta was systematically stealing babies from murdered and jailed democracy activists and giving them to right-wing families friendly to the regime.
      In a meeting with the Junta’s ambassador in Washington on December 3, 1982, Abrams suggested that the dictatorship could “improve its image” by creating a process with the Catholic Church of returning the children, some of whom were born in secret torture chambers, to their legitimate families. . .
      . . . Meanwhile, Argentina isn’t the only Latin American country facing its bloody past—and Abrams played a role in these state atrocities as well.
      In Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt is standing trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. [He was just recently convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. – J.L.D.] Rios Montt, an evangelical* general who ruled Guatemala in 1982-83 after seizing power through a military coup, was a close ally of Washington who received training at the infamous “School of the Americas”. He is accused of being responsible for “1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans.”
      Reagan, with Abrams’ assistance, not only covered up, but aided and abetted war crimes and genocide in Guatemala. . .
      . . . In another recent instance, El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes apologized and asked for forgiveness for the 1981 El Mozote massacre where the Atlacatl battalion, a notorious US-trained death squad, killed as many as 1,000 people. Like in Guatemala and Argentina, Reagan with Abrams’ help simultaneously armed and covered-up the human rights abuses in El Salvador. The country endured a 12-year civil war which left some 70,000 people dead, with the Reagan-backed government and paramilitaries believed to be responsible for over 90 percent of the deaths. In 1993 when Congress planned to investigate the Reagan administration’s role in human rights abuses in El Salvador an indignant Abrams’ called it “a reprehensible McCarthyite charge,” while also saying that, “The Administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.”
      Unfortunately, as Latin America seeks to reconcile with its unsavory past in order to forge a more just and humane future, the United States blindly barrels on—never looking back. The US media is missing an excellent opportunity to use Abrams’ career as a vehicle to examine and reflect on the United States’ bloody and barbaric history in the hemisphere. One could even argue that there should be a Truth Commission in the United States. Yet it is because of this willful ignorance and institutionalized impunity that diplomats such as Abrams, who the ‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ in a rare moment of editorial clarity in 2001 described as a “deceitful, scheming coddler of Latin American tyrants” and “uncontrite peddler of lies,” can continue to resurface in Washington as a national security council member to President George W. Bush and as an informal adviser to president Barack Obama. . .


      * FROM WIKIPEDIA [Efraín Ríos Montt]:

      [EXCERPT] . . . In 1978, he [Efraín Ríos Montt] left the Roman Catholic Church and became a minister in the California-based evangelical/Pentecostal Church of the Word;[15] since then Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have been personal friends. . .

      SOURCE –

  9. Rudolph on May 18, 2013, 6:43 pm

    The following piece of information results in absolute disbelief when told to “properly educated” Westerners:
    “In the Cambridge History of the Cold War, John Coatsworth [a historian of Latin America and the provost of Columbia University] recalls that from 1960 [by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin’s gulags] to ‘the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.’ But being nonatrocities [since committed by US-supported regimes], these crimes, substantially traceable to U.S. intervention, didn’t inspire a human-rights crusade.” link to

    The above is important to understand because what is often reported as aberrations in US foreign policy concerning “non-Whites” (Vietnam, Abu Ghraib, etc.) are not aberrations.

    • Rudolph on May 18, 2013, 7:19 pm

      I should have added the following to my above comment: With respect to Guatemala, Israeli political leaders were just following orders from their American bosses. However, the Israeli leaders surely knew that “just following orders” is not an acceptable defense for war crimes.

  10. munro on May 19, 2013, 10:31 am

    The Life and Times of America’s Banana King
    In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup d’état in Guatemala that was more ruse than revolution. Agents transmitted fake newscasts of a right-wing uprising, dropped smoke bombs on Guatemala City, and sent a 39-year-old ex-colonel named Carlos Castillo Armas to invade the country with a band of 400 mercenaries. That the operation succeeded in ousting Guatemala’s democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, was a surprise. That the CIA itself had been manipulated was a catastrophe.

    Behind the ruse-within-a-ruse was the most powerful man in Central America, banana salesman Samuel Zemurray, the subject of Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate the Whale. Zemurray epitomized the gumption it takes to rise from the depths of poverty to great heights. But his story is also a lesson in what it means for a business to have too much power.

    How Gabriel Garcia Marquez Brought Down Samuel Zemurray, the Banana King

    Zemurray overthrew the sovereign government of Honduras (in 1911), possibly had Huey Long killed, leveraged the United Nations votes needed from Central and South America to pass Resolution 181 (which acknowledged Israel’s independence) and overthrew the sovereign government of Guatemala (in 1954), unintentionally inspiring Che Guevara and Fidel Castro to communist revolution.

  11. NoMoreIsrael on May 19, 2013, 7:48 pm

    Not only was there no accountability for US-Israeli crimes against humanity in Central America, the psychotic murder-torture squad employed in El Salvador was shipped to Iraq to carry on their abominations–specifically, Col James Steele under the direction of Gen David Petraeus. When we were reading of 3000 bodies a month showing up on the streets of Baghdad bearing horrific signs of torture (including drill holes through their skulls) this was all courtesy the United States.

  12. eljay on May 19, 2013, 10:28 pm

    >> When we were reading of 3000 bodies a month showing up on the streets of Baghdad bearing horrific signs of torture … this was all courtesy the United States.

    We think the price was worth it.

  13. Talkback on May 20, 2013, 4:26 am

    “The Guatemalan regime had many supporters–the Reagan Administration, the Christian Right, and several other countries, including Israel, Taiwan, and the fascist regimes in Argentina and Chile (see the NYT).”

    Axis of … you know.

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