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What we're up against (lessons from Guatemala)

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There are many battles being fought in the name of social justice...some more pitched than others. In general, however, these struggles do not result in victory thanks to a petition, a candlelight vigil, or a ballot pull. In other words, those seeking peace, justice, and solidarity should never underestimate the relentless and brutal power of what they are up against. I am reminded of this every time I re-read Bridge of Courage: Life Stories of the Guatemalan Compañeros and Compañeras," (Common Courage Press, 1995) an amazing book by Jennifer Harbury. Guatemala (a nation perched on the border of Chiapas, Mexico) is an easy place to overlook. Therefore, if we were to trust the corporate media, our knowledge would be limited to ill-informed, racist diatribes like this from Clifford Krauss of The New York Times (April 9, 1995): "Guatemala required neither Karl Marx nor the Central Intelligence Agency to be consumed by class and ethnic war, and ... The Guatemalan army, currently in the news because some of its officers received secret CIA payments, is essentially finishing the job that the conquistadors started. The cross and the sword may have been replaced by modern counterinsurgency tactics, but the essential driving forces of Guatemalan history remain the same ... the fact remains that Guatemalans do not need prompting to kill one another." Krauss went on to tell of chickens "sacrificed...to...pre-Columbian gods" and "bizarre" religious cults (Krauss' tactics are indeed for those seeking to absolve the U.S. from any culpability in the wanton destruction of a people). While admitting CIA complicity in the 1954 coup that saw the end of Jacobo Arbenz, Krauss is quick to remind us "modern Guatemalan political history began not with the coup of 1954." He has a point. It was at a February 1945 conference that State Department Political Advisor Laurence Duggan called for "An Economic Charter of the Americas," complaining that "Latin Americans are convinced that the first beneficiaries of the development of a country's resources should be the people of that country." From this unacceptable premise, the seeds of the 1954 coup were sown, and the U.S.-sponsored results include possibly irreversible environmental devastation and upwards of 200,000 civilians killed or "disappeared." In a landslide victory, Jacobo Arbenz was freely and fairly elected president of Guatemala in 1951. Wishing to transform his country, Arbenz' modest reforms and his legalizing of the Communist Party were frowned upon in American business circles. The Arbenz government became the target of a U.S. public relations campaign. Two years after Arbenz became president, Life magazine featured a piece on his "Red" land reforms, claiming that a nation just "two hours bombing time from the Panama Canal" was "openly and diligently toiling to create a Communist state." It matters little that the USSR didn't even maintain diplomatic relations with Guatemala; the Cold War was in full effect. Ever on the lookout for that invaluable pretext, the U.S. business class scored a public relations coup when Arbenz expropriated some unused land controlled by United Fruit Company. His payment offer was predictably deemed inappropriate. "If they gave a gold piece for every banana," Secretary of State John Foster Dulles clarified, "the problem would still be Communist infiltration." The CIA put Operation Success into action. "A legally elected government was overthrown by an invasion force of mercenaries trained by the CIA at military bases in Honduras and Nicaragua and supported by four American fighter planes flown by American pilots," explains Howard Zinn. Operation Success ushered in 40 years of repression, more than 200,000 deaths, and what William Blum calls "indisputably one of the most inhumane chapters of the 20th century." These chapters could never have been written without permission from the United States and its proxies, e.g. Israel. "The Israelis may be seen as American proxies in Honduras and Guatemala," stated Israeli journalist, Yoav Karni in Yediot Ahronot. Also, Ha'aretz correspondent Gidon Samet has explained that the most important features of the U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation in the 1980s were not in the Middle East, but with Central America. "The U.S. needs Israel in Africa and Latin America, among other reasons, because of the government's difficulties in obtaining congressional authorization for its ambitious aid programs and naturally, for military actions," Gamet wrote on November 6, 1983, adding that America has "long been interested in using Israel as a pipeline for military and other aid" to Central America. Earlier that same year, Yosef Priel reported in Davar that Latin America "has become the leading market for Israeli arms exports." Who are these governments so willingly snapping up weapons manufactured in the Holy Land? One illustrative example is, yes, Guatemala. In 1981, shortly after Israel agreed to provide military aid to this oppressive regime, a Guatemalan officer had a feature article published in the army's Staff College review. In that article, the officer praised Adolf Hitler, National Socialism, and the Final Solution-quoting extensively from Mein Kampf and chalking up Hitler's anti-Semitism to the "discovery" that communism was part of a "Jewish conspiracy." Despite such seemingly incompatible ideology, Israel's estimated military assistance to Guatemala in 1982 was $90 million. What type of policies did the Guatemalan government pursue with the help they received from a nation populated with thousands of Holocaust survivors? This question brings us back to Harbury's book...a book filled with the "inhumane chapters" Blum mentions. One member of the Guatemalan resistance Harbury interviewed was Lorena and her story provides a good example of what happens in a U.S. client state (with Israeli help). Lorena's lover, a compañero named Daniel, was out with a small unit to engage Guatemalan soldiers when he was hit by enemy fire. Lorena tells what happened next: "The other compañeros ran to where Daniel had fallen and found him dying there, quiet but very clear-minded. He refused to let them try and bandage him up, telling them to first go and find the others who had a chance of surviving. The he gave away the things in his pack, the food, the blanket, his small book. He writing a note, shaken but determined, when they left him. The note was for me, but I never received it." When Lorena learned of Daniel's injuries, she and a comrade named Roberto ran to find him. "Roberto and I arrived, breathless, at the place where he had left Daniel," Lorena said, "but at first we could see nothing." When Roberto tried to shield her from looking in on particular direction, Lorena broke away to see. "Daniel was not there," she said. "His body had vanished, with his pack, his boots, his book, and the note for me. There on the ground lay only his brain, bloody and intact." Lorena concluded: "The soldiers had found Daniel first." (Aside: Can anyone imagine Americans organizing under such onerous conditions? We throw a hissy fit if someone brings more than 10 items to the supermarket express lane.) As another resistance fighter in Bridge of Courage explained: "Don't talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn't have survived a week here." Similar stories can be culled from countries throughout the region, but apparently have had little effect on the foreign policy of the U.S. or Israel. For example, when Israel faced an international arms embargo after the 1967 war, a plan to divert Belgian and Swiss arms to the Holy Land was implemented. These weapons were supposedly destined for Bolivia where they would be transported by a company managed by Klaus Barbie. As in "The Butcher of Lyon." Any moral reservations of such an arrangement are dismissed with a vague "national security" excuse that should sound familiar to any American. "The welfare of our people and the state supersedes all other considerations," pronounced Michael Schur, director of Ta'as, the Israeli state military industry in the August 23, 1983 Ha'aretz. "If the state has decided in favor of export, my conscience is clear." One Jewish figure that might be expected to find fault with such policy is Elie Wiesel. An episode from mid-1985, documented by Yoav Karni in Ha'aretz, should put to rest any exalted expectations of the revered moralist. When Wiesel received a letter from a Nobel Prize laureate documenting Israel's contributions to the atrocities in Guatemala, suggesting that he use his considerable influence to put a stop to Israel's practice of arming neo-Nazis, Wiesel "sighed" and admitted to Karni that he did not reply to that particular letter. "I usually answer at once," he explained, "but what can I answer to him?" One is left to only wonder how Wiesel's silent sigh might have been received if it was in response to a letter not about Jewish complicity in the murder of Guatemalans but instead about the function of Auschwitz during the 40s. In 1951, Guatemalan president Juan Jose' Are'valo (whose term gave that country a ten-year respite from military rule during which he provoked U.S. ire by modeling his government "in many ways after the Roosevelt New Deal") stepped down to be replaced by his ill-fated successor and kindred spirit, the aforementioned Arbenz. This to what Are'valo had to say about the aftermath of a war known as "good": "The arms of the Third Reich were broken and conquered ... but in the ideological dialogue ...the real winner was Hitler." Never forget: This is what we're up against. Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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