Risto Huvila
Political advisor, TV host, public speaker & writer

Guatemala – The Little Big Friend of Israel

The writer with H.E. Mario Bucaro, Guatemalan Ambassador to Israel 2018-2020.
The writer with H.E. Mario Bucaro, Guatemalan Ambassador to Israel 2018-2020.

Since 2017, we have known Guatemala to be a special friend of the State of Israel when it decided to relocate its embassy in Jerusalem. This bold move by the evangelical president, Jimmy Morales elevated this quite small Central American state – best known for its 4500-year long pre-Columbian history of Mayan culture, and cardamom – into the international limelight as the only country other than the United States which was willing to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, establishing their embassy in this ancient city.

For years I have known Peter Didrichsen, the Honorary Consul of Guatemala in Finland, who in the spring of 2018 introduced me to the Guatemalan Ambassador to Finland, Francisco Gross. At that time, I was finalizing the manuscript for my book, “The Miracle of Israel and President Truman,” and had already written something about the special role Guatemala had played in the events leading to the formation of the Jewish state in 1948, but the discussions with my new diplomat friend began to open a totally new perspective into this decade-long friend of Israel.

One connection led to another, and a few months later I found myself with Consul Didrichsen in the newly relocated Guatemalan Embassy in Jerusalem discussing recent events with Ambassador Sara Solis Castańeda who was about to return to Guatemala shortly. During a subsequent visit to Jerusalem in early 2019, I was blessed to meet the new Guatemalan Ambassador to the Jewish State, Mario Bucaro, with whom I ended up spending long hours and learning about the long and exciting history of the Guatemalan-Israeli relations.

Why I am recalling this now?

Because on September 15th my Guatemalan friends are celebrating the 199th anniversary of their beautiful country and also because the Guatemalan relationship with Israel didn’t begin on December 25, 2017 but rather more than 70 years earlier, when Senor Jorge Garcia Granados, the Guatemalan ambassador to the United Nations and a leading member of the UNSCOP (the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) lobbied the Latin American countries to support the partition plan which was to be voted upon on November 29, 1947 in the UN General Assembly.

Through his decisive efforts, Ambassador Granados managed to influence 13 Latin American countries to vote for the partition plan which enabled the birth of the Jewish state only six months later, those being Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

As I recount in my book, “The Miracle of Israel and President Truman,” Israel would not exist without President Truman and his thorough knowledge of the Biblical prophecies relating to the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. I can also say that without the active and persistent Guatemalan diplomacy, the post-war events related to the resurrection of the Jewish state would have been very different.

The widely unknown fact that Ambassador Granados recognized the State of Israel through his own decision –without his government’s acceptance – deserves to be recounted by Mr. Granados himself, as he describes the developments along with his decisive actions at the UN in his book, “The Birth of Israel—The Drama As I Saw It (published in 1948) as follows:

The next day, May 14, was a fateful one. The Political Committee met to consider our Subcommittee’s findings, and to deal with a proposal recommending a temporary administration for Jerusalem, which had been worked out by another subcommittee. Again delegates intoned their long speeches. The Slavs fought the provisional regime for Jerusalem; they wanted the trusteeship scheme envisaged in the partition resolution of November 29 to be put into force. The Arabs, as usual, opposed everything.

The last meeting of the Second Special Session was called to order at 5 p.m. at Flushing Meadows by Dr. Arce of Argentina, its President. This was one hour before the Mandate was to end. We began to vote. The Jerusalem regime lost: the appointment of the Mediator was approved, and it was being voted, paragraph by paragraph, while the minute hand of history crept ever closer to the climactic hour of six o’clock.

A few minutes later, the General Assembly was in utter confusion.

A journalist came to me with amazing news: at 6:11 o’clock, President Truman’s secretary had summoned White House reporters and announced that the United States had recognized the Provisional Government of Israel. That Government had been proclaimed at 4 o’clock, Palestine time, to come to life at 12:01 p.m. of the 15th—that is, at 6:01 p.m. Daylight Saving Time in the Eastern zone of the United States.

No one now paid any attention to the speeches from the rostrum. Delegates left their places and circulated about the room, attempting to confirm the report; agitated arguments were going on everywhere; and the faces of those present reflected astonishment, delight, bitterness, depending upon how the news had impressed them.

The American delegates sat in their seats, as surprised as any of us. They knew nothing; no official word had come to them.

The noise and commotion in the corridors outside grew louder, but in the huge chamber we continued to debate the merits of the Mediator proposal. The matter could not be ignored much longer. Finally Dr. Alberto Gonzalez Fernandez of Colombia went to the rostrum and demanded bluntly, “I wish to have in formation from the delegation of the United States concerning the truth of the information which has been distributed in the press room in regard to the recognition of the State of Israel by the United States.”

Senator Austin was not present at the time; in his stead, Frances B. Sayre of the American delegation replied, “I regret that we have no official information.”

By then we were certain that the news was true. The Arabs were fuming. [Ambassador Guillermo] Belt of Cuba could not refrain from taking the floor to reproach the American delegates for the surprising action of their Government. Apparently, the press had better information from Washington, he said, than the American delegation itself.

I could sympathize with him. He had played the United States game, hoping that trusteeship or some other measure favourable to the Arabs would succeed. Now he had been left high and dry.

The news became official a few moments later when Dr. Jessup read, without comment, the statement issued by Mr. Truman: “This Government has been informed that a Jewish State has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the Provisional Government thereof. The United States Government recognized the Provisional Government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel.”

I thought the time had come for me to announce my country’s recognition of Israel. While the Arab spokesmen, one after another, strode to the rostrum and made furious statements against the United States, I hurried to the telephone and put in an urgent call to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala City.

Minutes passed. The Arabs had finished their brief, bitter speeches. The final paragraphs dealing with a Mediator were being voted. I had to think fast. I had been asked to inform my government when to recognize Israel. What better time than now?

We had shown our independence in the United Nations during the many months this Palestinian question had been discussed.

We had already announced our intention of recognizing the new world that we were taking the final step along a road we had followed with consistency and determination from the beginning.

Success had finally crowned the effort of our delegation in this long struggle for what we felt was a great goal. Uruguay and Guatemala, standing together, had seen allies come and go, now finding ourselves with one or another of the great powers on our side, now finding ourselves alone, but always standing together for what was just and what was right.

The Special Session was coming to a close. I saw President Arce arrange his notes and prepare to make his farewell speech. I could wait no longer. Taking full responsibility upon my shoulders, I asked for the floor. On the rostrum I said that my delegation had voted for the resolution dealing with a Mediator because it did not contradict the partition resolution of November 29th, which was still valid; that Guatemala had taken a firm attitude on this question since it had first come to the United Nations; and at this moment I could officially announce the recognition of Israel by the Government of Guatemala.

When I returned to my place in the great assembly hall, I felt happy and right.

Minutes later my call to Guatemala City went through. I spoke with the Foreign Minister; he heartily approved my decision.

Later, when I saw President Arevalo in Guatemala City, he congratulated me on it.

What lay behind American recognition was later told to me.

President Truman saw clearly the need for recognition, but had to impose his full authority upon the State Department that morning of the 14th. When the President’s decision was made, the wheels began to turn. The Israeli representative in Washington was approached. He was advised to write a letter asking for recognition; he did so; and recognition was granted.

That evening, as my car took me to my New York hotel from Flushing Meadows, and I drove through the streets of the city, I saw the blue and white flag of Israel, with its Star of David, floating proudly over one high building after another. Many thoughts flooded my mind. We had seen the inevitable climax of a unique and strange national history this day. The sorrows of a long exile marked by poignant human suffering were now to give way to the building of the world’s newest nation.

We of the United Nations, both big and small, had played our role, for to that historic consummation we had brought the authority of international agreement. I did not underestimate what the Jewish people themselves had done: their success was due to their magnificent resolution, their patience, their courage, their discipline. By their almost predestined action they had implemented one of the major parts of our plan for the future of the Holy Land which had been accepted by the majority of the nations of the world.

Yes, it was true, the birth of Israel had taken place in the agony of war. I was convinced that this war need not have been, and that had the powers been true to their obligations as members of the United Nations, it would not have been. Nonetheless, bloodshed had come, and we recognized the realities of the situation. Despite this unnecessary tragedy, we, who had considered the needs and the problems of Palestine and its peoples, knew that Israel would live. It must live! Its existence was the first step toward the achievement of security and peace and a new awakening in the lands of the Middle East.

How far from Guatemala to Israel—and yet, how near! In a world of many peoples, the struggle was one.

Peter Didrichsen, Honorary Consul of Guatemala in Finland and Ambassador Mario Bucaro in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019.

In 1956, Guatemala became the first country to open an embassy in Jerusalem, and its former UN ambassador Jorge Garcia-Granados was appointed its first ambassador to Israel. Later on, the Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Ramat-Gan named streets to honor Granados.

One of the successors of ambassador Garcia-Granados was the former president of Guatemala Dr. Juan José Arévalo, who served as the ambassador in Israel from 1978-1981, when it was located in Jerusalem but subsequently moved to Tel Aviv in 1980 as a result of international pressure. Dr. Arévalo was the first democratically elected president of Guatemala on March 15, 1945 until March 15, 1951, coinciding with his U.S. counterpart Harry Truman, whose presidency started on April 12, 1945 and ended January 20, 1953. Dr. Arévalo died in 1990 at the age of 86 years old.

Prior to 1980, 13 countries had their embassies in Jerusalem but after Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem as its “indivisible and eternal capital,” the UN Security Council responded by adopting the UNSC Resolution 478 by a vote of 14–0, with the United States abstaining, censuring in “the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem” and calling upon those “States that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.” The resolution prompted a withdrawal of all the 13 embassies from Jerusalem.

Another bold move of the Guatemalan government took place in 1994 when President Ramiro de Leon Carpio made a decision to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, but, again, he was forced to reverse his decision after Muslim countries threatened to suspend buying Guatemala’s biggest export product cardamom which move could have hurt the nation’s economy.

In November, 2009 the Guatemalan Congress made an unusual decision to grant Israel and her people its highest honor for her contribution to this Central American country, often struck by natural disasters, and in July 2017, 23 members of the Guatemalan Congress signed a petition to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Ambassador Mario Bucaro, now the head of Guatemala’s mission to Mexico remembers the moment when president Jimmy Morales called Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Christmas eve 2017.

– After that precious moment Guatemala has taken many diplomatic steps to support Israel at the UN, relocate the Embassy in Jerusalem and the residence of the Ambassador to Jerusalem. An there are many friendships cities in both countries as a true symbol of friendship between the countries.

In his farewell interview with the Jerusalem Post on March 4, 2020 Ambassador Bucaro laid out his position on the Jewish state: I am a Zionist and I will stay a Zionist, and I will return to Jerusalem.

As a Finn and European citizen, I look forward to seeing our countries adopt the Guatemalan righteousness, boldness, decisiveness and team up with Israel.

Today it’s time to salute the politicians, ambassadors and the people of Guatemala, who have been standing with Israel even before the Jewish state was born.

Feliz día de la independencia & mazal tov!

About the Author
Risto Huvila, a political advisor, TV host, public speaker and writer from Finland, observes European and American Middle East policies and antisemitism through evangelical lenses. As Chairman of the Federation of Finland-Israel Associations, Vice-chair of the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association and Secretary of the Group Against Antisemitism in the Parliament of Finland, he is an active advocate for Israel. Risto has authored the book The Miracle of Israel and President Truman and appears frequently in the media.
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