Martin M Barillas
Martin M Barillas

Jewish community of Guatemala honors Jimmy Morales

The Jewish community of Guatemala will bestow ex-president Jimmy Morales, an Evangelical Christian, with the distinction of “Friend of Israel” alongside former foreign minister Sandra Jovel on Saturday, December 11. Morales moved the Central American republic’s embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, just two days after President Donald Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem. Morales was criticized for the move by the Palestinian Authority and assorted Muslim governments and groups.

When Morales announced in 2017 his decision, Emmanuel Nahshon of Israel’s foreign ministry thanked Guatemala for the “important decision”, tweeting “Wonderful news and true friendship!” The move was seen as tantamount recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, even though Morales’ announcement did not explicitly say so.

Guatemala also voted against a 2017 UN General Assembly resolution condemning America’s recognition of Israel’s capital and embassy re-location.

What gives?

Guatemala has long had close relations with the State of Israel. In 1948, Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN Dr. Jorge Garcia Granados, serving on the Special Committee on Palestine, convinced other Latin republics to vote in favor of General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.

When Morales visited Israel in 2016, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein reflected, “It could be that without Guatemala, the resolution on that fateful day would not have passed, and history would be very different.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grew up near a street bearing the Central American republic’s name, telling Morales, “In just about every town in Israel there is a Guatemala Street because we remember Guatemala’s friendship and the friendship and leadership of your UN ambassador at the time of the decision on the Partition Resolution, and so Guatemala was etched into our hearts then.”

On the day the new embassy was inaugurated, Bibi told Morales, “It’s not a coincidence that Guatemala is opening its embassy in Jerusalem right among the first. You were always among the first. You were the second country to recognize Israel.”

Apart from diplomatic history, Guatemala has benefited from economic and military ties to Israel. During the 1980s when the US forestalled direct military aid to Guatemala during its fractious and deadly civil war, Israel sold small arms to its army. And in July 2020, Guatemala’s Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel Federation of Chambers of Commerce to further cement business ties.

About the Author
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, serving in Europe and Latin America, as well as with the division for Politico–Military affairs. At the latter, he was granted the Meritorious Honor Award for valuable services rendered in the Office of International Security Operations. He was co-author of Hidden Killers, a report to Congress concerning the threat of landmines and ordnance to civilians. Following foreign service, Barillas designed and implemented pro-democracy programs funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and the US State Department. He traveled widely in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean to advance governmental and electoral transparency. He has written and edited articles for several media outlets. Shaken Earth is his breakout first novel.
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