Analysis: Israel volcano aid to Guatemala payment for historic debt of gratitude
Johan ORDONEZ (AFP)
It's not a coincidence that Israel was one of the first countries that rushed to send emergency aid to Guatemala, as the country's Fuego Volcano erupted violently killing at least 69 people.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry declared it would send $10,000 in emergency aid funds to Guatemala, to be used to purchase mainly medicine, food and blankets for the estimated 1.7 million Guatemalan civilians affected by the disaster.
There is a historic reason while Israel feels such an ethical, and economic obligation to help Guatemala resolve its domestic challenges.
The fact that Guatemala recently decided to follow the United States and take the controversial step of moving its embassy to Jerusalem is just one of the consequences of the two countries' deep and historically significant friendship.
Indeed, the Jewish State owes a historic debt of gratitude to the Central American country.
It all began in 1948, when Jorge Garcia Granados -- the Guatemalan ambassador to the UN and a member of the UN Special Committee on Palestine -- lobbied for votes in support of the establishment of the new Jewish State.
Guatemala was among the first countries to vote to recognize Israel, and in doing so created a “butterfly effect” attracting many other Latin American countries to join in the support of Israel's creation.
Many Guatemalans tend to speak very fondly of and in the most sentimental way about Israel. It seems the Jewish State has captured their hearts and imaginations.
Israel's ties with Guatemala today run far deeper that mutual aid.
Israeli fingerprints can be found in the most remote corners of the Central American nation -- even at the base of the Volcano de Pacaya where a power plant is run by the Israeli company Ormat.
Located 26 kilometers from Guatemala City, the Amatitlan Geothermal Power Plant produces electricity out of the steam from the Volcano de Pacaya to the small local villages bringing Israel's technological and industrial ingenuity to the heart of the Guatemalan wilderness.
Israel's influence and involvement on civil infrastructure, water purification solutions and modern agriculture technologies also abound in Guatemala.
But the countries flourishing friendship is especially tangible in the field of security. Many Israelis coming from elite combat units in Israel, and with impressive security backgrounds, realized that their experience is a marketable asset in Guatemala -- a third world country struggling with significant challenges of personal security and public safety.
Central America has long suffered from high levels of violence and has never fully recovered from the civil wars that ended in the 1990s. The most recent wave of violence began around 2000, which particularly affected the northern part of Central America, and Guatemala in particular, which is considered to have one of the highest murder rates in the world today.
As a result, many Israeli security companies have been well-established in Guatemala to help combat violent crime in the country, the largest share of which is related to drug trafficking, urban crime, gangs and illicit firearms.
Nonetheless Guatemala has a great historical richness and the most beautiful nature, its former capital boasting Antigua listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Preserved Cities.
Despite the fact that many Israelis are not aware of the significant role Guatemala played in their history, the Spanish- speaking country still seems to captivate the Israeli travelers' attention, mainly for its spectacular nature and the colorful traditional culture.
Israeli companies and entrepreneurs have found many economic opportunities in Guatemala, where they can implement their innovative spirit while helping Guatemalans deal with their most pressing challenges.
Israel is cultivating its ties with the Latin American countries, using the historical momentum of their Evangelical support in its favor. Guatemala is one example of a loyal friend that has supported Israel from its first steps, and Israelis continue this friendship through strong economic, political and cultural ties.
Marina Naomi Smolyanov is a former Knesset spokeswoman who has both lived and worked in Guatemala. She is an expert in political communication and international relations.
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