Central American and Palestinian Liberation Struggles are Intertwined

Written by: Sussan García


The past four months have been one that has further exposed the farce of the “Western” world order we live in. The State of Israel has killed over 30,000 Palestinians, with the backing of North American and European “democracies” while people all over the world bear witness to endless massacres and dehumanization live streamed on social media platforms. We are witnessing international coalitions develop that are structured along the colonizer and colonized, as oppressed communities worldwide identify with the dehumanization of ahistorical narratives, fascism, genocide denial, and terror that Palestinians experience at the hands of Israel and the United States. 


For decades, Israel, in partnership with and in proxy for the United States, has supported, armed, and trained violent fascist dictators in Central America. They have actively suppressed democratic processes and targeted Central American resistance, who are similarly branded as “terrorists.” While Israel has displaced, ethnically cleansed, discriminated, and massacred Palestinians on their homelands, Israel continues to export their “combat-tested” technologies to Central America through military and intelligence partnerships and arms exports. The Palestinian liberation struggle is thus intimately tied with the Central American one in seeking an end to the Israeli war machine, the U.S. imperialism that drives it, and the violent world order that enables it. 


Just as the United States funnels funding, arms, and soldiers to Israel and other fascist governments, Israel has been an extension to the U.S. war machine. During the Cold War, the United States was a main supplier of arms, funding, and training to fascist regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As the atrocities committed by these governments became overly apparent, the United States was legally prohibited to continue supporting them by 1974, and they directed Israel to continue doing so on their part. 


In El Salvador, Israel provided eighty-three percent of arms between 1975 and 1979 and helped train ANSESAL, the secret police who were later to form the framework of the infamous death squads that would kill tens of thousands of civilians. Within the training and technology provided by Israel, there was a focus on counterinsurgency and surveillance targeting guerrilla groups. One such technology was a computerized system that provided a list of names for right-wing death squads used both in Guatemala and El Salvador. Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, a main actor that intensified counterinsurgency warfare, expressed that he wanted the Salvadoran army to pursue the “Israeli solution” to Nicaraguan support for Salvadoran guerillas; He thus saw Nicaragua as “Central America’s Lebanon.” 


Nicaragua after the Sandinista Revolution, an anti-communist nightmare and a story of success for the region’s revolutionaries, was a target of the United States, Israel, and right-wing Central American leaders. Previously, the relationship between Nicaragua and Israel was a warm one predating the existence of Israel. Dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia had provided agents of the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary organization that would become incorporated into the Israeli military, with diplomatic covers necessary for purchasing arms in Europe. By the 1970s, Israel accounted for 98 percent of Nicaragua’s arms imports. Once the Sandinistava revolution successfully ousted Somoza, Israel stepped in to arm and train the Contras throughout the 1980s in U.S.-aligned Costa Rica and Honduras, with the aim of overthrowing the Sandinista government and replacing them with an anti-communist right-wing government. Complementing these efforts were Israeli-settlement schemes meant to isolate Nicaragua, leading to the development of settlements of anti-community farmers along the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border; this same approach has been used by Israel along its borders, notably Lebanon. 


In Guatemala, Efraín Ríos Montt, a military general who orchestrated a coup in 1982 to become president, recognized the instrumental role of Israeli training for its success; his chief of staff shared that the “the Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers.” Ríos Montt also modeled his “Beans and Bullets” counterinsurgency agrarian strategy in the highlands after Israel’s Nahal program, which trains soldiers in agricultural techniques in order to set up and expand border settlements. Ríos Montt’s rule is recognized as the bloodiest years of the armed conflict and he was convicted of genocide against Indigenous Maya groups in Guatemalan courts in 2013.


In the present day, Israel trains police officers in Belize and Panama, with the latter program coming under particularly harsh criticism in 2021 after photos from the training published by the Panamanian National Police and the Israeli Chamber of Commerce showed a man pointing a gun at an image of an armed person wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh. The Panamanian Committee of Solidarity with Palestine criticized the event as promoting racism and violence, and called on the government to cancel such “interventions” from Israel. Panama, historically a staunch supporter of Israel and reliable bastion of United States policy in the region, continues to offer its support to Israel and to officially deny the suffering of Palestinians. Just as Panama faced officials threats to coerce the country to stay in line, Belize was met with public threats from Israel of decreased Israeli tourism and less investment from Zionist investors after the country announced the suspension of diplomatic relations with Israel in November 2023.


The rise of Christian Zionism has offered a cultural and religious vehicle to garner support in Central America, even entrenched in El Salvador’s president of Palestinian descent, Nayyib Bukkele. Before his presidency and as mayor of San Salvador, Bukele carried out an Israeli-sponsored visit to Jerusalem, during which he met the mayors of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was declared “a friend of Israel” by the latter, and prayed at the Western Wall.


Embedded in the Salvadoran president’s alarming unconstitutional and criminalization moves is Israeli technology and arms. He has used the spyware Pegasus to illegally surveil and track critical journalists, developed by ex-military and intelligence officer Yaniv David Zangilevitch and distributed in Latin America by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Pegasus has come under scrutiny for its use by governments to commit human rights violations by illegally surveilling politicians, dissidents, and journalists. 


Regarding his sparse comments expressing pride of his Palestinian roots and touting technology and business as the path forward for a possible nation, academic and author Yousef Aljamal expressed: “For Bukele, Palestine is just a distant memory. He’s part of a political system which wants to be in line with the far-right, have good ties with Israel, improve the relationship with other right-wing governments in Latin America and have good ties with the US.” In countries like Honduras and El Salvador, Palestinians have “long constituted an economic elite, often characterised by political conservatism“. To them, Palestinian revolutionary fighters are “dangerously similar to Latin American guerrilla movements,” making Bukkele part of a tradition rather than an anomaly. In the aftermath of October 7th, Bukkele was quick to strongly condemn Hamas and said that they do not represent Palestinians, and advocated for its elimination. He compared them to MS-13 gang members, who are the main target of his campaign against gang violence and crime, leading to more than 70,000 people in prison without due process. His efforts have been criticized by community and human rights groups as another way to target journalists, activists, and other groups critical of him.


In Central America, such Palestinization of certain groups is not new, in which resistance groups and dissent under violent fascist regimes are characterized as threats to national security and terrorism. Regarding the military strategy to target guerrilla groups in 1971, Guatemalan President Carlos Arana said, “If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so,” chillingly echoing the same rhetoric Israeli officials have recently expressed and the declaration by the United Nations that Gaza has become a “graveyard for children.” Both of these genocidal projects in Guatemala and Palestine could not have happened without the support of the United States. Central America has long been under the domination of United States interests, just as Palestine has been. As expressed multiple times by current U.S. president, Joseph Biden: “Were there not an Israel, we would have to invent an Israel… to protect [U.S.] interests in the region.” This is a lineage of U.S. foreign policy to maintain control all over the world, one which Central America has been subject to since the Monroe Doctrine was declared two hundred years ago.


The alliance between the United States and Israel was not a given one; it was one that arose in the aftermath of the 1967 war, when the United States first identified Israel as a powerful ally in the Middle East, which has grown into a full-blown imperialist collaboration between the two around the world. As such, as long as Palestine is subject to U.S.-backed Israeli terror, Central America is subject to the same terror, simply exported and “combat tested.” It means that the international world order dominated by imperialist supranational bodies and alliances is in effect, enabling and encouraging such projects. 


Central Americans in the struggle for liberation must rise to the moment of supporting the Palestinian struggle and resistance; we must condemn Zionism, apartheid, and all settler colonial ideologies; and we must push our communities, institutions, and governments to do the same. As Martin Luther King Jr. elaborated: “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must also learn from Palestine as she frees us from illusions, fear, and respectability politics that continue to limit our praxis and use that to continue to fight for liberation for everyone, everywhere––from Central America to Palestine and beyond.

Author Details
Sussan is the founder of Central American Disruption, a popular education and solidarity building initiative for Central Americans in the Global North interested in combating global oppression. Sussan is a graduate of New York University Abu Dhabi, during which she lived in occupied Palestine for a year and majored in Arab Crossroads Studies, and recently graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in Migration Studies.

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