Guatemala is a little paradise where the weather is always pleasant and the larger cities lie in charming mountain ranges. If that were not enough, this petite nation offers delightful beaches on both the Caribbean side and the Pacific Ocean.
But Guatemala is also a corridor between Honduras and Mexico for drug trafficking. Guatemala’s unpatrolled coastline and sparsely-populated jungles have made popular landing points for boats and planes carrying drugs from South America.
Crime and corruption always bring misery to a nation’s people and Guatemala has had her share. Events completely beyond Guatemala’s control, such as Castro’s Marxist revolution in 1959 in nearby Cuba, or a devastating earthquake in 1976, which left more than 20,000 people dead and 1,000,000 homeless, plus the present poverty of over half its 17,000,000 citizens—breeding more crime—have challenged every leader of this nation for more than a century.
The nation’s citizens suffered a 36-year-long civil war with “good” and bad dictators, and over 200,000 casualties. On the other hand, the leaders of Guatemala’s governments faced formidable guerrilla opposition until, finally, peace accords were signed in 1996.
A COUNTER-MOVEMENT BY GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT
At the same time, another tidal wave of change was taking place. In the mostly Catholic country, the message of the Gospel, bringing multitudes to personal salvation through Jesus, spread across the land. People began to pray for the healing of their nation.
A new constitution, bringing greater emphasis to human rights guarantees, was approved in May 1985, resulting in the first election of a civilian president in Guatemala in fifteen years.
But with the dictators and their strong military arm gone, various bands of Marxist guerrillas and criminal gangs found new opportunity to unify in their insurgency. As instability swept through most of Central America, Guatemala’s military again took the reins until 1996.
Nevertheless, with all the ups and downs, the Body of believers continued to expand, and now it is estimated that 40 percent of Guatemalans are born-again evangelicals. According to the Evangelical Alliance, there are about 27,000 evangelical churches in Guatemala!
It is with this background that Guatemala chose Jimmy Morales, an evangelical, as president in the 2016 election.
PRESIDENTS MORALES AND TRUMP
The parallels between the two presidents are amazing. President Morales was well-known as a media personality, actor, producer, and businessman.
He is an evangelical—and not just in name. His primary and secondary studies were conducted at the Evangelical Latin American Institute. He also studied theology at the Baptist Theological Seminary and audiovisual production at the Radio Television Espanola in Madrid, Spain.
Though he came from a very poor background, selling bananas on the street, he has earned degrees in a wide variety of subjects, been a university professor, and founded several businesses.
Like President Trump, he heads a right-wing party and preaches conservative values. He identifies as a nationalist, and opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and legalized drugs.
No one took him very seriously at first, as he had never held a political position. But like Trump, Morales, the dark horse and under-funded candidate, came from behind in a field of fourteen aspirants to lead in the first round, and demolished a former first lady in the presidential race.
He rode a wave of public disgust with the political elite and a “rigged” system. Running as an outsider with no connection to the discredited political class, Mr. Morales won 67 percent of the vote in a run-off that October.
Morales’ success was viewed as a sign of the distrust of many Guatemalans towards the political elite that ruled the country for decades. The last president resigned because of corruption. In fact, at least ten parliamentarians are under investigation at the moment.
Although no one accuses Mr. Morales of enriching himself, this year his son and brother were charged with corruption, and there is an investigation by the UN claiming he failed to disclose some contributions to his presidential campaign.
Because of Guatemala’s difficult history, its democracy is still fragile. But many Christian leaders would credit prayer with helping the country navigate through its latest crisis without major violence or a breakdown of the constitutional process.
As Morales took office, Christians knew there would be a lot at stake and a lot riding on Morales’ shoulders. Many in the Congress are tainted with links to Guatemala’s vast underworld. More than two-thirds of the cocaine that enters the United States passes through the country. Crime and insecurity—fueled by gangs, extortion, and drug trafficking—are off the charts. The economy is in tatters. So Christians have taken seriously the Lord’s command to pray for their leaders.
ENTER RABBI YOSEF GARMON
The Rabbi of Guatemala, Yosef Garmon, is an unusually charismatic and much-loved rabbi by both Jews and Christians. Born and educated in Israel, he is also a brilliant scholar and writer. His warmth and genuine love for his fellow man have gained him strong ties with Guatemala’s evangelical leaders. So although there are only about 900 Jewish Guatemalans, Rabbi Garmon has had exceptional favor and respect in this country.
Because Guatemala has always exhibited an especially warm heart for Israel, Rabbi Garmon has had many opportunities to represent Israel’s interests and advise officials in the government. In Guatemala, as in other Latin American countries, there is an official group of parliamentarians supporting Israel’s causes.
A few months ago, Rabbi Garmon began to encourage more members of parliament to join this group, and within a short time, fifty lawmakers joined the League of Friends of Israel in the parliament.
THE UN VOTES TO PROCLAIM JERUSALEM AS PALESTINIAN
On November 30, 2017 the UN General Assembly, led by the Islamic states, voted 151 to six, with nine abstentions asserting that Jerusalem had nothing to do with Israel. Guatemala was one of the 151.
However, immediately Christian pastors loudly complained, protesting the president’s vote against Israel. The Christian churches together with the fifty parliamentarians lead by Rabbi Garmon and the Mayor of Guatemala City all pushed for the President of Guatemala to support Israel. As a result, Guatemala made a “correction” in its vote and re-voted to reject the UN measure.
On December 6, 2017, when President Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, Guatemala was watching. Two weeks later, the Rabbi found that in Peru, a group of parliamentarians were preparing to ask the President of Peru to move their embassy to Jerusalem. He then shared the news with the League of Friends of Israel in the Guatemala parliament, and they decided to do the same.
These fifty parliamentarians, together with the Mayor of Guatemala City, and Christian pastors, asked the President of Guatemala to move the Embassy of Guatemala to Jerusalem.
On Christmas Eve, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with President Morales, entreating him to follow President Trump by announcing that he, too, would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That evening, he did exactly that.
From left: Cash Luna, pastor of 30,000- member Casa de Dios in Guatemala City; Rabbi of Guatemala Yosef Garmon; Ari Sorko-Ram; Robert Morris, pastor of 36,000-member Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas.
JEWS AND CHRISTIANS WORKING TOGETHER BROUGHT VICTORY
“We are grateful to our president for making this move,” a Guatemalan Christian businessman emailed us, “but it happened because of the pressure of all the Christian pastors, the Rabbi and the League of Friendship in the parliament that he finally took the decision to move the Embassy of Guatemala to Jerusalem.”
The government spokesperson said the decision was made without any pressure or overture from the United States. It was their own decision to be the second nation in the world to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital!
“Our president is receiving the kudos, but he is also having to stand up against tremendous pressure from Arab governments, Palestinian leaders and European nations to rescind the decision,” wrote our friend who has many contacts in the government and with church leaders.
Of course, Israel is thrilled. The Jerusalem Post front page raved: “While it was courageous of U.S. President Donald Trump to deviate from the ‘international community’ consensus and do what is right, for Guatemala it was beyond gutsy. And we here in the Jewish state are truly grateful. Viva Guatemala!”
This article originally appeared in Maoz Israel Report, February 2018, and reposted with permission.