Why these Latin American countries support moving their embassies to Jerusalem
May 18, 2018
(JTA)-President Donald Trump's decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital drew wide international criticism, with 128 countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada voting in favor of a United Nations resolution condemning it.
But several countries saw Trump's decision in a different light: as an example to follow.
Shortly after the United States officially moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, it will be joined by Guatemala and Paraguay. Both countries are planning to make the move this month, and Honduras may be next: Its Congress recently passed a resolution urging its foreign ministry to move its embassy.
Along with the Czech Republic, whose president said last month it will begin the process of moving its embassy to Jerusalem, these countries belong to a small club (albeit one with a superpower). On a visit to Venezuela on Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged other Latin American countries not to move their embassies.
So how come? Why do these Latin American countries go where others fear to tread?
Observers suggest a number of reasons, or a combination thereof: The countries are likely motivated by a desire to curry favor with the Trump administration, their leaders' personal views of the Jewish state and strong historic ties to Israel.
In the cases of Guatemala and Honduras, both countries are facing or recently faced political crises-Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is mired in a corruption scandal and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez's recent re-election was dogged by allegations of voter fraud. Their leaders are looking to the U.S. for support, said Arie Kacowicz, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem specializing in Latin America.
"They pretty much need and want support and legitimacy from the U.S. and one way of achieving that is by being on friendly, cordial or even extraordinary terms with Israel," he told JTA. "So if the U.S. is showing the way on this particular issue of Jerusalem, the natural candidates to follow would be those two Central American countries."
Though the countries are looking to strengthen ties with Israel, that is not their primary focus, Kacowicz said.