In recent years Guatemala has become an attractive destination for Israeli tourists, but the warm ties seem to stretch beyond that – to the many years of close relations between the two countries that lead the local congress to honor Israel this week.
Much excitement took over the Israelis arriving at the Guatemala Congress a few days ago. An Israeli flag was placed at the center of the hall, with a band playing the Israeli national anthem in the background.
The reason for the unusual event is the Guatemalan Congress' decision to grant Israel and the Israeli people its highest honor.
Congress speaker Roberto Alejos decided to bestow the honor on Israel after two thirds of the congress members expressed their support of honoring the State of Israel for its contribution to the Central American nation.
In his speech at the ceremony, Alejos praised Israel's activity in the country. "If there is thriving agriculture – it's an Israeli contribution. If we have education, medicine and security – it's the Israelis that shared with us their rich experience," he said.
After the speech, Israeli Ambassador to Guatemala Eli Lopez was called to wave the Israeli flag in the center of the room.
The ambassador then bowed his head to the speaker to receive the honor. In his speech, Lopez thanked the congress members and the citizens of Guatemala on behalf of the Israeli people.
"Despite its political problems, Israel continues to share its experience with friendly nations such as Guatemala," Lopez said.
The ambassador said he felt national pride and excitement when he saw the Israeli flag honored at a time when Israel is faced with international difficulties.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman phoned the Guatemalan vice president and thanked him for the event.
The two agreed that the Guatemalan president should visit Israel at the start of next year.