Trump Administration's Agenda at Conference in Miami Provokes Controversy and Opposition

Press Release

Members of Congress and Human Rights Organizations to State Department: Militarization in Central America Threatens Human Rights

Influential Democrats in U.S. Congress are questioning the Trump Administration’s approach to security and migration in Central America, which are the central themes of this week’s meetings with regional heads of state at SOUTHCOM in Miami.

Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) led 37 Members of Congress, including top Democrats from the Armed Forces, Judiciary and Appropriations committees, in sending a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to raise red flags about “suggestions that the United States deepen security collaboration with Mexico along its southern border [with Guatemala] due to evidence that Mexico’s Southern Border Program has led to wide-spread human rights violations and abuses against migrants and asylum-seekers.”

Signers: Beyer (D-VA), Bonamici (D-OR), Capuano (D-MA), Cárdenas (D-CA), Chu (D-CA), Cleaver (D-MO), Conyers (D-MI), Doggett (D-TX), Ellison (D-MN), Evans (D-PA), Gallego (D-AZ), Grijalva (D-AZ), Gutiérrez (D-IL), Hastings (D-FL), Holmes Norton (D-Washington, DC), Jayapal (D-WA), Johnson (D-GA), Kaptur (D-OH), Lee (D-CA) , Lofgren (D-CA), Lowenthal (D-CA), Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Lynch (D-MA), McCollum (D-MN), McGovern (D-MA), Moulton (D-MA), Pocan (D-WI), Napolitano (D-CA), Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Serrano (D-NY), Schakowsky (D-IL), Slaughter (D-NY), Smith (D-WA), Tonko (D-NY), Waters (D-CA), Yarmuth (D-KY)

According to human rights and legal organization that have filed a formal petition at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the governments of Mexico and the United States “unlawfully detain Central America asylum-seekers en masse and subject them to conditions of hyper-violence and impunity in Mexico in an unconscionable and illegal effort to deter them from seeking international protection.”

SOUTHCOM’s announcement in April of a new base in Petén, Guatemala to coordinate Mexican and Guatemalan military forces along the border prompted outcry in from organizations in Mexico who called on their government to “refrain immediately from any collaboration involving a greater presence of US defense and intelligence agencies in [their] territories.”

The government of Mexico, which is co-hosting the conference in Miami, appears open to the Trump Administration’s requests to ramp up its involvement in Central American security issues, including training of police and military forces in Central America. Members of Congress, however, told Tillerson they are wary of “enlist[ing] the assistance of Mexico’s security forces to address citizen insecurity in Central America in light of widespread human rights abuses at the hands of these forces.”

Members of Congress are not alone in their concerns. Alexander Main, of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), questioned why the US would expand its security programs in the region just as a new US government report confirms that the DEA led a notorious May 2012 operation in which four villagers were killed, and several others wounded, in Ahuas, Honduras. "This doubling down on the 'War on Drugs' is being modeled on some of the worst initiatives the US has pursued in the region -- most notably Plan Colombia,” Main said. "It is especially disturbing considering what happened in 2012 in Honduras with the DEA partnership with Honduran security forces. There is a disturbing lack of accountability at the DEA for those shootings, and it doesn't bode well for future operations."

According to Laura Embree-Lowry, Program Director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), which took a fact-finding mission to El Salvador and Guatemala to investigate the impacts of U.S.-funded border policing efforts in the region, “This narrative we are hearing from DHS about Central America as a security threat is a pretext to aggressively militarize the region for the benefit of security contractors and transnational corporations. It’s also an attempt to impose the US’ own racist anti-immigrant policies throughout the Hemisphere.” 

Over 100 advocacy, human rights, immigrant rights, labor, and religious organizations also sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson criticizing the conference for “failing to consider the nexus between the multiple causes of and solutions to forced displacement and migration – the right of individuals to seek protection outside of their countries of origin alongside their rights to education, employment, safety, and justice in their homes.”

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For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Alexis Stoumbelis (202) 521-2510 ext. 205 or [email protected]

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