Members of Congress Call to Halt U.S. Military and Police Aid to Central America

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Security force members from Honduras, Guatemala and Panama prepare for a Sustained Airborne Training at Soto Cano Air Base, Feb. 21, 2018, with U.S., and El Salvador forces. (U.S. Army photo, public domain)

On April 27, a group of progressive Members of Congress called for withholding all military and security aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in light of “human rights violations” resulting from “state violence.”

In parallel letters to the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and to the subcommittee on Defense, which will soon propose 2023 spending bills for each department, the members expressed concern regarding “the use of U.S.-trained and equipped security forces for civilian repression” and sought support from committee leadership to “restrict police and military financing” to all three countries.

The members, which include Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Cori Bush (D-MO), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Chuy García (D-IL), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Nydia Velásquez (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Danny Davis (D-IIL),  also questioned a pillar of U.S. policy in the region, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), to which the U.S. has directed over $1 billion since 2008, noting that “increased levels of U.S. cooperation with military and police forces throughout this period have not reformed these institutions, nor has additional conditioning of security assistance led to any measurable progress.”

The letters were endorsed by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN), Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Guatemala Solidarity Project, Migrant Roots Media, Network in Solidarity with Guatemala (NISGUA), Pax Christi USA, School of the Americas Watch, SHARE Foundation, and Witness for Peace.

In the case of El Salvador, this is not the first time that Members of Congress have challenged security assistance since the election of President Nayib Bukele in 2019. After Bukele, flanked by military and police leadership, commandeered El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly on February 9, 2020 in an attempt to strongarm the legislature into approving additional loans for security and surveillance equipment, Congress moved to end Foreign Military Financing to El Salvador for the first time since murder of the Jesuits in 1989. In May 2021, after the Bukele administration and New Ideas legislators illegally removed the Attorney General and members of the Supreme Court, the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) also announced plans to end cooperation with El Salvador’s National Civilian Police, the Office of the Attorney General and the Institute for Access to Public Information, whose independent commissioners Bukele has also attacked.

But Foreign Military Financing, which provides grants for foreign governments to purchase U.S. weapons and other military equipment, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to U.S. security cooperation in the region, which ranges from police and military training to donations of military equipment to joint operations between U.S. and Central American security forces, including to militarize regional borders. Despite several denouncements from the Biden administration expressing concern over the Bukele administration’s attacks on democratic institutions and independent journalists, overall security cooperation under the framework of the War on Drugs and border security to the region has increased since Biden took office. In its first budget proposal from May 2021, the Biden administration requested higher levels of security funding for Central America than the Trump administration.

Concerned by the obvious consolidation of military power by President Bukele in El Salvador, as well as repeated police violence against protestors and other democratic movements in Honduras and Guatemala under former president Juan Orlando Hernández and President Alejandro Giamattei, respectively, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) circulated a similar letter in April 2021 calling on the House Appropriations Committee leadership to limit security assistance to the three countries. As she wrote at the time, “[If we hope for more peaceful lives for the peoples of Central America], it is imperative that Congress takes clear action to cease the facilitation of continued human rights abuses in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and to put stronger restrictions on State Department and Department of Defense programming in the region.”

This year’s letters happened to coincide with a massive wave of arrests in El Salvador following a declaration of a 30-day “State of Exception” on March 27, which suspended due process and other Constitutional rights in response to a spike in gang violence. Since the start of the State of Exception, which has already been renewed, over 30,000 people have been arrested without warrants in El Salvador; many of the arrests, according to family members, were completely arbitrary. In scenes harkening back to the 1980s, U.S. media have shown anguished mothers outside the jails pleading for information on the whereabouts of their children. Human rights organizations in El Salvador are scrambling to provide assistance, as well as to document widespread reports of police and military abuse of force. As of May 19, over 500 incidents of human rights abuses have been reported. Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica has reported that eleven people have died in custody.

The State of Exception and the blatant disregard shown by the Salvadoran government toward international treaties and human rights standards guaranteeing the right to due process has been decried by the United Nations, international human rights organizations like Amnesty International, and, most importantly, the Salvadoran popular movement. International solidarity and migrant justice organizations have also held the United States responsible for this new wave of state repression for having trained and armed Salvadoran security forces.

The appropriations process, which will determine next year’s spending levels and any possible restrictions on U.S. security assistance in Central America, is expected to continue in June and July.

To ask your representative and senators to echo the call to withhold U.S. security assistance, click here.

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