Rep. Omar Leads Call to Restrict Aid to Security Forces in Central America

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(Photo: Wikicommons)

On April 27, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) led a group of Congressional Representatives in sending a letter to the leadership of the House Subcommittees on State and Foreign Operations Appropriations and Defense Appropriations calling for restrictions on police and military assistance to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in the upcoming budget in light of widespread repression and human rights abuses. 
As Rep. Omar wrote, "If we intend to seriously address root causes of migration, we must acknowledge the destructive role that the police and military in all three countries have played, and the significant human rights violations and impunity that are significant push factors for people fleeing their homelands."
CISPES was proud to join the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), School of the Americas Watch, Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) - Los Angeles, Network in Solidarity with Guatemala (NISGUA), Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Justice Team, Migrant Roots Media, Pax Christi USA, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN), BAYAN-USA, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, SHARE Foundation, Witness at the Border, Friendship Office of the Americas, Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes in supporting this letter.

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April 28, 2021

Dear Chair Lee, Chair McCollum, Ranking Members Rogers and Ranking Member Calvert,

As you develop the FY22 appropriation bills, we urge you to take clear and decisive steps to address major concerns regarding both state repression and high levels of violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

In light of repeated use of state security forces by the current governments of these countries to quell democratic opposition, as well as to repress grassroots movements defending environmental and human rights, we request your support in incorporating language to restrict military and police financing to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

The populations of all three countries are all experiencing a dangerous rise in state repression at the hands of elected leaders who seek to close off democratic spaces through the use of military and police forces.

  • In Honduras, police and military forces kill protestors and engage in paramilitary operations, disappearing and assassinating human rights defenders; according to a Human Rights Watch report, between March and July 2019, at least 6 people were killed by state security forces during anti-government demonstrations. In one shocking example, state security forces killed at least sixteen people in demonstrations against electoral fraud in 2017. According to a 2018 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, human rights defenders name government security forces as responsible for committing the majority of abuses towards them. The suspension of constitutional guarantees due to the COVID-19 pandemic also led to the detention of over 34,000 people accused of violating curfew and in one notable case a young nursing student, Keyla Martinez was killed while in police custody.

  • In Guatemala, attacks on human rights defenders, including assassinations and attempted assassination have reached record highs in the post-war period, with a distinct increase during the first year of President Alejandro Giammattei. According to a February 2021 report by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, “the national police, the military police, and the armed forces [have continued to be identified] as the main perpetrators of human rights violations and attacks against [human rights] defenders. In 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Guatemala (OHCHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned police brutality committed against demonstrations outside Congress.

  • In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele has repeatedly used military and police forces to intimidate legislators, undermine the separation of powers, and subvert the authority of independent state entities, including the Supreme Court of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General. Utilizing the military and police for political aims is a direct violation of the 1992 Peace Accords, which ended El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war. Furthermore, a report from the Human Rights Institute of the University of Central America (IDHUCA) documents an “increasing number of members of the National Civilian Police as well as soldiers who have been accused of homicide” in recent years.

Since 2008, with the implementation of the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) the United States has spent upwards of $1.5 billion in a stated attempt to improve citizen security as well as to reduce drug trafficking and its related violence. But increased levels of U.S. cooperation with military and police forces throughout this period have not reformed these institutions, despite stated objectives to the contrary, nor has additional conditioning of security assistance in recent appropriations bills.

We therefore respectfully request that you include the following bill language in the forthcoming FY22 State and Foreign Operations and Defense appropriations bills:

  • None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ''Foreign Military Financing Program'' may be made available for assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.

  • None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ''International Military Education and Training'' may be made available for assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.

  • None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ''International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement'' may be made available for military assistance or police assistance for El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.

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 if we hope for more peaceful lives for the peoples of Central America.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration in a shared endeavor to ensure that the U.S. acts as a good neighbor in our hemispheric and global relationships.

Signed,

Representatives Omar (D-MN), García (D-IL), Grijalva (D-AZ), Huffman (D-CA), Jayapal (D-WA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Del. Norton (D-DC) 

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