Members of US Congress Meet with Organizations from El Salvador and Guatemala

By: Julián Arturo

On March 20, 24, 25 and 26, 2022, Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective in collaboration with SOA Watch, CISPES, and other organizations promoted meetings between US members of Congress Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Jamal Bowman and Jesús "Chuy" García together and organized civil society groups from El Salvador and Guatemala as well as with Guatemalan Congressional representatives. The objective of the delegation was to observe the structural causes that lead to the massive exodus of Central Americans to the United States.

The following is a brief summary of the meetings that took place during those days:

Meeting with representatives of the civil society of El Salvador

On March 20, the congresspeople met with several representatives of the organized civil society of El Salvador, among which were student organizations, coalitions of popular movements, organizations in favor of the freedom of political prisoners, associations for the disabled, youth associations, trade unionists and organizations against mining and mega-energy projects.

During the meeting, representatives of organized civil society presented the socio-political context in which the country finds itself, highlighting the following:

"We observe that in the country there has been a setback to the peace agreements. This is evidenced by the political tone that the FFMM have acquired since the February 9, 2020 takeover of the Congress of the Republic.
On the other hand, the magistrates of the CSJ and the attorney general of the republic have also been dismissed, concentrating power in the executive, to govern on their own.
Laws have been passed that repress freedom of expression (closing 3 community radio stations and limiting the access of foreign journalists to the country) and limit the intervention of foreign agents (increasing to 40% the tax on civil societies, limiting the entry of social projects).
Political persecution of public officials, who are arbitrarily dismissed from the government for not being in line with the government, is on the rise. To date, 12 people from the FMNL political party are in prison. This is the only political party that has prisoners in the country, who due process rights have not been respected".

Likewise, the group asked the congresspeople to monitor and advocate for the change of dynamics in the following scenarios:

  • Make visible before the U.S. Congress the human rights violations that have been mentioned.

  • Denounce the current situation in El Salvador before the United Nations.

  • Limit loans to El Salvador by multilateral organizations such as the IDB, IMF and WB.

  • Monitor the economic support that the U.S. grants for the institutional strengthening of the Public Prosecutor's Office in El Salvador, since this institution is not acting within the framework of the legislation for the respect of human rights and transparency, since the 17 cases that were in progress, investigating President Bukele, were archived.

  • The aid coming from the U.S. should be to guarantee human rights and the dignity of the people; blank checks should not be written to the government of El Salvador.

  • Do not finance military training to the armed forces of the country, since the minimum guarantees of human rights in the country are not respected.

Meeting with Congresswomen from Guatemala

On March 24, the delegation met in Guatemala City with a group of Guatemalan congresswomen composed of Sandra Morán Reyes, Sonia Marina Gutierrez Raguay, Lucrecia Hernández Mack, Andrea Villagrán, Evelyn Morataya and Ligia Hernández Gómez.

During the meeting, the group of congresspeople asked their U.S. counterparts for a TPS for Guatemalan immigrants, given that 14% of national GDP is dependent on remittances sent by Guatemalans residing in the U.S. to their country of origin.

Jamal Bowman said that the Biden plan to combat the causes of emigration from Central America seeks to privatize services as a measure to solve the problems of the exodus, however, the progressive line of the U.S. Congress does not agree with that perspective.

In addition, the Guatemalan representatives pointed out that aid should concentrate on strengthening local politics through social organizations instead of injecting it directly into state institutions.

Meeting with Guatemalan human rights lawyers and judges

Following the meeting with the Guatemalan congresswomen, the U.S. congresspeople were received by Héctor Reyes of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), Manuel Farfán of the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA), María Bolaj and Violeta Elías of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), and Guatemalan Justice of the Peace Pablo Xitumul.

The meeting centered on U.S. development aid and the judicial cases of human rights violations arising from the armed conflict.

In this regard, Judge Pablo Xitumul noted that USAID and UNDP deliver money directly to the judicial system, however, that would be something to review, since the judicial apparatus is co-opted by corruption and private interests. For example, he shared with the delegation that he was removed from his position that same week due to the magnitude of the cases he was in charge of.

Likewise, Maria Bolaj noted that while US aid is focused on strengthening institutions, European aid is concentrates on financing social organizations. Thanks to this, AJR was able to support the Public Ministry with the financing of the investigations for the case of Genocide. Otherwise, the case would not have been solved thoroughly for not having enough money to carry out a thorough investigation.

Finally, the congresspeople were asked to advocate for financial support to the Forensic Anthropology Foundation, so that it can continue taking DNA samples from those who have missing relatives.

To conclude, Congresswoman Omar proposed that her office would press for the State Department to declassify documents that could lead to the clarification of cases of judicial investigation in the framework of the armed conflict.

Meeting at the La Puya resistance camp

On March 25, the delegation went to the La Puya Resistance camp. There, they were received by members of the resistance and the legal advisor accompanying the arbitration case, where the US mining company Kappes Cassiday (KCA)- Mineras de Guatemala EXMIGUA is suing the State of Guatemala for damages caused by the closure of the nickel mine in 2015.

In this way, the members of the grassroots resistance shared with the