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 delegation the process that led to the resistance, recalling that on March 2, 2012, eviction attempts and police and institutional repression began.
Edgar Pérez, La Puya's lawyer in the arbitration case, stated that in Guatemala, defending water is a crime. In this context, criminalization is understood as the manipulation of the system
to prevent resistance from being expressed. He also stated that "human beings do not live on gold and nickel".
Echoing this, one of the representatives of the resistance, Álvaro Sandoval, assured that the contamination of the territory and the extraction of land implied by the mining activity, causes the exponential increase of drought.
He also asked the congresspeople to send a letter to the arbitration tribunal (established in 2018), notifying the tribunal that they are observing the arbitration process, highlighting the international and U.S. presence, in particular.
The congresspeople assure that they will be able to look into it (arbitration process), above all, because there is a commission that monitors the DR-CAFTA.
Meeting with the grassroots and leaders of the El Escobal resistance
On the last day of the delegation, March 26, the congresspeople met with members of the resistance of the El Escobal silver mine. During the meeting, the members of the resistance talked about several attempts on their lives and all kinds of persecution due to their rejection of the mining project.
Aleiser Arana, President of the Xinka Parliament, assured that the United States should support in attacking the causes that generate migration in these countries to the northern country. Several members of the resistance have had to emigrate to the north of the country due to political persecution and threats of all kinds that they have been subjected to for opposing the mining project.
On the other hand, Topacio Reynoso commented that in order to bring the attack that he suffered in 2016 to justice, an attack in which his daughter died, the United States should promote the existence of useful, strong investigative units, so as not to have to resort to international entities that involve efforts that many people cannot afford and, would be avoidable if at the national level there were functioning institutions.
To close, the social organizations request the careful monitoring of U.S. government aid to the governments of the northern triangle as it relates to extractivist projects, projects for the institutional strengthening of the States, social projects and military assistance for the fight against drug trafficking.
For their part, the Guatemalan congresswomen requested assistance for the population of the Northern Triangle residing in the U.S., advocating for approving the legal status of Guatemalans in that country, as well as asked the U.S. government to collaborate in combating the root causes of the migratory phenomenon, where poverty, violence and corruption stand out.
In response to the requests, the delegation of U.S. congresspeople committed - as they did in Honduras - to summon the Vice President of the United States to comment on all the testimonies they gathered during their visit to the Northern Triangle and to request a readjustment of the international policy of the Biden Plan to combat the causes of migration.
In addition, they agreed to monitor the situation of the socio-environmental conflicts that they had the opportunity to learn about, in order to carry out concrete advocacy actions before the state and multilateral organizations involved in financing these initiatives.
They also pledged to pressure the State Department to declassify those reports that could help with the resolution of the cases of forced disappearance that they had the opportunity to learn about during the visit.
On the other hand, it should be recalled that the meeting with El Salvador's organized civil society took place at a time of extreme political tension between Salvadoran social organizations and the Salvadoran government, which is why the meeting had to take place outside the borders of that country.
In the meantime, Guatemala lives a continuous and exhausting government dynamic that has been maintained since the signing of the peace agreements in 1996, where corruption and the lack of recognition of native peoples as legitimate political subjects with decisionmaking power over their territories is endemic.