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30 people gathered on the evening of May 16 to hear from Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb about their participation in the March 2019 People of Faith Root Causes Pilgrimage to Honduras sponsored by SHARE-El Salvador, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Sisters of Mercy. This interfaith group of 72 people formed a “reverse caravan,” on a mission to find out why so many Hondurans are leaving their country behind and journeying en masse to settle in other countries.

Rabbi Gottlieb emphasized the U.S. role in creating the root conditions causing people to migrate. She pointed to more than a century of U.S. corporate economic exploitation of the country. U.S. companies have bought up Honduran agricultural land and used Hondurans as cheap labor to plant and harvest crops for export. While once bananas were the primary commodity, today it is palm oil, grown on plantations which destroy the biodiversity of the land.

Today, both Honduran large landowners and transnational corporations are stealing land and water from indigenous people in order to expand large agricultural enterprises and to build mines and hydroelectric dams. Their actions are enforced by Honduran military and police forces, who use violence against people protesting the theft of their land and water. These are further causes of migration, as people who have been targeted by such violence or who have lost land or access to water sometimes leave if they no longer feel safe or no longer can support themselves.

Rabbi Gottlieb picked up a tear gas canister made in Pennsylvania, which was lying on the ground at the Lenca indigenous communities she visited. She scooped up some water in a bottle from the river sacred to the Lenca people, a river threatened by plans to build a dam, which the people had been protesting. Later, in front of Heidi Fulton, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Rabbi Gottlieb performed a cleansing ceremony in which she poured the water over the tear gas canister and demanded that the U.S. stop sending such weapons to Honduras to terrorize people.

Rabbi Rosen pointed to the U.S.-supported 2009 coup in Honduras, which supplanted a democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, as a root cause of mass migration. Zelaya had supported progressive social reforms, but the coup consolidated the power of the right-wing National Party, whose candidates have “won” every Presidential election since, although each time amid allegations of fraud. The OAS, during the last election in 2017, declared that there were so many irregularities in the vote counting process that no one could be sure who won the election.

Under the National Party, protest has been criminalized by laws with overly expansive definitions of “terrorism,” free speech has been threatened through selectively enforced defamation laws, social goods like education and health services have been privatized, land reform measures have been reversed, and social security and pension funds have been looted. These political realities are another root cause of migration, because many people no longer feel that they can change the conditions that oppress them through peaceful means without getting injured or killed by the government.

Nevertheless, both rabbis emphasized that many people continue to stay in Honduras and non-violently resist the current Honduran administration. Members of social movements in Honduras actively resist oppressive government policies and demand that the illegal administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez step down, despite his ongoing attempts to silence their voices through ordering security forces to attack their demonstrations with tear gas and live bullets.

For reports from this delegation, see https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/delegation-examines-firsthand-the-root-causes-of-migration-in-honduras and https://www.paxchristi.net/news/honduras-pax-christi-co-president-marie-dennis-returns-root-causes-delegation-honduras/7250

For photos from the delegation, see https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS842US843&q=2019+SHARE+delegation+to+Honduras&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjh_f700K3iAhUPiqwKHeRJC1gQsAR6BAgJEAE&biw=1680&bih=858

Three groups within the national Honduras Solidarity Network—Alliance for Global Justice, La Voz de los de Abajo, and Code Pink– also sponsored an emergency delegation to Honduras March 25 – April 2. Their complete report can be found at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1alBO_-Z6sIrbUUuT89FX3K5CMKVMLvL1.

 

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In 2019, CRLN supports the following Latin America- and immigration-related bills, all of which are still in Committee. Has your member of the U.S. Congress from Illinois introduced or co-sponsored any of them? If not, call your Senators or Representative and ask them to co-sponsor. You can be connected to their office by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 1-202-224-3121.

Check out the chart below for your member of Congress’ name and current record:

U.S. SENATORS FROM ILLINOIS ON CENTRAL AMERICA AND IMMIGRATION

Senator – political party

S.428

 Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2019

 

S.716

Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act

S.874

DREAM Act of 2019

no bill number yet

 SECURE Act

S.80

John S. McCain III Human Rights Commission

Sen. Richard Durbin – D

 

Co-sponsor Introduced Co-sponsor
Tammy Duckworth – D

 

S.428 – Freedom to Export to Cuba Act of 2019: To lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

S.716 – Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act: To impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to combat corruption, money laundering, and impunity in Guatemala, and for other purposes. The bill was proposed in response to President Jimmy Morales’ expulsion of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala and to the charges of corruption against him and other government officials.

S.874 – DREAM Act of 2019With some conditions, this bill would give lawful permanent residency to any immigrant who entered the U.S. before turning 18, who has had continuous physical presence in the U.S. for 4 years, is law-abiding, and is enrolled in high school or higher education or already has been granted DACA status.

SECURE Act of 2019: Would provide a pathway for people from countries granted Temporary Protected Status (in Latin America, that would be people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua), who have been ordered by the current administration to leave the U.S. by specific dates, to apply for lawful permanent residency.

S.80: To create the John S. McCain III Human Rights Commission in the Senate, a counterpart to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House, to serve as a bipartisan forum for discussion and promotion of human rights and awareness of human rights violations.

 

U.S. REPRESENTATIVES FROM ILLINOIS ON LATIN AMERICA AND IMMIGRATION

Representative

 Party

H.R. 1945

 Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act

 

H.R. 1630

Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act

H.R. 6

 American Dream and Promise Act

H.R. 1898

 Cuba Agricultural Exports Act

 

 
Rep. Bobby Rush (IL-01)

 

D

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor

reviewing

 
Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-02)

D

Co-sponsor

 
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (IL-03)

D

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04- new member of Congress)

 

D

 Co-sponsor  

Co-sponsor

 
Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05)

D

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor

Rep. Sean Casten (IL-06 – new member of Congress)

 

D

Co-sponsor

 

 
Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7)

 

   D

Co-sponsor

 

Co-sponsor

   
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08)  

     

   D

reviewing

reviewing Co-sponsor

reviewing

 
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)

 

   D

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor Co-sponsor

 
Rep. Bradley Schneider (IL-10)

 

   D  

Co-sponsor

Rep. Bill Foster (IL-11)

 

   D

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor

Rep. Mike Bost (IL-12)

 

   R
Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13)

 

 

   R
Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14- new member of  Congress)

 

   D  

Co-sponsor

Rep. John Shimkus (IL-15)    R
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL-16)

 

   R
Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL-17)

 

   D  

Co-sponsor

Co-sponsor

Rep. Darin LaHood (IL-18)

   R

 

H.R. 1945 – Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act: prohibits funds from being made available to Honduras for the police or military (including for equipment and training) and directs the Department of the Treasury to instruct U.S. representatives at multilateral development banks to vote against any loans for the police or military of Honduras until the Department of State certifies that the government of Honduras has ended impunity, protects human rights defenders, and taken the military out of domestic policing.

 H.R. 1630 – Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act. Companion bill to S.716 to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to combat corruption, money laundering, and impunity in Guatemala, and for other purposes. The bill was proposed in response to President Jimmy Morales’ expulsion of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala and to the charges of corruption against him and other government officials.

H.R. 6 – American Dream and Promise Act: Companion bill to S.874 and SECURE Act of 2019 to provide a pathway to lawful permanent residency for those currently covered by DACA or other immigrants who were brought here as children who meet the DACA requirements AND those for who had Temporary Protected Status as of a certain date.

H.R. 1898 – Cuba Agricultural Exports Act:  would modify the prohibition on United States assistance and financing for agricultural exports to Cuba.

 

 

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The Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which would cut off military and police aid to Honduras until impunity for their human rights violations ceases, is due to be reintroduced in a couple of weeks. Rep. Hank Johnson has contacted the 70 Representatives who co-sponsored the bill with him during the last session of Congress to ask them to sign on again to show strength of support when the bill is reintroduced. Those from Illinois who signed on in the 2017-2018 session of Congress are Reps. Rush, Lipinski, Quigley, Danny Davis, Schakowsky, and Foster.

The bill never got out of the Foreign Affairs Committee during the last two sessions of Congress with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. There is a chance that with a Democratic majority and new progressives in office, it will advance to the floor of the House for a vote. In Illinois, we must contact new Representatives Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-4) and Sean Casten (IL-6) for their support on this bill.

CRLN staff and board members will be in DC April 4-8 and will take letters to all Illinois members of Congress at that time. The letters will include a request to support this bill if it has been reintroduced by then, or to cut off military and police aid by other means if the bill has not been reintroduced yet. Email shunter-smith@crln.org with name and address if you give us permission to add your name to your members of Congress’ letters.

Berta Caceres was an inspired feminist, indigenous rights and environmental activist and leader who was murdered on March 2, 2016. While her case went to court and some of those involved in her assassination were convicted, the intellectual authors of her death have yet to be held accountable, according to her family and an international panel of experts who investigated the case. Berta’s family’s and her organization COPINH’s persistence, along with International solidarity efforts with the family and COPINH, was key to getting her case tried in court at all.

Honduras now has an illegal President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who “won” an election for a second term that was prohibited by the Honduran constitution, and who shut down the vote counting computers repeatedly to tamper with the election results. He is one of the golpistas, one who was behind the 2009 coup, and he is already planning his re-election campaign for 2021. He has consolidated power through appointments of friends in all branches of government and is a dictator in everything but name. There is a direct connection between his misuse of power and the tens of thousands of people leaving Honduras in a mass exodus on the “caravans.” His brother, a former Honduran Congressman, was recently arrested in Miami and charged with being a major mover of cocaine into the U.S., and his personally appointed national police chief has a history of accepting bribes from drug cartels. He has sought the arrest and conviction of journalists and opposition political figures who try to bring such crimes to light. The corruption of his administration is another reason we should not be sending aid to Honduras.

Articles:

Unavision:  “Judge denies bail  to brother of Honduran president arrested on drug charges”

AP:  “Honduran lawmaker faces defamation trial after naming names”

See previous posts on Honduras on the CRLN website for background on the 2017 Honduran presidential election and the international investigation into Berta’s murder, 

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University of California at Santa Cruz Professor of History Emerita, Dana Frank, was in Chicago on February 27 and was interviewed by WBEZ’s Jerome McDonnell on the program “Worldview.” Here is the link:

https://www.wbez.org/shows/worldview-podcast/historian-dana-frank-on-honduran-politics-us-intervention-food-mondays-can-romanstyle-pizza-make-it-in-chicago/662032dc-bc70-4e42-b647-a7709d8f429a

Professor Frank has just published another book, The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror and the U.S. in the Aftermath of the Coup.  CRLN has 3 copies for sale. Please contact Sharon at shunter-smith@crln.org or call the CRLN office at 773-293-2964 if you would like to buy a copy.

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By Sidney Hollander, Secretary, CRLN Board of Directors

Guatemala is in the grip of a constitutional crisis that threatens to reinstate a regime of dictatorship and death squads supported by the U.S. government.

This is the message that was delivered to me and my fellow members of a CRLN delegation to Guatemala by a variety of human rights activists in January of this year.  Appalled by the looming threat to the modest progress toward righting the historic wrongs that continue to cast a shadow over public life in Guatemala, these activists deplored the recent U.S. retreat from its previous 12 years of support for the effort to bring justice to Guatemala and pleaded with us to help rekindle that support in the U.S. congress.

Because of the urgency and importance of this moment, explained below, CRLN is forming a Guatemala Working Group. Call the CRLN office at 773-293-2964 or email shunter-smith@crln.org if you are interested in joining a CRLN Working Group on Guatemala.

The United States, with a few notable exceptions, has been playing a relentlessly destructive role in Guatemala since at least 1954 when the CIA-engineered a coup that overthrew a democratically elected reformist regime because it was encroaching on U.S. business interests there.  In the ensuing maelstrom of repression and rebellion the U.S. allied itself with the Spanish-descended economic elite and its military, supplying arms and training in support of a barbarous genocidal counterinsurgency that destroyed 440 Mayan villages and killed over 200,000 people, nearly all of them civilians.

The heavy hand of the U.S. did not stop there.  When survivors of these massacres and related repressions sought refuge in the United States, the Reagan administration barred them, thereby inadvertently giving rise to the Sanctuary Movement of churches and synagogues that sheltered these “illegal” refugees in defiance of the U.S. government.

CRLN is a direct outgrowth of that sanctuary work in the 1980s.  Over the years it has continued to stand with Guatemalans in their postwar pursuit of justice and to call out the U.S. government when it impedes that work.

That is the background of the crisis that CRLN found during its January delegation.  The current constitutional crisis has its roots in the crimes of the counterinsurgency.  The long-delayed effort to bring the perpetrators to justice got a big boost about 12 years ago in a fleeting, breakthrough moment when the Guatemalan government, desperate for some measure of international and domestic legitimacy, agreed to cosponsor a United Nations Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, in the Spanish acronym).  Its mandate was to assist the Guatemalan Attorney General in the development of prosecutions relating to crimes from the past as well as from the present.  The U.S. supplied a portion of the necessary funding.

The CICIG has become a victim of its own success.  In its support of dozens of successful prosecutions of perpetrators of the genocide and of sitting politicians, including a sitting president and vice president, the CICIG has come to be seen as a threat to the allied business and military elites that have long dominated Guatemalan politics and government.  It was the 1970s and 1980s threat to this same elite that caused it to launch the brutal counterinsurgency, so it is no surprise that it has launched a counterattack on the CICIG.

The current crisis was precipitated by the present president of Guatemala who, along with his son and brother, has come under investigation and fears that they will be indicted for corruption.  He and his allies for some time have been attacking the CICIG as an agent of foreign powers that are compromising Guatemalan sovereignty.  They have even used high priced lobbyists to win the support of conservative politicians in the U.S.  These attacks came to a head late last year when the president declared that he was ending the mandate of the CICIG.

The resulting political crisis rapidly became a constitutional crisis when the Constitutional Court ruled that the president lacked the authority to terminate the CICIG unilaterally, the president defied the Court and withdrew police protection from the CICIG workers.  He then sought to indict and remove the Court majority on charges that they had acted against the law by ruling against him.   That is where things stand as of this moment in mid-February.

It is painful to report that the United States has jettisoned its 12-year support for the CICIG.  The State Department and the embassy have issued statements in defense of Guatemalan sovereignty and blandly said they favor the rule of law.  They have remained pointedly silent on the CICG, in contrast with the robust support they have voiced in the past.

Guatemalan human rights activists see the CICIG crisis as part of a larger drift toward dictatorship characterized by the reappearance of death squads, the criminalization of protest and opposition generally, and the subordination of independent branches of government to the control of the president acting on behalf of the old elite.  Emblematic of this drift is proposed legislation that would void the convictions that the CICIG has helped to obtain and forbid further prosecutions of crimes committed during the counterinsurgency, thus reinstating the impunity on which elite rule has rested.  In addition, a companion bill would subject nongovernmental organizations to onerous registration and reporting requirements and would outlaw many of their activities.  If this bill is enacted many of the groups with which CRLN works would find it difficult or impossible to operate, and individual activists would find themselves in even greater jeopardy than they are at present.

The awful developments in Guatemala create a particular moment for CRLN.  As members of CRLN we are not powerless to resist Guatemala’s slide toward dictatorship.  We must remain in contact with our partners there.  We must contact U.S. officials and other leaders.  We must spread the word so that our friends and associates in the U.S. can do the same.

Because of the urgency and importance of this moment, CRLN is forming a Guatemala working group.  All members are invited to join.  I definitely will be participating.  I hope many of us will.  We have a lot of work to do.

Call the CRLN office at 773-293-2964 or email shunter-smith@crln.org if you are interested in joining a CRLN Working Group on Guatemala.

 

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CRLN DELEGATION TO GUATEMALA: JANUARY 6 – 19, 2019

 

CRLN’s 2019 delegation to Guatemala was a very special journey of accompaniment, learning and solidarity. We visited rural communities and met with human rights organizations working to promote justice and peace in Guatemala. We shared meals with our Guatemalan friends, listened to their stories, and explored ways in which CRLN can continue to support their struggle to build a more just and humane society. Throughout our travels and visits, we endeavored to learn about the factors that cause people to leave their homeland and migrate to the US and the factors that could make them want to stay.

 

New Hope (Chaculá): This year marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of this community of repatriated refugees, who fled genocidal attacks by the Guatemalan Army in the 1980’s. At their request to guarantee their safety, Martha Pierce provided international accompaniment for them as they made their way from the Mexican refugee camps to their new community, and a 25-year partnership began. Since 1994, CRLN and its predecessor, CMSA, have supported the community through annual visits on the anniversary of their return (January 12), support for international human rights accompaniers in the village, and scholarships for students at the local school from funds raised by CRLN’s Pedal for Peace Bike-a-thon. The dedicated young teachers at the school, many of whom have benefitted from these scholarships themselves, believe strongly that a good education will enable their students to remain in Guatemala, rather than migrating to the USA.

 

The Roots of Migration: Our friends in Chaculá are trying to build their community and their lives in the midst of the ongoing challenges of economic inequality, racism, and corruption that fuel violence and cause some people to make the difficult decision to leave their homeland. In Chaculá, we could easily see the differences in living conditions for those who have family members in the North and those who do not.

 

The violence that affects much of the country is felt in Chaculá as well.  Situated very close to the Mexico border, they are quite aware of drug trafficking, as well as the passage of migrants through their area. Many people in Chaculá were mourning with the family of a young boy from a neighboring village, who had recently died in US Border Patrol custody.

 

We had to cut our visit short by a day and return to the city, because people throughout the country were protesting the Guatemalan President’s efforts to end investigations into corruption and impunity that were being carried out by a UN-appointed commission known as CICIG. He defied a Constitutional Court order to allow CICIG to do its work, precipitating a constitutional crisis or “technical coup.”  Everyone we talked to – villagers, taxi drivers, shop-keepers, community leaders  – supported the work of CICIG, and all agreed that corruption of government officials is pervasive throughout the society. The lack of the rule of law, this absence of justice, is one more factor pushing people to leave the country.

 

While in Chaculá, we heard about regional resistance to a large hydro-electric dam that would displace many indigenous people, while channeling the electric power to other areas of the country. And we saw homemade signs reading “No a la mineria, si a la vida” (No to mining, yes to life) along the roadsides, expressing local opposition to gold and silver mines that are causing environmental damage and health problems in the area. These large mega-projects, which displace people from their land and/or pollute land and water, are another source of migration.

 

Advocacy: Finally, we met with representatives of our own government, at the US Embassy. We presented a letter from CRLN to Ambassador Luis Arreaga, expressing our concern about the constitutional crisis in Guatemala. We urged the US to speak out more forcefully in support of the rule of law and against corruption, as they have done in the past. We also stated that, if the US wants to help end migration, they should focus their efforts on strengthening democracy, as well as the economy, in Guatemala.

 

Organizations for justice, human dignity/human rights, and historical memory:

In Guatemala City, we met with NISGUA, an organization that provides accompaniment for human rights defenders who have received threats and builds ties between the peoples of the USA and Guatemala in the struggle for justice, human dignity, and respect for the earth.

 

A highlight of our trip was a visit to “Common Hope,” where we were hosted by former CRLN staff member, Jenny Dale. She took us to visit a local school, filled with lively and energetic children, that is supported by CH through its programs of child sponsorship and teacher enrichment. We also stopped in a nearby village to meet a woman who had received a room addition through CH. Then Jenny took us on a tour of the CH campus, where they provide teacher trainings, health care, and a space for volunteers. The work of CH not only benefits local Guatemalans, but also provides awareness and understanding to the US volunteers who go there to work and learn. What a treat to see Jenny doing such good and important work!

 

Another highlight of our trip was a visit to Casa de la Memoria, an interactive museum that illustrates the long and proud history of the Maya people, their experiences of repression, and their courageous resistance and resilience. We followed up with a visit to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The grand, ancient stone temples and pyramids stand, surrounded by jungle, as testaments to the wisdom and strength of the Maya people. Their deep roots continue to provide guidance and strength as the Maya carry on their struggle for justice, equity, and peace. We are so grateful for this opportunity to learn from, and walk with, the beautiful people of Guatemala.

 

Martha Pierce, Lucy Pierce, Sidney Hollander, Kay Berkson, Michael Swartz, Steven Schippers, Barbara Gerlach

 

For further reading:

The Guardian–Why are Guatemalans seeking asylum? US policy is to blame                                                                                                                                      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/23/why-guatemalans-seeking-asylum-us-policy?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

    

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Last year, we reported on 25 political prisoners who were jailed during the post-November 2017 protests against the rigged Presidential elections in Honduras. CRLN asked our members to participate in the campaign to free them. Today we report that most of the 25 have been released, but Edwin Espinal and Raúl Eduardo Álvarez remain in prison. We are still advocating for their release.

Monday, the two had a court hearing. Karen Spring, Edwin’s wife, sent the following report:

 

A TINY STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION …. COURT CONFIRMS THE LACK OF DUE PROCESS IN THE CASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS EDWIN ESPINAL AND RAUL ALVAREZ

 

On February 18, political prisoners Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez had a hearing in the national jurisdiction sentencing court in Tegucigalpa. The hearing is part of the lead-up to the trial (that still has not been scheduled) and served the following purpose: To argue the lack of due process, from the beginning, of the entire case.

 

In the hearing, Edwin’s lawyers argued that the case & charges against Edwin should be annulled because the national jurisdiction court system created to try organized criminal networks and structures, does not have jurisdiction to hear the case given that Edwin isn’t part of a criminal group & none of the charges he is accused of, are related to organized crime. Raul’s lawyers requested that the case be sent to the normal court system making similar arguments.

 

Following these arguments, the court ruled that they would not annul the process arguing that they did not have jurisdiction to hear any petitions or arguments about the case. This is also the reason that we could not proceed to a bail hearing the same day – the court simply would not rule on any petitions given their lack of jurisdiction (confirming the arguments that Edwin and Raul’s lawyers made).

 

The recent ruling is a considered a small victory for Edwin, Raul and their supporters because the court’s ruling tells us that from the beginning, Edwin and Raul’s constitutional rights have been violated because the judges that have ruled on their case & sent them to prison previously, had no jurisdiction or legal authority to do so.

 

Next steps: Wait until the case is admitted by the correct normal court then a bail hearing will be requested. This could happen as early as next week.

 

To watch an interview in Spanish from Edwin’s lawyer, Omar Menjivar following the hearing:

 

https://criterio.hn/2019/02/18/edwin-espinal-y-raul-alvarez-han-estado-presos-por-orden-dictada-por-autoridad-incompetente-video

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The US has a long record of intervening in El Salvador’s affairs, from taking the side of dictators in civil conflicts to attempting to influence elections after the Peace Accords were signed and democracy was restored in the 1990’s,  US government representatives have frequently threatened to cut off US aid or remittances sent home by Salvadorans living in the US unless they voted for the right-wing ARENA party.  Currently, President Trump’s frequent threats to cut aid to El Salvador are being used by the right-wing media in El Salvador as part of a smear campaign against the current administration in El Salvador (FMLN party) and as a way to intimidate voters in the February 3 Presidential elections.

Representatives Grijalva (D-AZ), Beyer (D-VA) and Serrano (D-NY) are circulating a Congressional  sign-on letter, calling on the Trump Administration to refrain from positioning themselves in any sort of partisan manner or making any statements to influence the decision of Salvadoran voters ahead of the elections. Please call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask to be connected to your U.S. Representative’s office, ask to speak to the Foreign Policy staff member, and tell them why your Representative should sign onto this letter. If the Foreign Policy Staff member is not available, ask to be connected to their voice mail and leave a message or ask for their email and send your message to them in writing.

If you do not know the name of your representative, click here to find out.

Here is a sample script:

“Hi, my name is ________ and I am a constituent of Rep. _______. Representatives Grijalva, Beyer, and Serrano are circulating a Congressional sign-on letter calling on the Trump Administration to respect the democratic process in El Salvador in their upcoming February 3rd elections. Unfortunately, there has been a history in past elections of Republican Administrations making threats to cut off aid, deport Salvadorans from the U.S., or not allow Salvadorans living here to send money to family members in El Salvador if Salvadorans support candidates who are left of center and don’t vote for right-wing candidates.  Because many Salvadorans depend on money they receive from relatives in the U.S. for basic necessities, these public statements are frightening and can sway people’s votes. The U.S. should not interfere in another sovereign nation’s elections in this way.

We need Rep. ______ to sign onto this letter to let the Salvadoran people know that the U.S. will respect their democratic process. The deadline for signing on is this Friday, January 25. You can call Marilyn.Zepeda@mail.house.gov to sign on.”

To be most effective, follow up your phone call with an email and ask the Foreign Policy staff to let you know when your Representative makes a decision about signing on. Please copy shunter-smith@crln.org so CRLN can track the effectiveness of our network.

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Late yesterday afternoon, we received notice from Witness for Peace that Sen. Ed Markey (MA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) began circulating a sign-on “Dear Colleague” letter in the U.S. Congress to President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo, urging them to investigate and condemn recent threats against human rights defenders, journalists and international human rights observers in Honduras. So far, Representatives Johnson (GA), Kaptur (OH), Holmes Norton (DC), Ellison (MN), Espaillat (NY), McGovern (MA), Jayapal (WA), Khanna (CA), Lee (CA), Gutiérrez (IL-4), and  Pocan (WI-2) have joined Sen. Markey and Rep. Schakowsky on this letter.

Call the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) today and ask to be connected to the office of your member of Congress. Demand safety for people who are doing important human rights work or reporting on matters of public interest.

The danger is serious. Journalists, as well as the director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, have received threats and been attacked in Honduras. Foreigners documenting human rights abuses have been deported, and smear campaigns have targeted people critical of the Honduran government, even extending to Witness for Peace delegations. Some of these threats and attacks have come from members of Honduran state security forces, which the U.S. funds.

Rep. Schakowsky and Sen. Markey’s letter calls on the Trump administration to:

-communicate concern to the Government of Honduras and request that it investigate these attacks, determine if state security forces were involved, and bring the perpetrators to justice.

-direct the State Department to 1) provide Congress with a detailed assessment of the efficacy of current Honduran government efforts to protect freedom of expression, and 2) reassess its certification of human rights conditions in Honduras.

-immediately investigate threats against U.S. citizens, report the findings of the investigation to Congress, and include in the report what actions the administration has taken in response.

Call your members of Congress (both Senators and your House Representative) NOW to ask them to take action to help protect journalists, human rights defenders and international observers.

Sample call script:

“My name is ________ and I’m a constituent calling from _________. I’m calling to ask Senator/Representative _____ to sign the Markey/SchakowskyDear Colleague” letter calling for immediate action to address an alarming recent pattern of threats against journalists, human rights defenders, and international human rights observers working in Honduras. The letter is just circulating for two days and is crucial to the protection of people doing the vitally important work of documenting and relating the human rights situation in Honduras to the U.S. and broader international community.

Has Senator/Representative _______ seen this letter? Can I count on him/her to sign on? Please call me at (_your phone number_) to let me know if you have seen the letter, and if Senator/Representative _____ will sign it.”  To sign on to the letter contact Aaron Weinberg with Rep. Schakowsky (Aaron.Weinberg@mail.house.gov) or Satrajit (Jitu) Sardar with Sen. Markey (Satrajit_Sardar@markey.senate.gov).

 

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Activists in El Salvador are currently fighting against the potential privatization of water in their country. Many areas of the country are dependent upon unrestricted access to local wells in order to obtain potable water. If water were to be privatized, many Salvadorans would lose their access to clean drinking water, as the costs of water as a market-based commodity would exceed the means of the majority of Salvadorans.

 

Current government data shows that 90% of the country’s surface water is irreparably polluted, and 1.5 million Salvadorans lack access to potable water. Andrés McKinley, a mining and water specialist at the University of Central America, spoke to the diren nature of the situation: “We are reaching the crisis level of having 1,700 cubic meters of freshwater per capita, while Guatemala and Nicaragua have between 15,000 and 30,000!” Without unrestricted access to clean drinking water, the human rights situation in El Salvador could take a sharp turn for the worse.

 

The leftist political party, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), has supported environmental organizations and the broader social movement, seeking to protect water as the vital resource that it is and to ensure its equitable distribution through the proposed “General Water Law,” which was originally introduced in 2006. The General Water Law would, among other goals, define and protect water as a human right, as well as ensure universal access for the population and integrate community consultation into national decision-making regarding water usage.

 

The FMLN has coordinated with the National Water Forum to introduce an updated version of the law in 2013 in the Environmental and Climate Change Commission of the Legislative Assembly. With this cooperation, the debate over water regulation pushed forward, with ninety-two articles approved before the discussions were stopped by the opposition, who insisted that the private sector be included in the new regulatory bodies the General Water Law was proposing.

 

The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party is instead proposing a “Comprehensive Water Law,” which would bring corporate entities into the management of the country’s water system. Since the right-wing’s proposal, protests in rejection of their proposal have been near-constant. Despite these protests, the right-wing parties obtained a supermajority in the legislature following the 2018 elections, and are moving forward quickly in taking steps to pass their bill.

 

Despite the right-wing parties’ efforts, opposition to their bill remains strong, with numerous entities taking public positions against the proposed law. For instance, the Catholic Church has also been outspoken in their support for community partnerships in the regulation and usage of water, and against the privatization of water by large corporations. The Catholic Church and the Jesuit-run University of Central America (UCA)  produced a study on water management in Latin America, which was then delivered to Salvadoran lawmakers as Congress considered the Comprehensive Water Law.

The study, which was drafted in 2017 by Costa Rican specialist Lilian Quezada with support from UCA, shows that most Latin American countries have a state regulatory body that manages water with a focus on the citizens’ common good. UCA chancellor Andreu Oliva added that the report will allow members of Congress’ Environment and Climate Change Commission to get a “better overview of the importance of water being managed by public entities, as opposed to the private sector.”

 

San Salvador Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas said that the Salvadoran Catholic Church will continue to defend the rights of the country’s poor, demanding a “fair, efficient and equal water law.”

 

The bishops of El Salvador have also taken a stand in urging lawmakers to oppose any plans for privatizing water, saying the poor could not afford to pay the cost of a vital necessity. In a statement issued in June and titled, “We will not allow the poor to die of thirst,” the Salvadoran bishops’ conference cited Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” which states, “Access to potable and secure water is a basic, fundamental and universal human right because it determines the survival of people and therefore is a condition for the exercising of all other rights.”

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