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Time and time again, journalists are victims of violence and repression in many Central American counties. In an effort to cut the freedom of the press, governments all over the continent have implemented laws to persecute critical media and shut down news outlets, as well as obstructing access to public information and stigmatizing individuals and outlets. But this repression is only one side of the sword. In many countries journalists and reporters are targets of threats, cyber attacks and even assassinations. This constant harassment and fear of being the next one killed or imprisoned has caused many to go into exile. 

In Honduras four reporters have been killed since the beginning of 2022, a trend that has been going on for decades. Between 2001 and today 98 killings of journalists were recorded. Such violent attacks and killings usually remain without any sentence or even conviction in Honduras, a fact criticized by many. The director of the Committee for Free Expression calls this lack of punishment "enormous impunity," and the Honduras National Human Rights Commission sees the media as a victim of "extreme violence." Besides the direct violence against journalists, the state threatens the freedom of expression with laws targeting reporters, journalists and news outlets. 

The exiling of reporters takes its most excessive form in Nicaragua, where nearly 200 journalists and reporters and others have gone into exile, 23 of whom were even stripped of their citizenship. As a legal rationalization, the Nicaraguan government declared these 23 individuals as traitors to the nation. In addition to the oppression of individual people, Nicaraguan authorities have taken over the daily La Prensa, the channel 100% Noticias, the two digital magazines Confidencial and Niu, and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche. 

In Guatemala, criminal persecution is the most serious threat to the free press. In that country many journalists, reporters and other media personal have been jailed. Since President Alejandro Giammattei took office in January 2020, 12 journalists and reporters critical of him have gone into exile. 

In El Salvador violence against media personnel is a regularity.According to the  Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), 611 cases of aggression against reporters and Journalists have been recorded since the election of President Nayib Bukele in 2019. Legal reforms in the country hindering reporters and journalists in their work have led the news outlet El Faro to move to Costa Rica in mid-April. Again and again repression has  caused reporters to leave the country.  Eleven individuals were forced to exit the country and 30 were spied on with the Pegasus software, provided by Israel. Between 2021 and 2022 the government has closed down three radio stations. 

Another country cutting freedom of  the press is Panama. Here the state regularly abuses its oppressive legal system against critics. Anti-slander, and personal data protection laws are being used by authorities to set up civil and criminal lawsuits against media outlets like La Pensa daily and the digital media site Foco. The fear of being sued, and charged with millions in fines or even prison time, leads to a climate of self-censorship within the media spectrum. 

Compared to the other countries mentioned above, Costa Rica is a relatively safe harbor. In the country no journalists are reported jailed or persecuted. But even here three critical media outlets were verbally attacked by government officials.

Though these grievances have been going on for decades, the situation hasn't improved. It is important that journalists, reporters and news outlets are able to do their work safely and without having to fear persecution. We call on all Central American nations to ensure a free press and freedom of speech.         


News Article

to IRTF’s May 2023 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border! After you’ve looked through the articles, we hope you can take a couple of minutes to see the TAKE ACTION items at the bottom. The articles in this email version are abbreviated.

In this newsletter, please read about 1. Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH; 2. ICE Air Flights: Update on Removal Flight Trends; 3 .Labor Exploitation of Unaccompanied Minors: Congress is slow to act ; 4. New Protections for Immigrant Workers; 5. At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border; 6. Effects of the end of T42 and DHS new plans for processing migrants. To read the full newsletter, see .


Here is what you can do to take action this week and act in solidarity with migrants and their families.

Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!

Bring Home Immigrants who’ve been deported from Ohio. 

Tell Congress to Protect Dreamers

News Article

Right-wing death squads worked side by side with the country’s business, military and political elite to sow terror in the countryside and wipe out left-wing insurgencies.  Now on trial, a formed high-ranking paramilitary commander testifies that paramilitaries regularly took orders from state institutions as it became the state military's unofficial arm to fight the left-wing revolutionary forces. 

The armed conflict has been waged in Colombia for the past six decades.   The main actors in the armed struggle that has cost the lives of at least 450,000 people and displaced millions are: 1) left wing revolutionary forces (FARC, ELN), 2) Colombia's official military, and 3) paramilitaries (such as United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia , or AUC). Originally the AUC was founded as an effort to protect land owners  but turned into one of Colombia's most powerful drug cartels with a military force of 20,000 combatants in its height. In 2004 a controversial deal between the AUC and the Colombian government led to a large majority of fighters laying down their weapons and later the beginning of a process of prosecution of military leaders.

One of these high ranking AUC leaders now facing legal prosecution is Salvatore Mancuso, drug offender and former second in command of the AUC. In 2008 Mancuso was first arrested on drugs charges in the USA in 2008 and released in 2020. Today Mancuso is charged again by a Colombian court for his role in the Colombian civil war. Mancuso, in an effort to reduce his sentence, has agreed to give a testimony in the ongoing peace tribunal for the crimes committed by AUC forces during the their time of terror.

In his testimony Mancuso has revealed information on many of the crimes committed, as well as government and the AUC cooperation during the civil war. According to Mancuso's testimony, the AUC worked hand in hand with the Colombian business, political and military elite for years in an effort to wipe out leftist groups no matter if civilian or militant. Mancuso stated that over the years, the AUC regularly took orders from state institutions as it became the state military's unofficial arm to fight the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). During its most active years, the AUC committed hundreds of atrocities, including a number of massacres of civilians, torture, rape and kidnapping by order of the state. In the hearing, Mancuso admitted organizing thousands of crimes, including the killing of TV-comedian and activist Jaime Garzon in 1998, attacks on civilian communities, and an assassination attempt on Gustavo Petro, who was then a left-wing congressman and now the country’s president. During his time as second in command, Mancuso was deeply involved with corporate enterprises and Colombian politics.  At his height in 2004, Mancuso even gave a speech in the Colombian parliament which was applauded with standing ovations. But this high regard  didn't come out of nowhere. One year earlier in 2003, AUC forces killed Eudaldo Díaz, the mayor of El Roble; according to Mancuso, the assassination was ordered by the government. Shortly prior to this, Álvaro Uribe (then president of Colombia) removed security detail from the mayor, a move that allowed AUC mercenaries to attack, torture and eventually kill him.

Mancuso additionally stated in his testimony that former vice-president Francisco Santos requested the formation of a new AUC unit around the city of Bogotá to stop left-wing rebels from reaching the capital. Both Uribe and Santos deny the accusations made by Mancuso.

In his testimony Mancuso also talked about the financing, training and equipping of the AUC paramilitaries and the strategic cooperation with the Colombian military.  According to this, AUC forces were financed by international corporations like Coke and Drummond during the 1990s. Like Uribe and Santos, all companies deny these alligations. Mancuso avowed that AUC fighters were trained and equipped by the state military, as well as admitting the planning of two-front-offensives together.  Many of these offensives and attacks by AUC ended in massacres, which were regularly wiped under the carpet thanks to state attorneys warning the AUC about upcoming investigations, so bodies could be burned.

Mancuso has 30 days to present evidence for his accusations, which could lead to investigations into some of Colombia's most important political figures. Additionally these investigations could advance the search for truth and the goal of providing reparations for the victims. 

Today AUC lives on in a number of splinter groups and drug cartels and still bring terror over the country. The largest still active splinter group is the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), Colombia's largest drug cartel.

In our eyes this struggle for justice is far from resolved but as unsettling as these allegations are, it does not come unexpected. We hope that this testimony will shed some light onto the dark web of war and violence. It is also important that Mancuso's testimony does not put him into a state of impunity. He should be duly punished for his human rights crimes.      


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On Monday of last week, the right-wing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proudly visited the New College Florida for his new, conservative higher education project. For years DeSantis has been on a crusade on 'woke culture' in all areas of life. His new enemy: inclusive education. On Monday May 15, DeSantis signed a bill banning any state funding for diversity, inclusion and equity programs on public colleges.

At the forefront of this culture war DeSantis has placed the New College Florida which has been subsidized with $50 million  since the beginning of the year, and has seen a significant change in staff and educational programming. According to DeSantis, this funding is needed for a conservative transformation into a 'top classical liberal arts college'. And a radical transformation it is! After replacing the university board with DeSantis supporters, a purge-like culture erupted. Within a short period of time, the board got rid of the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) office and fired the president, replacing him with a conservative interim president. This new head kicked off his tenure by firing the diversity dean, a trans gender individual, and the librarian, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community as well. But the restructuring doesn't end there. The university is looking to invest the provided money into the hiring of new teachers, the creation of new sports teams, and the recruitment of new students. Furthermore, a new curriculum was established, restricting what topics will be allowed to be taught at the college. This ideology of control and limitation leads to a system in which any lesson planned by teachers must be reviewed and approved by university officials, a process that does not only harm education, but will also slow down the teaching process.

DeSantis' visit at the New College in Sarasota was greeted by rallying and chanting of students opposed to the changes.  During this propaganda event, the conservative board appointee Cristopher Rufo expressed his support for DeSantis' education policies and called the new restrictions a "once-in-a-generation reform."

Though the New College is the only university which has undergone this reform so far, it is most likely that this reactionary schooling culture will spread throughout Florida, under the SB 266 education bill. 

It is devastating to see how such a hazardous ideology can ravage an established school system. If this crusade against inclusive education spreads to more conservative states, it will not only harm the diversity of education and indoctrinate students into a conservative, right-wing world view but will also establish a culture of division and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, PoC's, women and anyone not fitting in with the white supremacist, straight, Christian ideology, pushed by the conservative political forces.    


News Article

Worldwide Guatemala is known to be one of the most corrupt nations in existence. This corruption is deeply rooted in the entrenched economic and political power structure controlled by a ruling elite. Over the years, many ambitious state prosecutors and judges have tried to challenge this web of corruption; most have failed.

In Guatemala opposition to the internal power system is often met with heavy state repression. Human rights defenders, journalists and justice officials are victims of false alligations and persecutions, as the ruling class weaponizes the Guatemalan justice system against them. So far 35 justice officials have gone into exile, in fear to be criminalized for their anti-corruption work, and many more are imprisoned. 

One victim of the systematic misuse of justice against opposition is the former the public prosecutor Virginia Laparra. Before her detention, Laparra was known as her work as the chief prosecutor in the 'Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity' of Guatemala (FECI). In early 2022, Guatemalan security forces detained Laparra, charging her with "abuse of authority and violation of the duty of loyalty" after filing complaints against Judge Lesther Castellanos alleging acts of corruption within the judiciary. Initially Laparra was detained together with four other female prosecutors and anti-corruption lawyers. Now, on May 9, Laparra's sentence of four years in prison was reaffirmed after being convicted in an irregular trail. To ensure that Laparra stays in prison, she is under investigation a second time, a case that is being kept confidential by order of the court. This second investigation shows once more how the politically controlled justice system keeps Guatemala chained in corruption. Laparra's lawyer Claudia Gonzáles has criticized her detention in the military prison Matamoras. According to human rights groups and Gonzáles, Laparra needed a surgery while in prison. Leading up to this she was denied the freedom to choose a doctor and necessary medication. This act was later documented by international human rights organizations known for investigating corruption and human rights abuses.

Claudia Gonzáles is a well known anti-corruption fighter. Before her days as a lawyer, Gonzáles worked as a prosecutor at the UN backed 'International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala' (CICIG). Today Gonzáles works as a lawyer representing nine fellow lawyers criminalized for their anti-corruption work and challenging the power structure in the country.

In order to stop this corruption and illegal prosecutions, the international community must put pressure on the Guatemalan ruling class as well as the justice system.

IRTF stands in solidarity with Virginia Laparra and all other criminalized anti-corruption fighters in Guatemala.                  

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On May 11, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Guatemalan trans women Estrella Santos-Zacaria. Estrella first fled her home country in 2008, after being raped as a young teenager and receiving death threats from her neighbors because of her gender identity. Shortly after her arrival in the United States, Estrella was taken in to custody by immigration services, and was deported not long after. In its verdict, the immigration court judge stated that Estrella did not make a strong enough case for a possible persecution in Guatemala. Following her deportation, Estrella spent many years in Mexico, without support or protection. Caught in this vulnerable situation, Estrella was assaulted and raped by a Mexican street gang, driving her to a second attempt to seek safety and peace in the U.S.. Finally back in the U.S., Estrella filed a lawsuit in hope of a second chance for asylum. After a long process through the judicial system, and a number of denials, Estrella brought her case to the US Supreme Court. The court, most publicly known for its conservative to right-wing judges and its reactionary stance on women's rights over their bodies, unexpectedly ruled in favor of Estrella, granting her an immigration court date. In a comment on the court's decision, the US State Department verbalized that it has found that Guatemala has done little to protect LGBTQ+ people and that transgender women are subject to frequent threats of violence. 

Though this is positive news, it is still just a technicality and does not guarantee an asylum status. In our eyes, it is necessary that the United States' immigration courts start granting security to all trans people in need.        

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El Salvador's human rights violations may have consequences after all. The human rights organization Humanitarian Legal Aid (SJH) is preparing to sue the Salvadoran state on behalf of families whose relatives have been unlawfully arrested and have died in custody or after release. In its lawsuit, the SJH demands that the government of President Bukele take responsibility for all deaths in prison and after release, requests moral and material reparations for families affected, and demands "to clear the name of the innocent people."   

In an effort to collect info for the lawsuit, SJH has published a social media form in which victims and their relatives can confidentially share their experiences and data to support the case. According to SJH, the lawsuit will first be filed with the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office and its Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (PDDH). SJH further said that if the Salvadoran institutions do not respond, the lawsuit will be brought in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), based in Washington, DC.     

El Salvador has been in a 'state of exception', which takes away constitutional rights and allows police to arrest anyone on site, for over a year now. This crack down policy is part of Bukele's violent war on gangs which has seen at least 65,000 detentions and hundreds of death's. SJH director Ingrid Escobar has criticized the law and anti-gang efforts, stating that "According to criminologists, investigators and  lawyers, only 8 percent of the people who died belonged to gangs. The rest were innocent citizens who were stigmatized as terrorists.”

We are hopeful that this lawsuit may bring a glimpse of justice to those who have lost their innocent family members to the violent anti-gang war, though we know that no reparations will bring back loved ones. 

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One week ago, 33 Democrat representatives urged the U.S. Trade Representative and State Department to eliminate investor-state dispute settlement provisions from current and future trade deals in Honduras and the rest of South-and Central America. In a open letter they state that the investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) is a "problematic corporate handout" system, which violates affected countries sovereignty.

For US companies the ISDS mechanism is a tool that is supposed to secure investments in Central-and South America by allowing corporations to sue nations for compensation if they abruptly change their policies towards corporate involvement and investment. The ISDS mechanism is closely related to the "Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement" (CAFTA-DR). The Free Trade Agreement allows companies to acquire land in these countries and establish autonomous zones in which constitutional labor and environmental requirements are suspended.

In the specific case the congresspeople brought forward the U.S. investment company, Honduras Prospera Inc. claims of, close to $11 Billion in compensations from Honduras, after the Honduran congress repealed the law allowing the autonomous zones. If the compensation claim goes through, the small country would have to pay more than a third of its GDP to a greedy US corporation securing profits through agreements between the strongest and one of the smallest economies in the Americas, while draining Honduran tax payers for its losses.

The claim comes after the Honduran congress repealed the autonomous zones as unconstitutional and made an effort to expel them from their land. Throughout the Americas, the agreement led to a total of $27.8 Billion in ISDS settlement orders, most of which were against Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador. If the $10 Billion settlement demand against Honduras would go through, this would blow every other claim out of the water and would open the doors for more companies suing for massive amounts of compensation.

In their paper, the lawmakers wrote that, "the broken ISDS has time and time again worked in favor of big business interests while infringing on the rights and sovereignty of our trading partners and their people." 

We as IRTF are hopeful that the lawmakers' fight against the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement is successful, as it takes away Cental-and South American countries sovereignty and opens the door for human rights abuses, exploitive labor and environmental destruction, though this is unlikely.

But no matter what the outcome will be, we as IRTF will keep on fighting corporate greed and unjust business making in Central America.  

Read the full letter here:           

News Article

A devastating event took place in Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday morning. Around 8:30 am, a truck ran into a crowd of immigrants sitting on a curbside waiting on a bus, killing eight and wounding 10. It is unclear if the crash, which occurred in front of Brownsville's only overnight immigrant shelter, was intentional or not. According to police reports the SUV ran a red light before hitting the group of mainly Venezuelan immigrants. According to witnesses who survived the incidence, the driver, George Alvarez, had shouted anti-immigrant phrases at them.

After the event Alvarez tried to flee the scene but was held up by some of the witnesses until the police arrived. Alvarez was brought to a hospital before being transported to a jail for questioning. He was later charged withy reckless driving, as well as manslaughter in eight cases. The judge set out a bond of $3.6 million

The event took place just four days before the anti-immigrant policy "Title 42" is set to run out. Only a few days prior, Homeland Security stated that authorities face "extremely challenging" circumstances. It is a fact, that the flow of migrants is causing immense challenges due to a fatal lack of support infrastructure. In Brownsville, the Ozanam Shelter has to manage the release of thousands of immigrants, providing shelter and transportation. In the last few months, the center had to handle 250-380 immigrants seeking shelter every day--an impossible task for a facility with a capacity of 250 individuals. 

Though it is unclear if the incident at the shelter was intentional, it happened at a time in which right-wing politicians and anti-immigrant groups stir up fear of immigration and try to play out working class US citizens against people fleeing violence, hunger and discrimination. This rhetoric of division and fear mongering, paired with the refusal to support immigrants, is an explosive mix leading to violent attacks and discrimination in the US population.