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Anti-Militarism: News & Updates

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On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia and Guatemala, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

Volunteers with the Rapid Response Network (RRN)—together with IRTF staff—write letters in response to six urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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A new law passed this week allows up to 900 alleged gang members to be tried at once. Human rights groups are highly critical because the collective trials will further violate "the rights to an adequate defense, to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence," said Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas. The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) said collective trials would make it "impossible" to guarantee "a fair trial and the right to a defense." Marcela Martino, CEJIL deputy director for Central America and Mexico, told reporters: "This makes us wonder if the government's policy of persecuting the gangs, organized crime, is killing the rule of law and democracy.”

Is this truly about crime or about Bukele’s ambitions to hold onto the presidency? Judge Antonio Durán in the city of Zacatecoluca has been critical of the State of Exception that President Bukele imposed in March 2022: "This is all part of Bukele's campaign for reelection, which is unconstitutional." With a controversial green light from the Constitutional Court, Bukele announced that he will run in elections in February 2024, despite a constitutional ban on successive presidential terms.

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Despite the federal government’s bragging that its new asylum-restriction policies at the border are working (backed by stats of fewer “encounters” of undocumented persons), measures to further block people from crossing and soliciting asylum are on the rise. Biden is requesting more money for ICE and CBP, which means more surveillance, militarization, and detention. In the Rio Grande, Texas Governor Abbott is stringing a series of floating buoys wrapped in concertina wire and anchored to the riverbed below with webbing to prevent people from swimming underneath.  Aside from being unusually cruel and dangerous to migrants and wildlife, the measure is most certainly in violation of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which was established in 1889. And Texas State Troopers told The New York Times that “there were explicit orders [from supervisors] to deny water to migrants and to tell them to go back to Mexico.” This is consistent with a story published in The Guardian in which troopers reported treating a four-year-old girl who passed out from heat exhaustion in 100-degree temperatures, only to watch the Texas National Guard push the girl and her group back into the river to Mexico.  

We’re doing what we can to stay on top of migration news at the border, in Ohio, and in the Cleveland immigration court.

In this month's newsletter, please read about: 1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, 2) ICE Air: update on removal flight trends, 3) The Human Costs of the Asylum Ban, 4) At the Border: recent incidents, 5) Darién Gap: Tourism Booms while Migrants Suffer, and 6) Texas Deploys Floating Buoys in the Rio Grande.

TAKE ACTION on any of these items: A) Tell Biden to cut ICE and instead fund real human needs, B) Tell senators to oppose the Supplemental Border Funding Bill, C) Tell your congressperson to vote no on the DHS Security Appropriations Bill, D) Tell Congress to reject new bills that deny access to asylum at the southern border, E) Sign up for the Biden deportation tracker, F) Urge Congress to pass the Afghan  Adjustment Act. 

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The electoral controversy in Guatemala is gaining attention on the international level.

In the US, both the White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre and Brian Nichols, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, have made public statements this week urging the government of Guatemala to allow the August 20 presidential runoff to proceed without interference.

Now the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) will head to Guatemala to discuss the controversy directly with President Giammettei. On July 26, the Permanent Council of the OAS held a special meeting to address the recent attempts by the Guatemala government to interfere in the election process. Both the US and Canada were among the nations that requested the special session at which Irma Palencia, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in Guatemala recounted the timeline of government interference (noted below in this article) since the first round of the presidential election was held June 25. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro (of Uruguay) is expected to visit President Giammettei on July 31.

In the meantime, IRTF has sent letters to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging them to echo the statements made by the State Department and to impose sanctions on government and business elites who are profiting from the chronic corruption in Guatemala. You can read that letter here: https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn/2023-07-26-000000.

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In July, Rep. Mario Díaz-Belart (R-FL), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State & Foreign Operantions, announced that he was deferring all aid to Colombia, including humanitarian and economic development assistance. This announcement has caused quite an outcry from peace, human rights, and faith-based organizations, including the Presyberian Church, in the US.  

On July 26, several U.S. civil society organizations expressed their strong support for U.S. assistance to support peace in Colombia and encourage the Biden Administration to strengthen its support and diplomacy for peace, including for the peace negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army), the second largest rebel group. Peace Accords were signed with the largest rebel group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), in November 2016.

Lisa Haugaard, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group (LAWG):  “The Biden Administration also has an ally in Colombia to check off many of the goals it has set for itself in its foreign policy: addressing climate change, protecting the environment, fighting racial discrimination, supporting labor rights, aiding Venezuelan migrants and refugees, building a sustainable and humane counternarcotics policy, and supporting LGBTQ and women’s rights.  It’s frankly self-defeating and senseless for members of the House to block assistance and collaboration with Colombia.”

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, director for the Andes at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA): “[Colombia] is applying lessons learned from past failed peace and demobilization of illegal armed groups processes to attempt to dismantle illegal armed groups, minimize humanitarian crises, prevent displacement and protect civilians. Colombia continues to be the country with the most progressive and rights-based approach to addressing the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis despite having its own internal displacement.”

Catherine Gordon, representative for international issues in the Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA: “[The Presbyterian Church of Colombia] has called on us for support in supporting human rights and with the displaced and most impoverished communities. Its assembly has made declarations about the damages from war and militarization and the grave consequences of not supporting the pathways to peace and human rights.  At this critical moment, the United States must not abandon the crucial initiatives of justice and reconciliation begun by the Petro administration.  We must continue to contribute to a future of peace with justice and equality for Colombia.” 

 

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President Bukele’s “state of exception” has led to the mass incarceration of 2% of the nation’s population. Poised to run for a second term in February 2023, Bukele is upping his draconian iron fist policies—with the support of the Congress and popular opinion.

The latest:

On July 26, Congress passed by 67 votes in favor (just 6 against) a new law to allow prosecutors to simultaneously try up to 900 people alleged to be part of the same criminal group at the same time! And the maximum penalty for being found guilty of being a gang leader was increased to 60 years in prison.

Ingrid Escobar, spokesperson for Humanitarian Legal Aid, a group providing assistance to Salvadoran detainees, said prisoners are at risk of being tried for crimes they did not commit. She warned they could be prosecuted simply “for living in a place stigmatized by gangs, despite not necessarily being gang members themselves.”

While the get-tough-on-crime policies are popular in El Salvador, human rights groups in the country are taking their criticisms to the international arena.  On July 14, at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (based in Washington, DC), human rights organizations denounced the deaths of 174 people in state custody and over 6,400 documented human rights abuses during the “state of exception,” which was initiated by President Bukele in March 2022. It has been renewed by legislators every month or two since.

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Will the Guatemalan people be allowed to vote for a government that is actually democratic for the first time since 1954?

 Or will the US and Canada stand back and watch as long-time “democratic ally” – the repressive, aptly-named ‘Covenant of the Corrupt’ government – carries out sustained attacks on the electoral process and the Semilla Party?

On June 25, to the shock of most Guatemalans, international observers and indeed the “Covenant of the Corrupt” (an alliance of corrupt judges, prosecutors, politicians, and economic and military elites who run the country), the opposition-party named Movimiento Semilla (“seed movement”) finished 2nd place in first-round elections, forcing a run-off against the establishment UNE Party (candidate Sandra Torres, a former first lady).

The “Covenant of the Corrupt”has been carrying out brazen, January 6/Trump-like attacks on the democratic aspirations of the Guatemalan people, targeting the electoral process itself and the Semilla Party that is favored to win the August 20 run-off vote.

Over the past ten years, the North American media has reported on the plight of millions of forced migrants desperately trying to cross Mexico and get into the US. A disproportionately high number of these refugees and forced migrants are fleeing Guatemala. Many have fled from land, environment and human rights defense struggles that our organization (Rights Action) supports, having suffered evictions and violence at the hands of successive Covenant of the Corrupt governments in partnership with transnational companies in the sectors of mining, hydro-electric dams and the for-export production of African palm oil, sugar cane, bananas and coffee.

Yet, in the face of this, the US and Canadian governments (and companies) have consistently prioritized their political and economic and political interests over basic issues of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the guaranteeing of a basic minimum standard of decent living conditions for a majority of Guatemalans.

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