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El Salvador: News & Updates

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The US-backed civil war, which erupted after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, lasted 12 years (1980-92), killing 70,000 people and forcing 20% of the nation’s five million people to seek refuge in the US.

Learn more here.

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Today, a group of 17 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing serious concern over the prolonged detainment of five prominent anti-mining activists in El Salvador. The arrests, which occurred on January 11, 2023 targeted leaders from the rural community of Santa Marta in northern El Salvador who were instrumental in passing a 2017 ban on metallic mining; El Salvador remains the only country in the world with such a ban.

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For decades the United States has armed and supported military and paramilitary forces around Central America in its fight to oppress challenges to global capitalism. In this glorious struggle no means and violent actions were too extreme for "the nation of freedom and liberty," no matter who the victims were. Especially under the Reagan administration, violence by US-trained and armed forces ramped up, with one of the most devastating acts being the El Mozote massacre of December 1981 when the Salvadoran Army's Atlácatl Battallion killed more than 800 civilians, including children, in the small village in northern El Salvador. 

In this period of war crimes one of Reagan's most important supporters was Elliott Abrams, who served under President Reagan in the US State Department as both Assistant Secretary of Human Rights and Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs. From the beginning on Abrams' was a strong supporter of the US's insurgency policies and a strong defender of dictators like Ríos Montt in Guatemala under who's regime mass murder, rape and torture were committed against the Ixil Mayan people, events later classified as a genocide by the United Nations. When asked about the US's record on El Salvador in 1994, Elliott Abrams called it a "fabulous achievement." 

Thirty years after the end of his initial service in the State Department under Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump brought Abrams back to the forefront of international politics as the United States Special Representative for Venezuela, were he represented the US's policy of starving the nation and support of the attempted coup in Venezuela. In 2020 Abrams additionally took over as Special Representation for Iran, pushing sanctions that harmed the Iranian civilian population. 

Now the Biden Administration is sending to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee the nomination of Elliott Abrams to join the State Department Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. It is clear that Elliot Abrams does not belong in another US administration. Please urge all Committee members to oppose his deployment. 

You can help in our (and other human rights groups') efforts.


1) Click here to see if your US senator is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams.

2) Send a message to your US senator even if they are not a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US Senate, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. You can find contact info for your US senators at

3) Send a message to your US congressperson.  Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US House, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. Take action at

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In the Cleveland immigration court in May 2023, nationals of Venezuela ranked #1 of all new deportation cases filed by the Department of Homeland Security against Latin Americans.  Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2022, the number of Venezuelans has been right up there with Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans.  So what is driving so many Venezuelans to Ohio?

In this month’s Migrant Justice Newsletter, please read about: 1-Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH, 2-ICE Air: Update on Removal Flight Trends, 3-Cruelty at the Border Is Not Success, 4-At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border, 5-Halfway to the US: A Report on Migration from Honduras, 6-Venezuelans: How US Sanctions Are Driving Migration North to the US, 7-Asylum in Limbo – a book review. Then see our TAKE ACTION items: A) Follow the Biden Deportations Tracker, B) Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!, C) Urge Your Congressperson to Support the American Families United Act (now called Dignity Act), and D) Restoring Asylum and Dignity for Immigrants – webinar July 12, 7-8pm EDT.

Even though Title 42 ended on May 11, removal flights to El Salvador and Honduras increased in May. And in Cleveland’s immigration court (EOIR), new deportation cases filed in May were up 1200 over the previous month, due mainly to the government filing cases against 1278 migrants from Mauritania and another 888 against migrants from Uzbekistan. The top nationalities (from Latin America/Caribbean) with new deportation proceedings filed in Cleveland in May: Venezuela (450), Mexico (278), Colombia (209), Guatemala (195), Haiti (160), Honduras (159), Peru (135), Nicaragua (77), El Salvador (47).

Read IRTF’s June 2023 Migrant Justice Newsletter at:

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As the state of emergency in El Salvador ages, it gets more and more international attention. Now, on May 22 2023, the human rights office of the United Nations released an assessment on the ongoing human rights violations in the country. In a press release, experts commissioned by the United Nations stated their concerns over these violations and called on the Salvadoran state to immediately lift the state of emergency, which was established over a year ago, ostensibly to fight gang crime. The UN's experts stated in their release that "Despite its obligation to protect citizens from such atrocious acts [like mass shootings], the government cannot trample on fair trial rights in the name of public safety.” The experts urged the Salvadoran authorities to set an end to arrests merely based on suspicion and demanded that detainees are granted fundamental safeguards required by international human rights law. According to the Executive Decree No. 719, the Salvadoran state has arrested more than 67,000 individuals as of March 2023, with more than 1,600 being minors (data Sep. 2022). Most of the arrests made by the Salvadoran police are random pick-ups based on appearance, without issued warrants. In their statement, the experts also demanded an end to the mass hearings in which up to 500 individuals are sentenced to imprisonment or pre-trial detention without valid legal defense. According to the experts, these “mass hearings and trials – often conducted virtually – undermine the exercise of the right to defense and the presumption of innocence of detainees.” These mass initial hearings severely affect thousands of families economically as they have to cover defense costs in addition to the price of living with one or more working family member missing. The experts say that, “these measures threaten to criminalize people who happen to live in the most impoverished areas and who have themselves been targeted by gangs in the past.” 

The experts and UN are already in contact with authorities about their human rights concerns, but a policy change is very unlikely.

We as IRTF welcome the UN's statement but don't share the illusions that President Bukele, who calls himself "the coolest dictator in the world," will be impressed by the UN's opinion, let alone make policy changes. 

IRTF stands in solidarity with those unlawfully imprisoned and oppressed by the Bukele Government.

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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.         


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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

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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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On April 6, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), together with H0meland Security, arrested Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia. The former military commander is under investigation by Homeland Security for his participation in the Salvadoran El Mozote massacre in 1981, which saw the murder of at least a 1,000 people, including women and children. From 1981 to 1985 Garay Saravia was a section commander of a specialized counterinsurgency unit known as the Atlácatl Battalion. During his time as commander, Garay Saravia's unit committed numerous atrocities and was deployed in three further missions in which hundreds of civilians were killed. His arrest is surprising since the forces responsible for the massacre were trained by the US, and in most cases the perpetrators of these inhumane crimes are never persecuted.

After investigations by Homeland Security, Garay Saravia was charged with assisting or otherwise participating in extrajudicial killings and willfully misrepresenting this material fact in his immigration application. In a press release, DHS Deputy Secretary John K. Tien stated that “Individuals who have committed atrocities overseas will not find safe haven in the United States.”

Although we are deeply opposed to ICE, we welcome the fact that one of El Salvador's worst war criminals may finally be brought to justice. 

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'Systematic' human rights abuse. With these words the human rights organization Amnesty International has described El Salvador's anti-gang efforts in a report on April 3.

More than a year ago, the Salvadoran Bukele government has established a still ongoing "state of exception" in an effort to combat gang activities in the country. Since the first introduction, the state of exception, which only stays active for a month on a time, has been renewed 12 times, and with every additional month the devastating consequences of Bukele's strategy are worsening.      

According to Amnesty International, government security forces and the national judicial sector have committed wide spread human rights violations, such as mass arrests, torture, forced disappearances and the denial of a fair process. In the course of the last year, more than 66,000 individuals have been detained, many of whom not even having any gang affiliation. Furthermore, according to Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, at least 132 individuals have died in custody. Guevara-Rosas stated that, “The systematic violation of human rights and the dismantling of the rule of law are not the answer to the problems facing the country.”

Despite the international criticism, Bukele is holding on to his iron fist crack down strategy, and his popularity has only been surging since the implementation of the state of exception. Only a few months ago, the largest of Bukele's projects, a new mega-prison called "Terrorism Confinement Center" was finished. So far, the prison has a population of 4,000 despite having the capacity to hold up to 40,000 individuals, but this is believed to change soon. Proud of the arrest and the "Confinement Center," Bukele stated: “This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, all mixed, unable to do any further harm to the population.”   

In their report Amnesty International condemns the reliance on imprisonment, with Guevara-Rosas saying that “The dehumanization that thousands of unjustly imprisoned people are suffering is intolerable.”

IRTF supports Amnesty International's denunciation of the Salvadoran anti-gang crackdown. We believe that the problem of gang violence can not be solved by more violence and imprisonment. We call for a solution that goes to the roots of the problem like poverty, ghettoization, the lack of future prospects for the youth, and one that actually protects the innocent population instead of criminalizing them.   

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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, El Salvador, and Honduras, 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.

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to 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 , or ask us to mail you hard copies.