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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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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.

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El Salvador: Widespread Abuses Under State of Emergency

After interviewing more than 1,100 victims (or their relatives) of the government’s State of Emergency, Cristosal and Human Rights Watch released in December 2022 an 89-page report, “‘We Can Arrest Anyone We Want’: Widespread Human Rights Violations Under El Salvador’s ‘State of Emergency’” , which documents mass arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment against detainees, enforced disappearances, deaths in custody, and abuse-ridden prosecutions. President Nayib Bukele’s swift dismantling of judicial independence since he took office in mid-2019 enabled the abuses. Human Rights Watch and Cristosal have not been able to identify any meaningful investigations into the hundreds of allegations of human rights violations committed during the State of Emergency.

Since the State of Emergency (aka State of Exception) was declared in El Salvador in March of 2022, the country has seen thousands of power abuse cases by the military and other security forces. Many arbitrary arrests appear to have been driven by a policy of “quotas” imposed by commanders in the National Civil Police, according to police officers. Between March and November 2022, security forces arrested more than 58,000 people:

-1,600 children

-hundreds of arrests without connections to gangs

-51,000 in pre-trail detention 

-a spike in the prison population from 39,000 in March 2022 to 95,000 in November 2022

-overcrowded cells with up to 125 prisoners in cells constructed for 30

-90 deaths in prison without investigation

-up to 500 sentenced in unjust mass judicial processes.

These circumstances are fueled by authorities requiring certain numbers of daily arrests, intimidating independent judges who are trying to investigate human rights violations, and stigmatizing independent journalists and civil society groups. This paired with the lack of access to lawyers makes for a system in which no one is safe from unjust arrests.

More and more voices are calling for alternative strategies to fight organized crime. Civil society groups and activists criticize the government’s failure to:

-invest in prevention and reintegration

-address illegal economies helping gangs


New strategies would include tackling root causes of gang membership, such as:  

-high levels of poverty

-social exclusion

-focus criminal persecution on high level gang leaders.

State violence and mass arrests are only two of the ways in which the Salvadoran government is crushing down on its population. Civil society groups are calling for international support for independent journalists and grassroots organizing groups that are under attack. Furthermore, the groups call on the international community to suspend existing loans involving the National Civil Police, armed forces, the Attorney General’s Office and the prison system.

Read the full report at


News Article

After nine months, the Salvadoran Congress has once again voted for an extension of the ongoing State of Emergency (aka State of Exception) in the country. This marks the tenth extension and will be in effect from January 17 until February 15. The extension was passed with 67 votes in favor, an immense approval rate in a Congress with only 84 seats. President Bukele justifies this by claiming that 80% of the country is controlled by gangs, with Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 being the largest with an estimated membership of 70,000 members between both of them.

Earlier this month the Salvadoran government announced a drop of 56.8% in the country's murder rate. But the government's number of 496 registered homicides is questionable at best. Many deaths are never registered, and killings during clashes between gang members and security forces are not included. Civil rights groups have counted at least 600 killings in 2022. With the State of Emergency going into its 11th month, activists and rights groups keep articulating concerns about power abuses by security forces. 

The official detention numbers since March 2022 have risen to 61,000 detentions. In January, Human Rights Watch published a statement putting forward the fact that "hundreds of people with no connections to gangs have been detained." 

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The author of this opinion article, Fidelina Alfaro, a member of the New Jersey TPS Committee, has lived and worked in the United States for 21 years. In 1995 the mother of two migrated to the US in the hope of a safe and better life and to provide education for her children. In 2001, following a massive earthquake in El Salvador, Alfaro was granted Temporary Protection Status (TPS), which provides protection from deportation to countries wrecked by violence, war and natural disasters. Even though the U.S. government has just extended TPS for El Salvador, Alfaro, like thousands more, live in constant fear that their TPS will expire and attempts to end TPS. For this reason, Alfaro has written this article. 

In her 21 years of TPS, Alfaro has regularly worked two jobs to pay for a college education for her daughter. During the Covid pandemic, she worked as a caretaker, putting herself in danger regularly. 

Alfaro advocates for the right of TPS  holders to apply for citizenship and become full members of US society, with the right to vote, travel and the end of the constant fear of deportation. This goal could be accomplished by the American Dream and Promise Act, as well as through the Registry Act.

IRTF supports Alfaro's call for the right to citizenship of TPS holders and demands an end to taxation without representation and basic citizen rights!   

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In this monthly newsletter, please read about (1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH, (2)  The Biden Administration’s Plans to Overhaul Border Policies after the End of Title 42, (3) Title 42: Expelling Migrants in the Name of Health Measures. Update on Removal Flight Trends, (4) Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Renewed for Haitians, and (5) At The Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border. TAKE ACTION ITEMS: After reading the articles, please take a few moments to advocate for migrant justice with our TAKE ACTION items: (1) Urge Congress to Reject Racist, Anti-Asylum Policies, and (2) Permanent Pathway to Citizenship for DACA and TPS Recipients.

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The Azúcar Amarga AKA "Bitter Sugar" campaign is an effort that involves 5 civil society organizations, all seeking to visibilize and denounce the harmful impacts caused by sugarcane monoculture. These efforts led the Ministry of the Environment to create a Working Group with partners like Voices on the Border and spearheaded by representatives of Azúcar Amarga, with the intention of further analyzing the problem and defining a roadmap for implementing measures to prevent pollution and environmental deterioration caused by sugarcane crops

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Carlos Herrera was arrested on Espíritu Santo Island in El Salvador on May 13. His family has been unable to contact him since.

Mr. Herrera is 21 years old. He had been working as a “lanchero,” a harbor ferry boat skipper, since he dropped out of high school, supporting his family by moving people and goods back and forth from the mainland and Espíritu Santo, an island in El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay in the southeast department of Usulután. Esperanza Pineda, Mr. Herrera’s aunt, described him as a fun-loving young man who is always making people laugh and teasing her by disheveling her hair.

. The main economic activities on Espíritu Santo are subsistence agriculture and fishing. There are no gangs. Espíritu Santo’s comparable immunity to the gang violence that is a plague to other Salvadoran communities makes the arrests here that much harder to understand, residents say.

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In El Salvador 10,000 military troops have surrounded the city Soyapango, one of El Salvador's biggest cities with 290,000 inhabitants. 

The recent surrounding is part of the ongoing gang crackdown under the state of emergency, which was initiated in late March and has seen 58,000 imprisoned. A mind boggling number considering that El Salvador's total population is just 6.5 million. The government has stated that all roads to the city have been blocked and special forces are searching homes in the effort to "extract" gang members. President Bukele has claimed that ordinary people "have nothing to fear" as it is "an operation against criminals, not honest citizens." Activists fear that the operation may lead to mass imprisonment, though polls show, that 75.9% of Salvadorans support the state of emergency. So far 12 individuals have been arrested as part of the crackdown on Soyapango.  

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Wednesday November 30 marked one of the most important days for journalism and freedom of press in recent years. 

After several members of the Salvadoran investigative news outlet El Faro found proof of the Israeli spyware Pegasus on their smartphones, El Faro takes on Pegasuses developers head on and goes to court. "We are filing this lawsuit to defend our right to investigate and report, and to protect journalists around the world in their pursuit of the truth," the co-founder of El Faro, Carlos Dada, stated. It is not the first Pegasus attack in El Salvador. Dozens of activists and journalists have been targeted so far. 

The spyware developing company behind Pegasus, the NSO Group which has been blacklisted by the United States, has stated that it has no ties with the Salvadoran government. They say they only sell their system to legitimate law enforcement and intelligence in foreign countries and that it does not operate the system, thus has no oversight over the users. Furthermore, NSO stated that the use against activists and journalists "is a severe misuse of any technology and goes against the desired use of such critical tools." The attack gets even more upsetting by the fact that Pegasus is marked as a military export by the Israeli state, which has to approve any sales of the spyware. Israel's government has been criticized for the sale of the system to countries violating human rights before. 

The recent lawsuit against the NSO Group in a U.S. court claims that NSO violated US law by developing and using spyware against El Faro.