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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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For more than 30 years, SOA Watch has united artists, musicians, and movement makers to breathe life into the international mobilizations at Fort Benning—recently renamed Fort Moore—and, as of 2016, at the U.S.-Mexico border. Artists have not only been a source of remembrance, joy and inspiration but also the resounding voices and colors of resistance in the face of adversity. As Honduran social activists and land defenders face increasing military repression and surveillance, these artists are using their craft to amplify the voices and uplift the struggles of Hondurans striving to protect and defend their ancestral lands, natural resources, and autonomy.

For the past 20 years, Red Comal has been an extraordinary hub for solidarity economies and sustainable regenerative agriculture. The SOAW Artists Collective is partnering with youth of the Red Comal to paint public murals during the fall of 2023—to send ripples of hope, resistance, and solidarity that transcend language, borders, and walls. This artwork will celebrate the communities’ histories, cultures, and unwavering struggle to safeguard their lands from aggressive and expansive agribusiness and monoculture interests, including the U.S.-based company Monsanto.

SOA Watch is accepting donations to fund the mural project. Click here to empower creative community projects in Honduras, foster exchanges between US and Honduran organizers, propel the ongoing mission of denouncing militarization and violence in the Americas.

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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:

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Concern is growing about the increasingly authoritarian measures Guatemala's ruling class has been taking to crack down on political opposition, free speech, and anti-corruption measures. On July 24, the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere called Guatemala's foreign minister to stress that the runoff should be allowed to take place "without interference or harassment of the candidates or political parties. Guatemalans have the right to elect their government," Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said on social media on Monday.

IRTF has contacted members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging them to echo the statements of Brian Nichols and take specific actions to sanction the elites in Guatemala who are benefiting from the chronic corruption in the country. See IRTF's RRN letter of 26 JUL 2023. 

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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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Bukele, a 42-year-old former marketing executive who prefers TikTok to traditional media, has described himself both as an “instrument of God” and the “world’s coolest dictator.” Over a year ago, Bukele declared a state of emergency (ostensibly to crack down on violent crime) that suspended civil liberties as authorities jailed more than 70,000 people — about 2% of the country’s adult population — in a matter of months. As homicides plunged, Bukele’s approval ratings skyrocketed. Today 93% of Salvadorans endorse his presidency. 

Steven Levitsky, who is co-author of the 2018 bestselling book “How Democracies Die,” said it’s no accident that Bukele’s ascent has coincided with a rise in crime across many parts of Latin America. “Security pushes people to the right, almost invariably, and pushes voters in a more authoritarian direction in the sense that they’re willing to accept violations of human rights, civil liberties and rule of law,” Levitsky said. “People across the world are willing to sacrifice a lot of liberal democratic niceties for security.”

Brian Winter, editor in chief of Americas Quarterly magazine, recently wrote that violent crime may be replacing government corruption as the most important issue for voters in Latin America.

And the popularity of Bukele's populism is spreading throughout Central and South America. In Argentina and other Andean nations, Bukele’s face now appears in the campaign advertisements of candidates hoping to exploit his political capital. Some politicians, including Colombia’s presidential runner-up, Rodolfo Hernández, have made pilgrimages to El Salvador to observe for themselves the cult of “Bukelismo.”

The Republicans in Congress like him too. “It’s absurd to criticize [Bukele] for giving Salvadoran people their freedom back,” said Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida and member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Bukele in El Salvador this spring. “The left is so allergic to law enforcement that it would rather see [criminal gangs] Barrio 18 and MS-13 roaming the streets than criminals locked up.”

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Guatemalan protesters took to the streets again on Monday demanding that the attorney general and a handful of prosecutors step down over their alleged efforts to impede the upcoming presidential runoff election. Marchers called for the ouster of Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras, whose office is seeking to disqualify the Semilla (Seed) Party of Bernardo Arevalo, a social democrat who surged into one of two August 20 runoff spots, shocking many in the nation. Judge Fredy Orellana and prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche have also drawn the ire of protesters since the June 25 first-round vote. On Curruchiche's orders, Orellana directed the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to disqualify the Semilla Party, alleging anomalies in how it was created in 2017. The Tribunal did not comply with the order. In response, judicial agents have twice raided the TSE, and sought to arrest a functionary there. On July 21 they searched the headquarters of Semilla in Guatemala City.

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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.