Members of the U.S. Congress – Representatives Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Cori Bush (MO-01), Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), and Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) – as well as representation from the office of Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), joined U.S.-based solidarity organizations, including Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, SOA Watch, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and the Institute for Policy Studies – Global Economy Program, for a fact-finding mission to Central America last week.
Upon return, the Congressional representatives issued a joint statement, saying:
“We traveled to Central America to investigate the root causes of migration from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and the U.S.’ role in those causes. What we found is a resilient region where corporate interests, international development institutions, and the U.S. government have played a profoundly destabilizing role.
“In Honduras, we witnessed cautious optimism as newly elected President Castro and her administration work to uproot corruption and defend human rights. In Guatemala, however, we saw dangerous signs of regression toward authoritarian rule as civil society is persecuted and principled judges are forcibly removed from office. El Salvador is showing similarly worrisome trends. But the one constant we witnessed, no matter the political context, was the tireless work of organizers and dissidents defending Indigenous, environmental, and human rights.
“While we were overcome by people’s experiences of repression, criminalization, disenfranchisement, and persecution, we were also struck by the parallels between their struggles and those our own communities face. We return home determined and energized to advocate for a rights-based U.S. policy at home and abroad.”
While in Honduras:
- The delegation met with Honduran President Xiomara Castro, members of her cabinet, and the President and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Honduran National Congress.
- The members of Congress visited the grave of internationally recognized Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in 2016 for opposing a U.S.-backed hydroelectric project, and heard from her organization COPINH about the continued impunity enjoyed by the powerful actors ultimately responsible for her assassination. Three of those found guilty for Caceres’ murder to date received training at U.S. military institutions.
- During a visit with the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), three members of the Congressional Black Caucus made connections about the impacts of the war on drugs, militarization, and state violence in Black communities. Leaders from OFRANEH shared how the ancestral lands of the Garifuna people have been affected by agrofuel plantations and tourist projects. A delegation from the Moskito people, who were victims of the May 2012 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) killings in Ahuas, joined OFRANEH in sharing with the delegation.
- During a visit to communities organizing to defend the Jilamito River from a hydroelectric project to be financed by IDB Invest, a multilateral development bank of which the U.S. is the largest shareholder, the delegation saw firsthand how international economic development financing can benefit local elites and international corporations rather than those who need it.
- The Agrarian Platform shared their many years of struggle to defend cooperative land titles in the Bajo Aguan region from powerful agri-business actors backed by military and paramilitary forces, often with U.S. training. Guapinol River defenders shared about their struggle against the Los Pinares mining project in the Carlos Escaleras National Park and that the eight water defenders who were recently released after 914 days in prison have only been granted provisional freedom.
- Bertha Oliva of the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained – Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) shared about the struggle for justice for victims of human rights violations following the 2009 coup and during subsequent U.S.-backed regimes.
While in Guatemala:
- The delegation met with representatives from the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), Center for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH), and Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Guatemala (FAMDEGUA). They shared about current legal cases for crimes against humanity committed by the U.S.-backed Guatemalan state in the 1980s, including the Ixil genocide case and the Military Diary case, which includes charges for enforced disapeareance, sexual violence and other crimes against humanity.
- Judge Pablo Xitumul spoke with the delegation about attacks on judicial independence, only two days after being removed from his position by the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice. This removal is widely recognized as a blatant act of criminalization towards Judge Xitumul, who issued historic sentences in the Molina-Theissen transitional justice case and the “Magic Water” corruption case against former Guatemalan Vice-President Roxanna Baldetti. His removal was the latest in a pattern of attacks against independent judges and prosecutors.
- Members of the Peaceful Resistance La Puya met with the delegation at their permanent protest camp, which they have maintained for ten years at the entrance to the Progresso VII Derivada mine, owned by Nevada-based mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). Local community members expressed their commitment to defend already scarce water resources from the devastating impacts of mining, and shared experiences of criminalization and police repression. They underscored the injustices of the arbitration suit that KCA has brought against the Guatemalan government for over US$400 million under the terms of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States.
- The delegation was welcomed by a large turnout of the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, and Jutiapa at the permanent resistance camp erected in 2017 to halt mine-related traffic to the Escobal silver mine, owned by Canadian-U.S. company Pan American Silver. It held meetings with representatives of the Xinka Parliament of Guatemala and Diocesan Commission for the Defense of Nature (CODIDENA). Community members discussed how the mine was violently imposed on them, how this led to forced displacement of one community, and called for the court-ordered consultation process underway with the Xinka People to respect their self-determination and be free of pressure, coercion, intimidation and violence.
- The delegation met with Maya and Xinka Ancestral Authorities from across Guatemala, as well as several Guatemalan Congresswomen, who shared analysis on Guatemalan history and current events, including an analysis of systemic corruption, impunity, and racism and how extractivism and privatization are root causes of forced migration.
- Representatives of the Maya Achi communities affected by the Chixoy Dam met with the delegation to discuss the ongoing effects of the dam’s construction and their leadership on the issue of reparations for Indigenous communities. In the 1970s and 80s, multilateral development banks funded the construction of the Chixoy Dam, which resulted in brutal massacres and mass displacement of Maya Achi Indigenous communities.
The delegation also had the opportunity to learn about the current political crisis in El Salvador, including rising levels of political persecution, militarization, threats of privatization of public services, and the ongoing role of U.S. foreign policy in creating unstable conditions in the country.