LatinNews Daily - 23 November 2021

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EL SALVADOR: NGO raids fan human rights and democracy concerns

On 22 November, El Salvador’s attorney general’s office (FGR) and the police (PNC) carried out raids on seven NGOs in El Salvador.


The raids, which the FGR claims were in relation to a corruption investigation, will fuel existing human rights and democracy concerns regarding the perceived authoritarianism of President Nayib Bukele and his Nuevas Ideas (NI) government. These concerns have intensified since May when the new NI-controlled legislature took up its seats and fired the head of the FGR, Raúl Melara, along with the supreme court (SCJ)’s constitutional chamber (SC) (all Bukele critics), installing government loyalists. The raids come as local and international human rights organisations are already on the alert over a proposed foreign agents law, which these groups compare with legislation passed last year in Nicaragua which shuttered NGOs and was widely condemned as repressive.  

  • The NGOs targeted in yesterday’s raids were: the association of community projects (Procomes); the women’s rights groups Mélida Anaya Montes and Asociación de Mujeres Tecleñas; democracy & social development NGO Fundaspad; Una Mano Amiga, an organisation which helps victims and those affected by gangs; humanitarian group Asociación Salvadoreña de Ayuda Humanitaria PRO-VIDA; and environmental group Fundación Ambientalista de Santa Ana.
  • An FGR statement said that the raids were part of an investigation into a case opened in August in line with a request by the legislature regarding possible anomalies to have emerged out of the process of adjudicating, executing and monitoring of State funds awarded to these NGOs. The FGR says that 32 agreements signed by these organisations with different ministries and government bodies were subject to question.
  • The targeted NGOs have slammed the raids as political persecution.
  • The raids come as international criticism mounts over the proposed foreign agents initiative, which awaits approval by the legislature. The bill, which contemplates the creation of a foreign agents’ registry attached to the interior ministry, seeks to establish a legal framework which “would make transparent international donations to different organisations”.  It also establishes a 40% tax on foreign donations to such organisations. Some sectors are exempt, such as businesses with “strictly commercial” aims, diplomatic missions, and humanitarian, religious, and academic activities (among others). However, those implicitly included would be organisations working on anti-corruption, transparency, human rights, and rule of law, many of which have been critical of Bukele.
  • Also drawing concern, the bill stipulates that those registered as “foreign agents” are barred from carrying out “political activities” that aim to alter “public order” or that “endanger or threaten national security or the social and political stability of the country”.
  • The bill has been condemned by United Nations Special Rapporteurs Mary Lawlor (Human Rights Defenders) and Clément Voule (Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association) as well as international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Looking Ahead: The raids and democracy concerns are likely to place a further strain on relations with the US, which are already at a low point after President Bukele accused it of financing the political opposition and seeking to facilitate the rupture of the NI parliamentary bloc. Yesterday US ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes told journalists that she was returning to her position as civilian deputy commander at US Southern Command. She was cited as saying that the Salvadorean government had no interest in improving relations, reportedly questioning “Why am I going to stay here if we don’t have a counterpart at this time?...When El Salvador wants to talk, our doors are always open.”

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