February 01, 2022

Castro, Markey, Torres, and McGovern Request State Department Protections for Central America Civil Society Organizations

WASHINGTON – Representative Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Senator Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts), Representative Norma J. Torres (CA-35), and Representative Jim McGovern (MA-02) this week sent a letter to the U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Assistant Administrator Peter Natiello expressing concern over closing civic spaces in Central America and requesting that the Administration prioritize advocacy on behalf of and protections for civil society organizations (CSOs) in the region.

“We applaud the Biden-Harris administration’s emphasis on partnering with civil society in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to promote human rights, anti-corruption, democracy, and sustainable development within the region and USAID’s stated commitment to direct 25% of U.S. government assistance to local development partners over the next four years,” the lawmakers write. “However, we are concerned that recent proliferation of legislation restricting legitimate activities of civil society will directly impede the ability of the United States government, and the broader international community, to partner with civil society safely and effectively to conduct legitimate operations.” 

“Specifically, we are concerned that legislation proposed or enacted in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will impact our efforts to promote community-led development and support a more democratic, prosperous region; this legislation should be considered an obstacle to our bilateral cooperation,” the lawmakers continue. “Within the Northern Triangle region, civil society is often our most trusted partner. The United States must elevate amending or repealing harmful legislation restricting legitimate civil society activity as a key bilateral and regional policy priority while simultaneously continuing to partner with and protect CSOs carrying out critical work.”

“Considering these developments, we urge the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to prioritize the protection of civil society in our bilateral relationships with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, including through advocating for greater consultation with civil society and asking for clarity around the details of the laws addressed above and their implementation,” the lawmakers conclude. “We ask the Department of State and USAID to urge each government to review and work with legislatures to revise and repeal any laws and provisions that limit the ability of civil society organizations to carry out their legitimate activities.”

Specifically, Reps. Castro, Torres, and McGovern and Sen. Markey request that the State Department and USAID: 

  • Consider all flexible and creative legal options for financing and protecting civil society organizations operating in closed and semi-closed contexts; 
  • Establish guardrails for flexible and responsive funding to counter potential attacks against CSOs and protect U.S. assistance;
  • Create mechanisms for civil society to continue to do its work in closing spaces, including collaboration with U.S. government agencies and other international partners;
  • Consult with CSOs to investigate how the proposed and enacted regulations impact the ability of USAID-implementing partners to access funding and conduct their operations, and to what extent they will impact USAID’s ability to direct 25% of assistance to local partners; and 
  • Submit a public response outlining State and USAID’s engagement with the governments reflecting that support for functioning civil society is primary to our policy interests and will impact other foreign assistance and coordination.

The letter is also signed by Senator Ben Cardin (Maryland) and Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Juan Vargas (CA-51), Dina Titus (NV-01), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Andy Levin (MI-09), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), and Lou Correa (CA-46).

For full letter text, click here.