Congress Restricts US Foreign Military Financing to El Salvador

Press Release

For Immediate Release:

Media Contact: Samantha Pineda; (202) 521-2510, Ext: 204, [email protected]

Washington, DC - On December 21, Members of Congress reached a deal to approve an omnibus bill to finance the remainder of fiscal year 2021. While progressives have widely denounced the budget as a woefully inadequate response to the financial crisis poor and working-class families are experiencing as a result of COVID-19, human rights organizations including the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) view a decision to restrict Foreign Military Financing to El Salvador as a positive move by Congress. View full bill text here; referenced restriction on page 1494.

The State Department's Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program "provides grants for the acquisition of U.S. defense equipment, services and training .. [in order to] enable key allies and friends to improve their defense capabilities and foster closer military relationships between the U.S. and recipient nations." While FMF funds have previously been withheld from the governments of Guatemala and Honduras, this decision represents a new curtailment in U.S. assistance to El Salvador that reflects growing concerns in Congress about the Bukele administration’s authoritarian tendencies. 

On February 9, 2020, President Nayib Bukele deployed the Armed Forces of El Salvador to the Legislative Assembly in an attempt to pressure legislators into approving a $109 million dollar loan from the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) to finance his “Territorial Control Plan,” a primarily hardline policing and militarization initiative. Although international human rights leaders immediately denounced his actions, the months that followed saw a continued increase in the Bukele administration’s reliance on repressive strategies as a means of social control. 

During the first months of the pandemic, human rights organizations and Congressional leaders sounded the alarm regarding arbitrary detentions, human rights abuses in prisons, as well as the President's repeated assaults on other state institutions, including the Supreme Court.

In a December 4 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once again highlighted concerns with regards to the Bukele administration, writing, “From troubling information surrounding the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to deeply disturbing details of a dubious pact between President Nayib Bukele’s administration and the violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, Salvadorans have witnessed several worrying developments in 2020. Yet, since President Bukele used armed military personnel to occupy the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly in February, the Trump administration has remained irresponsibly silent about the weakening of democratic governance in El Salvador.” 

“Though there is a lot to lament in this overall bill, we are pleased to see that Members of Congress have made a move in the right direction by prohibiting these funds to El Salvador to buy military equipment, given how concerning President Nayib Bukele’s behavior has been throughout the last year." said Alexis Stoumbelis, Executive Director at CISPES. “We will continue to push the U.S. government to take stronger action to withdraw political and financial support from the Bukele administration given rising attacks on democratic institutions, human rights defenders and the press, especially ahead of the upcoming election in El Salvador,” she added.

Municipal and legislative elections are scheduled to take place on February 28, 2021; the Salvadoran people will also elect new representatives for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). CISPES has accompanied the democratic process in El Salvador with delegations of international observers since 1994.

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To get more information about developments taking place ahead of the elections or to schedule interviews with human rights defenders in El Salvador, please contact [email protected]

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