El Salvador Solidarity Activists and Community Organizations Dispute Department of Justice Order
BOSTON - Last January the U.S.-based El Salvador solidarity group - the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) - received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, citing the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938 and questioning the organization’s relationship with the leftist Salvadoran political party known as the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, or FMLN.
The letter states that, “it has come to our attention ... that the FMLN, and/or possibly its candidate for El Salvador’s 2009 presidential election, Mauricio Funes, hired your organization for the purposes of conducting a public relations media campaign to include political fundraising ....”
According to CISPES Executive Director Burke Stansbury, “CISPES has never had a contractual agreement with the FMLN or Mr. Funes, nor have we taken orders from the party to do publicity work in the U.S. Rather, we have a solidarity relationship based on shared political values that goes back to the struggle for democracy and economic justice that the people of El Salvador fought against a brutal U.S.-backed military regime in the 1980s.”
This is not the first time that the FARA has been invoked against CISPES. In 1981 CISPES received a similar letter as a prelude to the largest FBI Internal Security investigation of the Reagan era. After nearly a decade of FBI probes, the case against CISPES was closed without any indictments. Moreover, the FBI investigations were later exposed - to the embarrassment of the federal government - as a means to harass groups that openly opposed the Reagan administration’s foreign policies and as operations that employed illegal surveillance tactics.
As Mike Prokosch, then-New England Regional Director for CISPES, recalls even Boston did not escape unscathed. “Between 1984 and 1988 there were eight break-ins at Old Cambridge Baptist Church which housed the offices of organizations like CISPES working to end Washington’s wars in Central America ... office equipment, and other salable items were left untouched while their files were copied, acid was poured on their computer disks, and their offices were trashed.”
But the question remains: What has prompted this renewed interest in CISPES, given the FBI debacle of the 1980s? CISPES believes this most recent federal inquiry belies the importance of the 2009 Salvadoran elections to the U.S. government. “The Bush administration makes this threat now because the Salvadoran FMLN and its candidate Funes have gained broad support 12 months ahead of the 2009 election,” states David Grosser of Boston CISPES. “By threatening CISPES the U.S. government hopes to limit the support that concerned people in the U.S. can give for free and fair elections in El Salvador,” adds Grosser.
Indeed it appears that the Bush and Reagan Administrations have more in common than a mutual interest in CISPES - there are parallel motivations and tactics. Laura Rotolo of the American Civil Liberties Union Massachusetts (ACLUM) asserts that the Bush Administration is again using pretexts such as “terrorism” and “national security” to monitor the activities of domestic groups who oppose current U.S. policies. A clear example is the surveillance of anti-war groups. “Through the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU has uncovered evidence that numerous peace groups have been the targets of FBI, Pentagon and Joint Terrorism Task Force monitoring…a Pentagon database called TALON — or Threat and Local Observation Notices - monitored at least 186 anti-military protests in the United States and collected more than 2,800 reports involving Americans in an anti-terrorist threat database.”
To Salvadoran immigrants who support change at home, the act of voicing their political beliefs poses even greater risks. “For over twenty years the right-wing political party in power, ARENA, has done nothing but drive the country into serious problems, and drive Salvadorans out of El Salvador ... but many Salvadorans in the U.S. are afraid to openly support the FMLN. Afraid of deportation, afraid of detention and afraid of backing a political party that the U.S. government so clearly opposes,” states Cecilia Sosa-Patterson, who came to the U.S. while her country was torn by civil war. “This is the role that solidarity plays - organizations like CISPES can be the voice of our people in the U.S. government where we Salvadorans have little power.”