Open Letter to the U.S. Department of Justice concerning CISPES

The following letter is an effort by the Latin America Solidarity Coalition (LASC) to stand by one of the founding members, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). The following letter is an effort by the Latin America Solidarity Coalition (LASC) to stand by one of the founding members, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).

In January, CISPES
received a letter from the Department of Justice claiming the organization might be in violation of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act.  CISPES is not,  of course, a foreign agent, but since we now seem to inhabit an evidence free-zone here in Washington D.C. it, the LASC felt it important to take this letter seriously as an effort by the US Government to intimidate CISPES.

We have no doubt that the Bush administration disagrees with the work that CISPES does.  CISPES is working to close the International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador, has worked tirelessly to oppose the Bush trade agenda in the region, and routinely speaks out against U.S. interference in the electoral process in El Salvador.  The organization does this while continuing to promote an alternative vision of democracy based on the desires of the people of El Salvador.  None of this is criminal, but all of it challenges U.S. claims to hegemony in Central America – and that seems to be "the crime" the U.S. government is concerned about.   The LASC and the organizations signed on below are saying we will stand with our friends in telling the Justice Department to "back off."

You can find more information about the LASC at, and get background and the latest information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to intimidate CISPES at

May 2008

To whom it may concern:

We write to express our frustration with the Department of Justice’s recent actions regarding our friends at the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).  The Department of Justice’s effort to call into question the legality of CISPES’ relationship with actors in El Salvador seems a thinly disguised effort to intimidate CISPES, whose only "crime," it would seem, is disagreeing with U.S. foreign policy goals in El Salvador.

Though not really surprised by the Department of Justice’s action in this time of policing through fear, we must speak out against any effort to portray transnational relationships of friendship as criminal.  We also speak out because the Justice Department’s history of investigating organizations for purely political reasons, absent a legitimate criminal predicate, is well known, and has been a practice aimed at solidarity organizations before. Indeed, CISPES’ was the target of politically motivated investigations throughout the 1980s that found no evidence of criminal activity.

Our organizations work in solidarity with people in Latin America out of a deep commitment to principles of self-determination and popular democracy; to the idea that people everywhere deserve the opportunity to define for themselves a way of life that is fulfilling and free from intimidation.

Sadly the U.S. government is not interested in promoting such a perspective.  This administration has brazenly threatened countries in Latin America with sanctions for electing the "wrong people."  This administration and members of Congress have attempted to sway electoral outcomes in El Salvador (2004) and Nicaragua (2000, 2006) by threatening the suspension of remittances if the people did not vote for the choice of the U.S. government.  Indeed, the right-wing ARENA party’s entire history, including its founding by U.S. trained and supported death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, has been to service the interests of the U.S. government as well as El Salvador’s tiny elite.

CISPES has the right to support alternatives put forward by the Salvadoran people.   Is it U.S. policy that no alternative to ARENA is permitted?

And it is a criminal act to suggest otherwise?  We believe that CISPES should be allowed to continue educating and organizing about the negative impacts of U.S. policies like CAFTA, while challenging U.S. Congressional funding for faulty institutions like the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA.)

As solidarity organizations we speak out with the conviction that another world is possible and that the exercise of power can be aimed at affirming life, not destroying it.   And we do this well within our right to question our own government’s actions in Latin America.

We stand in solidarity with our friends at CISPES and in El Salvador by demanding that the Department of Justice stop its effort to intimidate CISPES, just as we demand that the State Department stop interfering in the election processes in El Salvador, as well as elsewhere in the region. 

Alliance for Global Justice
American Friends Service Committee, Hartford, CT
Bend-Condega Friendship Project
Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
The Coalition for Justice
Colombia Action/CT
Consumers for Peace
Eugene, OR Latin America Solidarity Committee (formerly CISCAP)
Instituto de Relaciones Econ├│micas Internacionales en Ginebra
Marin Interfaith Taskforce on Latin America
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
May First/People Link
Mexico Solidarity Network
National Labor Committee
The National Network of US-El Salvador Sister Cities
Nicaragua Network
Office of the Americas
Portland Central America Solidarity Center (PCASC)
Quixote Center
The Richland Center-Santa Teresa Sister City Project
SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today
SOA Watch
Venezuela Solidarity Network
Willamette Reds