The proposed Foreign Agents Registration law requires that any person or organization in El Salvador carrying out activities that directly or indirectly respond to foreign interests be registered as foreign agents.
Failure to register by the individual or organization could result in financial penalties and the possibility of prison time.
The proposed bill also creates a 40% tax on foreign money coming into the country for activities not related to diplomatic and consular missions, international cooperation, and humanitarian assistance.
Legislators who favor the bill made it clear that the Foreign Agents Law will not affect the performance of humanitarian and social aid organizations.
Foreign Agents Registration Law Approval Process
The proposed bill was enacted by the
Bukele administration and presented to the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, November 9th.
Juan Carlos Bidegain presented the new proposed law to members of the Legislative Assembly for its study and consideration.
On November 16th, the Foreign Relations Commission of the Salvadoran Legislature issued a
favorable opinion on the Foreign Agents Law.
Next, the proposed bill must be brought to a plenary session for its approval or rejection. Since the New Ideas political party has a majority a the legislature, the bill is expected to get approved.
Critisism to President Bukele
Many local and international organizations have voiced their objections against this law and President Bukele. Critics believe the law could violate human rights and oppress the freedom of the press.
Eduardo Escobar, the director of the organization Citizen Action, called it an attempt “to silence the critical voices of civic groups.” Citizen Action is an NGO that could be affected by the newly created bill.
The Foreign Agents Law is a hard blow to social organizations to try to silence those voices that are uncomfortable to the government,”
Local and international organizations also claim that the new Foreign Agent Law could impact media organizations.
A local media organization voicing its opinion against the law is the online publication,
El Faro. Media outlet El Faro, who has been a constant critic of the Bukele administration, receives financing from international organizations such as Open Society.
Human Rights Watch, urged the Salvadoran government to “Shelve the Foreign Agents Bill.”
Since Bukele and his coalition eliminated virtually all institutional checks on his power, nongovernmental institutions and independent media are among the few voices in El Salvador in a position to hold the government to account,”
stated José Miguel Vivanco.
Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, has on many occasions criticized the proposed bill. Jose Miguel Vivanco is a constant critic of President Bukele and his administration.
“If this bill is passed, Bukele’s administration will have a legal excuse to intimidate or effectively curtail the operations of independent civil society and media groups,” said, Vivanco.
New Proposed Law Could Worsen Relations with the United States
The new proposed bill could further deteriorate the relations between the United States and the Salvadoran Government. Currently, the political relationship between the two nations is low.
On November 4, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it would provide $300 million to Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduras NG0s.
President Bukele and his administration believe many of these NGOs are entities whose only focus is to oppose his administration.
What would the United States Government say if we financed its political opposition? Because that is what these NGOs do; everyone knows it,”
On November 8th, Jean Manes, The charge d’affaires of the United States Embassy in El Salvador, gave her opinion regarding the escalation in tension between the Nayib Bukele administration and the United States.
“We are in a very difficult moment with the Government of El Salvador. For our part, we will always try to continue working with the Salvadorans, and we will seek all avenues to do so,”
said the diplomat in her statements.
It has not been made public when the proposed bill will be voted on. One thing is for sure until that happens, there will be many people and organizations voicing their opinion for it or against it.