Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, threatened by justice following revelations in the press, toughened his tone against the country's media, accusing them of leading a “political campaign (…) orchestrated” before the legislative elections of 2021 .
The head of state announced Thursday evening that an investigation has been opened for “a serious case of money laundering” concerning the online media El Faro, very critical of his government.
“This government does not have a problem with El Faro, it has a problem with the independent press in general,” denounces Oscar Martinez, one of the directors of the online media.
According to him, the journal Factum , the daily La Prensa Grafica and the journal Gato Encerrado , also face hostility from the government.
The head of state, who has made the fight against insecurity and criminals his main electoral hobbyhorse, was particularly upset by a report from El Faro reporting government negotiations with the dreaded Mara Salvatrucha ( MS-13), one of the main criminal gangs which reign supreme in the country.
According to El Faro, who claims to have “official documents”, the government is offering more flexible detention conditions to jailed criminals in exchange for a drop in gang killings.
The maras, which engage in sponsored assassinations, racketeering and drug trafficking, have approximately 70,000 members in El Salvador, of whom more than 17,000 are behind bars.
Mr. Martinez believes that the government wishes to obtain the support of the criminal gang in favor of the Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party of President Bukele, which aims to win a majority in parliament during the legislative elections in February.
Salvadoran justice opened an investigation following the publication of this article. “Nobody can use the institutions to negotiate with terrorists,” said Attorney General Raul Melara.
President Bukele has formally denied having conducted negotiations with MS-13 and fears being prosecuted like one of his predecessors, ex-president Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), on the run in Nicaragua, accused of to have negotiated a truce with the maras in 2012 and under the influence of an international arrest warrant for “offenses of illegal associations and violation of its duties”.
“It's a political campaign because the elections are coming”, denounced Mr. Bukele, “orchestrated by all those who feel that they are losing their privileges and the system which keeps them in power and in corruption”, launched the head of state.
The declared hostility of the Head of State against the press, although Nayib Bukele pledged “before the Salvadoran people to guarantee 100% freedom of expression and to guarantee the freedom of the press as much as possible”, raises the issue. concern among many observers who fear an escalation of the confrontation.
“It is a situation of alert”, worries Mrs. Laura Andrade, of the University Institute of Public Opinion.
“It is obvious (that in government), they need to weaken the impact that these media (online information) and their investigations have reached,” she said.
For the director of the NGO Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law (Fespad), Saul Banos, the attacks on the press demonstrate “the lack of tolerance” of the president.
He fears an escalation of the confrontation with the media, a “toxic cocktail” which he believes would make the country ungovernable and deter investment.
President Bukele this week also attacked human rights organizations that criticized the army's refusal to open its archives on a massacre of a thousand villagers perpetrated by the military in December. 1981, during the civil war that ravaged the country (1980-1992).