Thursday, August 5

“The Salvadoran media are facing a difficult moment in which they will need a lot of strength and unity”


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Carmen Valeria Escobarhe was not born with a journalistic vocation. She woke up when the book «Slaves of Power» (2010), by the Mexican journalist and writer Lydia Cacho. A woman persecuted for her commitment to the rights of women and children, subject to abuse and sex trafficking in her country, Mexico. «I really liked that book. At the time I thought I wanted to do that. Then I had the opportunity to work on ‘El faro’. It can be said that I did not find journalism, but that journalism found me », he jokes.

Escobar, like Cacho, also opted for gender issues, of the LGTB community, and was involved in denouncing abuses against minorities in his country, El Salvador. But life also led her in other directions, such as the difficult and dangerous path of investigating power. For two years -between 2017 and 2019- he collaborated in ‘El Faro’, a highly prestigious digital research medium in El Salvador, which has become a real nightmare for him. President Nayib Bukele. “There I worked in a section called the Legislative Observatory.” Later she joined another project of more recent creation, the magazine “GatoEncerrado”, a digital publication specialized in gender, environment and verification of public discourse.

His work has exposed the corruption of a fledgling government, like the one led by Nayib Bukele, the man who presented himself to the Salvadoran people as the solution to an endemic problem in the country and in the region: corruption. However, in just 20 months, the millennial president, tweeter and that he has been described by some analysts as a “new caudillo” has shattered some of those promises, although many do not see it, blinded by the message of a leader who manages social networks and his media with extreme efficiency (created to counteract the information that questions you).

In ‘GatoEncerrado’ Escobar published a couple of information about the corruption of the Minister of Health, Francisco Alabí, during the quarantine “in which he benefited his family with the purchase of medical supplies,” he tells ABC. “It is one thing to discover corruption in other ministers, that of Agriculture or Foreign Relations, something that is reprehensible, but it is another thing to do it with the Minister of Health in the midst of a pandemic. He is a doctor who has taken an oath, in which he puts the health and lives of patients before everything else. Profiting from that seems terrible to me “, complains Escobar, in Madrid, where he landed last January to join the III program of reception of journalists from Latin America of Reporters without Borders, for informants who live in countries in conflict or where practicing this profession poses a high risk to their life.

“Journalism is more robust, and allows us to know mechanisms to be able to prosecute and investigate corruption”

Escobar acknowledges that one of the things that has most surprised journalists about the Bukele government has been “how quickly corruption cases have emerged, compared to other years.” Something that he attributes, in part, to the fact that now “journalism is more robust, and it allows us to know mechanisms to be able to prosecute and investigate corruption. But I also think it was because it is about a government that has not tried to hide it either. Much of the information was posted on the internet for all of us to see. It was a matter of time, “he asserts. The journalist recalls that during the pandemic a new case of corruption appeared every week. “Millions of dollars embezzled … I stopped keeping track.” The absence of fear of being discovered – or the assurance of complete impunity – has not stopped these actions “because they impose their story.”

Authoritarian president

Having revealed these cases of corruption has had serious consequences for the journalist, who has seen her own family suffer reprisals. Escobar acknowledges that since Bukele is president, the media have entered a period of “shadows.” “We are more alert because we have seen the growth of an authoritarian president. These are signs that occurred a long time ago, such as when he did not allow a journalist to enter a press conference when he was mayor. They were symptoms, “he recalls. Now the media are facing a “tough and uphill time, in which we are going to need a lot of strength and a lot of unity ».

While recognizing that the medium with which he collaborates, ‘GatoEncerrado’, has not suffered the worst attacks of power, “because we are the newest”, others, with more presence and history, such as ‘El Faro’, which revealed, among others investigations, Bukele’s negotiations with the gangs, have had to resort to justice to be protected against the harassment of state institutions like the Ministry of Finance.

Militarized country

As for what other changes El Salvador has undergone in the last 20 months, Escobar assures that “it has become a much more military country, and it already was a lot. In the Bukele Administration, the presence of the military and police has been exacerbated by 300%. They are everywhere. Something that is curious in a country that has suffered a civil war very recently (the Peace Agreement was signed in 1992). Added to this is a “greater disdain for the laws,” as well as a significant increase in “digital violence against women,” he says.

Despite this turnaround, the popularity rating enjoyed by the Salvadoran president is immense, around 90%. “Bukele has been a very astute person to understand who his audience is, who to approach and who to talk to. He was a publicist, and that helps him understand how people work »

“Bukele has been a very astute person to understand who his audience is, who to approach and who to talk to. He was a publicist, and that helps him understand how people work »

This popular support has been reflected in recent Parliamentary election, in which his party, New Ideas, obtained 56 of the 84 possible deputies, which gives his party (which until then only had ten seats in Parliament) a qualified majority, which means having almost absolute powers. If to these seats are added those of the GANA formation, with which it appeared in coalition, and that would add five, it is close to what is called a special majority, 63 seats, which would allow it to “suspend guarantees of certain articles of the Constitution , which have to do with administrative detentions ”and that would imply the violation of fundamental rights.

A recent study showed how a considerable part of the Salvadoran population preferred to have a president with an authoritarian profile over a more moderate one. «If in El Salvador you ask for the president Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, who murdered many indigenous people, many older people tell you that the country needs a person like him. Why? Because they are people who are very used to authoritarianism. And that is replicated in smaller areas, such as the family. Parents exercise a very authoritarian education with their children. And it is logical that this is repeated in a larger political space, “says Escobar.

One of the successes of the Bukele Administration has been the decrease in the number of daily murders, which placed El Salvador as one of the most violent countries in the world. Have you noticed that decrease in violence? No, but I think that has to do with many things. Violence in El Salvador is felt in certain places where you move. There is a false idea that the whole country is dangerous, and that is not true. Depends on the zone. In practical life, it is true that homicides have decreased, but I would not enter some areas that are still taken over (by gangs), people continue to pay rent (to gangs so that they do not attack them or their businesses). .. The reality is that people are still afraid on the street.

About the supposed truce reached by the Bukele government and the gangs, reported by ‘El Faro’ and which the president has repeatedly denied, Escobar considers that it is very different “to negotiate with them publicly” than to do it “behind people’s backs and seeking electoral benefits, for prison benefits. . That is not a correct negotiation.

Since Escobar arrived in Spain, he has divided his time by following a television reporting course, taught by the TVE Institute, and participating in colloquia on the situation of journalists who work in countries with high levels of violence, as is the case of The Savior. When she completes her three-month stay, the journalist plans to return home to continue questioning power. “Spain is a very beautiful place, but I think I have a lot of journalism to do in El Salvador.”

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