{"code":"24796","sect":"El Salvador","sect_slug":"el-salvador","hits":"3008","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202009\/el_salvador\/24796","link_edit":"","name":"Series of Corruption Allegations Stains El Salvador\u2019s Promise \u2014 What Political Impact Will It Have?","slug":"series-of-corruption-allegations-stains-el-salvador-rsquo-s-promise-mdash-what-political-impact-will-it-have-","info":"Even as journalistic investigations have revealed widespread corruption in the dealings of Nayib Bukele\u2019s administration, the president has attempted to keep the spotlight on his political opponents and the press. It\u2019s unclear to what extent the evidence of corruption, combined with signs of authoritarianism in the administration, is affecting public opinion as El Salvador approaches pivotal legislative elections next February.","mtag":"Corruption","noun":{"html":"\u003Cspan class='tint-text--dark' data_href='\/user\/profile\/rgressier'\u003E Roman Gressier\u003C\/span\u003E","data":{"roman-gressier":{"sort":"rgressier","slug":"roman-gressier","path":"roman_gressier","name":"Roman Gressier","edge":"0","init":"0"}}},"view":"3008","pict":{"cms-image-000034419-jpg":{"feat":"1","sort":"34419","name":"cms-image-000034419.JPG","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034419.JPG","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034419.JPG","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034419-jpg","text":"<p>Nayib Bukele, presidente de El Salvador durante una reuni\u00f3n con alcaldes en Casa Presidencial en mayo de 2020. Foto de El Faro: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003ENayib Bukele, presidente de El Salvador durante una reuni\u00f3n con alcaldes en Casa Presidencial en mayo de 2020. Foto de El Faro: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a.\u003C\/p\u003E"},"cms-image-000034420-jpg":{"feat":"0","sort":"34420","name":"cms-image-000034420.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034420.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034420.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034420-jpg","text":"<p>Bukele during a press conference outside of Nueva Israel, a community hit by Tropical Storm Amanda. Photo from El Faro: Carlos Barrera<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EBukele during a press conference outside of Nueva Israel, a community hit by Tropical Storm Amanda. Photo from El Faro: Carlos Barrera\u003C\/p\u003E"},"cms-image-000034422-jpg":{"feat":"0","sort":"34422","name":"cms-image-000034422.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034422.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034422.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034422-jpg","text":"<p>En septiembre de 2019, el enviado de la OEA, Luis Porto y el presidente Bukele acordaron una mesa t\u00e9cnica para la instalaci\u00f3n de una Cic\u00edes. A mediados de 2021, el fiscal impuesto por el bukelismo asegur\u00f3 que revisar\u00eda ese convenio y con el tiempo fue cancelado. Foto: Marvin Recinos \/AFP.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EEn septiembre de 2019, el enviado de la OEA, Luis Porto y el presidente Bukele acordaron una mesa t\u00e9cnica para la instalaci\u00f3n de una Cic\u00edes. A mediados de 2021, el fiscal impuesto por el bukelismo asegur\u00f3 que revisar\u00eda ese convenio y con el tiempo fue cancelado. Foto: Marvin Recinos \/AFP.\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":34419,"date":{"live":"2020\/09\/11"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2020","data_post_dateLive_MM":"09","data_post_dateLive_DD":"11","text":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ENayib Bukele would likely not have become president of El Salvador in June of 2019 had it not been for corruption. Three out of four of the Casa Presidencial\u2019s preceding occupants were riddled with charges of profiteering, nepotism, and the misuse of their public positions. Francisco Flores (1999-2004) \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.elfaro.net\/es\/201601\/el_salvador\/17934\/Muere-Francisco-Flores-presidente-de-El-Salvador-entre-1999-y-2004.htm\"\u003Edied while on trial\u003C\/a\u003E for embezzlement in 2016; Antonio Saca (2004-09), \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/201809\/el_salvador\/22447\/El-%C3%BAltimo-presidente-de-Arena-es-el-primero-condenado-por-corrupci%C3%B3n.htm\"\u003Ewho pled guilty\u003C\/a\u003E in 2018 to embezzlement and money laundering charges, will likely spend at least ten years behind bars; Mauricio Funes (2009-14) is dodging \u003Ca href=\"http:\/\/mauricio-funes.elfaro.net\/las-pruebas-de-como-funes-derrocho-dinero-publico\"\u003Eembezzlement charges of his own\u003C\/a\u003E as an asylee in Daniel Ortega\u2019s Nicaragua.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBukele\u2014a 39-year-old businessman, Twitter guru, and self-styled political outsider who most recently served as mayor of San Salvador\u2014made the fight against corruption the central plank of his presidential bid, popularizing the Twitter hashtag #DevuelvanLoRobado (\u201creturn what you stole\u201d). \u201cThe usual suspects criticize this project because they want us to continue letting them steal,\u201d he \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/twitter.com\/nayibbukele\/status\/1065388589264134146?lang=en\"\u003Ewrote\u003C\/a\u003E in a campaign tweet just months before winning the election. \u201cGod willing, our country will change.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAnd yet, only 14 months into his five-year term, there is mounting evidence that it is business as usual in the new administration. In the past five months since the president announced the country\u2019s pandemic lockdown, Salvadoran newsrooms have published at least 14 investigations into evidence of corruption related to the administration\u2019s emergency response, including multiple cases of self-dealing to the family members of administration officials and party insiders. The pandemic has also been marked by accusations of partisan \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.revistafactum.com\/nuevasideas-suchitoto\/\"\u003Eaid distribution\u003C\/a\u003E, the \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.elsalvador.com\/noticias\/nacional\/gobierno-elimina-compras-realizadas-sitio-web-comprasal\/740839\/2020\/\"\u003Edeletion\u003C\/a\u003E of publicly-accessible government expenditures, \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202008\/el_salvador\/24718\/Gobierno-define-el-rumbo-de-$959-millones-pero-bloquea-al-nuevo-Comit%C3%A9-auditor.htm\"\u003Eresistance to audits\u003C\/a\u003E on emergency spending, and the \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202005\/el_salvador\/24369\/Gobierno-incumple-compromiso-de-reportar-a-la-Asamblea-los-gastos-de-emergencia.htm\"\u003Eunlawful refusal\u003C\/a\u003E of most of the ministries to report emergency spending to the Legislative Assembly.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=2000&ImageHeight=1333&ImageId=34419\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Nayib Bukele, presidente de El Salvador durante una reuni\u00f3n con alcaldes en Casa Presidencial en mayo de 2020. Foto de El Faro: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a.\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003ENayib Bukele, presidente de El Salvador durante una reuni\u00f3n con alcaldes en Casa Presidencial en mayo de 2020. Foto de El Faro: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a.\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EPress investigations into corruption have indeed implicated multiple of those very ministries. A company founded and run by \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.elsalvador.com\/eldiariodehoy\/covid-19-coronavirus\/726378\/2020\/\"\u003EJos\u00e9 Zelaya\u003C\/a\u003E, the new treasury minister and former vice minister of income, received $750,000 for face masks from the Ministry of Health. The \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.elsalvador.com\/eldiariodehoy\/agricultura-compro-alimentos-empresa-koky-aguilar\/746713\/2020\/\"\u003EMinistry of Agriculture\u003C\/a\u003E bought $1.6 million in food from the business of Jorge \u201cKoky\u201dAguilar\u2014the mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla for the president\u2019s party, Nuevas Ideas, and current president of the Environmental Fund of El Salvador (Fonaes), a government agency tasked with administering public resources to fight climate change. The \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/saludconlupa.com\/noticias\/el-salvador-un-funcionario-publico-vende-protectores-faciales-al-gobierno\/\"\u003EMinistry of Health\u003C\/a\u003E, meanwhile, purchased a quarter-million dollars\u2019 worth of surgical masks from Aguilar. And \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/gatoencerrado.news\/2020\/07\/11\/ministro-alabi-compro-225-mil-en-botas-para-medicos-a-empresa-de-su-familia1\/\"\u003EFrancisco Alab\u00ed\u003C\/a\u003E, the health minister himself, oversaw the purchase of $225,000 in medical equipment from his family.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn the same span, corruption has also reached the Legislative Assembly. A company owned by the family of deputy Gustavo Escalante, a newfound ally of Nuevas Ideas, sold the Ministry of Health 800,000 surgical masks at an artificially inflated price. After delivery, the ministry found that almost one-quarter of the entire batch \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202007\/el_salvador\/24657\/El-22-de-mascarillas-que-empresa-de-la-familia-Escalante-vendi%C3%B3-a-Salud-eran-inservibles.htm\"\u003Ewas defective\u003C\/a\u003E.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cThe amount of corruption that has come to light in the management of public resources over these five months has been scandalous,\u201d said Roberto Rubio Fabi\u00e1n, director of the National Foundation for Development (FUNDE), a Salvadoran transparency watchdog and policy think tank. It\u2019s still unclear, he added, whether there has been a concrete increase in corruption relative to prior administrations or simply higher levels of public awareness, but he points to a swelling budget, decreased access to information, and eased regulations for contract procurement amid the emergency as particularly concerning\u2014and he says more evidence will likely continue to emerge.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEven so, the emergency response isn\u2019t the only vector for corruption in the Bukele administration\u2019s management of public funds. Further evidence of corruption unrelated to the pandemic has emerged in public finance in recent months. On February 11, the Development Bank of El Salvador \u003Ca href=\"\/en\/202007\/el_salvador\/24608\/development-bank-of-el-salvador-ignored-internal-warnings-in-awarding-loan-to-sister-of-presidential-commissioner.htm\"\u003Eignored internal conflict-of-interest warnings\u003C\/a\u003E in awarding a loan to Susana Recinos Montes, the sister of one of the bank\u2019s managers and Bukele\u2019s presidential commissioner\u2014a position that oversees the functioning of the cabinet of ministers. In late July, \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202007\/el_salvador\/24688\/Una-empresa-con-cinco-a%C3%B1os-de-contratos-p%C3%BAblicos-a-la-sombra-del-ministro-de-Seguridad.htm\"\u003Enews broke\u003C\/a\u003E that a San Salvador project management company received years of preferential dealing of public contracts from Rogelio Rivas, former staffer at Bukele\u2019s Mayor\u2019s Office in San Salvador and current security minister. This August, Revista Factum reported that Osiris Luna, Bukele\u2019s director of prisons, illegally \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.revistafactum.com\/osiris-luna-tiendas\/\"\u003Espent\u003C\/a\u003E $8.5 million in commissary profits, but has thus far refused to admit the nature of the expenditures.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202003\/el_salvador\/24173\/Gobierno-no-estar%C3%A1-obligado-a-cumplir-la-Lacap-para-comprar-insumos-m%C3%A9dicos.htm\"\u003ERegulatory easing\u003C\/a\u003E by the Legislative Assembly at the onset of the pandemic has been a key factor in enabling the families and business associates of senior officials in the Bukele administration to receive favorable public contracts relating to emergency response. On August 27, Bukele \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.elsalvador.com\/eldiariodehoy\/bukele-reforma-lacap-adquisiciones-compras\/748062\/2020\/\"\u003Eannounced\u003C\/a\u003E an executive order allowing for the submission of bids for contractual services via email\u2014a practice which Treasury Ministry regulations had previously prohibited under El Salvador\u2019s acquisitions and contracting law\u2014and for bidders to bypass the Electronic System of Public Purchases (Comprasal), a crucial transparency window into government spending.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn an ensuing \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.facebook.com\/fundeorg\/posts\/1753631698108032\"\u003Epress release\u003C\/a\u003E on September 1, FUNDE condemned \u201cthe administration\u2019s efforts to curb access to information on public procurement,\u201d warned of potential destruction or contortion of public information, and called on domestic and international monitors and civil society to intervene in \u201cthis serious backsliding in the fight against opacity and corruption.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEl Faro reached out multiple times to Casa Presidencial\u2014as well as the Ministries of Health, Treasury, and Agriculture\u2014for comment but, as of press time, has received no response.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EMost recently, El Faro published an investigation into the Bukele administration\u2019s covert negotiations with incarcerated MS-13 gang leaders to lower the homicide rate and garner electoral support for Nuevas Ideas in next February\u2019s elections. In exchange, the gang received short-term benefits, such as improvements to prison commissaries, the transfer of abusive guards, and the reversal of a short-lived move in late April to mix opposing gangs in the same cell blocks. Gang leaders also received pledges to reform gang-related laws conditioned on the results of the February elections, the reporters found. The administration vehemently denied the findings, and then attacked and denigrated the journalists who conducted the investigation.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAs events and investigations have unfolded, international observers have begun to draw their own conclusions about the administration. \u201cI don\u2019t think on the evidence we\u2019ve seen to date that the Bukele administration is serious in the fight against corruption and that there aren\u2019t people in Bukele\u2019s inner circle who are benefiting from government contracts, public health contracts, and other kinds of self-dealing,\u201d said Geoff Thale, longtime observer of El Salvador and president of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EThe CICIES: A Question Mark\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDuring his campaign and the early days of his presidency, Bukele capitalized on widespread resentment of corruption in prior administrations by promising to support the creation of two new checks on government: an international anti-corruption commission, tasked with investigating public officials and providing counsel and institutional support to the Attorney General; and an anti-corruption czar, a newly-created position for a member of the political opposition tasked with blowing the whistle from within the executive branch. No anti-corruption czar has been named to date, and the commission that has taken shape is far from what Bukele promised.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=2000&ImageHeight=1331&ImageId=34422\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"En septiembre de 2019, el enviado de la OEA, Luis Porto y el presidente Bukele acordaron una mesa t\u00e9cnica para la instalaci\u00f3n de una Cic\u00edes. A mediados de 2021, el fiscal impuesto por el bukelismo asegur\u00f3 que revisar\u00eda ese convenio y con el tiempo fue cancelado. Foto: Marvin Recinos \/AFP.\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003EEn septiembre de 2019, el enviado de la OEA, Luis Porto y el presidente Bukele acordaron una mesa t\u00e9cnica para la instalaci\u00f3n de una Cic\u00edes. A mediados de 2021, el fiscal impuesto por el bukelismo asegur\u00f3 que revisar\u00eda ese convenio y con el tiempo fue cancelado. Foto: Marvin Recinos \/AFP.\u003Cdiv class=\"photographer text_italic rule--ss_l tint-text--idle\"\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn 2019, the administration received two proposals for international anti-corruption commissions: one from the United Nations (UN) and another from the Organization of American States (OAS). The UN proposed a commission modeled after the CICIG\u2014Guatemala\u2019s anti-corruption commission which severely rattled the country\u2019s political class before former president Jimmy Morales disbanded it. On November 26, Bukele officials \u003Ca href=\"\/en\/202002\/el_salvador\/23989\/The-UN-drew-up-plans-for-a-CICIES-similar-to-Guatemala%E2%80%99s-but-Bukele-opted-for-the-OAS%E2%80%99s-proposal-instead.htm\"\u003Eopted instead for\u003C\/a\u003E a separate model, known as the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES), proposed by the OAS.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cWe\u2019ve worked more quickly with OAS contracts. The UN\u2019s offer to help us still holds and of course we will take it,\u201d Bukele said in a press conference on January 27. Far from having the power to independently investigate political corruption, as Bukele had promised during his campaign, the role of the OAS-backed commission has been reduced to advising and offering investigative assistance to the Attorney General\u2019s Office, raising widespread questions about its degree of independence from the administration and Bukele\u2019s commitment to his anti-corruption platform.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cI wouldn\u2019t say he\u2019s only giving lip service,\u201d Thale said of the president. \u201cI do think that he pursues corruption when and where it serves his political purposes, and that he\u2019s concerned to ensure that corruption investigations remain within his political control. That\u2019s why the CICIES went from being a grand idea in his campaign for an independent body modeled on the CICIG to being a technical commission with very little independent power.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn April 17, the OAS \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.oas.org\/en\/media_center\/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-037\/20\"\u003Eannounced\u003C\/a\u003E the deployment of a \u201cteam of 30 multidisciplinary professionals to implement an audit and follow-up mechanism regarding the use of funds destined for the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic\u201d in El Salvador. When asked if he thought the CICIES had made a political impact in monitoring the use of pandemic funds, Rubio was doubtful. \u201cNot for the time being, because they haven\u2019t released any of their findings,\u201d he said. \u201cTime is running out and we want to see results...if the CICIES only exposes cases from the past, as we\u2019ve seen the Attorney General do, well, it\u2019s easy to stand up to those no longer in power. But facing those in power is more difficult, and a test of true independence.\u201d\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EWhen asked the commission\u2019s findings and the nature of its collaboration with the Attorney General\u2019s Office, a spokesperson for the CICIES responded via email that \u201cwe are currently engaged in technical assistance and monitoring of Covid-19 funds; we will reveal pertinent information at the appropriate time.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEven as the CICIES investigates, the administration has sought to insulate itself from scrutiny by \u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202004\/el_salvador\/24237\/El-Gobierno-tambi%C3%A9n-puso-en-cuarentena-el-acceso-a-la-informaci%C3%B3n-p%C3%BAblica.htm\"\u003Esuspending access to public information\u003C\/a\u003E and undermining its opponents and critics\u2014whether in the legislature, courts, or press. Institutions, including independent media that have challenged the official narrative about the pandemic response by publishing evidence of corruption, have experienced increased insecurity under the Bukele administration.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cSalvadoran journalism is facing a critical moment in which the freedom of press, freedom of expression, and access to information have been affected,\u201d \u003Ca href=\"http:\/\/apes.org.sv\/dia-del-periodista-no-queremos-felicitaciones-exigimos-que-respeten-nuestra-labor\/\"\u003Esaid\u003C\/a\u003E the Association of Salvadoran Journalists on July 31, El Salvador\u2019s Day of the Journalist. In Bukele\u2019s first year, APES reported 61 instances of attacks against the press in Bukele\u2019s first year, ranging from restricted access to public meetings and information to social media-based troll campaigns that have particularly targeted female journalists. For reference, APES registered 16 in the final year of the administration of Salvador S\u00e1nchez Cer\u00e9n, the preceding president.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EFrom March 17 of this year through the end of July alone\u2014the rough timespan of the emergency response to the pandemic\u2014APES documented \u003Ca href=\"http:\/\/apes.org.sv\/dia-del-periodista-no-queremos-felicitaciones-exigimos-que-respeten-nuestra-labor\/\"\u003E65 cases of abuse\u003C\/a\u003E, including theft of professional equipment from the homes of journalists working for independent outlets GatoEncerrado and Disruptiva. El Faro itself has been subject to defamation campaigns originating from government-controlled outlets and repeated by the president and his political allies via social media. At times El Faro reporters have faced mass online harassment from accounts aligned politically with the president.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cThis government doesn\u2019t like to be held accountable to the press or to anybody, and not only ignores the press, but attacks it, saying that they\u2019re part of the corrupt establishment and in many cases lying about the press or whoever criticizes them,\u201d said Jos\u00e9 Miguel Cruz, a Salvadoran expert on public opinion who directs research on Latin America at Florida International University. \u201cThat makes this government qualitatively different [from its predecessors] in terms of the magnitude of corruption and the lack of transparency.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=2000&ImageHeight=1333&ImageId=34420\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Bukele during a press conference outside of Nueva Israel, a community hit by Tropical Storm Amanda. Photo from El Faro: Carlos Barrera\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003EBukele during a press conference outside of Nueva Israel, a community hit by Tropical Storm Amanda. Photo from El Faro: Carlos Barrera\u003Cdiv class=\"photographer text_italic rule--ss_l tint-text--idle\"\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EA Hazy Political Future\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThis summer, as campaigns began for pivotal congressional elections in February, the president is seeking to emerge from the pandemic and consolidate a governing coalition via his party, Nuevas Ideas. The weaknesses of public opinion polling amid a pandemic and political complications of a deep economic recession\u2014plus the broad discontent with the traditional parties in broad swaths of the population\u2014have made it unclear what effect recent evidence of corruption will have on the electorate.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn recent months, major pollsters have found evidence of strong public appraisals of President Bukele\u2014both of his first year in office and of his administration\u2019s management of the emergency. LPG Datos, the influential polling wing of media outlet La Prensa Gr\u00e1fica, released findings at the end of Bukele\u2019s first year in office in late May, \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.laprensagrafica.com\/lpgdatos\/Bukele-cierra-su-primer-ano-de-trabajo-con-alta-aprobacion-20200523-0072.html\"\u003Esuggesting\u003C\/a\u003E that three-quarters of the population \u201cstrongly approves\u201d of his time in office, with an additional 17 percent that \u201csomewhat approves.\u201d LPG Datos polling on the administration\u2019s emergency management around the same time \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/www.laprensagrafica.com\/lpgdatos\/LPG-Datos-analisis-de-la-encuesta-de-opinion-publica-sobre-el-manejo-del-gobierno-salvadoreno-de-la-emergencia-covid-19-EN-VIVO-20200527-0067.html\"\u003Esuggested\u003C\/a\u003E that 85 percent of the population \u201cstrongly approves,\u201d and another 11 percent \u201csomewhat approves.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe University Institute of Public Opinion at the Central American University (IUDOP), a pillar of academic study of public opinion for the past three decades, released this June a \u003Ca href=\"http:\/\/www.uca.edu.sv\/iudop\/wp-content\/uploads\/informe156.pdf\"\u003Ereport\u003C\/a\u003E suggesting that the administration\u2019s management of the pandemic may have negatively affected Bukele\u2019s general approval rating. The report found that, over his first year in office, the share of the population responding that \u201che\u2019s doing things well\u201d fell from a towering 85 percent to 66\u2014a nonetheless enviable figure for any president in the region. \u201cThe president is doing very good work,\u201d wrote a 20-year-old man from Santo Domingo de Guzm\u00e1n, Sonsonate, anonymously cited in the institute\u2019s final report. \u201cWe\u2019ve seen some of his shortcomings, but even so, he\u2019s shown he wants the best for this country.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAs corruption allegations continue to come to light, how Salvadorans receive the evidence remains to be seen. \u201cI\u2019m not saying his government\u2019s not popular, or that the reality is completely different, but we really don\u2019t know the extent to which this government remains popular,\u201d said Cruz of Florida International University. \u201cWe are in really dark territory here.\u201d And yet, due to Bukele\u2019s savvy messaging, he noted, as well as the frustration with the political system and traditional political parties, Bukele remains popular.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cPeople to some extent know what this government is doing. They know about the corruption. It\u2019s hard to hide it,\u201d he continued. \u201cBut at the same time, this government has been very skilled in sending these messages to the people implying, \u2018Look, we\u2019re having these problems, but this is something that the others did too. The difference is that we\u2019re doing this for you.\u2019\u201d\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGiven the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, public opinion experts note that Salvadoran pollsters have had increased difficulty in getting representative sampling across all sectors of society and have increasingly relied on phone, social media, or other web-based surveys. Thus, while results across polls suggest that the public strongly approves of the official management of the response, their findings should not be taken as a decisive indicator, according to Jeannette Aguilar, an independent researcher of public opinion and former president of IUDOP.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cI\u2019m not disparaging polling, but rather pointing to the need for a deeper analysis,\u201d Aguilar said. \u201cPublic opinion obviously can\u2019t be reduced to polling.\u201d Electoral support is often conditioned on the perceptions people have of other factors, including media coverage, the legitimacy of democratic institutions, and the strength of opposition parties, she noted.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn Washington, according to Thale, perceptions of Bukele have shifted due to both his military confrontation with the Legislative Assembly in February and his management of the pandemic. The United States has exerted outsized political, economic, and military influence on El Salvador for decades\u2014it is by far the country\u2019s largest trading partner and international aid supplier, shares its currency, and is home to roughly one in five Salvadorans.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn the past three decades, the United States has also supported hardline gang crackdowns that have perpetuated cycles of violence, implemented hardline immigration policy that has either directly harmed or vastly increased the perils faced by Salvadorans fleeing poverty and violence, and offered financial and military backing of the right-wing junta during the civil war.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ESeasoned members of the United States Congress and career officials at the State Department who were unsure what to think of Bukele when he took office were shocked by Bukele\u2019s militarized conflict with the Legislative Assembly in February, which was visually reminiscent of the civil war, Thale noted. Later, bipartisan sympathy for Bukele\u2019s relatively quick response to the pandemic soured as evidence accumulated of detentions without judicial authority, arbitrary arrests, abuse of quarantine enforcement, corruption, and constitutional conflict between the president, the Legislative Assembly, and the Supreme Court. \u201cAll of that did hurt his image, and I think it\u2019s contributed to real concerns,\u201d Thale said.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBut rising suspicion of the administration, whether domestically or internationally, won\u2019t necessarily tip the scales in the legislative elections next February. \u201cThere\u2019s been an erosion [of support], but it won\u2019t necessarily affect Bukele electorally; that depends greatly on the opposition\u2019s ability to capitalize on the erosion,\u201d said Rubio. \u201cThe party in power can be rife with corruption but if the opposition has no credibility, then that\u2019s a problem.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E"}