El Faro is 25 years old today. The road has been long and intense, and full of challenges that have pushed us to evolve, to strengthen our editorial processes, and to find our own voice as journalists. In a quarter century, El Faro has become one of the most dynamic and influential leaders in the world of Latin American journalism. This has only been possible because, in spite of endless threats and asphyxiating economic conditions, we have managed to practice the profession with independence and editorial freedom.
El Faro was one of the first media outlets born in the early days of post-war democracy, after the signing of the Peace Accords, and is the only publication of that generation that has managed to survive. We could not have existed earlier, when our country was at war or ruled by military regimes and journalism was condemned to serve as a mouthpiece for military power, or was practiced in clandestinity or exile.
We have always been a thorn in the heels of power, but the counterweights required by democracy placed limits on the exercise of that power, whether political, economic, or military. We were able to face challenges without sacrificing our independence or yielding to censorship. This is not to say there were no corrupt politicians, criminals, or police and military authorities eager to silence us — there were. But it was a lot harder for them to do so.
As democracies deteriorate across Central America, conditions for the free exercise of journalism have become increasingly dire. Sadly, our 25th anniversary comes on the very day of the final edition of daily newspaper elPeriódico de Guatemala. They are forced to shut down operations in the face of government persecution and a political and judicial system that is corrupt, intolerant of criticism, and radically anti-democratic.
The founder and president of elPeriódico, José Rubén Zamora, has now been in prison for nine months, accused of money laundering in a judicial process plagued with irregularities from the start. Eight defense attorneys have been forced to drop Zamora’s case; four of them have been arrested. And a judge has requested the opening of criminal investigations against nine other journalists and columnists who have written about his case, most of them from elPeriódico. In the process, the Attorney General’s Office has ordered the freezing of the newspaper’s bank accounts. Today, Guatemala has lost its leading outlet in the fight against corruption. It is an attack against the right of citizens to be informed.
elPeriódico was born two years before El Faro. The outlet has been a space of gathering and growth for generations of Guatemalan journalists who, like us, were committed to democracy, and by extension, to denouncing corruption and the interference of organized crime in the political and economic life of the country.
Its closure is a blow to all Central American journalism — a major setback, and a testament to the fact that silencing critics is not a practice exclusive to the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua. The corrupt, the same who are impeding candidacies in the upcoming presidential elections — have already shown how eager it is to put the final nails in the coffin of the fight against corruption, and to put an end to democracy in Guatemala altogether.
Here, in El Salvador, we are also fast approaching a dictatorship, as President Bukele consolidates his control over every branch of government and knows that he can violate the constitution with impunity. Our democracy is facing the threat of death.
The first four years of Bukele, with his relentless attacks on democracy and journalism, have been enough to confirm how necessary checks and balances are for the health and integrity of a free and independent press — for a press that can fulfill its basic responsibility to inform.
It may seem, at first glance, that there is little to celebrate given these dire conditions. But there are plenty of reasons to honor and recommit to the profession: The majority of Guatemala’s independent outlets and journalists have responded to these circumstances with a warning, to all those who seek to continue profiting from and concentrating power in the state: The closure of elPeriódico will not intimidate them into giving up. On the contrary, they intend to double down on their efforts to investigate and expose the powerful.
But as Central Americans ought to know well, when the powers that be attempt to silence journalism, it is not only the publication of a newspaper that is at stake, but our freedom of thought, of expression, and of the press. Our democracy.
We have also learned lessons of resistance from the hundreds of our Nicaraguan colleagues who continue to write and publish in conditions of exile and clandestinity, their outlets shuttered by a tyrant. Aspiring dictators should take note: threats and abuse of power are not enough to silence us. It is not enough to imprison the most visible of us, or shut down the most critical of us. We take our inspiration from Central American journalism: fiercely independent, and always ready to take a risk.
Twenty-five years later, we can tell our readers that, despite the onslaughts from those in power, our thoughts and pens are still free. We will continue to investigate the powerful and expose the rampant corruption and criminal pacts of the Bukele regime, as we did under the governments of the FMLN and Arena. And we will continue to report on how the decisions of the most powerful affect the most vulnerable.
Journalism is either critical or it isn’t. It either challenges power or it doesn’t. It either asks questions or it becomes propaganda. And propaganda is precisely what those who want to silence us need.
Today we reaffirm our commitment to the work of journalism, to refusing to capitulate or accommodate ourselves to the wishes of the powerful in exchange for peace and comfort. We can do this because we know we are accompanied by a community of readers. Whatever the road brings next, let us walk it together, for another 25 years.