Thursday, September 16

Daniel Lizárraga, editor of ‘El Faro’: “Journalism in El Salvador suffers systematic harassment”

Two policemen knocked on the door of Daniel Lizárraga’s apartment in San Salvador. The Mexican journalist, who a few months ago had arrived in El Salvador to work as an editor in the investigative medium The lighthouse, was surprised. He did not expect that a simple routine procedure to work in the country as a foreigner would require a police questioning at his home. At that moment he called the lawyer assigned to him by the outlet. “Come here, they came to my department,” he told his defense, according to his account from Mexico to elDiario.es. Within a few days, he was already out of the country. He had been deported by the Government of Nayib Bukele. Lizárraga has a long career as an investigative journalist in Mexico, has worked in the newspaper Reform, in the magazine Process and was deputy director of Political Animal but he says what he experienced in El Salvador was something totally new.

Why were you expelled from El Salvador?

In the document that they gave me, it said that I had not been able to accredit myself as a journalist and that, due to my functions, I was going to influence the country’s politics and that this could not be allowed.

Was it a paper problem or the product of some political decision?

I think it was a political decision. The Government’s relationship with The lighthouse it was always hostile because of the investigations that we have been publishing. It is a volley against the environment. Everytime that The lighthouse it does things better, the government is looking for a way to restrain us. President Bukele, autocratic that he is, has now lowered the intensity but was constantly attacking the medium.

Is it possible to do journalism in El Salvador?

You can do journalism despite everything. Even in this type of autocratic regime it would not have been possible to publish if there were no social networks. We no longer depend on paper, otherwise it would be very complicated. But the conditions in which journalism is done there are very difficult. Journalism in El Salvador suffers systematic harassment, whoever does not propagandize for the Government is left out.

Bukele was born with the political stamp of the left and later presented himself as an independent. How is your political journey?

In 2012, he won the mayoralty of Nuevo Cuscatlán as a candidate from the left, with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and in 2015 the mayoralty of San Salvador, the country’s capital. But it was like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In a short time, he started to take off just because he is very charismatic, he expresses himself very well, he presents himself as a friendly guy, who handles everything through social networks. And he has also dedicated himself to making right-wing populist political decisions such as putting $ 300 per family in people’s wallets. There comes a time when people don’t care what political space it represents, they just want to vote for it. And that’s where he put together his own party, New Ideas, ran in the legislative elections [Nuevas Ideas superó el 66% de los votos] and began to destroy everything.

Are you referring to the decision to advance on Justice?

Yes, first it was through the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. The magistrates in this room had put a limit on Bukele. Last year, they issued a court order preventing, by order of the president, from putting anyone they saw without a mask on the street in jail. What the new Congress did was accuse these magistrates of having exceeded their powers and that is how, in two or three hours, they were fired and appointed other judges who obey them. Then, those same judges are the ones who ended up enabling re-election in El Salvador, opening the doors to a second consecutive term for Bukele despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits it.

Imagine Bukele running for a new term?

And it is a fact. He’s a very clever guy, he’s always one step ahead. While we were discussing whether or not it was legal to remove a third of the judges who were over 60 years old, he suddenly moved another piece, he came up with the issue of reelection. We get into the re-election debate and move the bitcoin piece. He’s in control of the pulse of public debate. He is cunning.

El Salvador became, last week, the first country in the world to incorporate a cryptocurrency as a legal tender. Why did the government make this decision?

El Salvador is heavily in debt. The World Bank lists it as the most indebted country in Central America. In a country with its dollarized economy and inflation like El Salvador, what it does with bitcoin is to capture resources that it does not have. But Bukele puts his neck at stake with this measure because this currency is very volatile, the risk is very high.

Does this debate matter in society?

The pulse of society is very low. They are still like at the time of the snake enchantment with Bukele. I think that civil society has not awakened. But bitcoin is going to be a before and after. It depends on how you do because the economy is pinned.

Without a strong party, who does the president lean on?

Bukele is not alone. The first circle surrounding the president is made up of two parts. First, by a group of Venezuelan consultants. They, somehow, have created Bukele. This group has no official positions, although they are paid salaries. But they are also his brothers: Karim, Ibrajim and Yusef Bukele, also without public office and those who have negotiated the issue of bitcoin and are deciding the economy of the country. This circle of people trusted by the president but without public office, his brothers and the Venezuelan consultants, are the ones who govern the country.

Why do you think Bukele maintains 85% support?

We are facing a very hurt society, which has very fresh the wounds of the civil war of the 80s and where many people lost family, friends, close people. But in addition, the different governments, both those of the right (ARENA) and those of the left (FMLN) have been corrupt. It is in this context of hopelessness that Bukele emerges. He is the first president, since the civil war ended, who does not represent either of the two traditional parties.

How do you imagine El Salvador in the coming months?

I think a time of great uncertainty is coming, especially with the incorporation of bitcoin. Can the president handle that? I don’t know, but it looks very complicated, I think a time of great instability is coming.



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