Gabriel Labrador | Naib Bukhele | “No democratic government can do what Bugel did in El Salvador” | the world

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Gabriel Labrador |  Naib Bukhele |  “No democratic government can do what Bugel did in El Salvador” |  the world

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Gabriel Labrador, Salvadoran journalist of “El Faro” and rapporteur for freedom of expression of the El Salvador Press Association (APES), visiting Lima for the VII Europe-Latin America Investigative Journalism Conference, warns of the beginning of his dictatorship. It warns of the dangers of following it in the country and region.

– Buchel’s heavy hand is set as an example in many countries. What do you think about Bugelism in the region?

Well, for starters, it’s not a natural effect. I think it was something planned by the communications office. Seems like a very well thought out one to me. The theme is certainly appealing. The issue of security, for obvious reasons, concerns us all. This is a cross-cutting theme. All of us, in one way or another, relate to hostile environments.

Bukkel was not the first to talk about security and focus everything on that topic. In El Salvador we have had strict policies for almost 20 years. Governments on both the right and the left have found this to be a winning formula. What Bukele did was to scale it up and launch a large-scale operation that included a campaign that allowed many people outside of El Salvador to talk about it. It’s a winning formula for politicians, but the B side of the story is never known. But in principle I think it’s a successful formula because it doesn’t address the root problems. A politician who is committed to ending violence and says he’s going to build more schools, improve health and improve incomes will take a long time. It cannot be solved overnight. A politician needs quick results in a short period of time and that is what the heavy hand allows.

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Labrador arrived in Peru for an event organized by Idea International with the support of IPYS, the Peruvian Press Council, the Google News Initiative and the European Union. (Photo: Mario Zapata / El Comercio)

/ Mario Zapata n.

Do you think Bukhel’s recent success will allow for a contagion effect in the region based on its security policies? What dangers does it pose?

His re-election is a referendum on the issue. It is not only a model for Latin America, but a tool used by the right in the United States. The risk I see is that plans are not revealed to other countries in the region.

– Because?

Because El Salvador is so different. To begin with, it is small in area and easily controlled. Second, criminal structures were fully integrated with hierarchical and well-defined structures. What happens in other countries is that sometimes cartels or mafias are very concentrated and don’t have a national presence. And it makes it impossible to implement a negotiation strategy. Democracy is also at risk. No democratic government can do what Bukele did.

Heavy-handed, mega-prisons are almost the hallmark of Bugel. What is not being said about your strategy, the B side I mentioned earlier?

Side B is to remove all objections and all institutional counterweights to a country with the rule of law. In El Salvador, the Attorney General and the country’s top judges were fired. The Access to Public Information Act does not work. Without it, citizens are left without representation and have nowhere to turn if their rights are violated. Habeas Corpus in El Salvador Reaches Record Number in 2021 Side B is a population of citizens without any authority and subject to the designs of a single individual, which is more extreme.

Many expect Buckel to repeat the decisions on defense now that the economy is on the mend.  (Photo: AFP)

Many expect Buckel to repeat the decisions on defense now that the economy is on the mend. (Photo: AFP)

– Bugel’s popularity has not been able to mask criticism of human rights abuses and curtailment of freedoms, but the image of a cold, heavy-handed president still dominates. What does this say about your communication strategy?

Buchel is a listener of social media, but also does serious work analyzing what people are saying on those sites. Conduct surveys and you have a metric every day. The issue of violence and security is very important because it is an important consideration for the people and if it is found to be an issue, Bukele encourages a massive campaign operation. The budget we don’t know is huge and we don’t know how it’s being spent. There are social networks, YouTubers. Remembrance culture is enhanced with Bukhel. He has many consultants from different countries on communication issues. Buchel comes from an advertising agency background before becoming president, so he knows how to handle this.

– Despite many warning that his victory was illegal and unconstitutional, Bugel won the elections by a wide margin. What kind of government will El Salvador have after this election?

The number that probably comes to mind is that Bugel won with 85% of the vote. But less than half of those who went to vote were not told. Bukhel rules a part of the population and forgets the rest. This is a non-consulting government. We are on the brink of a series of constitutional reforms, and we don’t know what they are. It is a government closed to public scrutiny, where journalistic criticism or dissent is not tolerated. I think we have a very fearful country.

How far is El Salvador from democracy with the onset of this Bugel administration?

An unconstitutional government that manipulates election rules, attacks opponents, and all institutions begins; Such a government cannot be called a dictatorship. There are classic figures of dictators with guns and coups, but this is not necessary to install dictatorships in current times. They rule under democratic banners, but deep down they exercise power in a very autocratic manner.

Buchelle has also achieved a unique management of his image.  (Photo: AFP)

Buchelle has also achieved a unique management of his image. (Photo: AFP)

How has this affected journalists’ freedom of expression?

Since June 2019, when Bukhel came to power, attacks on the press have been on the rise. It closed at 311 last year and 180 in 2022, according to the El Salvador Press Association (APES). There is no reason to think this will change. On the day Bukhel won the election, he devoted several minutes to speaking against the national and international press, portraying us as enemies. There are laws that can be used to further restrict press freedom. When the editorial board of “El Faro” magazine consisted of 30 people, 22 of them, including myself, spied with the Pegasus software. My phone was tapped 101 days in a year and we know Pegasus can only be used by governments. We made the complaint public, and Bugel’s Legislature approved wiretapping legislation that would allow wiretapping of phones without explanation. And an exemption system approved from March 2022 removed privacy of communications for all citizens.

How do you see the regional panorama in the way officials, especially presidents, conduct the press?

I believe this is a global phenomenon, with some specificity in Latin America, but there is a growing tendency to challenge these democratic institutions that have been journalists and the media. The proliferation of social networks has contributed to it, people feel the need to transfer media. I believe that the press and journalists took it for granted that people always respected and trusted us. Now we need to restore people’s trust and populist politicians are taking advantage of that. Governments around the world find it more convenient to attack journalists because they are the ones monitoring them. It is convenient to subtract all credibility.

El Salvador's President Nayeb Bugele speaks during a press conference on February 4, 2024.  (Photo: EFE).

El Salvador’s President Nayeb Bugele speaks during a press conference on February 4, 2024. (Photo: EFE).

At the regional level we have had many clashes between presidents. Bukele attacked the presidents of Colombia and Chile in “X”. What do you attribute to this tense regional situation?

I think it has to do with the communication function, establishing the narratives of leaders who want to rule not only physically but also the Internet. And in order to rule the Internet, they also need to shut down other sources of influential leaders like Petro. Like the physical landscape, the Internet is a contested landscape, only there are no borders. That explains many attacks. Now, the internet is very deceiving. YouTubers can promote or destroy your video. So you have to have a lot of resources to face it, to face the moment of criticism. As President, if social networks start attacking me, my communication apparatus should be well armed and well established to counter these attacks.

Do you see the dangers of social media being in politics now?

I believe that networks should not be demonized. They have proved to be instruments for channeling the legitimate demands of the people. The thing is, it’s less organized than a march or protest in the street. The danger is that a lot of funding is hidden behind certain operators who publish messages of complete misinformation and promote ideas that are completely far from reality. TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms have changed over time and become enormous sources of misinformation.

Our countries need truly empowered citizens who believe that they are citizens of rights who demand that their rulers do the things they want or at least discuss their demands, but that changes when citizens make their decisions based on misinformation. All crooked. An empowered citizen should not only have food in his diet but also information. So the danger is that the malicious use of networks, with dark funding and dark rhetoric behind them, will ultimately make citizens sink deeper into their misery and not be actors of change. That is why journalism is important. Journalism is still useful and should show people who the bad apples are and where there is quality information that can help them make better decisions.

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