El Salvador: the destruction of the institutional framework and the increase of restrictions to public space

El Salvador: the destruction of the institutional framework and the increase of restrictions to public space

Published on 08 May 2024

Why we study El Salvador?

With the reelection of popular president Nayib Bukele, alarm bells are ringing about the forms of continuity in politics in El Salvador and the repeated violations of human rights by the State under the regime of exception. 

The Central American country has raised serious concerns about the respect for freedoms and human rights. Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Human Rights University Observatory (OUDH) and Freedom House have issued warnings about the crisis that could deepen during this second term.

In view of this situation, ProBox began researching the socio-political conversation in networks in El Salvador, a country that has regressed more than 20 points in terms of freedoms over the last 10 years.  

Here are some of the main warnings that have been raised about Bukele’s government. 

El Salvador has been under a state of emergency since March 2022. This regime suspends constitutional rights, following an escalation of homicides attributed to gangs that has left more than 79,200 arrests and more than 6,000 reports of human rights violations

According to the Observatorio Universitario de Derechos Humanos (OUDH), the alarming figures are accompanied by an increase in forced displacement and a worrying increase in the lethality of state forces.

Although an improvement in the population’s perception of security has been reported, the implementation of the emergency regime has raised concerns about the suspension of constitutional rights and increased incarceration rates, raising questions about the balance between security and human rights

The lack of transparency in the management of public information has made it difficult to fully analyze the impact of government measures, especially in relation to the Armed Forces, whose image has undergone significant changes.

Jorge Rodríguez, coordinator of OUDH, explained that the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) registered a 78.5% increase in victims of forced displacement in 2023, with 2,099 people affected. However, the PGR did not detail the total number of generating events or alleged perpetrators, although data from humanitarian organizations point to agents of state forces. The increase in violent deaths at the hands of police and soldiers in alleged confrontations was also highlighted.

Reports by Amnesty International, the OUDH and Freedom House have shed light on a number of critical challenges facing El Salvador, highlighting the deterioration of respect for and protection of human rights, widespread corruption, and violations of democracy and the rule of law. 

In addition, the use of public institutions to promote electoral and governmental narratives has been observed. This phenomenon undermines the independence and impartiality of institutions, thus weakening democracy, which has generated distrust in their integrity and has weakened the credibility of the democratic process in the nation.

The Bukele regime has promoted the closure of public spaces by restricting freedom of the press, repressing civil society and limiting individual freedoms. 

An example of this is how an internationally recognized media outlet such as El Faro, changed its administrative domicile to Costa Rica, in view of the restrictions to its exercise. “The dismantling of our democracy, the lack of controls on the exercise of power by a small group, the attacks on freedom of the press and the closure of all transparency and accountability mechanisms in El Salvador seriously threaten the right of citizens to be informed,” said the media in a statement about its decision. 

At the end of April 2024, the National Assembly of El Salvador approved a change in an article of the constitution which established the possibility of modifying the Constitution through approval in a legislature with a simple majority and its ratification with the vote of two thirds of the benches, i.e. 56 congressmen. The approved amendment adds that this process may be carried out in the same legislature with three quarters of the elected deputies (45 out of 60).

11 social organizations strongly rejected the reform in a joint communiqué disseminated on social networks after the plenary, alleging that this reform violates one of the pillars of democracy: citizen dialogue. 

The challenges facing El Salvador in terms of democracy and human rights are complex and require urgent attention.  ProBox’s study and research in the digital space of this country seeks to shed light on these problems and contribute to the promotion of democracy and human rights; understanding how propaganda, disinformation and verified information behaves in the country. 

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