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The five years of Bukele -- government behind closed doors

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In the five years in which Nayib Bukele has been president of El Salvador, there has been a dramatic shift in the availability of public information for citizens to hold their leaders accountable.  El Salvador has a government which vigorously defends its control of the narrative of what is happening in the country, and that includes restricting access to any information which might shed a different light on that narrative.   Transparency International has written: Access to information acts are grounded in the recognition that information in the control of public authorities is a valuable public resource and that public access to such information promotes greater transparency and accountability of those public authorities, and that this information is essential to the democratic process. The purpose of these acts, also known as access to information laws, is to make a government more open and accountable to its people. In transitional democracies, laws that give effect to the right

Espiritu Santo Island -- a State of Exception story

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17 inhabitants of Espiritu Santo Island, held in prisons under the State of Exception, awaiting trials in the distant future and without any contact with the outside world.   Two years ago this week, when El Salvador's State of Exception had been in effect for two months, I wrote a post titled " Free the Boatmen ."    It was a story about five boat operators and artesanal fishermen from Espiritu Santo Island along El Salvador's southeast Pacific coast, who had been arbitrarily arrested under the State of Exception. In the next year, twenty more members of this close-knit community would also be arrested and taken away in four additional operations through April 2023. They were captured although everyone affirms that this island and its close-knit community have never harbored gang members or experienced gang-related crime.  Theirs is a story of the practice of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment which has characterized so much of the State of Exception in El Salvador. 

The status of Bukele's big projects at the end of his first term

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Hospital Rosales construction site in April The public relations machine of the government of Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele thrives on touting major development and infrastructure projects. From time to time, we need to check in on how these projects are actually faring. Here is their status as he concludes five years in office. The Chinese projects . The major projects which are the farthest along are those which the Salvadoran government has not had to raise the money for because they are donations by the Chinese government. These were gifts announced by Bukele after his 2019 visit to Beijing. National Library . The new national library in the heart of the historic center of San Salvador was completed at the end of 2023. Read about my tour of the library here . Water purification and extraction from Ilopango . An announcement was made in November 2022, that the project to purify water from lake Ilopango will take the form of eight deep wells, pumping from underground sourc

What's happening with El Salvador's National Palace?

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National Palace of El Salvador News that the government was tearing up part of the National Palace, located in San Salvador's historic center, started with pictures circulating on social media of piles of broken hydraulic tiles being removed from the National Palace. Esto es criminal. Baldosas victorianas de 100 años destruídas en el Palacio Nacional. Fotos @FRubio08 pic.twitter.com/b9tiWtZaZG — Mauro Arias Panamá (@mauroariasfoto) May 5, 2024 This is criminal. 100-year-old Victorian tiles destroyed in the National Palace Then came an article written by journalist Gabriel Labrador at El Faro describing how the refuse was being unceremoniously dumped into a canyon outside of the City.   El Ministerio de Cultura anunció el 10 de abril que el edificio permanecerá cerrado hasta nuevo aviso debido a “trabajos de mejora, mantenimiento y restauración”, sin especificar mayor información. Lee más detalles: 🖋️ @glabrador y @efrenlemus https://t.co/nNFnQpqreN — El Faro (@_

The leaked personal information and photos of almost every Salvadoran

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Screenshot of leaked data Cyber-security experts have been evaluating the distribution on the dark web of the personal information of more than five million Salvadorans, including high resolution ID photos, names, addresses, and national identity (DUI) numbers.   The cybersecurity company Resecurity wrote : [T]his data leak is significant because it marks one of the first instances in cybercrime history where virtually the entire population of a country has been affected by a compromise of biometric data....Beyond the massive scale of Salvadorian PII records, threat actors also obtained a headshot of each victim, which represents a crucial biometric data marker – particularly in the golden age of generative AI. Notably, the vast scale of this biometric and PII data breach places most of El Salvador’s population at significant risk for identity theft and fraud. Armed with modern deep fake technology, threat actors can leverage victim headshots and related PII to stage more convincing fr

State of Exception -- first person accounts of torture

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Trigger Warning -- this post includes first person accounts of torture and abuse within El Salvador's prisons during the State of Exception, now in its third year.  These accounts are important to hear.  These are the testimonies from people released from Salvadoran prisons -- in other words, these individuals spent months in these hellish prisons even though the government lacked proof of any ties to gangs.  [Note: torture and abuse are wrong even when committed against the guiltiest criminal, but this post contains only the stories of persons who were freed]. These are the stories of people who chose to speak to the media despite the very real risk that doing so could result in their return to hell.   Journalist Victor Barahona spent 11 months imprisoned under the State of Exception before being freed.  He  recounted  what he lived through: "[The cell] was suited for perhaps about 50 people, but there were 100 of us. We slept like sandwich bread, because otherwise, we would

Three years of the Nuevas Ideas Assembly

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  El Salvador is at the end of its first three years with  a Legislative Assembly controlled by Nayib Bukele and his Nuevas Ideas (NI) party.  These were three years which had a dramatic impact on Salvadoran democracy.  Here are some of the major steps of the NI-controlled Assembly: 1. Deposed the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court .  On its first day in power, May 1, 2021, the NI-controlled Assembly removed all of the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber, the country's highest judicial authority. It removed the magistrates all at once, without giving them notice or the opportunity to be heard.  2.  Appointed new friendly judges to the Constitutional Chamber.    On the same night it purged the Chamber, the Assembly elected a new slate of judges completely ignoring the process in the constitution for appointing new judges. 3.  Deposed the attorney general .   Still on the same night that the Assembly purged the Constitutional Chamber, it also removed the count