Revista Factum under attack
Revista Factum ("RF") is a digital periodical featuring investigative journalism and covering culture and other topics. The periodical was founded in 2014, and over the years has included many important stories including the existence of death squads operating within the PNC, interviews with MS-13 leaders, and organized crime and corruption within the attorney general's office. One of the journalist co-founders of RF is Héctor Silva Ávalos. He is the son of the late Héctor Silva, a prominent respected politician of the left who was mayor of San Salvador from 1997 to 2003.
The reporting of RF brought it into conflict with Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele as its journalists reported on Bukele and his associates. In the time before Bukele assumed the presidency, RF was asking how Bukele planned to finance all his campaign promises, how Bukele was using advisors who formerly worked for imprisoned ex-president Tony Saca, and when Bukele would share information about his transition team and cabinet.
More recently RF has reported on $1.9 million which Bukele and his family allegedly received from businesses related to ALBA Petroleum, a Venezuela-linked business which has been tied to allegations of money-laundering.
In response, Bukele has regularly attacked RF. He called it "Fake News" and guilty of "journalistic assassination". He blocked its reporters from attending various press conferences. One of the favorite attacks of Bukele and his supporters was to assert that RF was owned or under the control of Adolfo “Fito” Salume. Salume is the multi-millionaire businessman whose interests include, among many others, the Mr. Donut franchises in El Salvador. Salume is also Secretary General of Democracia Salvadoreña, a tiny centrist party which participated in coalition with ARENA supporting the candidacy of Carlos Calleja against Bukele in the presidential election.
In a tweet on May 2, 2019, RF asserted that neither Salume, nor any businessman or official, Salvadoran or foreign, had any link with revistafactum.com, nor ever had one. RF characterized a claim of Bukele on his Twitter account that Silva Ávalos was an employee of Salume as "absolutely false." The periodical attached the Constitution of Factum Media, to show Salume was not a participant in the group.
Here is a translation of what RF's website stated earlier this year about its funding:
About our financing
Revista Factum works exclusively with funds from international foundations and government programs of foreign governments directed towards the development of independent journalism in Latin America and the world. For its foundation, Factum received individual contributions from journalists Silva Ávalos and Villacorta Aguilar, who worked for six months without receiving salaries.
When in 2014 we explored possible ways of financing independent journalism that we intended to build, we discussed several ideas. One possibility that we considered was to explore the creation of a trust fed with private funds, which would be under the total control of Factum, to finance us; However, we almost immediately discarded that idea by doing explorations with some private Salvadoran businessmen and realizing that, in most cases, they were not interested in financing something that they did not have at least some control, something that we shunned from the beginning.
Tuesday morning of this week, however, a paid advertisement appeared in major print publications. signed by Salume and stating that he originally contracted with Silva Ávalos in 2014 when RF was founded. Salume asserts that he later parted ways with RF in 2015 and has no relationship with the periodical since then.
In an article published later that day, El Faro quotes Salume as saying "Yo fundé Factum" -- I founded Factum. Salume declined to provide El Faro with any documentation of payments or other financial links to substantiate his assertion.
When asked to comment by El Faro, Silva Ávalos denied the account of Salume and denied that he ever worked for the businessman or received any money from him.
Now RF has decided that it will conduct its own investigation of its origin story and any links to Salume. RF announced that it would have Silva Ávalos separate himself while the investigation is going on.
All of this is very curious. Either Salume or Silva Ávalos is not telling the truth, but why would either one have decided to do so? Meanwhile, the dispute gives Nayib Bukele and his supporters additional ammunition in their efforts to de-legitimize investigative, independent journalism such as RF professed to provide.
In a curious coincidence, the RF website has come under a cyber-attack which has made the website unreachable for several days. if you click on a link in this post to an RF article and it does not function, that's why.
Are the cyber-attack and the Fito Salume involvement related? Certainly many suspect that the attackers are motivated by the constant disparagement of RF by Bukele. If that is true, it supports a recent resolution of the InterAmerican Press Society which calls on Bukele, Donald Trump, and 5 other presidents in the Americas to stop stigmatizing the press which can incite followers to violence against media and journalists.
I rely, and anticipate I will continue to rely, on Revista Factum as one of my sources for quality journalism about what goes on in El Salvador. I welcome its commitment to transparency in this matter, but unfortunately Nayib Bukele and his supporters appear unlikely to do the same.
Note: from time to time, articles written by Hector Silva Ávalos for the online site InsightCrime have been republished in their entirety at El Salvador Perspectives.