Report details denials of public information in El Salvador under Bukele

The Salvadoran human rights organization Cristosal recently released a report detailing how the Salvadoran government under president Nayib Bukele has increasingly denied citizen requests for information about the dealings of their government.  This has occurred despite a strong law which requires such transparency. The new report is titled Report on the status of transparency: The establishment of opacity

Here are the report's conclusions:

  • In the time since the implementation of the Law of Access to Public Information, this is the worst moment in terms of respect for the Right of Access to Public Information in El Salvador. Without an active controlling entity, the violation of this right will increasingly intensify, which will result in the disrespect of other rights, since the [Right of Access] is the one that opens the doors for the guarantee of others.

  • Knowing that there will be no consequences, because the [Institute for Access to Public Information] remains inoperative, government institutions arbitrarily, excessively and deliberately deny citizens information that should be public. Taking into account that access to public information is a form of control, the closure of this mechanism may result in the concealment of serious acts of corruption and, therefore, impunity. 

  • Excessive prerequisites without a legal basis seek to discourage the controlling function that the media and civil society perform. This has generated an environment of hopelessness, which seriously endangers the [possibility of control from the ground up].

  • The closure of access to information, added to attacks on dissident voices and a strong state propaganda apparatus that puts all its efforts into guaranteeing the government's good image, contributes to the strengthening of a hegemonic discourse, in which whoever decides what is said and what is not said is the same government. Without access to information, that single discourse is enhanced, since the resources to verify, deny or confirm it are limited.

In preparing the report, Cristosal reviewed 1463 public information requests submitted to the government by academics, researchers and media organizations.   Of those requests, 1069 (73%) were either denied or just ignored by the government entity receiving the request.  The top three reasons information was not delivered were (1) claims the information did not exist; (2) simply ignoring the request; and (3) asserting the information was confidential and could not be released.

Information which the government has declared to be confidential has included:

Information on homicides, femicides, disappearances, clandestine graves, travel by officials, communication and advertising services, hiring, vaccine acquisition processes, the National Vaccination Deployment Plan against SARS-COV-2, the National Health Plan, the Territorial Control Plan, contracting processes for selection of food service providers for prisons, information on the Health Emergency Program and a long "etcetera" is deemed confidential.

To deny access to information is to prevent fact-checking on the discourse of the government.   To deny access to information prevents journalists from uncovering irregularities and corruption in the management of the resources of the citizens. To deny access to information allows corruption to flourish in the darkness.  The government which is acting according to law and dealing correctly with the public trust should have nothing to fear from the bright light of transparency. But that is not the current day government in El Salvador.