The Salvadoran president promotes a bill that will allow him to control dissent under the pretext of defending national sovereignty.
On Tuesday, El Salvador's Interior Minister Juan Bidegain delivered to Congress the "Foreign Agents" bill, which establishes a 40 percent tax on the funds that local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), social groups, and independent outlets receive from foreign sponsors.
Using the defense of the country's Sovereign as an argument, the bill allows President Nayib Bukele’s administration to cancel the legal status of any organization receiving international financial cooperation. It also creates a "Foreign Agent Roster" in which every person related to an internationally funded organization must be registered. Failure to do so will mean a US$10,000 fine.
“With this law, we will prevent false NGOs and foundations, which disguise foreign financing as donations, from interfering in our country,” Bidegain said.
Critics say that this law would make any NGO or private organization completely unviable, for no organization can work without sufficient funds. Furthermore, it gives the government the power to decide which independent media can operate in the country.
“The Bukele administration wants to blame NGOs of El Salvador’s problems. That is all his administration does: deflect its responsibility and attack its adversaries,” the Association for Transparency, Social Controllership, and Open Data (TRACODA) President Diego Jacabo said.
Two weeks ago, Bukele accused the U.S. of financing actions to divide his ruling party New Ideas and support the protests against his administration. Many in the media guild fear that he will use this law to squash opposition voices.
“This is an alarming measure because this administration acts in an authoritarian way. Congress is essentially controlled by the Executive branch, so there is no power separation, no checks and balances,” the Salvadorian Journalists Association (APES) President Cesar Castro said.