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Raids on Independent Groups in El Salvador Raise Fears of Repression

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The authorities in El Salvador have raided the places of work of seven social service and advocacy teams in an embezzlement investigation that rights advocates cost is a component of a politically motivated crackdown on impartial voices.

The raids on Monday got here because the nation’s LegislativeAssembly ​​thought of a invoice that may require any teams or people who obtain funding from overseas to register with the Interior Ministry as international brokers, a situation that critics say might severely restrict the work of journalists and civil society.

In an announcement, the lawyer normal’s workplace mentioned the raids had been carried out as half of an investigation launched by the Assembly into “a series of abnormalities that may have arisen in the process of adjudication, execution and monitoring of funds from the Salvadoran state.” A spokesman for the president’s workplace didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark.

The raids are the most recent instance of President Nayib Bukele’s assault on democratic norms and establishments, critics say, with the charismatic younger chief more and more utilizing his occasion’s management of the Assembly to chip away at judicial independence and undermine opposition.

“Things are moving very quickly in the direction that is very familiar to people who have studied democratic backsliding,” mentioned Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College and an professional on Latin America.

Mr. Bukele, he mentioned, “has been able to check off so many of the boxes that make this process now hard to slow down or contain.”

Among the teams that had been raided was one which works on literary packages for ladies, Las Mélidas. Its founder, Nery Díaz, mentioned the federal government’s actions sign “a desire to criminalize social organizations.”

Mr. Bukele soared to energy in 2019, elected president at age 38 because the candidate of a brand new occasion of his creation that promised a break from “obsolete ideologies.” He has billed himself as an enterprising reformer, a millennial president taking on the institution.

In September, El Salvador turned the primary nation in the world to undertake the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as authorized tender, regardless of warnings from economists over its volatility. And on Saturday, Mr. Bukele introduced the creation of the world’s first “Bitcoin city,” taking the stage at a Bitcoin convention amid a bathe of fireworks and smoke, loud rock music blaring in the background.

Critics say that Mr. Bukele, whose Twitter profile calls him the “CEO of El Salvador,” has proven an authoritarian streak behind his on-line trolling, tech-savvy persona and rebellious perspective.

This yr alone, Mr. Bukele and his New Ideas occasion have dismissed dozens of judges and prosecutors, whereas additionally changing all 5 magistrates of the nation’s Constitutional Court. In September, that very same courtroom dominated that presidents can run for a second consecutive time period, all however clearing the best way for Mr. Bukele to hunt re-election in 2024.

“There is not a democratic institution, there are no real checks and balances on the exercise of power of Bukele,” mentioned José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. He mentioned the international brokers invoice “makes it virtually impossible for independent media and civil society to operate in El Salvador.”

An analogous regulation in Russia has develop into a potent instrument for suppressing opposition teams and impartial media.

In July, the Bukele administration expelled from the nation a Mexican editor at one of the highest Salvadoran information websites, El Faro, saying he was unable to show he was a reporter or editor.

The international brokers invoice, which might impose a 40 % tax on international donations that retailers like El Faro obtain, might be a nail in the coffin for the group, mentioned its editor in chief, Óscar Martínez. “Taking away 40 percent of the funds that are given to a media outlet would mean, speaking purely in business terms, bringing it to bankruptcy,” Mr. Martínez mentioned.

The political repression in El Salvador has strained relations with Washington.

On Monday, the highest U.S. diplomat in the nation introduced that she was leaving. The diplomat, Jean Manes, a former ambassador to El Salvador who returned there earlier this yr, mentioned that Mr. Bukele’s authorities was “not showing any signs of interest” in enhancing the connection between the 2 nations.

“We were offering a bridge, and the government has decided not to take it,” Ms. Manes mentioned in an interview on a tv community, Telecorporación Salvadoreña. The deputy chief of mission in El Salvador, Brendan O’Brien, will take over her duties, she mentioned.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in the United States known as on the Salvadoran Assembly to rethink the international brokers invoice and “avoid undermining the operations of independent nongovernmental organizations.”

Bryan Avelar reported from San Salvador, and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City.