Celia Medrano warns that the Nicaraguan regime took twenty years to forge, while the Salvadoran regime has only been two years old and shows a rapid pace.
Celia Medrano, a renowned human rights defender, is not optimistic: she sees a democratic debacle and a government that becomes increasingly aggressive against those who question it. In a conversation with El Diario de Hoy, he expressed his concern about the growing attacks on independent journalism, the opposition, and drew a discouraging simile between El Salvador and the crisis in Nicaragua.
Vice President Félix Ulloa said that if the government won a parliamentary majority, it would be less aggressive. Do you think this has happened?
In my opinion, the power groups that control the Executive Branch have not ceased to be confrontational, in fact they have escalated the level of confrontation, because now they have the power for that confrontation and attacks on any critical sector classified by them as opponent have legal retaliation. So they have not only maintained hate speech, confrontational speech, but have escalated it into legal action or acted on what would be called a legalistic foundation of things.
I see it in the expulsion of the editor of El Faro. The answer has been that he did not have a work permit and was working on a tourist visa, a legalistic argument for one more clear retaliation against El Faro and not even with the sufficient legal structure. Because if he was already processing his permit, what corresponded was a call and a fine. Not your removal, not your deportation.
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Do you see it also in the supposed anti-corruption fight of the government?
With this there is a practice of escalating retaliation, hate speech and to legal levels, such as the commission that investigates NGOs who have received money from the Legislative Assembly. Not all of them would necessarily be facing a situation of corruption. However, it is necessary to wonder if the NGO linked to the deputy (Guillermo) Gallegos would be investigated, because it also responds to the previous efforts.
Do you think that this will institutionalize the closure of critical spaces?
Nicaragua is a very good example of how far such legislation can scale. What was previously only an official speech issued from the Executive Power, now is aggravated because they have control of the Legislative, the Judicial and that they have their own prosecutor.
Do you see a commitment from this government to human rights?
The proposed Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders was one of the almost 100 proposed laws that were filed. It will depend on the mobilization of the organizations of human rights defenders to return the issue to the table, as has happened with the proposal, with the issue of the human right to water. At least that the subject returns, that the Assembly has the urgency to approach the subject again. At the hearing generated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights two weeks ago, the State was not present. It is the first time in decades that there is no government representation.
They argued that because there was disproportionality, there was a large presence of non-governmental organizations. It remained practically unnoticed by the national opinion in the country that the Government in decades, for the first time and in the way of Venezuela, in the way of Nicaragua, does not attend a convocation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This is serious and that reflects their level of political will with regard to human rights.
In what sense?
For me, the current government has a biased application of what it understands as people’s rights: it depends on who the violator is and it depends on who is the person to whom the will or the right is given. Thus, the issue of universality, of complementarity, of the right to non-discrimination with respect to human rights cannot be worked on.
A police inspector beats a journalist while complying with his task of documenting an event related to disappearances and murders, homicides and is filmed, but the prosecutor publicly assures that the video is not enough to generate a process. Let’s think what would have happened if it had been the other way around and a journalist had aggressively exceeded the order not to stop, would have pushed the policeman and that would have been filmed. The scenario would have been totally different. So this government is applying the law according to the convenience of who violates the law, who violates human rights or who is the victim. If the victim is a person not related to the official narrative, the protection mechanisms are not activated.
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How do you see the right to dissent?
There is an issue of prosecuting the protest and criminalizing dissent. I insist once again that we must see ourselves in the mirror of Nicaragua. It is the closest we have and is the reflection of what we can become. Of course, Nicaraguan leaders tell us that El Salvador is going much faster. Ortega took 20 years to have what he has now. We are in a matter of two or three years in very similar scenarios. And when democratic spaces are closed, the first to be hit are human rights defenders and independent journalism. And currently they are the next enemy. Enough analysts have already been heard to argue that within the populist discourse, staying in power requires enemies, inventing enemies.
This government offered modernity and freshness. Is it really that?
History repeats itself, again we are in scenarios where democratic spaces begin to close. And the population would begin to experience firsthand the consequences of the closure of those spaces. The lack of controls between the organs of the State, for example, is a lesson of centuries. And the population is going to wake up, realizing what is really happening. Nowadays, it seems that they only removed some magistrates and put others, but one thing is the defense in the abstract of the republican system and the democratic institutionality and another is when I live the consequences directly when that translates into the egg carton , milk, oil, gas are increasing significantly.
Is there something to do about it?
I argue that it is too late to be able to reverse the damage that has already been caused to this democracy, to this weak democratic institutionality built since the signing of the Peace Accords. Many say that just as we punished Arena, the FMLN and the Christian Democratic Party 40 years ago, we are going to punish New Ideas, but we do not realize that they have been given so much power that they are simply going to change the rules of the game and the same Constitution. That can mark us a scenario of no less than 20 years to recover what was lost.
Do you see any simile with our history?
We could compare the current moment with the end of the 60s, where protests began to be repressed, there were electoral fraud, it no longer mattered that you resorted to the vote to want to change things, because the entire structure was already designed for electoral fraud . But the proof is very old that the more repression is generated, the discontent accumulates and sooner or later the situation explodes.
Is it valid for you to speak of a dictatorship in El Salvador?
What happens is that we want to talk about military dictatorships in the style of Pinochet, in the style of Duvalier or Somoza. Modern dictatorships do not necessarily have to have the same profile, which is why it is very difficult to speak of a dictatorship in El Salvador. Although I do not doubt that the authoritarian and autocratic demeanor of the groups that control the Government. That we are heading towards a dictatorship, I do not dispute it, but it would not be one of those who would affirm that there is already a dictatorship.
Don’t you see a return of the armed forces to politics?
Yes, there is a militarization of politics and a very large militarization of public activity. The military have once again had powers that they should never have had. And the incident that occurred with the journalist Beltrán and the inspector (of the PNC) raises us the concern that the attack on someone is justified. And suddenly an armed policeman who beats a journalist is declared a national hero. This boasting in this way to the institutional armed sector, the Armed Forces and the Police is extremely serious. It takes us to times when we live in conflict.
What tools are there from the international community to stop the authoritarian drift?
It is a question that can have a very frustrating answer. For me, a very strong indicator has been that there was no state representative at the meeting that was called by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Unfortunately, until there is a sufficient orchestra of the international community that results in other types of sanctions. The mirror of Nicaragua gives us the alerts. We must reflect on what is happening.
And in this process, do you think there will be a large exodus of Salvadorans?
Yes, it is the next point. We can no longer only speak of forced migration caused by non-state actors with the license and responsibility of the State. Now we are already learning about the forced migration of people who are talking about political persecution in this country. Then we will once again have requests for refugee and asylum from actors who will state that they are the object of persecution, not only from non-state entities such as gangs or organized crime, but also from State agents for belonging to a political party, for being a journalist, for be from a non-governmental organization qualified by this government as an opponent. There is nothing that tells us that this will decrease if people continue to perceive this political crisis in their daily lives.