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January 3, 2001
Editorial El Salvador’s dollar economy
Public Opinion Sum-up of political opinion for the year 2000
Communications The press monitors the government
EL SALVADOR’S DOLLAR ECONOMY
El Salvador does things backwards. While other Latin American countries whose currency is the U.S. dollar find themselves in serious problems and are looking for a way out of the blind alley in which they are caught, El Salvador adopts the U.S. dollar as its national currency. This is the case, also, of Panama, Ecuador and, in particular, Argentina. Panama, which has always used the national currency of the imperial dollar, us experiencing serious difficulties in confronting the economic crisis it finds itself in. Ecuador finds itself obliged to adopt the dollar as a result of the chaos in which its economy is steeped. The measure was adopted as an extreme solution, the results of which are uncertain. In Argentina, on the other hand, the dollar was introduced as a great solution. Ten years later, Argentina is looking for a way out of this situation—to step off the road onto which it has stepped. This country has a very high level of unemployment and the new government administrations have been able to survive thanks to a voluminous loan from the International Monetary Fund. That is what might be expected of countries such as Argentina and El Salvadoran situations of economic crisis such as high unemployment rates and greater international indebtedness. In fact, the International Monetary Fund has already set procedures in motion to finance El Salvador when the crisis hits. This is a very opportune precaution, given that the U.S. economy has already entered into a recesionary phase.
On the other hand, the countries which have adopted a policy of floating their currency, which oscillates within specific margins, depending on the forces guiding the economy, are not having such a hard time of it. This is the case of Brazil, Mexico and Chile, whose most recent model for modernization to which the Salvadoran right wing tends to have recourse in copying ideas, policies and even legislation. In his case, however, it has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the Chilean experience.
So it is, then, that when the Latin American experience focuses on floating the national currency, El Salvador decides to adopt the dollar as its very own currency. Now, as a result of an improvised decree imposed upon the country, the Salvadoran currency has become the U.S. dollar. The dollar has been imposed because some few governmental functionaries and their advisors decided it by fiat. The decision was not discussed in an open way for fear it would be rejected. If the dollar is as bountiful as the high governmental officials of the ARENA administration proclaim, why was the possibility for an open discussion at all levels not presented, given that, one way or another, the change affects the whole of society.
If the dollar represents something favorable for the masses of poor Salvadorans, they would surely have approved the measure immediately even when other social sectors might have opposed it. Msgr. Rosa Chávez has provided us with a timely reminder that only evil is planned in secret. In addition to being an imposition, the adoption of the dollar was done in an improvised manner without sufficient time given to make the indispensable adjustments, thus avoiding the confusion which such drastic changes tend to generate in society and its institutions, but, above all, in order to inform the masses of the populace from whom the dollar and its use is still not understandable.
This is a very strange kind of modernization, or, said in another way, this is modernization oriented towards the upper and middle classes to the detriment of the rest. What the ARENA administration proposes contradicts the master guidelines proposed by the world Bank for fighting poverty—guidelines which support precisely the opposite. It turns out, then, to be incomprehensible that these financial institutions support the step given by the Salvadoran government, even while contradicting its most recent policies on poverty. The theoretical benefits attributed to the dollar are obscured by Salvadoran reality itself. But this is only the most visible impact of the dollar. The population will end up becoming accustomed to the new currency because necessity will be the determining force in this forced and painful apprenticeship. The confusion will last some few weeks, but in the end, the most vulnerable, those who demand greater governmental protection, will, in all probability, be the victims of deceit and fraud by the powerful.
So now, one should anxiously await the question of who stands to benefit from this decision. Up until now, the attention of the press has been concentrated on the news created by the press itself about how El Salvador is now moving from the colon to the dollar, forgetting why this is being done. The reasons provided for us by the ARENA administration do not take into account the crucial question of who stands to benefit most from the use of the dollar. It will certainly not be the poor masses of El Salvador as President Flores alleges, but the banks and, more precisely, the family groups that control them. The benefits to these powerful families will be various and sundry: their debts in dollars are assured against any possible devaluation, their profits will increase in the short run when passive interest rates go down without reducing active interest rates in any great measure—apart from the fact that the big businesses who are also the property of the owners of the banks already enjoy preferential rates—and their strategic plans for investing in Central America, where the capital of these families are becoming a very aggressive activity, will develop in the most expeditious manner.
The dollar permits these family groups to obtain cheap money in El Salvador in order to move it easily and invest it in other Central American countries, whose monetary and currency situation is an additional advantage. The floating of these currencies increases the profits of Salvadoran investors. They document these investments as transferences between big businesses and by evading control and taxes. Therefore, the operations of those who are involved in money laundering are most secure. In plain talk, the dollar will facilitate strategic investment in Salvadoran big capital in the region without other countries noticing the depth and breadth of the operation. When they do come to understand it, it will be too late because Salvadoran big capital will have taken over their most productive markets. This strategy would be most beneficial for Central America if governments and capitalists were to think and plan concerning development from a regional perspective, but this is not the case. Politically and ethically speaking the enormous risk which El Salvador is running, for the sole purpose of increasing the profits of some few families who already have quite a lot of money, is a very questionable enterprise.
SUM-UP OF PUBLIC OPINION IN 2000
A review of events that had a significant impact on public opinion during the year 2000 presents us with four outstanding issues. First of all there was the electoral process involving the municipal and legislative elections which unfolded in a series of events issuing in a very complex scenario in public life. Secondly, the problem of public security, as has already been the case in recent years, although with the peculiarity that this year the difficulties in that area of public interest were aggravated by the frank and open deterioration of the public image of the institutions which deal with it; this is especially the situation of the National Civilian Police. A third phenomenon which substantially marked public opinion was the emergence of a difficult economic context: for the people it is an undeniable fact that the country has embarked upon a process of recession from which it will not emerge in the short run. This together will all of the implications it brings with it. Fourthly, and finally, events occurring especially in the legislative body contributed to eroding the already anemic confidence of the citizens in the country’s institutions and political parties.
The announcement of the new policy of monetary integration, the increase in rates for electricity and fuel together with the impression that the country’s institutions are more and more incapable of monitoring the rights of the citizenry are all factors which contributed to a closing of the year marked by uncertainty and pessimism on the part of the majority of Salvadorans. Projects for regional economic integration such as the inter-oceanic canal, the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and the Caribbean Basin Initiative as well as the announcements of the setting in motion of a development program for the infrastructure of the country based on the work of the National Commission for Development and the Bases for a National Plan—if, indeed, they seem to generate some expectation on the part of the citizens, they do not succeed in stimulating a vision of optimism about the future of the country, and this, above all, because the majority of people maintain an attitude of suspicion with regard to the administration being carried out by the current administration.
This article will analyze each of the factors identified above. The municipal and legislative elections during the year 2000 were held in an ambience of strong competitiveness and resulted in a politically complex scenario vis-a-vis public opinion. The tie between the two big political forces of the country, the ARENA and the FMLN, was the product of two or three factors. In the first place, the tie was a result of the wasted image of Francisco Flores as a government leader, made worse by his inability to deal satisfactorily with the labor conflict in the Salvadoran Institute for Social Security. The government, and particularly with ARENA party were affected by the perception that the new administration was not keeping its promises, especially those having to do with a new way of doing politics vis-a-vis the population. The ISSS conflict did nothing more than confirm this sentiment and show the administration that it was not willing to listen to the needs of the Salvadoran population. From this followed the legislative tie, or, rather, the slight advantage obtained by the FMLN over ARENA in the number of legislative seats, explained, in part by the poor image of the government party and then by a substantial improvement in the image of the FMLN. Nevertheless, this is not the whole story behind the results of the legislative elections. The advance of the FMLN might be explained, as well, by a strong image of efficiency projected by the Mayor of San Salvador, Hector Silva, and by an erroneously led publicity strategy led by ARENA. The government administration focussed its strengths on attempting to win the capital city mayor’s seat, hoping not only the affect its image but also to intensify the internal differences persisting inside the FMLN as a party. Nevertheless, ARENA could not arrest the image of efficiency projected by the mayor at a time when his own administration was debating a crisis of legitimacy publicly. In addition, the public profile of the contending candidate for ARENA, Luis Cardenal, was not up to par with the demands posed by the process. Cardenal spent his time attacking a personality who enjoyed greater political popularity without being able to offer an argument as to why it might be necessary to change mayors. Silva’s success in the capital city mayor’s race strengthened the image of the FMLN in the rest of the country and stimulated by the relevance given to the media and by ARENA’s electoral strategy of focussing on the municipal campaign in the capital city.
Silva’s victory in San Salvador was accompanied by the victory of the FMLN in the greater part of the big city municipalities of the country. The FMLN not only maintained a majority of its municipal administrations but also won new mayor’s offices in places which seemed not very probable. In these cases there are reasons to think that the poor image of the ARENA party in the national government as well as Silva’s success in San Salvador joined together as factors leading to the perception of good or regular municipal administrations to lead FMLN to win the cities in question.
The election was not only characterized by these factors, however. Competition in the legislative field left the PCN party in the extremely favorable situation of being able to occupy third place among the correlation of parliamentary forces with this it obtained without its real standing being equivalent to the number of votes obtained nationally. The PCN won ten more legislative seats with a total which did not exceed 3% of the voting age population, which located it in third place within the power structure of the Legislative Assembly.
The foregoing made it possible to achieve a re-reading of the abstentionist behavior of the majority of the population. More than 60% of the voting population of El Salvador as well as in the two previous elections decided not to go to vote and stay home and deal with personal matters. The reasons why the majority of the people did not turn out to vote can be attributed more to personal reasons and to a lack of confidence or indifference towards the process, than to problems generated within the electoral system.
All of these conditions present a complex political scenario as part of the country’s political process. Such complexity is based on three things. In the first place, because political representatives and leaders were elected by no more than 35% of the population and each one enjoys—or suffers from—the direct support of less than 20% of the citizenry. This leads to a serious problem of representativity and legitimacy among the population. Secondly, because neither political force in and of itself can achieve full control of the political dynamics. This establishes a scenario in which the full political responsibility lies in consensus building together with the population of the country—and not in making pacts abd deaks. A final reason is that there exists an exaggerated estimation of the strength of the small, minute political parties than of those better placed and prepared for the modality of making political pacts than for consensus building. This allows for the breaking up of the equilibrium of political forces thanks to the use of mechanisms in which private benefits carry more weight than respect for institutionality. Finally, there is a limit to the balance of forces: and this is the political system whose utterly poor legitimacy leads it to engage in maneuvers for the purpose of political deals and pacts rather than activities for the purpose of consensus building.
The second topic which considerably exercises public opinion is that of public security, and this from various points of view and in function of the various institutional scenarios. First of all, delinquency and violence continue to be a serious problem which affects the majority of the population. The polls report that more than 15% of all citizens were victims of some kind of act of violence in the course of the year and that more than 50% of these thought that criminal activity had increased during the year 2000. Although some studies consistently showed that it is possible to consider that there has been a general lessening of violence, the levels continued to be sufficiently high and so continue to occupy first place in the categories of concern and public discussion. Secondly, and given this context, the year 2000 was the scene of revelation and prolongation of serious problems of transparency and efficiency in various institutions linked to the topic of public security and the administration of justice. The National Civilian Police is to be found in the first rung of this ladder. During the first six months of last year, the press and police authorities—although more the first than the second—laid bare the existence of broad networks of criminal activity which operated inside the police corps and which contributed significantly to the crime wave, above all, the most serious crimes such as kidnapping and murder. Moreover, public opinion is concentrated on examining problems of efficiency from which the police force suffers, which contributed to the prevalence of impunity for criminal acts. Public security authorities announced a process of cleaning up the ranks of the police force which began to be implemented using criteria and procedures which were not very clear to the public. In spite of the media efforts by the authorities, a good part of the population experienced a steep drop in their confidence in the police. The last public opinion poll evaluating the year 2000 showed that more than half of the people held the opinion that the PNC had lost support and confidence among the population during the year just ending and an important percentage of citizens considered that at present the police force was “worse” than the former National Police, which the PNC replaced. During the second six months of the year, the topic of the police was placed on the back burner and the evident difficulties in the administration of justice overshadowed the attention lent to the process of cleaning up the police force, which dragged on even more. At any rate, the new police force shows a balance in the red in terms of public confidence for last year in comparison with previous years.
Another institution created by the Peace Accords—the Ombudsman’s Office for the Defense of Human Rights (PDDH), also suffered an erosion of confidence from the public after, at first, enjoying greater confidence from the people than any governmental institution for many years, the image and prestige of the PDDH plummeted during the administration of Peñate Polanco, who finally resigned during the month of February past. In spite of this, the institution had difficulties in regaining the good opinion of the public, in part because of problems inherited from the previous administration and in part as a result of the fact that the new head of the PDDH maintained political ties with a particular political party. Finally, the public opinion polls show that during 2000 the two institutions mentioned above began or continued along with a clear tendency towards erosion of their credibility in public eyes.
As mentioned above, neither were other public institutions related to the area of the administration of justice exempt from this process. Frequent breakdowns in some cases key to the Attorney General’s Office laid bare the fact of that institution’s incompetence effectively to pursue and punish crime occurring in the country. The resolution of the case of the child Katya Miranda, the dropping of the charges against the Football Federation and the resistance of that institution to comply with its mandate of opening an investigation against the intellectual authors of the massacre of the Jesuits demonstrated the incompetence of the Attorney General’s Office not only to exercise technical competence but also exhibited a certain dosage of deliberate negligence in some cases. This has only served to confirm the impression that the Salvadoran populace does not enjoy the support and protection of the institutions charged with making the law complied with. As opposed to the PDDH and the PNC, the Attorney General’s Office did not confront a significant drop in levels of credibility because it, in fact, never enjoyed the credibility enjoyed by other institutions created for the transitional period. During the year 2000, the majority of people only had their suspicions confirmed with respect to that public institute. Nevertheless, one must say that the personal figure of the Attorney General has exhibited an important recognition of some sectors of public opinion, probably because of its protagonism in the news media and its commitment adopted at the end of the year to carry out, as well, a process of cleaning up its structures. At any rate, that apparent complacency still has not been translated into a substantial change of perception in the Attorney General’s Office.
In the case of the Judicial Branch of Government, in spite of the fact that the public opinion polls exhibited a slight tendency towards improvement of their image and confidence in the Supreme Court, most of the people continue to have little confidence in the courts and do not believe that the administration of justice has the capacity to make the rule of law prevail in an efficient way. Frequent judgments in which the suspects are absolved or have the charges against them dropped for legal-technical aspects have placed the transparency of numerous judges and those who work in this system in doubt. The perception that the new penal codes are playing a role in favor of those who commit crimes of any kind have contributed to this, obliging citizens to engage in conciliation in cases in which there has been a clear violation of rights.
In the last analysis, a sum-up of public opinion concerning public security and the administration of justice is, again, negative. The permanence of the problem of violence and the inoperative status of key institutions in compliance with basic rights to security and justice has contributed to the fact that the year 2000 has not registered any modification of a pessimistic vision prevailing in the country on this issue.
The other area that, year after year, tends to occupy the attention of public opinion is the economic arena. The year 2000 was no exception. During the major part of the year Salvadorans continued to be concerned about the problems of unemployment, poverty and inflation and continued to hold the idea that the actions of the government did not contribute much towards resolving these problems. Moreover, concern for the national economy became more serious because of the constant increases in the price of fuels and the bills for water, light and telephone and because of the announcement by the government that it would eliminate the exemption on the payment of the Value Added Tax on pharmaceutical and agricultural products. In other words, people felt that the cost of living went up during the year 2000 and that, therefore, poverty also increased.
This not very encouraging panorama meant that the greater part of the Salvadoran public felt that the announcement by the government during the last few days of last year concerning the new monetary policy regarding the accelerated dolarization of the country complicated their lives and filled people with more uncertainty concerning the possibilities of the Salvadoran economy for 2001. But, above all, it created the effect that the year closed in the midst of serious questioning by the people of El Salvador as to whether the country was not being pushed to the brink as a result of the actions of the government. Although one part of the population seemed to approve the measure, the major part of the population declared itself against this measure and think that it will only contribute to favoring the people with most power in the country.
All of the foregoing contributed to a situation in which the year 2000 ended with the impression having been created among the Salvadoran public that the national economy was in an out and out crisis and that the majority of people, as opposed to previous years, indicated that the biggest national problems were crime and violence.
Finally, many of the events occurring in the Legislative Assembly which was inaugurated at mid-year last year contributed to deepening the climate of disenchantment and the lack of popular confidence for parliamentary representatives. This string of events begun with the negotiations among the right wing parties to exclude the FMLN from the leadership body of the Legislative Assembly in a permanent way for the period to which they had a right by law. The ARENA, PCN and PDC introduced a series of reforms which established the rotation of the presidency in the Legislative Assembly among the parties with the most seats in the assembly. This generated bitter debate in the Legislative Assembly and shocked the Salvadoran people. Finally, the FMLN decided not to participate in the new dynamic and decided not to enter into the leadership body.
Perhaps one of the events which most impacted public opinion was not only the broad treatment of the events in the media but the criminal character of the act in itself: this was the behavior of a PCN deputy who, in a drunken state, caused disruption of the public peace and order and entered into an armed confrontation with a police patrol. The topic took on relevance not only because of the nature of his behavior but also because of the attitude of a good number of the parliamentarians in protecting the deputy Francisco Merino so that his diplomatic immunity would not be removed. Finally, and on the basis of a series of negotiations between the ARENA and PCN parties, the deputy was not brought to judgment by the competent authorities. The foregoing exhibited what small interest and willingness existed in the Legislative Assembly in acting in a moral way, congruent with the values of justice. Moreover, it placed in evidence the mechanisms that permit many decisions to be taken on the basis of private interests of the parties involved and of certain people rather than on the basis of public interest.
To this impression was added, doubtless, the approval of a series of law by means of which a good part of the population seems not to be in agreement, the monetary integration law being one of them.
Finally, our sum-up of public opinion yields a balance in the red on the question of public confidence towards the institutionality of the country. Perceptions of the majority of the Salvadoran people is that current institutions are not capable of offering security and order to national life. Events occurring in other areas of national life, such as the epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue, the deaths caused by the drinking of adulterated alcohol and conflicts in the maquila and other labor sectors, contributed as well to the creation of this impression. Finally, the climate experienced by all citizens of the nation is one of uncertainty and the impression prevails that the country is on the road to a greater and more generalized crisis. What happens as a result of the new monetary policy will determine whether such a crisis will occur or not.
THE PRESS MONITORS THE GOVERNMENT
The honor of the much discredited Salvadoran press experienced a comeback as the year 2000 drew to a close with the investigative reports published by the Enfoques magazine of La Prensa Gráfica about the personal advantages and benefits accruing to the Minister of the Economy, Miguel Lacayo, in the handling of the customs policies of the country. In an extensive and well-documented series of news reports published last December 17, La Prensa Gráfica detailed how the Minister of the Economy had been lobbying for a reduction in customs for the importation of raw material for the production of batteries. According to this daily newspaper, low taxes on the raw materials for batteries benefited the business enterprise “Baterías de El Salvador” almost exclusively. Lacayo is president of “Baterías de El Salvador”.
The objective of this news article underscores the importance of investigations such as this in the process of recuperating the prestige of the national newspapers and the challenge which this kind of effort represents—in a good sense—for the rest of the news media. That challenge had to have been the incentive for deeper research into the case and a healthy competition among the print media. Unfortunately, the closest competitor to La Prensa Gráfica, El Diario de Hoy, in spite of the importance and polemic in which the Minister of the Economy was involved, refused to concede the most minimal space to the news item. Below we will explore possible reasons which might have motivated their decision.
For almost ten successive days, La Prensa Gráfica carried in its pages as the main course, what was considered to be a “conflict of interest” surrounding the exemption from the importation of intermediate goods for the fabrication of batteries. The reporter who investigated this history as well as his colleagues in other sections of this morning daily, demonstrated how the said exemption had been adopted under a “safeguard clause” in the council of Central American ministers. The newspaper called attention to the doubtful application of the regional resolution owing to the fact that the existence of conditions internal to El Salvador which would have caused a “national emergency of car batteries” had not been proven since June, 1999, one week before Lacayo assumed his post as Minister of the Economy.
The morning daily showed a copy of the four resolutions which, at the petition of Minister Lacayo, the rest of his colleagues in the Central American Council had signed in order to lower from 5 to zero the customs level for the importing of used batteries and other raw materials. A copy of the report on the importation of accumulated lead waste material was also published; in this report on reads that the business enterprise “Baterías de El Salvador” imported products without paying either customs duties or Value Added Tax. Moreover, it proved that the company owned by Minister Lacayo would have been considered, in practice, the only producer of batteries in the country. The commercial situation surrounding batteries is, therefore, and according to testimonies taken by the morning daily, “a market with no competitors”.
For several days Minister Lacayo refused to make statements about the topic and when he did so, he argued that Salvadoran customs policies sometimes impacts two, three, five businesses” because “our economy is not very big”. From the beginning the functionary accused the La Prensa Gráfica reporter, Martin Ruiz, who documented the story, of “looking for trouble and trying to make someone look bad”.
It is logical to expect reactions of this kind from functionaries who see their prestige threatened. The press in every country in the world (if it is not a state-owned and runned press and if it actually seeks to comply with its role as monitoring public power) confronts situations of this kind when they slip out of the agenda that the government wishes to establish and the investigation of a topic proposed which the public relations offices leave out of the inkwell. With the decision to publish this information, based on the thesis of a “conflict of interest”, La Prensa Gráfica made use of a resource rarely used in the local press: press coverage of stories and news that do not appear on the agenda of either private or non-governmental official sources.
This, in and of itself, reflects a certain degree of independence and professionalism, qualities which the in the majority of cases cause great losses in income from publicity for the media and, in this case, it would not surprise anyone if the Minister of the economy or the business “Baterías de El Salvador” should engage in reprisals of some sort. They have already done so in the past and in the present, other institutions of the state and many private enterprises (TELECOM punished El Diario de Hoy after that paper denounced the existence of telephone wire-tapping last year).
In the case of Minister Lacayo, the political editorial of the newspaper was completely in agreement with the news reportage. To judge by the opinion of many of its reporters, and judging by the decision by the daily to support the investigation of this functionary to the fullest. In a December 20 editorial one reads that, as a point of information, the objectives of the newspaper were investigative reporting and not accusations. The necessity for Minister Lacayo to explain the situation and clear up any suspicions was insisted upon.
In a second, much more aggressive, editorial, La Prensa Gráfica stated that “(to give explanations) is a normal way of confronting documented questions, although it may be, of course, open to the expression of opinion and rebuttal. “To present oneself as offended” and attempt to use improper intimidation instead of “accepting that one is being questioned” and use the appropriate method of explanation, is to attempt to escape by the easiest recourse”.
What was not explained here in this case is that, as many critics of the media held, routine newspaper work frequently excluded from public view the facts which question the legitimacy of its habitual sources (with the government at the head of the list) Well-documented criticism ought to occur more frequently in the Salvadoran press. Journalistic investigations and investigative reporting ought to be extended beyond national conjunctural events (without excluding them) and should be extended to topics which the sources impose with their routine press releases and press conferences.
A second, important, point concerning the investigation conducted by La Prensa Gráfica is the competition which continues to be promoted between diverse print media. In recent years, Salvadoran news dailies have advanced especially in being pushed towards the challenge presented by their competitors. El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica have modernized their format and presentation, have adopted advanced technology in their editorial policies, photography and print and type face in order to dispute the tiny reading market in the country and, above all, the publicity pie.
The Sunday magazines, Enfoques and Vértice are concrete examples of the efforts being made by both newspapers to enter into terrain which has not previously been explored in daily press coverage. In the profundity of their reportage, the two morning dailies have greatly surpassed the work of the radio and television news programs, have achieved excellence in the coverage of on the spot news and in guidelines concerning sources. The competition between El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica, as a result, has brought benefits to the journalistic profession (which has still not completely liberated itself from weaknesses such as superficiality, low salaries and pressures applied by power groups).
Such competition, however, is only beneficial inasmuch as it pushes the adversary towards better reporting and higher ground. This activity should be exploited, however, with intelligence. In the case of the reportage pointing out Minister Lacayo, El Diario de Hoy did not play the “good loser” (La Prensa Gráfica has already played that role in other matters such as telephone wiretapping and espionage and the assassination by police of the student Adriano Vilanova in September 1995). Instead of offering new elements to investigative reporting or taking advantage of its pages to deepen reportage in news articles, El Diario de Hoy held its silence about the alleged “conflict of interest” denounced by its competition.
The omission of this topic is not justifiable because the denunciation obliged Minister Lacayo to seek support from President Francisco Flores, the Minister of the Treasury, other Central American functionaries and even pushed him to write a long published letter of clarification published on a complete page in La Prensa Gráfica on December 21. It also awakened initiatives within the Legislative Assembly (which have still not borne fruit) for Minister Lacayo to explain to the plenary session his intervention in the extending of privileges in customs and duties. As a news item in Salvadoran daily reality, the event complied with many of the requisites for becoming a news item: proximity, current actuality and timeliness, novelty, national interest, conflict, etc.
For the ten-day period in which the topic was in vogue, El Diario de Hoy only published one short news item, which was, of course, confusing. It mentioned the complaints against Minister Lacayo until the Ministers of the economy of Guatemala and Nicaragua, as well as the president of a regional entity, came to El Salvador in order to try to clear up the use of the safeguards. In this short note, few readers could have understood whether the accusations made any sense or not. First of all, because never before had they read anything about these events in the pages of El Diario de Hoy, and, secondly, because it was a topic which was, in and of itself, complicated, as any reporting on regional agreements, customs and their application would be.
Before and after the war in El Salvador, the country’s two biggest morning dailies were never involved in competition which pushed them towards any significant advances on professional terrain. The quality of the coverage was never in dispute. However, there are clear efforts to work within one’s own agenda which deviate from the guidelines arising from the sources. There are resources exclusively dedicated to deeply thought out journalism and, on certain occasions, research and investigation.
The problem is that each time one of the dailies carries out efforts at investigative reporting which are noteworthy, its competition maintains silence on the issues involved and cannot overcome the fact that their competitors “got the jump” on them. The topic, then, becomes the banner of the newspaper which reported it and its adversary, in keeping quiet, denies its readers the right to inform themselves on items of national interest. The possibility for the exercise of the public pressure which would oblige public functionaries to render accounts is also obstructed as long as this practice remains in effect.
The practice of shadowing the investigative reporting of the competition is not, then, a practice exclusive to El Diario de Hoy. This is a common practice in both newspapers. Only by overcoming this erroneous idea of competition, can the print press become capable of placing the interests of its reading public over and above its poorly understood “professional pride”.
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