San Salvador, El Salvador. Salvadorans have lost the right to publicly criticize their presidential hopefuls. Friday morning I woke up to the news that the Legislative Assembly has approved a decree whereby the “defamation” of any presidential candidate or presidential hopeful carries a fine of at least five thousand and up to twenty-five thousand dollars. The decree expires after the presidential campaign in 2014, but until then all means of critical communication that discredits a candidate for the presidency or vice presidency carries legal consequences.
Recently there has been increasing criticism in the media of the FMLN party candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who has been accused of extensive human rights violations during his time as a leader of the Popular Liberation Front [FPL]. Another point of concern goes back to 2009 when El Diario de Hoy revealed that the GANA candidate, Elias Antonio Saca, transferred hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state budget during his previous run as President (2004-2009). Norman Quijano, the current mayor of San Salvador has very recently also been accused of corruption. In light of these realities, this decree places absurd limits on public dialogue that is necessary in order to evaluate the basic integrity, principles, and decency of the candidates that are vying for the top leadership position of the country. Instead of silencing ideas with penalties and fines, why not counter with other ideas in the spirit of true democratic and ideological plurality?
Not only is this an outrageous decree because it limits free expression of thought, but it ignores the last twenty or thirty years of globalization and technological innovation that have drastically accelerated the global flows of people and information. To give an example, how will this decree apply to a Salvadoran dual citizen living in Los Angeles who contributes a problematic blog post to an online news source?
We have a right to dissent, to disagree and to be critical using public means of communication to create dialogue, to debate and to share ideas about the candidates. What hope can we have for our democratic transition if citizens are denied a say in the decisions that affect our lives, if we allow arbitrary regulations that limit the ability to choose our leaders, and if we do not hold our leaders accountable for their conduct.