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El Salvador Protest Reflected Concerns Over Democracy And Bitcoin

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Several countries in Central America celebrated their Independence Day this week. Among them, El Salvador, commemorating its 200th anniversary. And thousands of people used the holiday to protest the policies of President Nayib Bukele; policies they say violate the country's constitution and consolidate power in the hands of the populist leader. It was the first and largest show of opposition against Bukele since he took office in 2019. And it came just on the heels of a controversial day last week, when El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.

Valeria Guzman, journalist for the Central American outlet El Faro, joins us now from San Salvador.

Welcome.

VALERIA GUZMAN: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So you were covering the protest on Wednesday. Can you describe what you saw, what people were saying?

GUZMAN: People were protesting against what they think is now a dictatorship from Bukele's government. And they were protesting against Bitcoin as a legal tender. And also, they were marching against the reforms of the constitution and reforms on the judiciary system.

You could see people from different political parties. You can see people from feminist organizations, from Catholic organizations. And there was the most diverse march I have ever covered in my career of seven or eight years because there was people from all over the country and all over different sectors.

FADEL: Now, these protests, as you mentioned, weren't just about the president's move to adopt Bitcoin, but also because of what are seen as authoritarian actions in the past few months. Can you kind of spell out some of the policies that have really angered people?

GUZMAN: Yeah. For example, there's a controversial proposal for constitutional reforms that is making the way for presidential reelection to happen in El Salvador. We haven't have that since - ever since the war. That was one of the main reasons that El Salvador went to war because presidents stayed in power for too much of a long time. So what now is happening is that the Supreme Court that Bukele illegally put in office is now giving him the keys for another five years in office when he only has two. I mean, he's in the middle of his presidency.

FADEL: Now, Bukele has criticized El Faro, saying they're not honest journalists. They receive funding from international sources. Can you respond to that?

GUZMAN: Yeah. We have not hidden any information of where our funding comes. It's on our webpage. Our funding comes from our subscribers and from international organizations who seek to fight for democracy. So that's not a hidden fact. The accusations that he is making, it's putting our lives in danger.

FADEL: Have you gotten threats? Have you been harassed? I mean, basically...

GUZMAN: Yeah.

FADEL: It's a way to discredit you, I'm assuming.

GUZMAN: Yeah. We are now facing danger. And when he keeps talking about us as if we are the enemy, he puts us in a lot of more risk because the people who believe them will do anything that he says. So now we are in a situation where if I get into an Uber, if I get into a bus, if I get into the street, I am scared to show my press ID or I don't talk about my job. And my colleagues are doing the same because we are scared.

FADEL: That is El Faro journalist Valeria Guzman in San Salvador.

Thanks for being with us.

GUZMAN: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUFJAN STEVENS' "TO THE WORKERS OF THE ROCK RIVER VALLEY REGION, I HAVE AN IDEA CONCERNING YOUR PREDICAMENT, AND IT INVOLVES AN INNER TUBE, BATH MATS, AND 21 ABLE-BODIED MEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.