The Central American nation of El Salvador is dealing with public outcry after leaked documents published last month suggested that the government had secretly been making deals with notorious gangs in exchange for support in the upcoming elections. Officials have denied that such closed-door communications occurred, though the press insists that the story is true.
According to the BBC, newspaper outlet El Faro claimed that the government had been making deals with gangs — including the infamous MS-13 — to reduce street violence and crime in exchange for a number of benefits. El Faro also claimed that negotiations had covered a potential boost at the polls for the upcoming elections.
However, Director of Prisons Osiris Luna Meza, who is alleged to have attended the meetings, stridently denied the claims.
“I totally deny that these meetings happened,” Meza claimed.
“I have not and will not participate in any such meeting. I have always been very consistent with my political activities. These kinds of activities aren’t who I am,” he added.
The President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has also fought back against the allegations. Bukele has been known for his harsh stance on gang-related crime, and has taken to social media to argue that his strict policies — which include packing jail cells and publicizing their brutal conditions — make it unlikely that he would negotiate with criminals or that they would honor any agreements.
“One can be fat or thin, but not fat and thin at the same time,” the president wrote in one tweet.
However, the media has continued to stand by its reporting.
“That was the last tweet I saw before the president blocked me and everyone else on the investigations team,” noted Carlos Martínez, a journalist who worked on the article, about the above tweet.
Martínez hopes that the country’s attorney general will confirm the paper’s investigative reporting and reiterated his “total confidence in the veracity of the documents we published.”
“They came from a completely reliable source and we also verified their authenticity. It is very difficult for the government to deny their own documents.”
Should the allegations prove true, it is not known how much backlash Bukele will face. Polls currently estimate his public approval rating at around 90 percent, and with such numbers he might be able to weather charges of corruption. However, his reputation as a strongman against crime would be severely reduced, if not destroyed, potentially harming his appeal to many voters.
The reports have also caught international attention, with Democrats on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs committee publishing a written statement that they are “extremely troubled” by the situation.