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El Salvador Congress removes tax break for newspapers

May 5, 2021

El Salvador’s Congress on Wednesday removed a tax break that benefits newspapers — many of which are harsh critics of President Nayib Bukele — just days after it sacked a number of judges.

The Central American country’s Legislative Assembly, dominated by Bukele allies, has faced international criticism since sacking nine magistrates that sit on the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court over the weekend.

The new legislature, which sat for the first time on Saturday after late February elections, had accused the judges of issuing arbitrary rulings. It also sacked Attorney General Raul Melara over his links to an opposition party.

On Wednesday the legislature took aim at the newspapers.

“Today we will end the longest, most continuous and blatant tax evasion in our history,” said lawmaker Christian Guevara, who proposed the measure.

A 1950 law excused printers from paying taxes, allowing those that produce newspapers, magazines, brochures and other material to import paper and ink without paying tariffs.

The daily sale of newspapers in the streets was also free of taxes.

The new bill was approved by the 84-seat Congress with 68 votes. The ruling alliance has 61 of those seats.

The new law states that newspaper printers “will not enjoy a tariff reduction for the import of primary materials, machinery and equipment for the printing of materials or publications not directly used for educational purposes.”

On Tuesday the government released a recording of Bukele scolding foreign diplomats for the international criticism he has received, insisting that the dismissal of the judges was legal.

US ambassador Brendan O’Brien was not present at the event, but European Union representative Andreu Bassols told Bukele that the measures “undermine the rule of law and the separation of powers in El Salvador.”

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.