I’ve just returned from a working week in El Salvador, on a media tour sponsored by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund). Yes, journalists now have to seek special dispensations to go out and see the real world because many, if not most, news organizations are unwilling to spend much money on this anymore. Why send a reporter far from home when you can link/aggregate news written elsewhere and then have your much less expensive desk-bound “news gatherers” simply localize it up with a blog post?
In any case, going on a media tour paid for by the organization you intend to write about is an awkward situation. As individual “entrepreneurial journalists,” we are being forced to find support for our work where we can. Once my stories are in, I will let readers judge for themselves if I was able to retain sufficient independence and judgment.
Why go to El Salvador? Well, why not? It is a country with a serious HIV and TB problem (not so much for malaria). We just missed visiting the Central American nation on World TB Day, which interestingly enough took place on the same day, March 24, as the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Catholic priest had taken up several causes unpopular with the Salvadoran government at the time, such as supporting efforts aimed at improving human rights and opposing U.S. military aid to a government engaged in torture, assassinations and other documented abuses. Romero was killed in 1980, the year El Salvador’s civil war began (with U.S. military and CIA backing the right-wing government against the leftist insurgents).
Some 75,000 people were killed in the violence before the war ended in 1992. A new government is in place today in El Salvador, led by popular President Mauricio Funes. It is the first time the former leftist guerilla party, the FMLN, has held the office and Funes is promising changes and accountability. The war the U.S. government gave support to tore apart families, made violence here routine and gouged even deeper the socioeconomic inequalities – all of these contributing to the health disparities that persist today.
The U.S. government today is the biggest public contributor to the Global Fund. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the biggest private contributor. We are now contributing to the goal of healing El Salvador.