Nayib Bukele set to rule for years in El Salvador after ignoring term limits


Nayib Bukele was jubilant Sunday evening in San Salvador, telling his jubilant supporters to look forward to what his government will do “over the next five years.” after a landslide electoral victory.

No other modern Salvadoran president has benefited from a “five-year” period, since the constitution forbade it until Bukele managed to run again.

His Nuevas Ideas party is expected to win the majority of seats in El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly.

Bukele campaigned largely on drastically reducing the rate of violent crime, which not long ago was one of the worst in the world. He stoked fears of a return to not-so-old times during the campaign by saying the opposition would “release gang members and use them to return to power.”

The promise

Bukele ran for president in 2019. Then aged 37, he was seen as a charismatic and passionate antidote to a country that was ruled either by the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) or the Conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) since. the end of its civil war in 1992.

The mayor of San Salvador positioned himself as a problem solver above dogmatic politics, even though he was not a complete stranger to that party structure. The son of a Palestinian who opened the country’s first McDonald’s franchise, Bukele was first a salesman for the FMLN at his family’s public relations company, then a member of the FMLN until his expulsion after clashes with party officials.

“A dictator is a dictator, right or left,” Bukele wrote on social media before the 2019 elections.

As mayor and president, he rarely interacted with the press, but communicated through social media, where he presented the country as a haven for cryptocurrencies.

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The first term

Bukele’s strongman tendencies first gained international attention when he sent armed security forces and an ultimatum to Parliament in early 2020 to pass his security legislation.

After positive results in the 2021 legislative elections, he replaced the judges of the Constitutional Court with compliant judges, paving the way for a new term despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits it in six different places. These judges approved his candidacy for another term.

Armed soldiers in camouflage guard a building marked
Soldiers guard the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador on February 9, 2020. Bukele then gave Parliament a one-week ultimatum to approve a loan to equip the country’s security forces and fight criminal gangs. (Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

The protests have remained silent, with the country’s homicide rate falling from 103 per 100,000 people in 2015 to eight in 2022. After a particularly bloody period in March 2022, Bukele suspended some civil liberties as part of the national state of emergency, which remains in force. effect.

By some estimates, 1.6 percent of the population was arrested, and almost 8 percent of the male population aged 14 to 29.

International concern

In his latest report concerning the countrycovering the year 2022, the US State Department expressed concern over what it called “credible reports” of human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests, lack of due process, torture at the hands of security forces, and life-threatening conditions of detention.

A group of Democratic lawmakers noted in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the run-up to the election that dual U.S.-El Salvador citizens had been wrongly caught up in the gang tidal wave.

Several people wave flags while walking down a street during a demonstration.  Some wear masks over their mouths.
Although Bukele’s anti-gang approach has been popular, his tactics have generated some opposition. Students from the University of El Salvador demonstrate against Bukele on February 9, 2021. (Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

Bukele’s vice president, Félix Ulloa, acknowledged that the government “made mistakes” in arresting thousands of people who had committed no crimes during the campaign, but justified the crackdown as for the common good.

Some believe there is more to public safety than meets the eye and that punishments for gang members have been selective, even amid the staggering number of incarcerations.

Juanita Goebertus, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, in testimony before a US congressional committee in December, said Bukele was employing two hackneyed and unsuccessful strategies seen in the country in the past, in the form of “secret pacts with gangs and iron-fisted security policies.”

So, the US Treasury Department in a 2021 indictment of two prominent gang members have accused Bukele’s government of offering financial incentives to the Salvadoran MS-13 and 18th Street Gang to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remain low, in exchange of support from Nuevos Ideas.

Journalists, political opponents and critics have faced harassment over the past five years. A Twitter user was quickly arrested by police in 2022 after questioning the use of government security for Karim Bukele, the president’s brother, on the beach.

And in December, the Biden administration expressed concern over the arrest of four former lawmakers, including Rubén Zamora, El Salvador’s former ambassador to the United States.

The future

Bukele was evasive when asked Sunday whether he would seek a third term, but in the Americas, authoritarian leaders such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega have successfully flouted laws to stay in power. .

The Biden administration is working to mobilize its international allies in the wars in Ukraine, Gaza and the Middle East with Iranian proxies, but it needs El Salvador’s cooperation on a few issues, including the flow of migrants to the southern border of the United States.

A DJ plays in an outdoor plaza to dozens of people in a nighttime scene.  One person is wearing a large plastic head.
Bukele supporters rejoiced at the National Palace after the presidential election in San Salvador on Sunday. (Jose Luis Gonzales/Reuters)

The 14 Democratic lawmakers who wrote to Blinken say the Biden administration has been “too gullible toward President Bukele’s re-election bid.” They want the U.S. government to condition aid on the country’s security in accordance with human rights laws and to provide a greater share of humanitarian funding to nongovernmental partners, among other measures.

Bukele mocked social media, saying he was “honored” to encounter such opposition.

While citizens who spoke to the Associated Press and Reuters enjoy walking the streets safely, the country is struggling economically, with low GDP growth projected for 2024 and ongoing negotiations for a $1 U.S. loan. .3 billion dollars from the International Monetary Fund.

Despite its promotion of legal tender Bitcoin, tourists are more likely than citizens to use it in many cities, according to a Reuters report on election preparations.

The fight against drugs and gangs has also recently proven popular with much of the population in the Philippines under former President Rodrigo Duterte, but it has also attracted international attention. The International Criminal Court, a body that El Salvador joined with fanfare just three years before Bukele came to power, is investigating possible crimes against humanity, including murder, in the war against drug in this Southeast Asian country.

But in the streets of El Salvador, since Sunday’s vote, the atmosphere was rather jubilant.

Sara Leon, 48, who also lived for years in the United States, had nothing but praise for Bukele in comments to The Associated Press.

“If he is a dictator, may we have a dictator for another 100 years,” she said.

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