The narrow streets of Las Palmas are gang-controlled and the Salvadorans in need of help are not affected by the actions of their president, which frustrates his critics.
They don’t care about Nayib Bukeele’s dictatorial maneuvers – sending armed troops to congress to force a vote or removing independent judges from the country’s highest court. This opens the door to establishing control over all branches of government. They are proud of his constant attacks on El Salvador’s politicians, as well as the elites who have benefited from their rule for almost 30 years.
They are thankful for the food staples and other necessities they received from Bukele’s government in the aftermath of the pandemic. Adults are proud to show their pride and claim that they received both COVID-19 vaccines long before the rest of Central America.
All the critics and observers who decry the dangerous concentration of power by a charismatic leader, Bukele has a more than 90% approval rating among those who have seen three of four former presidents exiled or jailed for corruption.
“They talk about democracy… Julio Cesar Lopez (60), a Las Palmas street artist, said, “They talk about democracy… It makes me happy to see them kicking out this class of people.
The story of Bukele’s presidency thus far is that of a new populist autocracy in Latin America: lavishing big on goodies, branding enemies as enemies, and raising the profile for the military. Bukele is akin to former President Donald Trump and prefers social media over press conferences. However, he doesn’t miss a chance to take great photos to show his image.
Leonor Arteaga is the program director of the Due Process of Law Foundation. This regional rule organization is based in Washington. He has the support of most of the population, and he uses that support to his advantage.
Las Palmas residents say they are aware of Bukele’s concentration of power. They also feel willing to trade democratic ideals in exchange for short-term solutions to their dire needs.
Rigoberto Castellanos (57 year old construction worker from Las Palmas) says that the former opposition-controlled Congress and ousted Constitution Justices were thorns in Bukele’s side and needed to be removed.
He pointed out that El Salvador’s constitution currently prohibits re-election. However, if that were to change, who wouldn’t want to have the president for an additional five years?
The 39-year old Bukele is a non-ideological pragmaticist and the latest Latin American president to use elections and their personal popularity as a means of gaining power.
El Salvador was ruled by two parties for nearly three decades: the conservative Arena party, and the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Both were formed after El Salvador’s civil war. The parties failed to deliver. Both Arena and FMLN had presidents who plunder El Salvador’s funds and left a society without economic opportunities. They were also surrounded by powerful street gangs that extorted money and murdered with impunity.
Bukele, who was a former publicity executive rose up the ranks of FMLN, moving from small-town mayor to mayor of San Salvador. The FMLN finally fired him because he refused to follow the party line. He was made an outsider and formed New Ideas, his political party. This won him the presidential vote in 2019.
Although elections in El Salvador were free and open to all, Bukele’s critics claim that the country cannot be considered a functioning democracy.
Bertha Maria Deleon was an organized crime prosecutor who became a criminal defense lawyer. He retweeted some her comments as mayor and made contact with Bukele online. Deleon was asked to join his defense team when he ran into legal trouble. She became a trusted adviser and one of few people who disagreed with him over the four years they worked together.
Deleon stated, “I knew he was an impulsive person. Very immature. Like an eternal adolescent.” “But I always felt that he was an honest man.” Deleon said she was interested in being his justice and security minister but was denied.
Soon after Bukele took office in June 2019, his patience began to wane. He started firing government bureaucrats via Twitter. Deleon claims she warned him that this practice was unnecessary humiliating for state employees, who could challenge it in court. Bukele called her “a killjoy”.
February 9, 2020 was the last straw. Bukele was locked in a battle with the opposition-controlled congress. He asked for funding to be approved by lawmakers for a security plan to combat gang violence. However, they refused to meet for a vote and said they needed more information.
Bukele was accompanied by heavily armed police officers and soldiers wearing tactical gear into the Legislative Assembly. Bukele rallied hundreds of supporters to press lawmakers outside. Sharpshooters took to rooftops. Bukele prayed and took the presidency seat.
He told supporters outside that if they wanted to push the button, they would. This would remove legislators from the legislature. “But, I asked God, and God said to me: patience.
Deleon was shocked. Twitter photo of Bukele praying on the dais. “Pure manipulations of the masses. This is just a small sample of what we can expect when he controls the majority of the (congress).
On Twitter, the president blocked her and began to receive attacks from Bukele supporters as well as trolls. Others threatened to rape and murder.
Bukele’s office refused to interview Bukele or respond to comments and questions for this article.
However, Deleon’s prediction of what would happen if his party wins a majority in Congress was a prescient one.
One year later, New Ideas was elected to the legislature with a supermajority. The five Supreme Court justices from the Constitutional Chamber were removed and replaced by the new legislators on May 1.
Police surrounded the Supreme Court as the lawmakers were getting ready to vote. Outside the home of the Supreme Court president was parked a police patrol car. Later, the police escorted the justices’ replacements into the building, all of whom had ties to Bukele and his party.
Bukele was happy. He said, “I know most Salvadoran people eagerly anticipate the second session.”
Arteaga of the Due Process of Law Foundation stated that El Salvador was in the process of building authoritarianism. It is clear that all signs are present.
The constitutional justices were a crucial check on Bukele’s power for the first two years. Critics described a sinking feeling when he realized that there was no place to turn.
Deleon, who had been working for seven years at the Attorney General’s Office, was summoned to appear in May. In May, Deleon was summoned to appear at the Attorney General’s Office. She had previously been the personal attorney for Bukele’s National Police Chief. Deleon was now informed that multiple investigations were underway against her.
She said that they resent my constant criticism of his governance, and called the cases baseless. “This is the Attorney General’s Office trying to intimidate me.”
Similar threats face media and business leaders.
Bukele and supporters have also attacked El Salvador’s award-winning independent news station El Faro. A government audit has revealed that its staff has been followed by strangers.
Bukele stated on national television last September that El Faro was under investigation for open money laundering and tax fraud. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ordered El Salvador’s government in January to protect 34 El Faro staff members and allow them to continue their journalistic work.
Carlos Dada, El Faro’s co-founder, said that he was threatened at the Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism in May. We have been persecuted. We were the targets of defamation campaigns that were massive.”
The new congress eliminated a tax break that had been in place for decades on imported newsprint. This was a major blow to the country’s traditional papers, who have also been critical of Bukele’s administration.
Javier Siman is the president of El Salvador’s largest business association. He has also been a vocal critic of Bukele and said that he has been subjected to more than 100 government audits. His family is the owner of a retail empire that includes department stores in El Salvador, Central America and other locations.
He has criticized everything from the draconian lockdowns he saw in the early stages of the epidemic that decimated El Salvador’s economy, to Bukele’s recent concentrations of power. He claimed that the Finance Ministry was hounding businessmen who criticize government policies.
He said, “You can only enjoy prosperity if you live in a democracy, where the law has been respected, where there’s a separation between powers, and where there is rule law.”