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  Number 476 | Marzo 2021
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El Salvador

How far will Nayib Bukele go to impose his authoritarian agenda?

Its legislative, municipal and Central American Parliament elections, held on February 28, reshaped El Salvador’s political map, now dominated by President Nayib Bukele and his team, relegating the traditional opposition to irrelevance. The elections were held amid an authoritarian transition accelerated by the pandemic, the rise of militarism, and the normalization of exceptions, opening uncertain prospects for the country.

Danilo Miranda

The election results strongly favored President Nayib Bukele’s governing New Ideas party, with voters giving it a legislative majority. Adding the seats won by the Great Alliance for National Unity (GANA), the ally that allowed Bukele to run on its ticket in 2019, before New Ideas was registered, the two parties together hold a qualified majority. New Ideas also tightened its grip on local control by winning a majority of municipal seats in the country.

The first landslide
victory in 35 years


Since El Salvador is a multi-party State, no party has won a majority in the Legislative Assembly since 1985; each government has needed support from a parliamentary partner to get laws passed. Now, with its 55 seats, New Ideas easily exceeds the majority of 43 and can legislate without such support or negotiations with the opposition. It came just one seat shy of the 56 needed for a qualified majority, but any of the six representatives elected from GANA—branded during the campaign as “the party of President Bukele”—will be happy to provide it. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) legislators declare themselves Bukele supporters too, since these last two years of the outgoing legislature have already seen it happen.

This qualified majority will enable Bukele to completely control the election of Supreme Court justices and the attorney general, positions he could use to persecute his political enemies, as he has already hinted at. This majority will also permit him to take out loans and make structural reforms. Furthermore, he holds in his hands the possibility of suspending constitutional rights and governing under an emergency regime, which had stayed just out of reach even during the worst of the pandemic.

Prior to the elections, Vice President Félix Ulloa was already heading a commission to study constitutional reforms, which could include expanding the political role of military personnel. The President can also convene a Constitutional Assembly to promote a new Constitution that could include the right to re-election.

The traditional party
system gave way


The triumph of Bukele and his party was the chronicle of a death foretold for the traditional parties. ARENA and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) are now irrelevant to the new legislative landscape: ARENA dropped from 37 seats to 14 while the FMLN had it worse, barely winning 4 seats. This is all that remains of those that, between them, governed the country for three decades, taking turns as the main national political force.


The oldest parties, the National Conciliation [now Coalition] Party (PCN), which held the presidency between 1961 and 1979, and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), which held it between 1985 and 1989, have also become negligible, with just 3 representatives between them. Two new parties, Let’s Go (Vamos) and Our Time (Nuestro Tiempo), did even worse, winning only one seat each. The Let’s Go representative is the only real “outsider,” as the Our Times winner used to be with ARENA and has only recently changed his team jersey for a new, self-made one.

New Ideas swept the
major municipalities


As a result of these elections, New Ideas will also now run more than half of the country’s municipalities, including nearly all those belonging to the heavily populated Metropolitan Area: San Salvador, Santa Tecla, Soyapango, Ilopango, Mejicanos and San Marcos. The party’s mayors will also be in charge of all departmental capitals. The two most important ones have been divvied up between New Ideas (Santa Ana) and GANA (San Miguel).

New Ideas will govern the majority of the population residing in urban areas, which also have the highest concentration of wealth. One notable exception was Antiguo Cuscatlán, a municipality with high human development levels, governed since 1988 by Mayor Milagro Navas; it has become an unassailable fortress for ARENA.

The opposition will govern relatively small municipalities with limited economic significance and huge problems that will undoubtedly require transfers from the national government, which has already been withholding these resources in a strategy of attrition.

A highly mismatched election campaign


This landslide cannot be said to be the result of competitive elections given the asymmetrical resources stacked so heavily in favor of New Ideas, which controls the central government machinery. The argument that New Ideas won exclusively or mainly thanks to this disparity, however, is equally false.

President Bukele and his officials violated the Constitution by using their positions to wage a partisan campaign. This is hardly a new phenomenon in El Salvador, but it must be noted that this time around it happened openly and with no concern for appearances.

The campaign was permanent, violating legal time periods. Bukele inaugurated works accompanied by massive advertising within the 30-day period during which such publicity is prohibited by election law. He failed to respect the moratorium, and on election day itself he was soliciting votes for his project. New Ideas headquarters openly distributed emergency government food packages to bolster their partisan candidacies. And the new state media outlet, Diario El Salvador, was at the government party’s beck and call, just like the government-run El Salvador National Radio and Television. These media were joined by those managed by the government following processes eliminating frequencies implicated in criminal activity, such as the radio stations of ex-President Elías Antonio Saca and others.

It is estimated that more than two-thirds of total election campaign expenses were incurred by New Ideas, while other parties were starved of the financing established by law as an advance on the public funds they are entitled to, a sum known as “political debt.”

The most serious event during the campaign took place on January 31, when government agents ambushed FMLN militants returning from a rally, killing two. The perpetrator, a police officer who is head of security for the Health Ministry, died days later under suspicious circumstances. Bukele neither condemned the incident nor called for an investigation, merely stating without grounds that it was an attack staged by the opposition to damage his electoral prospects. The police force, known for altering the scenes of crimes committed by its agents, tried to twist the facts. Even if the January 31 murder had not been ordered “from on high,” it does seem to be the product of systematic hate rhetoric promoted by the government’s digital networks, including verbal, graphic and messaging references to the physical elimination of “the same old people.” Shortly after the crime, members of New Ideas appeared in a video on the networks dancing around a coffin shrouded with the FMLN flag.


1992—Hope for peace
with justice and democracy


How did we get here? We must recall, even if only briefly, what happened in this country from the euphoria of victory generated by the 1992 Peace Accords to Nayib Bukele’s ascension to power.

The peace accords signed in January 1992 brought hope to a country burdened by two decades of intense political violence, including 12 years of open civil war between the FMLN and government forces financed by the United States. The conflict left tens of thousands dead, innumerable missing persons and enormous flows of refugees and displaced people.

The complicated negotiation process culminated when the guerrilla forces laid down their arms and became a legally constituted political party. On the other side, the Army was reduced and purged: the forces responsible for serious human rights violations, including the Ready Response Infantry Battalions, the National Guard, the National Police and the Treasury Police, were dismantled. And the role of the military was restricted to defending territory and sovereignty. Public safety was assigned to the newly created National Civil Police (PNC). The peace accords also gave birth to the Prosecutor General for Human Rights Defense and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the latter replacing the questioned Central Election Council.

The widespread hope was dual: overcome impunity and democratize the country. The aspiration to justice was cut off at the knees when an absolute and unconditional amnesty was decreed. Democratization was minimal, limited to elections. Authoritarian behaviors and values continued to permeate society.

As the country embraced peace, neoliberal reforms were simultaneously being promoted by the ARENA governments: privatizations, liberalization of the economy and regressive taxation. In 2001 El Salvador lost its monetary sovereignty by dollarizing its economy.

All these measures, promoted by the party of big capital, had a profound impact on the country. The most serious social problems went unresolved and became embedded in the social fabric. Gangs and other forms of extreme violence made El Salvador one of the countries with the highest rates of homicide and femicide in the world.

Socioeconomic migration was joined by an exodus of people seeking refuge from violence in other countries. And the number of victims of forced displacement by government and nongovernmental actors increased. Organized crime and systemic corruption put the finishing touches on this tragic scene.


2009—Hope for social change with the FMLN


The FMLN’s first government was headed by Mauricio Funes (2009–2014). Its first measures put wind in the sails of hope for change in the country’s direction, as it dared to create social programs even in the midst of the global financial crisis. It seemed to be bucking the fanatical austerity imposed under 20 years of ARENA’s neoliberal orthodoxy, which had left barely any scope for social welfare programs.

But hope was a mirage that quickly faded. Although the FMLN’s embrace of needed social programs led the population to give it a vote of confidence in the 2014 elections, the party not only failed to address the country’s structural problems during its second term in office, it also ended up governing like its predecessors in several arenas.

One of these was security. The two preceding ARENA governments—of Francisco Flores (1999–2004), who was indicted for theft of government funds but died in 2016 before being tried, and of Elías Antonio Saca (2004–2009), jailed on corruption charges—had both been notable for their punitive demagoguery against gangs. They had implemented measures known as Iron Fist and Super Iron Fist that ended up only strengthening the crime syndicates and drastically increasing the levels of violence.

The Funes government further increased the Army’s participation in public security tasks, arguing exceptional circumstances. He also named military personnel to lead the Ministry of Security and the PNC, a decision the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.

The Funes administration’s other big bet was the so-called “truce” among the main gangs, or maras, sponsored by the government with under-the-table negotiations that included benefits for the leaders of the groups. The process demonstrated the gangs’ territorial control and their capacity for both dialogue and blackmail of the main political stakeholders.

Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s administration (2014–2019) also pushed for “extraordinary measures,” which in practice meant extrajudicial executions and the total degradation of the PNC, involved in various crimes from its inception. The FMLN’s impunity was increasingly evident during its second term. In addition, Sánchez Cerén continued to use the armed forces for roles outside their scope, which swung open the doors to large-scale militarization of public safety once he was out of office.


Corruption and lack of democracy
in the political party system


In the post-war period, Salvadoran democracy not only failed to consolidate, it was also left marred by increasingly obvious authoritarian features.

Political parties resisted the adoption of democratic internal mechanisms by all available means. They were finally forced by the Supreme Court to accept a law tailored to political parties, although they were not always willing to abide by it. The massive political exclusion of women made it necessary to impose a gender quota, which they reluctantly accepted and only minimally fulfilled.

They systematically refused to account for the origins of their funding until the law required them to reveal their sources. And when they began to provide reports, these were always characterized by seeking to avoid specifics, to the point that nearly all parties were sanctioned for violating electoral transparency provisions. In general, their main donors have skewed toward big capital, which has been rewarded by those rising to power. In this way the country has been handed over to de facto control by the private sector.

Money from public corruption has bought decisions in the Legislative Assembly, as revealed in declarations by ex-President Saca and in conversations that came to light between him and his successor, Funes. It became clear why ARENA representatives split from their party to form GANA and support FMLN administration legislative initiatives, thus overcoming the ARENA-led gridlock.

Although the signs of decline were already there, they went unnoticed until the party system collapsed. For several years now, studies of political culture have shown that political parties and the Legislative Assembly were among the institutions with the lowest credibility levels, while the Army and churches enjoyed high levels of trust among the population. The studies also showed significant support by the population for authoritarian solutions. The electoral success of “iron fist” policies and political speech that included the “elimination” of gang members was just the tip of the iceberg; the idea had already taken hold that human rights protect criminals, and there was widespread support for authoritarian and emergency measures, seen as getting results.


Nayib Bukele’s
unstoppable rise to power


This was the context for Nayib Bukele’s appearance on the scene. Despite being sold as an “outsider,” he came to power following an established political career in the FMLN, the party that gave him symbolic backing and lucrative government contracts.

The son of a well-known businessman, Bukele began his political career as an FMLN mayor in the small town of Nuevo Cuscatlán. His rhetoric was trite, sometimes shaded with left-leaning overtones. He would even present himself as a defender of equality and critic of neoliberalism. He thus made his way as a fresh new politician, in open contrast to the stale direction of his party, which was primarily composed of ex-guerrilla commanders not much given to any kind of change and characterized by hierarchical, anachronistic and fossilized leadership.

His golden ticket came when the FMLN ran him as candidate for mayor of San Salvador, the same platform that had previously launched the presidential aspirations of other ex-mayors of that capital: José Napoléon Duarte, Armando Calderón Sol, Héctor Silva and Norman Quijano.

Betting on his image as an advertising empresario and with mastery over the social networks—a sphere that older politicians gave no sign of even beginning to understand—his standing as a potential presidential candidate shot up, reinforced by polling and the media, which were already positioning him as the most popular politician in the country.

In the capital, he played the role of the “cool” mayor who could connect with young people, riding the trend of “politics-light”: he organized Pokémon hunts and linked himself to celebrities to stage shows where he had the leading role, such as when he rode the carnival rides at the city’s patron saint festival. From his perch in the mayor’s office, he focused on attacking the FMLN, exploiting the weaknesses the party had clearly shown in its governance and during the Sánchez Cerén administration.

The cracks he opened got him expelled from the FMLN. While for others this would have meant political demise, in his case it instead sealed the death warrant for the party that expelled him. Pitted against traditional media—until then omnipotent in Salvadoran politics—Bukele used a Facebook Live event to announce his candidacy for President of the Republic and declare he would start a political movement to get there.


The unstoppable demise of the FMLN


In the meantime, the FMLN government came to an end with no clear path for the future. Its once successful social programs were adrift; some were completely under-funded. There was no end in sight to the crisis of violence, despite government efforts to deny obvious events such as displacement, extrajudicial executions, the gangs’ social and criminal strength and corruption cases such as those involving ex-President Funes, today an ally of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, where he sought asylum to escape justice.

In terms of the economy, the FMLN government’s loss of direction was clear in its decisions, such as promoting special economic zones as the solution to the problem of unemployment and lack of development. It defended its choices tooth and nail, even when they gave labor and tax privileges to big capital, short-changing both workers and the environment and paving the way for businesses to exploit people and natural resources with nothing to stop them. It supported a pension reform that in broad strokes maintained the status of the questioned Pension Fund Administrators, and approved a regressive tax on telecommunications.

All these decisions had to be praised if critical voices wanted to escape accusations of “playing into the Right’s hands.” The differences between the FMLN and ARENA platforms were thus blurred in the collective imagination. And the FMLN enabled its adversaries’ triumph in the 2018 legislative and municipal elections.

Despite having suffered a worrying electoral defeat in 2015, the FMLN continued to resist making the radical decisions required to avoid complete collapse. In those elections, the party insisted on running legislative candidates who were worn out figures lacking any credibility with voters, old leaders who wanted to win but had no backing and seemed not to understand the political zeitgeist. The punitive demagoguery promoted by the government ended up benefiting parties like GANA, which had become expert at clamoring for the death penalty and the physical elimination of gang members.

The 2015 election results left ARENA as the main political force in the legislature, despite its history plagued with corruption and government failures. The elections also ratified the party’s dominance in the capital city. Despite this advantage, its die was already cast, though less obviously than in the case of the FMLN.


2019—Landslide presidential victory


As the 2019 presidential elections drew near, Nayib Bukele first called for abstention, more successfully than other similar initiatives in the past. He had the advantage of not holding any popularly elected post, which gave him both time and space to attack the corrupt political system from all sides. New Ideas collected four times the number of signatures required to register as a party. From that point on he was the candidate to beat.

For good reason. Up to then the party system had worked as a cartel keeping the same players in the game and making it difficult to get rid of the traditional PCN and the PDC, in existence for more than a half century, which had come back to life despite not having met the minimum threshold of votes for years. The system simultaneously limited entry to new challengers. GANA was an exception only because it had risen from within, following a split from ARENA that provided both grass roots and structure to the new organization, promoted and financed by ex-President Saca.

Although the party system boasted a certain stability, it suffered from heavy manipulation by representative institutions and was weighed down by serious corruption issues. Though the traditional political classes underestimated the popular support that Nayib Bukele could attract beyond the social networks, his rise was explosive.

His nascent political movement failed to get registered in time to run in the elections under its own banner, but he understood that it was his political moment and sought a party to taxi him to his goals. The first to make an offer was Democratic Change (CD), once considered progressive but later occupied by opportunistic politicians who saw their big chance in becoming the vehicle for the polls’ favorite. In the end, GANA was the winning bidder. It exchanged its orange branding for the light blue of New Ideas and adopted the image of the swallow symbolizing Bukele’s project. Everything was now ready for the fight for the Presidency.

ARENA staked its bets in the presidential race on the son of a prominent businessman, while the FMLN backed an ex-foreign minister. Any doubts about Bukele’s true support, which his critics limited to the digital realm, were buried in February, when he swept to victory in the first round, holding a more than 20-point lead over the ARENA candidate and 40 over a dejected FMLN, which lost over 500,000 votes compared to the previous presidential election.

The party system had collapsed, although political analysts and politicians themselves, still skeptical, felt it was necessary to wait for the 2021 legislative and municipal elections to acknowledge the phenomenon. This despite the extra-electoral evidence having already clearly shown an irreversible decline.


The Bukele era in government:
militarism and pandemic


As President-elect, Nayib Bukele left behind the progressive nuances of his early speeches. His international launch took place at The Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative think tanks in the United States.

His speech there fit nicely into his hosts’ dominant narrative: he spoke bluntly of being in favor of limited government and free enterprise, words consistent with the freedom his government grants private corporations to violate labor rights and exploit the ecosystem unchecked. Two emblematic examples are his Environment Minister, who hands out permits left and right for predatory projects on the grounds that “development cannot be stopped;” and the head of the Labor portfolio, who refused to lift a finger following the dismissal of hundreds of workers from the Florenzi factory, when their employer failed to provide mandatory severance and compensation payments.

Bukele’s ideology is far from well defined. As in all things populist, it is full of ideological contradictions and ambiguities. One of its clearest characteristics is the authoritarian bent and political usage he makes of security forces as backing not only for his governance but also, thanks to prevailing winds, for a whole project under construction. His administration easily finds support from Salvadoran political and social culture, rife with authoritarian features in both daily life and institutionally. Although the breeding ground for authoritarianism was already prepared, two processes heated it up even more for Bukele: the escalation of militarism and the pandemic.

From his first months in office, President Bukele banked on increasing the number of soldiers to deal with the violence and insecurity affecting the population. He announced his top secret, nine-phase Local Control Plan and deployed security forces to take back territories held by gangs. Homicides decreased quickly and meaningfully, a fact that Bukele presents as his greatest achievement. However, the plan is opaque and cannot be independently evaluated. Security specialists and investigative journalists state that the real cause of the decrease in homicides stems from new negotiations between the government and the country’s main gangs.

Propaganda used to recruit soldiers has trumpeted military values, and the army’s central role in the country is increasingly evident. Bukele attempted to address the first great crisis facing the administration—when San Salvador’s waterworks were spouting foul smelling, coffee-colored water—with a highly touted deployment of troops to wells and other facilities managed by the National Administration of Aqueducts and Drainage Systems to “protect them.” But the cause turned out to be biological: algae were responsible for affecting water quality.

In the same vein as this conception of social problems, the budget presented by the executive branch for approval by the Legislative Assembly showed reductions in items such as water management, while increasing resources for three areas key to Bukele’s project: the Army, the State Intelligence Agency and government advertising.


February 2020—A coup d’état?


Soon, Bukele’s rhetoric against the opposition became more belligerent, against a backdrop of persistent demands for additional funding for police and military personnel, alleging that legislators were allied with the gangs and that’s why they opposed his star plan. Phase three of the plan—US$ 109 million from a loan for technological outfitting of the military apparatus—had transparency problems. Legislators demanded more information, especially at a decisive moment, when the director of prisons was caught traveling in a private plane, presumably paid by security contractors.

The virulence of the confrontation took on dramatic shades in early 2020, when Bukele convened legislators to a meeting on February 9 in extraordinary session to discuss the loan. If they didn’t come, he said, they would be breaching constitutional order. In parallel, violent government-party supporters staged a campaign to remove from office any representatives who failed to appear, basing their arguments on the constitutional “right to insurrection.”

By that time, the language used on government party social networks systematically advocated crime and clamored for the elimination of the “rats.” The repertoire of verbal aggression included insults against women and opposition journalists, death threats against critics, production of fake news, smear campaigns and other practices, handled by well-known propagandists, YouTubers, bots and troll armies.

At a February 8 press conference, military leaders in campaign regalia offered their unconditional support for their commander general, Nayib Bukele. The next day the Legislative Assembly awoke to military barricades and snipers on nearby roofs. Buses of public employees began to arrive at a scene resembling a political rally outside the Assembly. It seemed that the day would see a coup d’état against the legislative branch. Bukele appeared at the announced time. After speaking with his followers, he entered the Blue Room where legislators meet, while heavily armed soldiers occupied the premises and encircled the empty seats in the legislature. Just a handful of representatives came. Seated in the Legislative Assembly president’s chair, Bukele began the session with prayer. When he left, he took to a stage full of soldiers and spoke again to the people gathered outside, telling them that he had talked with God, who asked him to be patient.

Faced with displeasure from the audience, which demanded a coup against the legislature, he urged patience and announced an ultimatum of one week for the legislators, after which they would face dismissal. No coup took place, and he chose instead to wait for the 2021 elections. This serious breakdown in constitutional order went unpunished and its ringleaders remain in their posts.


The pandemic, a stage for
consolidating his strategy


Very shortly after these events the pandemic appeared, providing an excuse to increase presidential powers and normalize emergency as a feature of politics.

The government imposed a mandatory lockdown implemented by security forces and abounding in abuse and arbitrary acts. Military criteria prevailed in different actions, such as a “health” barrier ordered by Bukele for the coastal municipality of La Libertad. The siege had few to no outward indications of being health related; army green was prominent as the act deprived the port’s population of possibilities for obtaining food and medicine.

Another measure placed thousands of people in massive internment camps, supposedly for “containment,” with an obvious risk of contagion from overcrowding and unhealthy conditions. Due to the measure’s illegal and arbitrary nature, writs of habeas corpus were filed with the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber on behalf of people who had been arrested on the pretext of violating quarantine and jailed like common criminals. The Court’s ruling prohibited the President and security forces from using forced internment to deprive people of liberty if there was no evidence that they showed symptoms or were a risk to others. The resolution allowed the President to paint the Chamber as one of “the same old crowd” who keep him from acting. He also accused the justices of wanting to commit “genocide.”

The pandemic led the President to demand the power to govern via executive decrees, even though these rank beneath subsidiary laws and the Constitution. Confronting legal brakes on its intentions, the executive branch issued new decrees that the Chamber considered unconstitutional.

Since the President incessantly complained that the Chamber wasn’t letting him fight the pandemic, it responded that the health code permitted the issuing of health protocols to combat it, provided that fundamental rights were neither limited nor suspended. The Court further reminded him that any legislation was the responsibility of the Legislative Assembly.

On one of the more virulent radio and television outlets Bukele used for railing against “friends of the virus” and “enemies of the people”—covering by turn other branches of government, social organizations, universities and the medical and scientific community—he spoke threateningly of how “he would have brought all the justices before the firing squad if he were really a dictator: saving a thousand lives in exchange for five.” He called legislators “criminals” and refused to obey the legal rulings ordering collaboration among government authorities to respond to the health crisis. The pandemic was the perfect stage for bringing the friend–enemy framework of his narrative strategy to a head.

Stemming from the crisis that followed prolonged lockdown in a country where most people work in the informal sector, the government began the not-so-transparent purchase of tons of food from abroad, on such a scale that it threatened the country’s already weakened food sovereignty. Like other government purchases made irregularly, this massive importation took place evading all controls. The distribution of the food was militarized, and since the electoral campaign was already underway, it was also used as propaganda for government party candidates.


Up against huge challenges


In such a panorama, not only the opposition but also critical social forces promoting diverse causes involving resistance and struggle face enormous challenges. Ecological movements are up against a predatory administration that issues irresponsible environmental permits “because development cannot be stopped.” Feminists decry a ruling party full of open misogynists. Journalists face an enormous propaganda apparatus and recurrent restrictions on the exercise of independent journalism.

With respect to the real economic powers, their relationship with the government may change. The Executive sent one well-known businessman the State's entire institutional apparatus—labor, health and others—to intimidate him. Another has been defined as financing the opposition and even foreign newspapers critical of Bukele. Other big businessmen prefer to remain silent and continue doing business. Representatives of lineages that have considered themselves the country's owners even met directly with Bukele during the pandemic without the intermediation of business chambers or associations, following the traditional “door latch policy” of direct access to the ruler.

Major real estate brokers and the agricultural industry will continue their unfettered destruction of the environment. Global corporations and other foreign investors have little to worry about in this paradise of cheap labor and tax evasion. If conditions turn unfavorable, they will suspend their operations and leave, like the sweatshops that have closed overnight with no repercussions, leaving empty handed those who provided their labor to generate profits.


And Washington?


The role of the United States remains to be seen. Bukele has shown himself to be an unconditional ally of Donald Trump. Like other Central American autocrats, he followed orders and militarized the border to avoid emigration. Although the Democrats have expressed concerns over El Salvador and Joe Biden has suspended the Safe Third Country Agreement, the Salvadoran President has spurned letters from Democratic senators. Moreover, he gave an interview to an extreme rightwing journalist from Fox News, the outlet that unconditionally supported Trump during his term in office.

So far, Washington seems to be continuing its hard line on its interests in migration and security. Biden has already said, “I have clearly told them not to come.” Salvadoran military personnel arrested a group of people at the border to send a message to the new administration. The US Embassy took the opportunity to state that “we continue to work with El Salvador so that the Salvadoran people may build their future in their own country.” Military cooperation may continue to flow under the pretext of the war on drugs, and the machinery of repression may be strengthened with some extra dollars for “soft power” programs.


A long authoritarian night?


The Bukele regime came out of the elections emboldened, and the new government has been blessed by both the Organization of American States and other lovers of procedural forms of democracy. But the country faces a future marked by deep crises: social, economic, fiscal, water- and food-related...

With absolute political power and a full margin for maneuver in any decision, it will be difficult to blame the opposition for hampering the government. However, it would seem that the strategy of permanently stoking conflict and creating real or invented threats is inherent to politicians like Bukele.

Will he manage to impose his agenda in the midst of national and international structural constraints? Who will be the new enemies? Will he hold on to power? Are we on the threshold of a long authoritarian night? Will other viable democratic and social alternatives emerge in the short or medium term? Right now, there are more questions than answers.



Danilo Miranda is a political analyst and professor in the Political Science Department of El Salvador’s José Simeón Cañas Central American University.

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