At the beginning of the year, when a shocking security crisis focused the eyes of the world on Ecuador, the president of that country, Daniel Noboa, was quick to promise changes inspired by the Bukele model. Heavy hand, mega prisons and everything related to the fight against crime has become almost a trademark of Nayib Bukelethe Salvadoran leader whose figure is synonymous with security among various sectors of the region and who owes, precisely to that, his imminent re-election in today’s elections in El Salvador.
Bukele, 42, does not need to give grandiose speeches or wear a tie – he did not do so even at the UN General Assembly, where, however, he did take a ‘selfie’ – to be sure of his leadership. This ‘millennial’ president has successfully taken advantage of new communication platforms to get closer to his followers and celebrate his achievements. The most important of them is the drastic reduction in the number of homicides and its relentless fight against gangs throughout the country. So that there is no doubt, he built the largest prison in Latin America, which has just turned one year old and is already seeking to be copied by other states.
With the support of 90% of Salvadorans, Bukele, a former advertising manager of Palestinian origin, not only has no political rival in El Salvador, but is the most popular president in Latin America according to Latinobarómetro 2023. The fascination around his figure It has been built largely by himself through marketing and political actions, a strategy that has managed to minimize the criticism that weighs on him for how he has consolidated his feat against crime and his continuity in power.
“From the beginning we have seen a tremendous investment in image issues, not only inside, but also outside the country. Bukele has shown himself to be a ‘millennial’ politician and has been a great strategist in terms of marketing. He took advantage of the advancement of information technologies, with much more interactive social networks. He has felt like a fish in water, it is his time. “He has been able to go so far,” Fernando Romero, Salvadoran journalist for the magazine “Factum,” tells El Comercio.
Although Bukele’s victory is expected to be resounding, his nomination is, to say the least, quite controversial. The Constitution of El Salvador prohibits presidents from seeking a consecutive term. This changed in 2021, when the president’s party, which by then was already the majority in the Legislative Assembly, replaced the main judges of the Supreme Court, who subsequently reinterpreted the Constitution to allow him to run again.
- 2.7 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants El Salvador registered in 2023. In 2015, the rate was 103.
- 75,000 people They have been detained during the state of emergency that has been in force since the end of March 2022. They have been accused of being gang members or collaborators.
But Bukele does not pay attention to those who say that his second term will be illegal. The “coolest dictator in the world,” as he calls himself, has made it clear that his biggest priority now is to show the planet a “new El Salvador,” which, led by him, is leaving behind the seal of a violent country that it maintained. for years.
To achieve this, Bukele wants to turn the country into a technological center through the implementation of measures that encourage innovation and attract companies and start-ups. He promoted the adoption of the bitcoin cryptocurrency as currency and, although it has not exactly been a success, it achieved great debate on the topic.
The president also inaugurated a new national library donated by China, defined by his government as the most modern and largest in the region. In more entertaining events, El Salvador has hosted international figures such as soccer star Lionel Messi to play a preseason match, and hosted the Miss Universe pageant, which, in Bukele’s words, showed that El Salvador “has changed forever”.
However, Romero warns that, although El Salvador is a country with fewer gangs on the streets, it is very bold to talk about a new nation. “Bukele has played with the image that thanks to security we can have the events we have now, but El Salvador has celebrated great events even in the midst of bullets and war. We continue to be a violent society. Homicides have decreased, but crime rates in other types of crimes continue,” the journalist points out.
Risks and fears
The Bukele phenomenon has serious questions about the way in which the president has achieved his objectives. The country has been under a state of emergency since the end of March 2022, and has launched a campaign of mass arrests without due process and with violations of human rights, according to various organizations specializing in the subject.
This, added to the questions about his re-election, has caused experts and critics of the government to denounce Bukele’s authoritarian practices, among which is the lack of transparency. Eliezer Budasoff, director of Development of New Podcasts at Radio Ambulante Studios and co-producer of the series “Bukele: the lord of dreams”, remembers that there are official documents that confirm that the president managed to reduce homicides through a negotiation with the structures criminals, something that the Executive does not recognize.
“With the war against gangs, to which he owes most of his popularity, what Bukele has done is put the entire country under a police state. The concern is that in fact there is not a single limit to Bukele’s power, there are no control mechanisms,” he warns.
For Romero, the new period “will be the continuation of a completely authoritarian government.” “On Sunday night, when we know that Bukele was unconstitutionally re-elected, we are going to enter the tunnel of a formal dictatorship. The structure of the 20th century dictatorship, one that can only be military, is left behind. Today we have dictatorial governments that seize power through democracy to put an end to it,” he concludes.