In the first session of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly, elected by a ruling majority in February, the dismissal of the five justices of the Constitutional Chamber of the country’s Supreme Court was approved. The episode occurred on Saturday afternoon (1st) and is an institutional breakthrough that had already been suggested by right-wing President Nayib Bukele, who has ruled the country since 2019.
Judges dismissed by Congress have been accused of “turning the court into a superpower” by overturning measures the executive was planning to put in place with regard to health restrictions.
Composed of five judges, the Constitutional Chamber is one of the four that make up the Supreme Court and rules on actions of unconstitutionality, habeas corpus and controversies between the legislature and the executive. Its members had been appointed by the previous parliament, with an opposing majority. The Constitution also allows Congress to remove members of the tribunal for “specific causes, previously established by law.”
Bukele had previously been accused by international organizations, such as the NGO Human Rights Watch, of having committed human rights violations in the quarantines where the army was used and in the establishment of containment centers. for the containment of the coronavirus in which Salvadorans remained indefinitely and not they received the necessary care.
Independent press, such as the digital daily “El Faro”, had reported using quarantines to contain protests against the government – which has taken legal action against “El Faro” and other media critical for Bukele.
This is not the first time that the executive has moved ahead of other powers. In February 2020, Bukele himself invaded Parliament and sat in the chair of the head of the house. It was a symbolic act of fear. Shortly after, he retired. The case, however, was the subject of demonstrations of internal and external rejection.
In the February parliamentary elections, Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas, won a majority in the House. The president is extremely popular, as he appeared in a moment of emptiness and fatigue from traditional politics, represented by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the political arm of the former left guerrilla and arena curator (Aliança Republicana Nacionalista). By a majority, the vote to expel the judges from the court, the first act of Congress when it took office, received 64 votes from the 84 deputies.
The judges said, in response, that the measure was unconstitutional. “It is a dismissal which is not preceded by the necessary guarantees of process and it is a measure of pressure from the executive.”
In a recent national broadcaster speech, Bukele said that, if he was a dictator, “he would have everyone shot”, and that this would not happen in his administration because the Constitution would be respected. He said, however, that the obstacles judges have placed in their coronavirus policy have made judges “killers of thousands of Salvadorans.”
The United States condemned the executive’s maneuver. State Department’s Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs Acting Under-Secretary Julie Chang issued a statement: “We are appalled by the Assembly’s proposal to remove the five magistrates from the constitutional chamber, an independent judiciary is the basis of democracy, not democracy. can live without it. ”He added,“ A strong relationship between the United States and El Salvador will depend on whether the government of El Salvador supports the separation of powers and maintains democratic rules. ”
Via Twitter, Juan González, the United States’ senior adviser for the region, said: “This is not the way to do things,” reacting to a tweet from José Miguel Vivanco, director for the region. Americas to Human Rights Watch, who said, “Bukele breaks with the rule of law and seeks to concentrate all power in his hands.”
On the same Saturday evening, the Salvadoran Congress has already chosen a new president of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice, Óscar López Jeréz, a name close to Bukele. The other elected officials, also aligned with the executive, were announced during the night.