His 39 years, slicked back hair, casual attire and an addiction to Twitter – where he orders the dismissal of employees or communicates executive orders – could take him for an amateur.
But El Salvador’s center-right president Nayib Bukele knows what he’s doing. He had a brilliant political career.
He began to be elected in 2012 mayor of a small town, Nuevo Cusclatán. In 2015, he won the mayoralty of the capital, San Salvador. And in 2018, he founded the Novas Ideias party, an election platform that helped him, despite competing for the Ghanaian party to win the 2019 presidential elections.
Elected in a democracy in difficulty, he manages in less than two years to subjugate the other two branches of government. This year, Bukele is preparing to constitutionalize his government’s authoritarian drift when it unveils its constitutional reform project in September.
Critics fear that Bukele will seek to strengthen the authority of the executive and try to retain power beyond 2024, when his five-year term expires.
The dismantling of Salvadoran democracy has been systematic and dizzying.
Just as Hugo Chávez broke with the bipartisanship of Copei and Acción Democrática by winning the 1998 presidential elections in Venezuela, Bukele broke with the duopoly held by Arena on the right and the FMLN on the left since the 1992 peace accords.
In Venezuela as in El Salvador, the party system was discredited and the winning candidates created parties centered on their personality, presenting themselves as “outsiders” who promised to bury corruption and the oligarchies that supported it.
Since then, Bukele has not failed to commit a long list of outrages against his opponents, be they individuals, organizations or institutions.
His feints of democratic rules and practices evoke the legendary watermarks of “Mágico González”, the legendary Salvadoran footballer, in Cadiz in the 1980s.
According to Freedom House, in 2019, El Salvador went from “free” to “partially free”. This year, Bukele could establish himself as a dictator.
The young president remarkably consolidated his power when Novas Ideias won the February 28 elections and won two-thirds of the Legislative Assembly, winning 56 of 84 seats.
Added to the allied parties Ghana, PCN and PDC, eight legislative seats are added to the government, which allows it to legislate without opposition.
On its first day of session, the new legislature sacked judges from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General, allowing the government to control the judiciary.
In addition to subordinating the three branches of government, Bukele politicized the army and the police.
Just remember that in February 2020, he surrounded the access roads to the Legislative Palace with the police and entered the building with armed soldiers to intimidate the deputies and get them to approve a loan request to finance his plan of public security.
In a depiction of him, during the robbery, he calmly sat in the chair of the Speaker of the Legislature and said, “It is clear who is in control here.” Then he prayed and silently withdrew. Like a real bastard.
Bukele’s ability to bend wills and subdue institutions is based on his popularity.
Despite criticism from the domestic and international press, he is extraordinarily popular – as is Chavez, especially in his early authoritarian strides – and has garnered approval ratings of over 90% for most of his tenure.
The step Bukele needs now is to constitutionalize his tropical-tuitero despotism, something he already has a project for which is slated to open in September (provided the authoritarian itch doesn’t precipitate him).
In the same month of 2020, the government announced a commission headed by Vice-President Félix Ulloa to work out a draft constitutional reform.
Although the government has assured that the objective is to update and improve the current Constitution, excluding “to eliminate alternation in the exercise of the Presidency of the Republic”, journalists, academics, politicians and leaders civil society fear that Bukele the Constitution to consolidate his power and revoke Article 258 to be reelected to the presidential seat.
a traditional millennium
Although Bukele was elected at only 37, the millennium embraces a centuries-old tradition.
A considerable portion of Latin American government leaders who have left their mark since the twentieth century have manipulated constitutions to meet their authoritarian needs.
They have bypassed, suspended, reformed, or replaced to increase the president’s powers, stay in power longer, or both.
Such emblematic leaders as Juan Domingo Perón and Carlos Menem from Argentina, Evo Morales and Victor Paz Estenssoro from Bolivia, the Somoza dynasty and Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua, Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Hugo Chávez from Venezuela, Alberto Fujimori from Peru and Rafael Correa from Ecuador, to name a few, has managed to extend its mandate.
In Bukele’s homeland, Salvador Castañeda tried to extend his term in 1948, but was expelled in a military coup.
In any case, the list is long. From the data I gathered from both presidential biographies and national constitutions, between 1945 and 2012, 31 presidents from all Latin American countries (except Mexico) and from all political regimes – democracies , semi-democracies and dictatorships – have attempted 40 times to change or reinterpret the Constitution to remain in power beyond his term. They were successful 29 times.
What can you expect?
Predicting events is risky. Massive protests or internal betrayals can always change the course of an authoritarian government.
But the way is clear for Bukele this year to turn El Salvador from a semi-democracy to a dictatorship, as it was until 1992.
In El Salvador, no institution or organization has the apparent capacity to stop it.
The United States appears unwilling to move beyond diplomatic pressure, the OAS (Organization of American States) is steadfast in its inability to prevent authoritarian regressions, and other governments in the region escape sovereign interference .
One of the big questions is whether El Salvador will export authoritarianism to Guatemala and Honduras, the two semi-democracies with which the country shares porous borders, right-wing presidents with authoritarian tendencies and high-level politicians involved. in corruption.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima