Three years after setting the machinery in motion, Nayib Bukele has consummated a fraud. He had to overthrow the Supreme Court, place his own prosecutor and magistrates, ensure that both the legislature and the Court validated an unconstitutional reelection. The Supreme Electoral magistrates faced imprisonment if they opposed his candidacy, open voting abroad without further controls, and illegally suffocate the opposition.
In the final stretch towards the polls, Bukele, his vice presidential candidate, candidates for deputies, and mayors of his Nuevas Ideas party used state funds for campaigning. From distributing food packages to using state facilities and institutional communication channels in the service of the Governing party. He illegally denied payment of political debt to the opposition and warned businesspeople not to support another party.
It was not necessary for him to do almost any of the latter. His popularity is so high, and the opposition is so lacking in resources as well as credibility, that no one doubted that his candidacy, however unconstitutional, would win the majority vote. Still, he activated all the mechanisms of fraud because that is the nature of the Bukele clan. Not to concede even a single space for another political expression other than his own, even if they had to violate the Constitution, laws, and Electoral Law to do so. After all, their control of the entire state apparatus guarantees them impunity.
Three journalistic investigations published in the last week (proving the government’s negotiations with organized crime; the corruption detected by the extinct Cicíes; and the distribution of credits from a state bank among deputies and officials of this government) fully demonstrate the negligence of the Attorney General and confirm his arrival in that position to protect mafiosos, corrupt individuals, and thieves in the Salvadoran public service. Likewise, to persecute those who represent an obstacle to the concentration of power and impunity of the Bukele clan. We are already in the scenario of a single party serving a dictatorship.
Technically, El Salvador will enter into a dictatorship as of June 1, 2024, when Bukele assumes a second term that is unconstitutional and when there is no longer any institution to prevent him from doing so. In practice, the necessary elements to establish his dictatorship were put in place on May 1, 2021, when his National Assembly staged a coup against the Judiciary and Bukele took control of the entire state apparatus.
We Salvadorans have lost our constitutional rights. First through emergency decrees due to the pandemic and then with the State of Exception that ended all semblance of rule of law. We cannot overlook the fact that we have had elections under such a regime.
The brief, very brief democratic era in Salvadoran history has already ended. Nayib Bukele has inscribed his name in one of the worst Central American political traditions: that of the dictator.
But it is necessary to weigh the fact that, despite the authoritarianism, repression, and corruption of his government, Bukele enjoys the highest popularity for a head of state in Latin America, and the vast majority of Salvadorans want to see him in power for more years. His discourse combating gangs and dismantling their structures have had an effect and have transformed the lives of many citizens who lived in terror under the control of gangs. And so much so that Salvadorans no longer consider security their main concern.
This popularity will not last forever. Especially because now, according to opinion polls, the main concern of Salvadorans is the economy, which this government has left in worse shape.
The coming years only promise to intensify the concentration of power, the patrimonial and personal use of the State, opacity, repression, and punishment. But this has also happened before in our history, although national memory has marginalized democratic heroes. And democracies require democrats, a commodity increasingly scarce in the country. Only a democratic system guarantees equal rights for all, justice, and limits on the exercise of power.
Citizens with a democratic vocation, those who are still capable of being outraged by the criminal plundering of the State or by the thousands of innocent people imprisoned and tortured in the prisons of Bukele, must find a way to channel those vocations, that outrage, and that thirst for justice. And to awaken the consciences of others. A dictatorship is coming. We are called to resist.
*Editorial published in El Faro, El Salvador.
This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.