Nayib Bukele, the President of El Salvador is on the brink of implementing a new security plan that will weaken the world’s most violent gangs and clean up government corruption, both of which were caught to be secretly working together. In 2019, dirty politicians were found to have been giving money to finance gang organizations in El Salvador.
Troops In Parliament: The news media is botching this story. It’s unfathomable and downright shameful how much false and incomplete information is being spread by news sources about what is happening in El Salvador.
I live in El Salvador. I can see how much foreign news media are sensationalizing this and omitting key details. Want the short version?
Here’s a Brief Summary: The crooked political opponents of the sitting president were caught financing gang activity. The president is trying to shut down the gangs. His political opponents don’t want that to happen so they ignored the vote on the Presidents new security plan. Civilians and soldiers went to the parliament building to show their support and stand in solidarity with the President and with the people of El Salvador.
That’s the recap. Want the whole story? Keep reading…
Opposing Politicians Are Resisting His New Policy: “The Plan of Territory Control”
Gangs in El Salvador work by taking control of certain territories of a city. The President’s Plan of Territory Control is designed to combat gang activity by placing well armed military personnel in strategic areas throughout the city. The idea is that these armed forces will prevent a significant amount of gang extortion, which will cut off the gangs main source of income.
The people of the country desperately want this. They’re tired of being extorted and disenfranchised by the gangs. Their family members disappear when they don’t pay extortion fees to the gangs. Sadly, extortion and human trafficking are so common in El Salvador that it has become a way of life here.
Bukele’s policy also will place very strict measures on inmates in prison to prevent communication with gang-members that outside of the prisons. Imprisoned gang leaders order up to 80% of the “hits” that happened outside of the prison walls. Gangs will lose a lot of their strength if they cannot communicate.
Now a little history…
To Understand What’s Currently Happening, You Must Understand The (Recent) Past
The recent past is critical to understanding the current state of El Salvador. It explains how the gangs and crooked politicians worked together and why the president has significant support now.
A crash-course on history…
Three Presidencies ago, in 2012, the government of El Salvador formed a pact with the gangs. This pact was known as “The Truce” in El Salvador. The goal was to stop crime and agree to a cease fire between all sides: gang vs gang and gang vs police. Incredibly, it worked. Violence fell.
Dirty politics got involved…
However, as the 2014 Presidential elections approached, things got dirty quickly. The two major political parties in El Salvador, the political Left (FLMN) and the Right (ARENA), were secretly giving money to the gangs in order to receive electoral votes.
Additionally, they promised future benefits to the gangs to incentivize support: more money, lax criminal laws and more comfortable prison conditions for locked up gang-members.
The gangs grew in size and power
Literally, the dirty politicians were financing the growth of these gangs. It was highly illegal and the public was completely unaware of it.
As the gangs obtained more power, the Truce inevitably failed and all hell broke loose. El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world in 2015. Gangs were murdering everyone: other gang members, innocent civilians, police, military, everybody.
Gangs controlled all of the city blocks of each city in El Salvador, including the capital city San Salvador.
The New President Is Elected
June 1st, 2019: The new independent President, Nayib Bukele, is elected. The people were tired of the crime. The past presidents, four out of the last five presidents, stole millions of dollars from public coffers. So, the people vote for an independent President and miraculously…he wins.
The President has a hard-line stance against gangs. No more games. A few months later, in October of 2019, some gang members came forward to speak as witnesses about the secrets behind the failed Truce agreement in exchange for police protection from the gangs.
In their testimonies, the witnesses opened pandora’s box and spilled the details about everything, including private meetings, the black suitcases of cash that were given to gangs and who was involved. The jaw-dropping news was released to the public and the people of El Salvador exploded with anger against the two previous political parties. That further solidified their support for the new gang-fighting president.
They negotiated with the blood of our people. A thousand times damnit.Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador
Soldiers At the Parliament Building
Fast forward to today…
The new “Plan of Territory Control” will cost a lot of money. In fact, it will cost $109 Million. That money will purchase military rifles, ammunition, electronics, an equipped helicopter, software to track violent activity and everything else that’s necessary to combat the gangs in the cities. Right now El Salvador doesn’t have sufficient resources to perform forensic investigations or DNA analysis. Keep in mind, the gangs themselves are militarized after having received millions of dollars from filthy politicians.
February 9, 2020 – President Bukele called for a legislative session to hold a vote for the $109 Million military loan that’s necessary to purchase combat equipment for investigators, police and military. He requests that the deputies (administers) of the legislative assembly show up to vote. However, the deputies that oppose his plan ignored the vote.
FLMN, the leftist political party in El Salvador puts up the most resistance, even complaining to Human Rights groups. They ask if it’s unconstitutional for the President to order a vote. The presidents response:
“Is it unconstitutional that we convene? The ones who are unconstitutional are the criminals who paid the gangs. Those who are unconstitutional are those scoundrels who did not come to the meeting.”Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador – February 9, 2020
When the vote could not happen, Bukele expressed frustration.
Top military commanders and the National Police expressed their support for the president by positioning security forces around the legislative building. This was perceived differently to different people, depending on what you read in the news. Some argue it was for his protection, others argue it was to assert dominance and others claim that it was a threat.
Bukele gave an ultimatum to the absent deputies: They have a week to return and vote for the loan.
“If these scoundrels do not approve the Territorial Control Plan we will summon them again on Sunday. These scoundrels do not want to work for the people. One week we will give them. ”Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador – February 9, 2020
The security plan is vital to the success of eliminating the gangs. His efforts to reduce gang violence has helped, but the gang members are hiding. With their military grade semi-automatic rifles and influence over corrupt politicians, another wave of gang violence is inevitable if the president doesn’t get the tools he needs.
President Bukele claimed that an insurrection is possible if the security plan does not pass, even going as far to prompt people to prepare for one for the next voting date in one week.
Insurrections are legal. They’re protected by the Constitution:
“The right of the people to insurrection is recognized, for the sole object of reestablishing constitutional order altered by the transgression of the norms relative to the form of government or to the political system established, or for serious violations of the rights consecrated in this Constitution.”Article 87, El Salvador Constitution
When the soldiers entered the legislative building, some people became nervous and called the action shameless and threatening. Some claim that it was an abuse of power and speculate that it was an attempt at taking complete control of the three bodies of government. Human Rights groups had mixed responses because they recognize the complexity of the situation. News media botched the news with click-bait headlines.
Why would his opposition resist a vote?
If his opponents disagree with his policy, they can just vote “no”, right? Yes, but that’s political suicide. Nearly 97% of the people of El Salvador want Bukele’s new security plan to be implemented. He has strong support. Therefore, if these politicians don’t vote “yes”, they’ll be political outcasts, as most of them already are. Therefore it’s a political maneuver for self-preservation to simply avoid the vote altogether.
Those deputies that skipped the vote are already being demonized by the people. Citizens of El Salvador are blowing up social media, claiming that the representatives “aren’t doing their job” and that they “negotiate with the blood of the people for profit and power”. They’re not wrong.
But doesn’t everybody want the violence to end?
The corrupt politicians benefit greatly from the focus being on the gangs. As the violence continues, the greedy politicians are more easily able to ransack public coffers to enrich themselves and their cronies. If the violence ends, so does the ability to steal government money.
Time and time again FMLN and ARENA have claimed they will fight the gangs. But in unusual circumstances they always seem to fail miserably. Nothing changes when they are in power. Then later, they got busted for stealing millions from the government.
Finally, the new president in office is actually fighting the gangs. It’s noticeable. It’s refreshing. Homicide rates are falling. But the corrupt fat wealthy politicians that were previously suckling at the government tit are getting nervous. Their golden goose is in threat of no longer laying eggs for them. They don’t want to end corruption and they don’t want to end gang violence. Both are heavily dependent on each other.
I sound frustrated in writing this because I am frustrated. The brave citizens of El Salvador don’t deserve this. I see the way that they live and I see their struggle. El Salvador is a second-world nation because of corruptions and violence. It’s disgusting and it must stop.
The Poor Coverage of English-Speaking Media
This entire topic is complex. It’s not possible to cover the story in a single headline or a brief news article. I cringe when I see news headlines reducing this to a power grab or saying this was an attack on democracy. There was no coup. The constitution is still in perfect order.
These are lives we’re talking about. This isn’t some fun game of checkers like it often is in Washington DC. Nayib Bukele, thepresident of El Salvador, is up against what the US Government has classified the gangs as a terrorist organization.
Salvadorans are dying and disappearing. Police are living under constant threats. It’s easy for foreigners to criticize El Salvador from a distance. However, they don’t understand life here. You can’t “get it” by reading the news. It’s better to read the history.
The culture is different. The imprudent and reckless foreign news companies will undoubtedly cost El Salvador more innocent lives if they continue to sensationalize the news. Doing so distracts from the importance of fighting gang violence, which is the most important priority at the moment.
The violent gangs and corrupt politicians here are benefitting every time that a careless news source publishes a click-bait article. It must be nice to sit in a comfortable corporate ergonomic chair 3,000+ miles away, write about the preservation of democracy, while two more innocent children just disappeared because their parents couldn’t afford extortion fees.
President Nayib Bukele is Independent, Not Left Nor Right
Although I’ve read laughable headlines of President Bukele being both left-wing and right-wing, he cannot be labeled as either. Sorry identity politics…you have no place here at this table.
The people of El Salvador voted for the President in 2019’s elections exactly for the reason that he’s not Left (FLMN), nor Right (ARENA). Both FLMN and ARENA have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars and blatantly abused their positions of power in the recent past. The people are finished with them. Therefore, they voted for an independent.
My Opinion Summary
I support the people of El Salvador. The people, all people in El Salvador, deserve to live without violence. It might take some unexpected circumstances to make that happen, as it already has.
Living here in El Salvador, I see how the gang violence affects the lives of everyday people. There’s a story to be heard from every tragedy that happens here. Similarly, I see the lack of resources and development, the result of hundreds of millions of dollars disappearing that should have otherwise been invested into the country.
The key focus of all of this entire story needs to be on two things:
- What the citizens of El Salvador want.
- How to put an end to gang control over the country.
Foreigners can’t grasp what it’s like to live in terror on a daily basis for the entirety of their life. It has a psychological effect that are not immediately obvious. It affect’s their eduction, their community involvement, their general trust in others, their marriages, cognitive abilities, not to mention their happiness. Happiness comes in short supply here.
The people want the president to do what is necessary to end gang violence. That is their number one priority.
Did soldiers “storm” the parliament building? No, nobody stormed anything and there was no standoff. This isn’t a Rambo movie. The military went to the Legislative Palace in order to show their support and offer protection. It’s fascinating for me to see how CNN and Washington Post are sensationalizing this. They’re definitely playing into foreigner’s notions of guerrilla warfare that happened back in the 1980-90’s. Shameful.
Is this a coup? The president does not control the entire government. Although his actions could be perceived as a threat of a coup, he has made decisions slowly and methodically in order to end violence. Importantly, the people give him overwhelming support because they want him to end gang violence. Finally, if he wanted a coup, he would have succeeded. But he doesn’t. His is goal is to end violence and his opposition doesn’t want that.
Is he a dictator? No. The gangs currently run the country using violence. The president needs support and resources to change that. As with any politician, if he is granted too much power there is the possibility he could abuse his position and become a dictator.
Is this a power grab? The president needs to be able to carry out the will of the people. He cannot do that currently. Frankly, even if it were a power grab, I’d argue that it’s better to have an elected president in power, rather than the gangs that dominate the country by violence.
Is El Salvador a banana republic? It depends on which definition you use. I do not consider El Salvador to be a banana republic. The country has a constitution, fair elections, and relies on various forms of productivity to achieve economic growth (as opposed to just raw resource extraction). El Salvador was more like a banana republic back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Things have changed considerably since then.
Thank you for reading. Please let me know if you have anything specific you’d like me to add or discuss.