Bukele’s Miracle Rescue of El Salvador Deserves Credit

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By LatAm Reports Editorial Team

El Salvador has recently gained attention for its political landscape under the leadership of President Nayib Bukele. Bukele has been re-elected in a landslide victory, solidifying his position as the country’s leader. However, his tactics in achieving this victory have been a source of controversy for many members of the media, with some critics claiming that the country has shifted towards a de facto one-party state.

However, what these voices in the media fail to capture is the genuine, overwhelming popularity and approval of this young, dynamic leader, who has achieved a “miracle” in restoring public safety to a country long accustomed to violence, corruption, and crime. This miracle must never be taken for granted – though it is clear that it may be difficult to replicate.

Bukele’s popularity is largely due to his aggressive approach towards combating the country’s gangs and cartels, which has led to a significant reduction in homicide rates. This has created a sense of safety for Salvadorans that was previously unattainable. The recent election saw Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party gain control of the national legislature, further consolidating his power in the region.

A Self-Styled “Philosopher King”

Nayib Bukele, born into a wealthy family with Palestinian roots, was once a youth who hardly had the makings of a right-wing dictator. He dropped out of law school, spent much of his 20s managing nightclubs, and joined FMLN, a left-wing rebel group turned political party. At 34, he was elected mayor of San Salvador on an FMLN ticket, vowing to reclaim dangerous areas from gangs, but was expelled from the party and set up his own.

Bukele’s success has been extraordinary, as before he came to power, El Salvador was one of the world’s most dangerous countries. The streets of the capital, San Salvador, “were filled with corpses”. Yet Bukele’s “courage and determination” has changed all that. In 2018, the homicide rate was 51 per 100,000 people, but last year it was just 2.4 per 100,000, about half the level of the US. Shops no longer have to pay protection money, and people can leave their homes without fear.

Bukele’s political agenda centers around anti-crime policies, and he embarked on his “Territorial Control Plan” to rid El Salvador of the “gang violence and extortion” that was plaguing the country. He was first elected president in 2019 on this platform, and his success in reducing crime has led to high approval ratings.

Bukele has been criticized for his authoritarian tendencies and for undermining democratic institutions and civil liberties. His use of social media and his Twitter account to bypass traditional press outlets has also been a source of controversy. However, Bukele has maintained his popularity and has even gained a supermajority in the legislature, giving him significant power to push through his policies.

Despite concerns about his approach to governance, Bukele has remained popular with many Salvadorans, particularly younger generations. He has embraced cryptocurrency and made Bitcoin legal tender in the country, which has been met with both praise and criticism. Bukele’s landslide victory in the 2021 elections has secured his second term in office, and it remains to be seen how he will navigate the challenges of re-election and opposition from traditional parties, human rights groups, and political opponents.

It is unlikely that Bukele’s approach would work in other Latin American countries, as Salvadoran gangs are not major players in the drug trade and are poorly financed and less well-armed. The collapse of the gangs after the arrests of their foot soldiers is unlikely to happen in countries such as Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, where the cartels are more powerful and better equipped.

While Bukele’s popularity may be envied by other Latin American leaders, a similar approach would likely cause lasting damage to democracy and human rights. It is essential to address gang violence and improve security, but not at the expense of civil liberties and human rights.