Nayib Bukele turns three years in power in El Salvador this Wednesday waging their frontal “war” on the gangs and the reduction of violence as the main achievement of his government, a plan that has earned him popular support but also strong criticism.
The fight against gang violence of the 40-year-old millennial, avid user of social networks, has an approval of 91% of the population, according to a Cid Gallup poll.
El Salvador, with some 70,000 gang members, is struggling to escape from the list of the countries with the most homicides in the world.
After the murder of 87 people in the country from March 25 to 27Bukele decreed a state of exception that has been extended.
Bukele’s “war” put thousands of soldiers to patrol the streets and has led to jail in the last two months without judicial order to 35,000 presumed members of the “maras”which are added to 16,000 more who were already in prison.
In March, a group of alleged gang members captured by the police. AFP photo
“The emergency regime is a bold actionit is necessary in the face of a complicated phenomenon such as gangs,” said political analyst Dagoberto Gutiérrez, vice-rector of the Salvadoran Lutheran University.
The government’s actions on the security issue “can be seen as bitter medicine, but necessary,” he added.
For the criminologist Ricardo Sosa, the Bukele government has taken action against the gangs “thatare making an impact in its damage capacity.
The specialist indicated that despite the fact that the gangs are currently “disbanded or hiding,” they won’t go away short term.
The war against the gangs is well seen by the population: for the Jesuit Central American University (UCA) “eight out of ten Salvadorans” support it.
According to official figures in 2021 there were 1,147 homicides, against 1,341 in 2020 and 2,398 in 2019. According to Bukele, the sharp drop is due to his territorial control plan. Critics denounce alleged government negotiations with gangs, although the government denies this.
A soldier patrols the streets of El Salvador. AFP photo
Some are uneasy with what they describe as a growing authoritarianism of Bukeleand the United States and international organizations have called on him to respect human rights after complaints of massive arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of detainees.
In May 2021, with the help of Congress where he has a large majority, the president dismissed the five judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justicethe highest judicial body in the country, fired the attorney general and a third of the 690 Salvadoran judges (all those over 60 or with 30 years of service).
The United States, the UN and the OAS then called on El Salvador to respect human rights and freedom of the press in the fight against gangs.
“It’s been three years where the tone of his government has been authoritarianismattacking the independence of powers to have a government to suit them, without opposition to their actions,” said analyst Eduardo Escobar, director of the Acción Ciudadana association, which carries out social control.
Bukele seeks to finalize a loan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $1.3 billion to clean up the Salvadoran coffers and make a bitcoin bond issue for an amount of 1,000 million dollars a reality.
Bukele and his bet on bitcoin. AFP photo
In September 2021, bitcoin was accepted by its government as legal tender alongside the dollar adopted more than two decades ago.
El Salvador’s public debt is currently around 90% of its GDP.
For the economist Rafael Lemus, the agreement with the IMF is essential but it is taking a long time because the government rejects the conditions that the body asks for.
“What the government does not want is to have IMF standards, which ask for transparency, (that there be) accountability and the fight against corruption,” Lemus said.
The economist estimates that El Salvador is in a situation of “instability” and that there is a risk of “default” on the external debt.
However, Minister Zelaya ruled out a moratorium.
“We are not thinking of falling into default as some prophets of chaos always announce,” Zelaya said, adding that El Salvador is seeking a loan under “the best conditions.”
Bukele’s government also has pending the issuance of bonds in bitcoin equivalent to 1,000 million dollars to build the so-called “Bitcoin City”.