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The El Salvador diaries: The cult of Nayib Bukele | Politics


On August 2, El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele – whose Twitter profile has advanced from “formally the good president on the planet” to the “coolest dictator on the planet” to simply “El Presidente” – took to his favorite social media platform to announce that El Salvador had gone from being the “most harmful nation on the planet to the most secure nation in Latin America”.

Accompanying the tweet was the hashtag #GuerraContraPandillas – “conflict on gangs” – and a statistics chart from the Salvadoran Nationwide Civilian Police indicating that, on August 1, there had allegedly been zero homicides nationwide.

Granted, the nation is just not very “secure” for the casualties of the conflict on gangs which is presently being waged within the context of a state of emergency imposed on the finish of March in response to a spike in gang killings. The spike was occasioned by a breakdown in secret negotiations between the Bukele administration and the Salvadoran gangs – for which underhanded enterprise Bukele assumed the codename “Batman”.

Now our superhero goes after the identical of us he was negotiating with – and a great deal of others as effectively. As of July 20, when the state of emergency was prolonged for the fourth time, 46,000 individuals – lots of them having nothing to do with gangs – had been imprisoned in ghastly situations. Some 63 individuals had reportedly died in state custody. In keeping with the investigative web site The Intercept, “an estimated 2 p.c of adults” are behind bars in El Salvador, apparently placing the diminutive nation forward of the USA when it comes to per capita incarceration – no small feat certainly.

From his Twitter podium, Bukele ceaselessly and gleefully ridicules the very idea of human rights – and anybody who helps these rights – all of which would appear to counsel that, ultimately, none of that is actually about gangs in any respect. It’s, moderately, an all-out conflict on society.

And but Batman continues to command sky-high approval scores from the society underneath siege, which simply goes to underscore the perks of operating a rustic like your very personal cult.

A former promoting government, the 41-year-old Bukele has definitely proved savvy at self-marketing. Expelled in 2017 from the Farabundo Martí Nationwide Liberation Entrance (FMLN) – one of many two principal political events that had dominated the Salvadoran panorama because the finish of the bloody 12-year civil conflict in 1992 – Bukele went on to discovered Nuevas Concepts or “New Concepts”, a welcome premise in a nation exhausted by violence and political disillusionment.

By no means thoughts that the principle “thought” behind Bukele’s personal political machinations is whole private management – and that right-wing authoritarianism is hardly something “new”, even when it’s carried out by the world’s “coolest dictator” sporting a baseball cap worn backwards.

After assuming the presidency in 2019, Bukele busied himself exhibiting everybody who was boss and shelling out with annoying democratic obstacles to unfettered rule. In February 2020, he deployed army and police forces contained in the Salvadoran parliament constructing as a part of a risk to dissolve the nation’s legislative physique if politicians refused to do what he wished. In Could 2021, he orchestrated the dismissal of all 5 Supreme Courtroom judges in addition to El Salvador’s legal professional common.

And as was the case with former tweeter-in-chief Donald Trump – whom Bukele as soon as praised as “very good and funky” – Twitter has served as a helpful venue for every little thing from narcissistic proselytism to unhinged tirades to bombastic troop rallying. In April 2020, within the midst of El Salvador’s asphyxiating coronavirus lockdown, Bukele unleashed a tweet authorising troopers and police to utilise “deadly drive … in self-defence or in defence of the lives of Salvadorans” – primarily a inexperienced gentle to kill anybody at any time.

A lot for the lives of Salvadorans.

Along with Twitter, God has been a stable ally within the propagation of the cult of Bukele – regardless of his capitalised insistence in a 2019 Fb put up that “I AM NOT A RELIGIOUS PERSON”. El Salvador being the closely non secular nation that it’s, it didn’t take lengthy for Bukele to capitalise on religious devotion, as effectively, and he now makes some extent of praying ostentatiously and speaking to God.

An in-depth profile of Bukele by the Salvadoran investigative information outlet El Faro – titled How Bukele Crafted a Greatest-Promoting Political Model – gives some charming glimpses of the trajectory of a personality whose first presidential actions included a late-night tweet “that each one residents within the nation ought to fall asleep”. In keeping with El Faro, 20 years earlier than assuming the presidency, Bukele selected none apart from “Class terrorist” because the caption for his highschool senior yearbook picture – reportedly a reference to an “incident upon his return from a household journey, when Salvadoran customs officers had stopped the Bukeles due to their Arabic final identify” after the 1998 al-Qaeda assaults on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Quick ahead 20 years to Bukele’s existential combat in opposition to gang-member “terrorists” – learn: impoverished Salvadorans and anybody else caught within the crossfire- and one wonders whether or not he ever thinks again to that household journey.

In fact, there may be not a lot time for self-reflection in conflict – particularly when you’ve got tens of 1000’s of individuals to place in jail and a false narrative of good-versus-evil with which to forcibly supplant actuality. Shortly after the launch of the state of emergency in March, I arrived in San Salvador for a one-month keep, and spoke through WhatsApp with Zaira Navas, a human rights lawyer for the organisation Cristosal and a former inspector common with the Salvadoran Nationwide Civilian Police.

Navas credited a heavily-funded “media marketing campaign” with ably “promoting the [government’s] message” and inspiring “fanaticism” among the many inhabitants, such that “anybody against or important” of the Bukele administration “is taken into account to be an enemy”. To make sure, dissemination of the Bukelian narrative is considerably facilitated by the growing criminalisation of non-obsequious media and the de facto growth of the “terrorist” label to incorporate important journalists.

Throughout my time within the nation, I additionally fell unintentionally into dialog with a younger man who had labored at a morgue within the Salvadoran capital for the previous eight years, and who politely happy my curiosity about what it was prefer to work in a Salvadoran morgue and the way lengthy it had taken him to regain his pre-morgue urge for food and sleeping patterns.

We then moved on to the topic of the pandemic, which, he stated, had killed far more Salvadorans than the federal government claimed – whilst Bukele continues to pat himself on the again for his supposedly exemplary dealing with of the disaster. And because the Salvadoran Ministry of Well being has conveniently banned the discharge of related coronavirus statistics, in the meanwhile, there isn’t any hazard that the reality will rain on Bukele’s pandemic parade anytime quickly.

With reference to the state of emergency, my interlocutor – who on account of his age and look was simply as seemingly as anybody to be swept up within the incarceration frenzy – was one hundred pc in favour of it. Positive, he stated, it was an infinite ache to be persistently harassed by the police, who had been eternally stopping him to ask for his ID and examine his automobile – “even underneath the ground mats” – however such emergency measures had been in the end essential to purge El Salvador of the “plague” of gang members, who “shouldn’t have human rights”.

In the meantime, as Salvadorans sacrifice their rights and liberties to Bukele’s megalomania and residents disappear en masse behind bars – lots of them eternally – the president proceeds together with his “new thought” of driving the nation into ever deeper financial calamity underneath the guise of cultivating a flashy Bitcoin paradise.

Documenting how Bitcoin “rode in with waves of repression” to carry the alternative of “prosperity” to El Salvador, The Intercept notes: “Bukele brags on Twitter that he buys Bitcoin, utilizing the state treasury, on his cellphone whereas sitting on the bathroom”.

And because the state of emergency heads for its five-month anniversary, possibly it’s time somebody took Bukele’s cellphone away.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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