Nayib Bukele: Successes and Shortcomings Of The Most Popular President In Latin America

We present a balance of the first three years of government of the Salvadoran president, a controversial character who has given much to talk about .

Nayib Bukele

Photo: TW-nayibbukele

LatinAmerican Post | Luis Angel Hernández Liborio

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Leer en español: Nayib Bukele: aciertos y falencias del mandatario más popular de Latinoamérica

Nayib Bukele celebrated three years as head of the government of El Salvador on June 1, two years after the end of his current term (which could be extended), we present a general balance of his performance as president. Bukele has been a pragmatic president whose actions have given much to talk about in just three years of government with voices for and against, so the Salvadoran president is not a character that can go unnoticed on the international scene.

The sui generis president of social networks and bitcoin

Nayib Bukele was elected president of El Salvador in 2019, the year in which he began his term as ruler. The young president arrived to break schemes not only in his country but throughout the region accustomed to rulers of traditional court and older. Bukele came to government at just 37 years of age, being the youngest in his country to take office and one of the youngest in the world, now surpassed by the Chilean Gabriel Boric. But age is not the only thing in which he has broken schemes, he has shown himself against traditional politics although he was part of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) with whom he broke relations. Perhaps one of his most characteristic features is his perfect use of social networks and the technology with which it came to revolutionize (for better or worse) Salvadoran politics.

This has made him a sui generis , his political positions are often ambiguous, pragmatism seems to be his way of acting. Despite the fact that he shows signs of authoritarianism of dictatorial scope, he has a marked distance from Venezuela, Cuba and its neighbor Nicaragua, whom he considers dictatorships. So Bukele's policy has been oriented to the right. Now, with Biden in government, things are not going well, although the fact that he is not a staunch ally of the Latin American left could keep the doors of Washington open.

His handling of social networks has been compared to that of Donald Trump, that is, governing, applauding or attacking from Twitter. His fondness for technology and an almost influencer government motivated him to establish bitcoin as legal tender in his country, being the first in the world to do so. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the abrupt drop in the value of the digital currency has endangered El Salvador's financial stability and investor confidence, something that Bukele has not yet found a solution to. His experiment could be very expensive for the Central American country and could end dangerously with his high popularity, only in 2022 his government's approval reached 89.9% according to data from the University Institute of Public Opinion of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University.

A controversial fight against crime

For many Bukele is a populist, his way of expressing himself, especially on social networks, seems to bear fruit among the Salvadoran population that still strongly supports him. One of his most applauded actions has been his "hard hand" against organized crime with whom he has waged a difficult war. With tight control over prisons and attacks on the main gangs, one of the most important problems in El Salvador, the president has managed to impose an image of seriousness and professionalism on his government. The use of the Salvadoran Army in many of its actions has been applauded by the population as well as criticized by the opposition, foreign governments and international organizations. But Bukele defends his policy, violence in El Salvador is a historical issue that the president seeks to control with a heavy hand. The pandemic was another of the issues that he firmly faced, which earned him the recognition of the population.

You can also read: Summit of the Americas: Consequences of AMLO's Boycott of Biden

The effect of Bukele in El Salvador and the main indicators

But has Bukele's policy worked? On issues of democracy, respect for the law and the division of powers, the short answer is no. Not only has the Salvadoran opposition been critical of its government, but so have actors as diverse as international organizations, the United States, the European Union, or Cuba. Now, economic and human development indicators are also important to take stock of the Nayib Bukele government. Since the end of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992, which devastated the country's economy and quality of life, El Salvador has been recovering by reducing poverty, although the current administration has stopped this reduction.

Of course, the pandemic is a factor, but also the drop in remittances and tax collection, now inflation is added that will lead 480,000 Salvadorans (7.5% of the population) to join the ranks of poverty that reached in 2020 to 26.2% of the population. El Salvador is the country with the highest rate of people deprived of liberty, thanks to the exceptional regime of President Bukele in just three years, people in prisons have doubled from 36,000 to 70,000, according to data from the Central American University Jose Simeon Canas. Amnesty International has been one of the organizations most critical of Bukele, denouncing that 1.7% of men over the age of 18 are in prison. Thus, the balance of his three years is full of deep contrasts. 

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