El Salvador: Militarized Parliament and the Country in the Midst of a Self-Coup

February 10, 2020

El Salvador’s police and military have stormed the Blue Room. Some legislators left and denounced that this breaks the constitutional order and democracy. Meanwhile, President Bukele refused to answer why he ordered the military to enter the Legislative Palace.

In an unprecedented event, elements of the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Armed Forces took over the Meeting chambers of the Legislative Assembly moments before President Nayib Bukele’s call to the Council of Ministers yesterday afternoon.

Elements of the presidential immediate staff took control of the entire Legislative Palace, increasing the tension that has built between the Executive and the Legislative branches of the government due to pressure from the president to force the Assembly to approve the $109 million loan for the Territorial Control plan.

In front of Blue Room taken over by the military and members of the UMO (Agents responsible of maintaining the order) President Bukele arrived outside the Assembly after 4 pm.  Around 5,000 people attended the citizen’s rally that President Bukele called invoking Article 87 of the Constitution regarding “insurrection”, to pressure the deputies to approve the loan for Phase III of the Territorial Control Plan in an extraordinary plenary session. This plan includes additional military-grade equipment from the US supposedly to provide the police and army with better tools to combat crime in El Salvador.

“Is it unconstitutional for us to convene, those who are unconstitutional are the criminals who pay the gangs. Those who are unconstitutional are those scoundrels who didn’t come forward to show their faces” the president said referring to many assembly members who did not attend so the vote had to be postponed.

The president raised the confrontational tone of his speech to the deputies and reaffirmed to the dozens of people who gathered outside the Assembly that in a few months they would be “removed” from their positions.

“On February 28th all the scoundrels are going to go out the door and leave democratically, why are we going to question the power of the people, of democracy, if in a few months we are going to take the Assembly, “why are we going to take it by force? I ask you for patience”.

Bukele gave deputies an ultimatum: one week to approve the security loan. “If these scoundrels don’t approve the territorial control plan, we’ll reconvene then on Sunday. These scoundrels don’t want to work for the people. We’ll give them a week.”

“I asked God and he told me to be patient,” said the president to the audience.

The Army takeover is an outrage to democracy, say deputies

Deputies were shocked and called it an outrage to democracy when they arrived to the Legislative Parliament to find it had been taken over and occupied by the military. Even deputies such as Felissa Cristales of the right-wing ARENA party, who were advocating support for Bukele, who is demanding that deputies approve the security loan, chose to leave the Assembly, in the face of an attack on “democracy” by the Executive.

“The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice has to respond to this because this is affecting El Salvador’s democracy,” Cristales said before leaving.

Those deputies who arrived in the Blue Room to welcome Bukele were also made uncomfortable by the presence of the security agents. The head of the Assembly, Mario Ponce, did not respond to the call.

For his part, the non-partisan Member of Parliament, Leonardo Bonilla, said with concern: “This is a totally shameless action. The only thing left is that the Supreme Court of Justice is also taken over and then there will be a new government in which the Executive controls all three bodies. That breaks with the constitutional order. I don’t know what will happen, this has taken us by surprise”.

“This is a threat. I don’t defend deputies, but you can’t come by way of an armed threat to seek our approval. “Bonilla added.

On the other hand, the U.S. ambassador, Ronald Johnson, reaffirmed via Twitter the call to dialogue and to remain calm in the face of the situation arising from President Bukele’s call.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights joined the calls for dialogue. And it said that the rule of law must be guaranteed in El Salvador.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano, translation North America bureau