El Salvador: The Right-Wing’s Dislike for Democracy

By Angel Guerra Cabrera on February 13, 2020

The assault on El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly on February 9 by President Nayib Bukele, heading military troops, was an attempted self-coup, frustrated for now. Besides soldiers with rifles occupying the Parliament, police officers were deployed equally in the city center. Legislators of the until a short time ago hegemonic party—ARENA (rightist) and FMLN (former guerrilla, leftist)—denounced having been subjected to verbal orders from uniformed personnel telling them to obey Bukele.

These are extremely serious events in a country tormented by a cruel civil war that ended in1992 and where the centrality of the Army as an armed wing of the local oligarchy and the United States has always been a fundamental part of the country’s history. A setback regarding modest advances made in the country’s fragile democratic institutions, achieved after the peace agreements.

Appealing to a twisted interpretation of the Constitution, Bukele intended to impose the legislative branch, at gunpoint and with the pressure of his supporters gathered around the Parliament, the approval of a $109 million loan for phase three of a program to combat the maras (gangs), known as the Territorial Control Plan. Considering what that amount represents compared to the $129 billion that the Salvadoran economy is worth and that the maras, though they do a lot of damage, represent a chronic evil that will not be eradicated with the loan for military hardware.  Evidently its non-approval is a mere pretext for Bukele, who has made clear his objective of subordinating political parties and taking control of the country with the support of the Army.

To achieve his goal, the President fostered a campaign in Twitter dividing Salvadorans between “friends of the maras” – those who opposed his project – and lovers of the homeland… obviously those who support him. Using article 167 of the Constitution, which provides that the President and the Council of Ministers can call an extraordinary meeting of the Legislative Assembly when the interests of the Republic demand it, so Bukele summoned the members of parliament on Sunday with the intention of forcing them to appear and then, backed by a population that would be gathering outside the parliament building, he would force them to vote for the loan. Apparently, summoning the Legislative Assembly through article 167 is reserved for extremely serious situations, which are not configured in the simple fact that people’s representatives raise their questions, even though it deals with public safety. The calling out of his supporters was based on Article 87 of the Constitution, which provides the people’s right to insurrection only with the goal to restoring the constitutional order—which Bukele considered to be broken by legislators. The thing is that the attitude of the legislators is not enough for such an interpretation and that constitutional article is not devised to be used by the Government but only for the population in the above mentioned case.

The self-coup attempt failed given many factors that came together against Bukele’s maneuver. First, just a few people attended his call, proving that regardless of the 78 percent popularity shown in surveys, not even his supporters approved this behavior. His action was condemned as a coup attempt by the conservative president of the Legislative, Mario Ponce, on behalf of 84 legislators, including the alliance that nominated the President. He also received strong criticism from the Supreme Court, which ordered Bukele to abstain from using the Armed Force in activities contrary to the purposes stipulated in the constitution and from putting at risk the way of republican, democratic and representative government, the pluralist political system and particularly the separation of powers. It also ordered the Defense Minister and Police chief to not assume the role and activities different to those which they are constitutionally and legally obliged to.

The coup attempt also received strong condemnation from popular organizations. Bukele said on Monday that he would abide by the Court’s verdict. The day before, seeing himself without popular support and with hardly any deputies present when he entered the legislative chamber with the army, he burst into tears and supposedly talked to God, who ordered him to give the deputies a week’s truce.

Personally I do not think it’s wise to hope for a rectification from Bukele. He is friends with OAS Secretary of State Luis Almagro and promised to vote for his reelection; he broke relations with Bolivarian Venezuela; he recognized self-proclaimed Juan Guaido, and he has proven his submissiveness to the Yankee empire. He is part of the right-wing batch from Chile’s Sebastian Piñera to Colombia’s Ivan Duque, passing through Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Bolivia’s dictator Jeanine Añez. Just like Mexico’s conservative political party, which does not abide by the law and democratic order either. On the contrary, it considers it its enemy.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau