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FILE PHOTO: El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks during the inauguration of the 3 de Febrero hydroelectric power plant in San Luis de La Reina, El Salvador October 19, 2023.

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

El Salvador’s president gets “super” powers.

The authoritarian world’s hottest young thing – Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele – has won a Congressional supermajority.

Bukele, who won a landslide reelection last month, will control a staggering 54 of 60 seats in the Central American country’s legislature, empowering him to do … whatever he likes.

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El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele, who is running for reelection, greets people, on the day of the presidential and parliamentary elections in San Salvador, El Salvador, February 4, 2024.

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Crime fighter cruises to victory in El Salvador

Salvadorans voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to reelect President Nayib Bukele, the self-styled “world’s coolest dictator” – even though the constitution says he can’t serve a second term. Provisional results show he won 83% of the vote.

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El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele takes part in the inauguration of the Vijosa pharmaceutical plant in Santa Tecla, El Salvador November 20, 2023.

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

El Salvador’s election math: 2 + 90 = 71

You need three numbers to understand this Sunday’s presidential election in El Salvador.

The first is 2. Since taking office in 2019, President Nayib Bukele’s sweeping anti-gang crackdown has resulted in the incarceration of 2% of the country’s adult population. In US terms, that’s the equivalent of throwing 5 million people in jail.

The second is 90. The official homicide rate has fallen more than 90% since 2015, including roughly 75% since Bukele took office.

The third is 71. Polls show Bukele leading his nearest competitor by 71 points. He will cruise to victory in a free and fair election.

The meaning of this math: Bukele has been criticized by human rights groups for thousands of abuses. He has used the military to strong-arm congress and twisted the constitution to run for a second term. But ordinary Salvadorans are OK with it because their cities are liveable again after years when the country was one of the bloodiest in the world.

It may be that his strongman tactics are planting the seeds for future upheavals. But for now, Bukele is seen – not only at home but by other right-wingers in the Americas – as the Salvador (savior) of El Salvador.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks during the inauguration

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

El Salvador’s millennial strongman on track to be reelected

El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has given President Nayib Bukele the green light to seek another term, even though the country’s constitution says consecutive presidential terms are a no-no. Polling suggests that Bukele, 42, is poised to win next year’s election handily, largely due to a war he’s waged against violent street gangs that’s gained widespread domestic approval.
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Honduran military police guard gang members after taking over control of prisons.

Honduras Armed Forces/Handout via REUTERS

Honduras goes full Bukele on gangs

On Monday, authorities in Honduras responded to a gang-related fire that killed 46 inmates at a women's prison by putting the military police in charge of all jails, emptying cell blocks, and forcing cons to sit in rows nestled against each other, with their hands tied, heads bowed, and male inmates shirtless. Sound familiar?

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Gang members wait to be taken to their cell after 2000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center, in Tecoluca, El Salvador. Handout distributed March 15, 2023.

Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia/Handout via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: El Salvador’s lingering state of emergency, Northern Ireland on alert, Alibaba’s breakup, Greek election matters

El Salvador’s state of emergency one year later

This week marks one year since El Salvador’s bullish millennial president, Nayib Bukele, introduced a state of emergency, enabling his government to deal with the scourge of gang violence that has long made his country one of the world’s most dangerous.

Quick recap: To crack down on the country’s 70,000 gang members, Bukele’s government denied alleged criminals the right to know why they were detained and access to legal counsel. The arrest blitz has seen nearly 2% of the adult population locked up.

Despite these draconian measures and Bukele’s efforts to circumvent a one-term limit, he enjoys a staggering 91% approval rating.

Bukele has also sought to distinguish himself as an anti-corruption warrior, which resonates with an electorate disillusioned by years of corrupt politicians (Bukele’s three predecessors have all been charged with corruption. One is in prison; two are on the run.)

Externally, relations with the Biden administration have been icy under Bukele, with San Salvador refusing to back a US-sponsored UN resolution condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.

What matters most to Salvadorans is the dropping crime rate, which is why Bukele will likely cruise to reelection next year.

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Luisa Vieira

The Graphic Truth: How does El Salvador's prison rate stack up?

El Salvador made headlines in recent days after President Nayib Bukele released photos of gang members being corralled into the country’s new mega-prison – a sprawling complex that will eventually hold 40,000 inmates. It’s the latest development in Bukele’s massive – and very popular – crackdown on gangs, in which Salvadoran authorities have locked up almost 2% of the adult population. (Never mind that US officials have recently accused Bukele of colluding with the very gangs he says he’s trying to stamp out!) El Salvador now has the highest prison rate per 100,000 people in the world – but how does that compare globally? Here we take a look at the countries with the highest official prison rates.

Annie Gugliotta

Then and Now: Iran’s public trials, Somalia’s new cabinet, El Salvador’s state of emergency

Three Months ago: Islamic Republic announces (sham) public trials

Media attention may have subsided, but protesters in Iran remain unbowed four months after the in-custody death of Mahsa Amini – she was arrested by the Islamic Republic’s “morality police” three days before her death – set off something resembling a revolution. Three months ago, we wrote that the mullahs who rule the country with an iron fist had announced the public trial of around 1,000 Iranians for participating in anti-regime demonstrations. Since then, at least four men have been publicly hanged: Sayed Mohammad Hosseini, 39, Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, a karate champ, Majid Reza Rahnavard, 23, a store worker, and Mohsen Shekari, 23, a barista. They were each accused of killing a member of the Basij paramilitary, a ruthless volunteer force that operates under the draconian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp – though rights groups say their confessions were coerced under torture.

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