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El Salvador's Bukele: The posterboy for popular authoritarianism
El Salvador's Bukele: The posterboy for popular authoritarianism | GZERO World

El Salvador's Bukele: The posterboy for popular authoritarianism

Here's one country where democracy is on the backslide, and the increasingly authoritarian leader could not be more popular. El Salvador's Nayib Bukele won the presidency at 37, as Latin America's youngest elected head of state, as an outspoken candidate on social media with an affinity for cryptocurrency.

In a wide-ranging interview on the state of global democracy in 2024, Stanford's Francis Fukuyama explains Bukele's crime-fighting appeal: "El Salvador legitimately elected Nayib Bukele as president, but he embarked on this massive effort to simply round up people that he thought were gang members and put them in prison, no trial, no, judicial process to find out whether they're actually guilty or not. And as a result, around 10% of the young men in the country are now sitting in prison. Uh, and it's been quite successful in reducing the level of gang violence in El Salvador by like 90%."

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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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