Despite the lumbago that afflicted him for days, Felipe Maqueda gave up his day off and got out of bed on Wednesday, got dressed, took a piece of cardboard and, together with his two children, got on one of the few buses leaving for the Cuscatlán park in San Salvador. Arriving there at 9 in the morning, the 67-year-old bricklayer who was a militant on the left in his youth was surprised by the number of people gathered. Then he meandered through the crowd and when he found an empty piece of asphalt, he took the cardboard that he was carrying under his arm and knelt to write only one sentence on it: “El Salvador is not your farm.” When he got up, another ailment reminded him why he was reluctant to come.
The first protest against the president of El Salvador, Nayibe Bukele, had been months ago and only brought together a handful of people. The second, a few days later, did not reach a thousand protesters. But this Wednesday between 10,000 and 15,000 people walked towards the center of San Salvador to the rhythm of songs, music and the old slogans of always: the “Fascist Bukele”, “down with the dictatorship” or “What is the route? get the motherfucker out ”.
The shouts, banners and chants criticized the accumulation of powers, the control of judges, the presidential re-election and the imposition of bitcoin as legal tender. Precisely towards the cryptocurrency the only vandal outburst was directed when someone burned the bitcoin ATM in the center of San Salvador. A symbol of bukelism that was consumed by flames.
The massive demonstration was the end of the honeymoon in which the small Central American country, of just over six million people, had lived with its president until now. Convened through social networks by groups as diverse as students, LGTBI groups, trade unionists, anti-abortion groups or members of the two old parties ARENA and FMLN, after two years and three months of his electoral victory, President Nayib Bukele lost in places in which until now it had been unbeatable: the street and the networks. For the first time thousands of people did not gather to applaud him.
Hours later, Bukele responded on the national network with a harsh attack on those who marched. In his speech in front of the entire country, he described the protest as a violent “event”, with armed people and financed from abroad. According to the president, all of them “came out to protest against a dictatorship that does not exist” and celebrated that “yet” he has not had to use tear gas to repress, but that if he continues like this he will have to.
The former publicist and former Yamaha representative did not skimp on scenery. He surrounded himself with the military and placed many ambassadors in front of him. “We are going to be allies, but I do not admit any interference (…) and those who do not like it will have to put up with it,” he told them, as if it were a teacher scolding the students. Although he did not expressly cite the United States, Bukele responded to the charge d’affaires, Geal Manes, who days before had compared Bukele to Hugo Chávez when it was learned that a third of the country’s judges were going to be expelled “for being corrupt.” “They condemn us for purifying the judicial system. Have corrupt judges done the country any good? ”Bukele justified himself with the presidential sash across his chest.
Throughout the night it was his only reference to the judicial coup that began in May when he ordered the dissolution of the constitutional chamber and the replacement of the magistrates by other related ones. Those who disagreed were sent by the police to their doorstep. At the same time, he expelled the Attorney General, with his current position, and recently he dismissed all judges over 60 years of age. At the same time, it imposed bitcoin as legal tender along with the dollar and announced the hiring of 20,000 new soldiers, twice the size of the Salvadoran army now. And all in four months. According to José Manuel Vivanco, director of the Human Rights Watch organization, “Bukele follows the same script as the former president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, but in record time.”
Precisely in the first rows of the Presidential Palace, listening to his words last Wednesday, there was someone who knew Hugo Chávez very well. Along with the military, ministers or diplomats, there was Hanna Georges, the brain of the group of Venezuelan consultants who advise him and who have made El Salvador their new home. The mysterious Venezuelan adviser previously worked as an assistant with opposition leader Leopoldo López and his wife, Lilian Tintori and is currently leading a broader group of advisers linked to Popular Will on the government’s communication strategy.
However, in the ring of power that speaks to Nayib Bukele’s ear, his brothers Karim, Ibrajim and Yusef Bukele Ortez stand out, three of the ten children of the couple formed by the Palestinian emigrant Armando Bukele Kattán and Olga Ortez. They have actively participated in the arrival of bitcoin to El Salvador and are the people who most influence the young president.
The third leg of Bukele’s power resides in the military, whom he pampers with great care since he came to power and whose size he wants to double in the coming months, despite the squalid state of the public coffers. Among the businessmen, Bukele tries to form a conglomerate that replaces traditional surnames such as Simán with others, among which Roberto Kriete, a shareholder of the airlines Avianca and Volaris, stands out. With these wickers Bukele insisted during the celebration of 200 years of Independence that something new has come with him to put an end to the rottenness of the past. And reason is not lacking.
Born 40 years ago in San Salvador, the president millennial it is the consequence of a corrupt system that found its redeemer in the advertiser. The last two presidents, Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, of the left-wing FMLN party, are in exile. The one before them, from the right Arena, Antonio Saca, is incarcerated. And the previous one, Francisco Flores, died behind bars accused of corruption. At the same time, Latinobarometer studies have for years indicated that El Salvador is the Latin American country where democracy, parties or the judicial system have the least importance. Only 28% of the population prefers “democracy to any other form of government” and for 54% “in some circumstances” a dictatorship is a better option than democracy, according to the 2018 study.
On this swamp, Bukele has raised in record time a conservative and authoritarian model in the political and effective in the public sphere, which includes large public works, a good management of the pandemic (more than 50% of the population has already received the two vaccines ) and enormous security successes that have reduced violence to unimaginable levels, even with days in which there were zero homicides in one of the bloodiest countries on the continent. Currently, he is promoting a constitutional reform that leaves re-election up in the air – prohibited in the current constitution – but rules out abortion, euthanasia or homosexual marriage “because our faith in God is what guides our actions,” he wrote in networks social. It was his personal wink in one of the most conservative societies on the continent in his attempt to add favorable wills to reform the constitution
At the end of the week, the virulence of his words, the distortion of what happened in the streets, the demonization of the opposition and the creation of a new enemy – the United States and the perverse international community – leave in the air the feeling that a new stage is beginning in El Salvador. Another more tense and polarized that begins 30 years after the end of the civil war. Another stage that the bricklayer Felipe Maqueda hurts more than lumbago.