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The influence of Bukelismo in Latin America: An exportable alternative?

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The influence of Bukelismo in Latin America: An exportable alternative?

By Miguel Angel Sosa Goico*

In recent years, the figure of Nayib Bukele and his political current, “bukelismo”, has been gaining great popularity in El Salvador and in the Latin American region. His direct and energetic leadership style, his fight against corruption and his focus on technology and innovation, will undoubtedly capture the attention of many, especially among those who are looking for an alternative to the traditional status quo. Opposing a worn-out leadership, which has been fundamentally marked by a bipartisanship of almost 30 years: The Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which practically dominated Salvadoran politics since the end of the civil war in 1992 until the arrival of Bukele in 2019. Noting that the latter was expelled from the ranks of the FMLN in 2017, which later triggered the founding of his current party “New Ideas”, recognized by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of that nation in 2018.

Bukelismo has developed an enviable popularity among young people, but this is partly due to the way in which Bukele has managed to connect with them. His presence on social networks, his casual style and his direct speech have been attractive elements for many young people who feel distanced or disconnected from the Cuscatleca political offer.

One of its strategic axes has been the use of social networks and technology to connect with citizens and spread their ideas. It can be said that he has shrewdly used his presence on social networks to communicate directly with a significant segment of the population and maintain a “close” and impersonal contact with them. However, it is necessary to mention that according to data released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2021, only 30.6% of the population of El Salvador used the internet. Of course, this figure does not necessarily indicate access to technology in terms of devices, since many people can access the Internet from shared devices or public places.

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The Bukele government has implemented striking economic and social measures that have been seen as an example for other countries in the region. For example, El Salvador set a precedent when it became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, sparking some interest in the use of cryptocurrencies in the region. Although later, the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador declared the Bitcoin Law unconstitutional, and as a consequence, bitcoin was dismantled as legal tender. According to the Court, the law did not meet the constitutional requirements necessary for its approval, such as consultation with different sectors of society.

The implementation of social programs such as the Territorial Control Plan has been another of the measures that have attracted attention in the region, and whose main objective is to improve citizen security, to reduce the levels of homicides and violence in that country. But the plan has been the subject of criticism and controversy from some sectors of civil society, who have questioned its repressive approach and lack of attention to human rights violations in security operations. Taking into account that for the execution of this plan, a state of emergency had to be opened that seems to be perpetual to date, and this thanks to the absolute majority of his party in parliament. Inferring in the derogation of certain fundamental rights, and certainly resulting in the arbitrary violation of these rights. This is a yellow light for other nations that would like to emulate this so-called “Bukele method.” But then we see examples like Honduras, where President Xiomara Castro, last December, also applied a 30-day “partial state of exception” whose similar objective was to promote “security in public spaces” to encourage economic activity. Unfortunately it has not been partial or effective to date in statistical figures.

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It is important to note that Bukele, like any populist and charismatic leader who stands out resoundingly, has been heavily criticized for the way he has handled certain issues, including democracy and human rights. Some NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have expressed concern about the grabbing of power with authoritarian overtones and about the weakening and erosion of democratic institutions in the country. Establishing said organization that “Latin American governments should not be blinded by the current popularity of Bukele, because history shows that strong-arm policies do not serve to improve insecurity in the long run.” However, we see how this issue seems to be overshadowed by the great propaganda that exists in the fight against gangs, corruption, organized crime and the recent “mega jail” inaugurated and put into operation.

Is Bukele’s strategy a risk for any democracy? The strategy or method already has significant precedents: control of the Legislative Branch, unconstitutional appointment of judges sympathetic to the government, control of the Judiciary, among others, thus breaking the necessary balance between the powers of a democratic republic. This undoubtedly creates suspicion and makes anyone wonder if the end truly justifies and legitimizes the means.

Does the bukele method really influence the region? The influence of bukelismo in Latin America is still uncertain. While his innovative approach and his fight against corruption have been welcomed by many, there have also been concerns as we mentioned above about his impact on democracy, human rights and the balance of powers in a rule of law.

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Are we in the Dominican Republic or will we adopt part of the method? The Latin American region is diverse and each country has its own political and social reality, so it is not easy to replicate the experience of El Salvador in other places. Each nation has its own reality and challenges, and the solutions are not always universal. That is why it is essential that the countries of the region find their own path towards democracy and sustainable development.

*Miguel Angel Sosa Goico writes in El Nuevo Diario, from the Dominican Republic

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