The 'Coolest' Dictator?

1 month ago

The Nayib Bukele model in El Salvador means security without liberty.
"They were delicious," said a woman about the pupusas she received after casting her vote in El Salvador's recent presidential election. The stuffed corn tortillas, the country's best-known dish, were handed out courtesy of the federal government and its incumbent President Nayib Bukele, who was running for reelection despite a constitutional ban on serving consecutive terms. Giving out food at polling stations might qualify as illegal voter interference. Bukele was undeterred.

Bukele ended up winning 85 percent of the popular vote, and his New Ideas party held on to its majority control in Congress. The 42-year-old president called the landslide victory "a record in the entire democratic history of the world."

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America with a population of about 6.3 million, but Bukele has made himself one of the best-known political leaders in the world. His outsized public profile stems from his public embrace of bitcoin and the staggering decline in crime and violence in El Salvador since he took office.

Bukele's gang crackdown suspended constitutional protections and drew allegations of human rights abuses. People were arrested without a judicial order or access to a lawyer. Arrest quotas were handed out and thousands were wrongfully detained. Mass hearings are being held for as many as 300 defendants at a time. There are reports of over 250 people being placed in a single prison cell, and inmates are often denied food for extended periods. There are allegations of torture. And Bukele's government is accused of secretly negotiating a truce with gang leaders, buying their support with financial benefits and special privileges.

But Bukele remains incredibly popular thanks to the dramatic improvement in public safety. According to a recent poll, he has the support of 70 percent to 90 percent of the country.

Bukele brushes aside claims that he is forming a single-party state, pointing to his landslide victory and broad support. There's an understandable tendency to overlook rule-bending for expedience in deeply troubled nations, but if robust institutions don't constrain El Salvador's political majority, it could become yet another Latin American dictatorship.

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Producer: Katarina Hall
Video Editor: Regan Taylor
Graphics: Adani Samat

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