Name? Nayib Bukele
Westphalian identity? Salvadoran
Why is he in the news? El Salvador’s President (or not-so-benevolent-dictator) Nayib Bukele asked congress to approve a state of emergency last week after mass gang violence. Sixty-two people were killed in a day. After the approval, Bukele doubled down on torture against jailed homeboys and arrested 3.800 more suspected gangsters, including women and children.
Why do we care? Bukele lowered homicide rates in El Salvador, a notoriously violence-ridden country, through what an independent newspaper revealed as a quid pro quo between the administration and gangs last year: less killing for better prison conditions. Peace made him popular and allowed him to consolidate considerable power. Bukele wants to rebrand El Salvador as a finance and tech hub in Central America with himself at the centre. Gangs know this and are using violence and public terror as leverage against him.
Why should you care? The state of emergency suspends constitutional freedoms, which means that Bukele’s government can arrest people indefinitely without a charge, among other things. Further, children above 12 will now be tried as adults and be subject to similar torture as their adult counterparts. In short, Bukele’s crack-down undermines and threatens the integrity of any remaining rule of law in El Salvador, and sets a precedent of violence against the population. You should care 7/10.
Who else cares? Honduran President Xiomara Castro. Honduran forces have already captured one Salvadoran gang member. Security in the Northern Triangle is a priority for central American leaders, and their Honduran neighbours want to prevent Bukele’s problems from spilling over onto their territory. Fresh in her presidency, this is an opportunity for Castro to show Honduras’s own security competencies.
Any further comments? Bukele has a particular philosophy on approaching gang violence. To “play by their rules”, he repays mass violence with mass violence; and proves, ultimately, that he can come out on top, and must not be challenged.