The water hearings

It was a proceeding not seen in El Salvador for twenty years. Government officials from the Bukele administration were required to come before the full Legislative Assembly to answer questions for three days from the assembled deputies in a process called interpelación. The officials were the Minister of Health, Dr. Ana Orellana Bendek, and the president of the ANDA water authority, Fréderick Benítez, and they were being questioned about a water crisis earlier this year when the water from the Las Pavas water purification plant was a dirty brown color with a bad odor.

The politicians in the Legislative Assembly, of course, were not just trying to learn what happened, but to score points against the Bukele administration.

What we did learn:
1) You should probably never drink the water from the ANDA water system
2) The health risk of the water during the January water crisis was not significantly worse than normal, despite the bad color and odor.
3) The bad color and odor were cause…

Trial date set in Spain for Jesuit massacre case

News has come from Spain that a trial will finally commence for the 1989 massacre in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her daughter at the University of Central America.  The Guernica Center issued this statement:
The murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter on 16 November 1989 by the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Military ultimately led to the end of the civil war in El Salvador and catalyzed the victims’ quest for truth, justice, and accountability. After 30 years of seeking justice and 10 years of active litigation, the Spanish National Court will try former Colonel and Vice-Minister of Public Security, Inocente Orlando Montano, starting on 8 June 2020. Montano is charged with murder and terrorism for his alleged involvement as one of the key decision-makers behind the Jesuit killing. The Guernica Centre for International Justice—part of The Guernica Group—and Spanish co-counsel Ollé & Sesé Abogados will lead th…

Not going to defend the Legislative Assembly

In the current confrontation between the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, and the country's Legislative Assembly, I have shared much of the criticism directed at the president.  That criticism involves his unilateral decision to convene the congress and his subsequent entrance into the chambers of the Legislative Assembly accompanied by troops in full tactical gear and sharpshooters on rooftops.   But the critiques of these actions, which reveal an authoritarian streak in Bukele, do not mean the Legislative Assembly gets a free pass.  In fact, that branch of government has a record of not addressing pressing needs of El Salvador.

There are 84 deputies in the Legislative Assembly who serve three year terms.  The two post-war dominant parties,  ARENA on the right and the FMLN on the left, hold 37 and 23 seats respectively.  Bukele ran for president on the ticket of the right wing GANA party in a marriage of convenience, and that party holds 10 seats.  The remaining seats are…

Bukele justifies his actions

Today Nayib Bukele published an opinion piece in the Miami Herald pushing back against the critics of his use of the military in and around the chamber of the Legislative Assembly last weekend.  Bukele writes:
My administration was deeply concerned about a popular uprising of frustrated Salvadorans mobilized against the National Assembly. This is why we asked the military to be present, should violence erupt as tens of thousands of Salvadorans gathered outside the National Assembly calling for the removal of its members.  Certain media interests falsely reported this as an attempt to take over that institution. But let me be clear: I respect the separation of powers. Anyone who suggests I was attempting to do such a thing is purposefully misrepresenting the truth.  Rather than focusing on my attempts to protect the Salvadoran people, the media should focus on why the National Assembly continues failing the people of El Salvador. The focus should be on those in the National Assembly wh…

El Salvador migration updates

The cycle of Salvadorans migrating northwards continues, but with some changes.   Here are a series of recent developments. 
Large decline in Salvadorans crossing US Border.    Statistics from US Customs and Border Control show a significant reduction in the number of Salvadorans apprehended crossing the US southern border.   After a tremendous surge in the twelve months from October 2018- September 2019 when an average of 246 Salvadorans were apprehended every day, in the most recent four months ending January 31, the average has been 62 per day, a reduction of 75%.

The reasons for the decline are many and overlapping.   They include increased border militarization and enforcement by Mexico at its border with Guatemala; increasingly harsh US application of the Migrant Protection Protocols which force asylum seekers to remain in dangerous conditions in Mexico while their cases are heard in US immigration courts; and a ban on asylum awards for anyone arriving at the border after July 1…

Court blocks Bukele actions as criticism of his use of military pours in

One day after president Nayib Bukele marched into the chambers of El Salvador's Legislative Assembly accompanied by heavily armed soldiers and police in flak jackets, his attempt to force the congress to do his bidding was dealt some major setbacks.

On Monday, the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court agreed to take petitions from citizens protesting Bukele's actions this past weekend.  The Chamber found constitutional flaws in Bukele's use of his Council of Ministers to demand a special session of the Legislative Assembly to vote on an international loan package for security funding and then to deploy the police and armed forces inside and outside of the chambers of the legislature (Salon Azul) to make his point.   In accepting the petitions, the Chamber ordered Bukele to cease using the Council of Ministers to convene the assembly in extraordinary session and to cease using the police and military for purposes not authorized by the Constituti…

Bukele sends armed troops before him into Legislative Assembly

The streets of San Salvador, especially around the government center, were filled with soldiers and security forces on Sunday.   The reason?   It was not relief efforts for some natural disaster (although a 5.3 earthquake off the Pacific coast of El Salvador woke many residents at 2:30 in the morning).   It was not to fight a crime wave (president Nayib Bukele has celebrated that monthly homicide rates have hit post war lows).   It was not to combat an insurrection.   (The only insurrection was the one which the commander and chief of the armed forces, Bukele, had called on his followers to prepare for).

Instead, the reason was high stakes political theater.   The purpose of the show was to demonstrate who was in charge in El Salvador, and that person is president Nayib Bukele.   The deployment of troops and police had no other purpose.  Bukele was using the country's armed forces and the country's police force to establish himself as the country's strong man who would be…