Primary victims on El Salvador's roads are pedestrians and motorcyclists

Last Tuesday, three traffic accidents in different parts of El Salvador provided graphic examples of some of the issues involving traffic management in El Salvador.   Two involved the deaths of motorcycle riders who perished when they were struck by other vehicles on Salvadoran highways.  The third was a massive pile up in the capital city San Salvador when a large trailer truck careened in what appeared to be uncontrolled speed into stopped traffic at a point where major thoroughfares come together. Two people were killed and at least ten injured, many in critical condition.  Dozens of cars were left destroyed by the pile-up.   Road fatalities are an ongoing concern in El Salvador. With an annual death rate of around 22 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, the country faces a significant challenge in reducing the number of lives lost due to traffic accidents. Many factors contribute to this situation including inadequate infrastructure, poorly maintained roads, insufficient traffic la

The far right in the US falls for Bukele

President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador has become the Latin American leader most lauded by the far right in the United States. The millennial president, who once labelled Donald Trump “nice and cool” after meeting with Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting, is now being held up by the far right as a model for what strong national leader should be.    Among the conservatives,  one group of Bukele fans are libertarian in their leanings – these are the supporters who enthusiastically promote Bitcoin.  They support Bitcoin for providing a currency system which is free of government control and not dependent on the actions of multinational financial institutions. When Bukele tweets “We will stand for freedom… bitcoin is FU money” these libertarian Bitcoiners stand up and cheer.  More recently, a different swarm of conservative pundits has come out in praise of Bukele after his recent videos of the transfer of the first prisoners into the new mega-prison outside of S

Global studies give El Salvador failing grade on democracy

In recent months, several annual surveys of the strength of democratic institutions around the world have been published.  I collect several of them below. El Salvador is shown to be losing ground as a democracy in all of these studies, as the researchers find a trend toward authoritarianism under Nayib Bukele. Freedom House In its annual reports, Freedom Houses uses a methodology evaluating 25 indicators of political and civil rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In its 2023 report , Freedom House gave El Salvador a grade of 56/100 on its freedom status, classifying the country as "partly free.”  The country has lost ground for the past decade in Freedom House surveys, declining from a score of 77 to 56 during the past 10 years.  In this year’s report Nayib Bukele was highlighted with other leaders showing authoritarian tendencies: “After assuming office through elections, these leaders rejected the established democratic process and sought to rewrite t

Less than a year before elections in El Salvador

El Salvador is less than a year from national elections. On February 4, 2024 the country will elect its president and all the deputies in the Legislative Assembly. That election will be followed a month later on March 3 with municipal elections and for delegates to the Central American parliament.  Since the president has a 5 year term and the rest of elected officials have 3 year terms, the conjunction of all officials being elected in the same year happens only once every 15 years. Opinion polling shows very strong support for the re-election of Nayib Bukele as president, despite the fact that legal experts state that re-election of the president is expressly prohibited by the  Constitution  of El Salvador.  However, the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s supreme court, put into office when Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party summarily deposed the sitting magistrates in 2021, ruled that, clear language or not, the president may be re-elected. Then on September

US indictment of top MS-13 leaders describes gang negotiations with head of Bukele's new mega-prison

Last week on successive days, the US government and the Salvadoran government both issued media releases about gang members being jailed in the two countries.  A newly unsealed federal criminal indictment also describes how MS-13 gang leaders negotiated with El Salvador's top jailer, Osiris Luna Meza, who now oversees Nayib Bukele's new mega-prison. Osiris Luna Meza On Thursday, February 23, the US Justice Department announced that, with the cooperation of the government of Mexico, it had taken into custody three high ranking leaders of MS-13.  Those gang leaders are three of the 13 defendants named in a multi-count indictment for racketeering and terrorism extending from El Salvador through Mexico to the United States.  Of the remaining 10 defendants, four are at large and six are in custody in El Salvador, which refuses to honor the extradition request from the US. The indictment  describes the involvement of MS-13 in a multinational plague of criminality from murder, assaul

Can 1.2 million computers reverse 9 years of declining enrollment in Salvadoran schools?

El Salvador's public school year began on February 6 with  1.2 million students enrolled .  The country has approximately 5100 public schools, and this was the first year since 2020 in which classes returned to being fully in person.  Today we look at the state of education in El Salvador at the start of the 2023 school year. Enrollment The overall number of students enrolled in schools has  declined by 23%  since 2014.  In 2014, there were 1,647,383 students enrolled compared to 1,269,756 in 2022.    Enrollment has declined both because of declining numbers of school age children in the country, but also because of increases in the number of children simply not enrolled in a school.  The percentage of children who are actually enrolled in school has declined in some age ranges, but improved in others.  The following chart shows the percentage of children who are not enrolled in school for any given age.   (Higher numbers are worse) (click for larger image) The chart shows that for

In other news

This post weaves together several recent articles published in English about current El Salvador events. In   Nayib Bukele’s Growing List of Latin American Admirers , Will Freeman writes that Nayib Bukele's approach to a war on gangs has been receiving favorable attention throughout the region: To his many critics, El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has become a ruthless strongman, trampling due process and other civil protections. But within Latin America, his militarized crackdown on gangs is winning him a fan club that won’t stop growing. Prominent politicians and everyday people in countries from neighboring parts of Central America to far-flung Peru and Chile have professed their admiration for his policies—and expressed a desire to see their own countries adopt a similar approach. But that worries Suhelis Tejero as she writes in Bukele’s Firm Hand: El Salvador’s New Export? : With a new mega prison that holds 40,000 “terrorists”, the President of El Salvador takes his ultra