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Bukele's spectacle

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Nayib Bukele threw himself a coronation on Saturday. His swearing in for an unconstitutional second term in office was not a celebration of democracy, but the celebration of an unquestioned ruler. One of the hallmarks of Nayib Bukele's rapid rise to exercise unchecked power in El Salvador is his understanding of image.  All of the symbolism of the day was about the power and authority of El Salvador's strongman. There was the honor guard in military dress uniforms, wearing capes while holding automatic weapons. Bukele wore a high-collared jacket with gold braid on the cuffs and collar.  The National Palace had a rapid makeover, replacing artwork and precious century-old tilework with marble and gold paint and red carpets, attempting to summon images of European halls of power, but coming closer to Donald Trump's club at Mar-a-Lago.   Bukele received an artillery gun salute and emerged from the National Palace to receive the tributes from the country's armed forces and p

Bukele wiped out all checks on his power over the course of five years

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Nayib Bukele completes his first five years as president of El Salvador having fully earned the label as a "populist autocrat." Populist , because he has gained power by developing enormous popularity in the Salvadoran public through an extraordinary propaganda and public image machine, and autocrat because he and his party Nuevas Ideas have accumulated the total power to govern in the country after having eliminated each and every institution which might provide checks or limits on Bukele's power. The tactics Bukele used are a true  dictator's playbook . Undermine the press Bukele started early to eliminate checks and balances by seeking to undermine the role of the press as a watchdog in a democratic society. Before he even took office as president, he was telling the public that impartial journalism does not exist : @NayibBukele Tweet April 20, 2019 That those of the media who presented themselves as "independent" are going out now with a clear and t

The five years of Bukele -- government behind closed doors

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In the five years in which Nayib Bukele has been president of El Salvador, there has been a dramatic shift in the availability of public information for citizens to hold their leaders accountable.  El Salvador has a government which vigorously defends its control of the narrative of what is happening in the country, and that includes restricting access to any information which might shed a different light on that narrative.   Transparency International has written: Access to information acts are grounded in the recognition that information in the control of public authorities is a valuable public resource and that public access to such information promotes greater transparency and accountability of those public authorities, and that this information is essential to the democratic process. The purpose of these acts, also known as access to information laws, is to make a government more open and accountable to its people. In transitional democracies, laws that give effect to the right

Espiritu Santo Island -- a State of Exception story

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17 inhabitants of Espiritu Santo Island, held in prisons under the State of Exception, awaiting trials in the distant future and without any contact with the outside world.   Two years ago this week, when El Salvador's State of Exception had been in effect for two months, I wrote a post titled " Free the Boatmen ."    It was a story about five boat operators and artesanal fishermen from Espiritu Santo Island along El Salvador's southeast Pacific coast, who had been arbitrarily arrested under the State of Exception. In the next year, twenty more members of this close-knit community would also be arrested and taken away in four additional operations through April 2023. They were captured although everyone affirms that this island and its close-knit community have never harbored gang members or experienced gang-related crime.  Theirs is a story of the practice of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment which has characterized so much of the State of Exception in El Salvador. 

The status of Bukele's big projects at the end of his first term

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Hospital Rosales construction site in April The public relations machine of the government of Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele thrives on touting major development and infrastructure projects. From time to time, we need to check in on how these projects are actually faring. Here is their status as he concludes five years in office. The Chinese projects . The major projects which are the farthest along are those which the Salvadoran government has not had to raise the money for because they are donations by the Chinese government. These were gifts announced by Bukele after his 2019 visit to Beijing. National Library . The new national library in the heart of the historic center of San Salvador was completed at the end of 2023. Read about my tour of the library here . Water purification and extraction from Ilopango . An announcement was made in November 2022, that the project to purify water from lake Ilopango will take the form of eight deep wells, pumping from underground sourc

What's happening with El Salvador's National Palace?

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National Palace of El Salvador News that the government was tearing up part of the National Palace, located in San Salvador's historic center, started with pictures circulating on social media of piles of broken hydraulic tiles being removed from the National Palace. Esto es criminal. Baldosas victorianas de 100 años destruídas en el Palacio Nacional. Fotos @FRubio08 pic.twitter.com/b9tiWtZaZG — Mauro Arias Panamá (@mauroariasfoto) May 5, 2024 This is criminal. 100-year-old Victorian tiles destroyed in the National Palace Then came an article written by journalist Gabriel Labrador at El Faro describing how the refuse was being unceremoniously dumped into a canyon outside of the City.   El Ministerio de Cultura anunció el 10 de abril que el edificio permanecerá cerrado hasta nuevo aviso debido a “trabajos de mejora, mantenimiento y restauración”, sin especificar mayor información. Lee más detalles: 🖋️ @glabrador y @efrenlemus https://t.co/nNFnQpqreN — El Faro (@_

The leaked personal information and photos of almost every Salvadoran

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Screenshot of leaked data Cyber-security experts have been evaluating the distribution on the dark web of the personal information of more than five million Salvadorans, including high resolution ID photos, names, addresses, and national identity (DUI) numbers.   The cybersecurity company Resecurity wrote : [T]his data leak is significant because it marks one of the first instances in cybercrime history where virtually the entire population of a country has been affected by a compromise of biometric data....Beyond the massive scale of Salvadorian PII records, threat actors also obtained a headshot of each victim, which represents a crucial biometric data marker – particularly in the golden age of generative AI. Notably, the vast scale of this biometric and PII data breach places most of El Salvador’s population at significant risk for identity theft and fraud. Armed with modern deep fake technology, threat actors can leverage victim headshots and related PII to stage more convincing fr