Nayib Bukele is now president of El Salvador

El Salvador has a new president today. Nayib Bukele was sworn in as president in a ceremony in front of the historic National Palace in Plaza Gerardo Barrios in the center of San Salvador. It was a site picked by Bukele, both for the historic significance of the plaza bordered by the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral, but also because the renovation of this plaza and surrounding blocks was one of the prime achievements during his time as mayor of San Salvador.

Bukele also wanted this outdoor venue, instead of an indoor venue like the capital’s convention center (CIFCO) where prior ceremonies have been held, so that as many of his adoring followers as possible could attend. And Bukele’s supporters showed up in force to celebrate the inauguration of a president they see as a break from the corrupt politicians of the major political parties of the past. The public areas of the plaza, spilling into surrounding streets, were filled with Salvadorans wearing the light blue and white colors of Nuevas Ideas.

Happy Bukele supporters
Also in attendance at the event were foreign dignitaries including the presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Bolivia, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. The US delegation was headed by Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross.

Nayib Bukele meeting with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross yesterday
Bukele took the oath with his hand on a bible held by his wife Gabriela.   The new president and his wife are expecting their first child, a girl, later this month.

In his address to the Salvadoran people this morning, Bukele began by departing from standard protocol in formal presentations in El Salvador.   Instead of the normal welcome and acknowledgment of all the dignitaries in attendance, including presidents of other countries, Bukele said he was greeting the important guests who were filling the plaza, the people of El Salvador.

His address was a call to the people to come together, to be proud of their country, to assume individual and collective responsibility to build "the country that we deserve."  They would have five years to make El Salvador "an example for the world."   His speech was frequently interrupted by chants and applause from the crowd.

He concluded his address by asking all of the gathered Salvadorans to raise their hands and swear to work together for a better El Salvador and to defend the victory they had won on February 3.

Bukele addresses the nation
It has been a rapid rise to the presidency for Bukele. The political career of the young businessman turned politician includes only three years as mayor of the small city of Nuevo Cuscatlán, followed by three years as mayor of the capital San Salvador. His campaign for the presidency was launched when the FMLN expelled him from the left wing party in 2017.  His social media-fueled campaign against "the corrupt ones of the past" struck a responsive chord with the public who gave him a decisive first round victory in February.

What type of president will El Salvador’s youngest leader be?  In an interview with AJ+ Español published last night, Bukele described some of his plans as the Millennial President.

Looking at the interim period between his election and inauguration day, Bukele has taken some positive steps. Some of those steps include:
  • Expressing his opposition to a national water law which would have given say over water policy to private business interests. The law did not advance (but neither did a version favored by environmental activists).
  • Expressing his opposition to the proposed National Reconciliation Law with its proposed immunity from prison time for those convicted of crimes against humanity.
  • Appointing seven women to his cabinet in his first seven appointments along with a woman as El Salvador’s ambassador to the United Nations. In his inaugural address this morning Bukele stated that the cabinet will have an equal number of men and women.
  • Continuing to voice support for anti-corruption measures.
But Bukele has acted or failed to act in some concerning ways:
  • He has attacked the press and asserted that all press coverage is slanted. Yet if Bukele wants to combat corruption, he needs a vigorous press investigating wrong-doing and not being undercut by the tweeter-in-chief.
  • He has not had public appearances in El Salvador, and has only addressed the Salvadoran public once between election night and today in a speech on Facebook Live. He has preferred to address public issues in El Salvador through social media.
  • Bukele instead decided to make his first public appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., a think tank which backed Ronald Reagan’s policies during El Salvador’s civil war.  His next public appearance was also in Washington, where he has steadfastly refused to speak against the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump despite the fact that one fourth of Salvadorans live in the US.
  • Bukele has not announced many important ministry heads, including all of the security officials, as well as heads of economy, agriculture and public works ministries.
I'll go out on a limb and make a few predictions:
  • Bukele likes spectacle and big projects that he can stand in front of and take credit for.  Examples from his time as mayor of San Salvador were the new Mercado Cuscatlán (a failure) and the renovation of the historic center (a success).   Expect Bukele to push an early project which can be completed quickly and labelled as a success such as a beach front development project for promoting tourism, or a network of new libraries in the lead cities of each department.
  • Bukele will continue to go straight to the people through social media.   Expect a continuation of government by tweet supplemented with calls to action on Facebook Live.   As Bukele fights with a National Assembly controlled by his political enemies, expect him to turn to social media to air his frustrations and urge his followers to throw out  his opponents in the 2021 elections.
  • Security policy will look a lot like security policy in past administrations.  Unfortunately mano dura is deeply engrained in the culture of Salvadoran police and military.   I hope I am wrong about this one, but re-engineering the police will not be easy.
  • Bukele will not keep his promise to end forced migration from El Salvador in five years.
  • Bukele will tweet out that his inauguration was viewed by the largest crowd to ever attend an inauguration of a Salvadoran president, and it won't be Fake News.