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 in charge of interpreting what its constitution means.
This video in a tweet from Radio YSUCA shows some of the security forces deploying today near the University of El Salvador.
#EnDesarrollo | Imágenes que nos llegan desde Autopista Norte, en los alrededores de la Universidad de El Salvador. pic.twitter.com/UK6U220S5S— Radio YSUCA 91.7 (@ysuca91siete) February 9, 2020
As I wrote in this morning's post, Bukele's Council of Ministers had issued a directive to convene an extraordinary session of the Legislative Assembly at three in the afternoon on Sunday. The purpose of the session was to approve a $109 million international loan for the modernization of the military and police forces. The Legislative Assembly declined to be told when it should and should not meet, and last night, scheduled a time to take up the loan package at noon on Monday.
Bukele refused to relent on the 3:00 time Sunday afternoon to commence an extraordinary session and called his followers to join him outside of the Legislative Assembly. Throughout the day, police and soldiers deployed throughout the city. The reason for posting those forces in public spaces in San Salvador was never explained by Bukele or his security ministers.
In calling the people to gather in front of the Legislative Assembly, Bukele referred to Article 87 in the Constitution of El Salvador which contains the right of the people to "insurrection:"
As 3:00 approached, security forces under control of the executive branch took over guarding access to the Legislative Assembly. When the dozen or so deputies who had decided to show up entered the Legislative Assembly, they did so in the presence of armed troops who ringed the chamber.
The video in this tweet shows the stationing of armed soldiers in the Assembly.
Around 4:00, Bukele arrived at the outskirts of the Legislative Assembly where his supporters were gathered. He took to the podium and began a diatribe against the the deputies in the Legislative Assembly who had thus far failed to approve his requested loan package and were not showing up for this special session. His most pointed attacks relied on the recent indictments of political leaders for negotiating with gangs for votes in the 2014 presidential election, saying that the major parties had paid money with the gangs which the gangs used to buy arms and munitions to take Salvadoran lives. Now, said Bukele, they refuse to give votes for a plan to provide for security for Salvadorans.Elementos de la Fuerza Armada y de la UMO ingesan al Salón Azul de la Asamblea Legislativa. Se presume que el diputado Guillermo Gallegos presidirá la sesión, pero aún no hay quórum. Video cortesía pic.twitter.com/AFCLnjeAJT— TCS Noticias (@tcsnoticias) February 9, 2020
Video of Bukele address to supporters outside Legislative Assembly.
|Bukele supporters outside Legislative Assembly|
After speaking to the crowd, Bukele entered the Legislative Assembly. He spoke a few words to indicate he was there to convene the special session called by the Council of Ministers. Bukele, with deputy Guillermo Gallegos of GANA seated next to him, then began to pray silently for several minutes. Finished with his prayer, Bukele rose and walked out of the Assembly chambers.
El Presidente @nayibbukele oró en el Salón Azul de la @AsambleaSV antes de dirigirse a la población para pedir paciencia con los diputados, quienes se han negado a discutir el financiamiento de la #Fase3 del #PlanControlTerritorial. #ElPuebloManda. pic.twitter.com/Vbs5tbV5Pf— Secretaría de Prensa de la Presidencia (@SecPrensaSV) February 10, 2020
Bukele returned to the speaker's platform in front of his followers outside. He told them in prayer he had decided patience was needed. He would give the deputies one more week to approve the loan package. If they failed to do so, he promised to rally his supporters again next weekend.Junto al Presidente @nayibbukele oramos en el pleno legislativo para que los Fondos económicos destinados a la SEGURIDAD de nuestro país sean aprobamos lo más pronto posible, no es Justo que no lo hayamos aprobado por nuestro pueblo que tanto sufre el problema de criminalidad. pic.twitter.com/Gn300aOmtd— Guillermo Gallegos (@GGallegos24) February 10, 2020
The ball is now in the Legislative Assembly's court. Failure to act on the loan package will trigger another weekend like this one. Yet the deputies in the Assembly don't like Bukele and they don't like to be ordered around. In an election year like this one, their political calculus is difficult.
One could not help but feel today that El Salvador has taken a significant step backwards in the process of consolidating its democracy after the civil war. The images of troops inside the Legislative Assembly led many to recall the conflict years of El Salvador. The provisions of the Peace Accords which returned the armed forces to their barracks and out of domestic matters seem to be long forgotten. Now troops with automatic weapons and police in flak jackets are being deployed solely for a political purpose of a president who rejected all calls for dialogue.
Follow me on Twitter, @TimMuth for more developments.