Nayib Bukele's power play

Salvadorans wake up Sunday morning to a country in the midst of a constitutional crisis.   President Nayib Bukele provoked the crisis Thursday when his Council of Ministers ordered the Legislative Assembly to come into extraordinary session Sunday, February 9, to vote on approving a $109 million international loan to "modernize" security forces.  The Assembly refuses to bow to Bukele dictating when they should meet.

Bukele has been aggressively pressuring the political parties in the assembly. Bukele has called on his supporters to converge on the Legislative Assembly Sunday afternoon to see to it that the deputies do their jobs.  Bukele ominously tweeted:

To the International Community.
El Salvador is dominated by two bands from the civil war, these two bands
continue with corruption and negotiate with criminal groups.  There
are videos of them negotiating lives in exchange for votes.  The people
are already tired of it and the President is with them.

That message has been accompanied by public statements by security forces proclaiming their loyalty to Bukele.  The top military command convened a press conference to read a statement without taking questions: 

We are waiting orders from our Commander General, @NayibBukele, and we are
prepared to defend our country even at the price of our lives,"  Minister of Defense

The Salvadoran armed forces twitter account sent out photos of the troops saluting Bukele:

All our troops have sworn allegiance to the
President of the Republic and Commander General of the Armed Forces
 and we will always be attentive to his orders

Similarly the National Civilian Police (PNC) publicly expressed its loyalty to Bukele. 

The action by Bukele's Council of Ministers to summon the legislature into session is based on Article 167 of the the Constitution of El Salvador which provides that the Council of Ministers has the power:
7.  To convene extraordinarily the Legislative Assembly when the interests of the Republic demand it.

The question is whether this provision can be used to call the Assembly into session to act on a loan package.   Is this the kind of  "extraordinary" setting which Article 167 contemplates?  Many legal groups opined that Bukele has overstepped his authority and failed to honor the independence of the separate branches of government.

The office of the Human Rights Ombudsman offered its opinion that the summons into a special session was not valid.  The same result was reached by think tank FUSADES and human rights legal organization FESPAD.   

Business groups were uniformly opposed to Bukele's actions.

As the rhetoric between the parties escalates, others are calling for dialogue rather than threats:

The Due Process of Law Foundation made a call for Bukele to respect the separation of powers and the "sovereignty of the legislative branch, a basic principle of all democracy."

The University of Central America urged Bukele and the legislators to look for dialogue and to lower the temperature of the crisis, seeking peace and national tranquility and respect for the institutions of democracy.

El Salvador's Attorney General Raul Melara tweeted:

Maintaining dialogue and consensus for the well-being of the country
and its citizens is the obligation of each one of the organs of the State.

As Attorney General. I remain vigilant to see that the state of law is
respected and nobody transgresses the established boundaries.

US Ambassador to El Salvador Ron Johnson tweeted:

I believe in the democratic spirit that lives in all Salvadorans, and
I am convinced that the best way for resolution of conflicts is reasonable
dialogue and mutual respect.   We are with El Salvador.
El Salvador's Human Rights Ombudsman, Apolonio Tobar offered his services as a mediator between Bukele and the Legislative Assembly.

There initially appeared to be the possibility of a way out of the crisis Saturday night, as the president of the Legislative Assembly, Mario Ponce, called a special session of the Legislative Assembly to discuss the proposed loan.  But a quorum of deputies failed to appear at the special session so Ponce called a new session for Monday at noon, ignoring Bukele's insistence that they meet today Sunday.

Meanwhile, the $109 million loan package itself might be in trouble, even if the Legislative Assembly goes into session to take a vote on it.  The funding from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) is proposed for buying equipment to modernize the armed forces and build a hospital in Phase III of Bukele's Territorial Control Plan.   One problem is that Bukele has never released a document called the Territorial Control Plan.   Other concerns have been raised about possible conflicts of interest after El Faro revealed that prisons chief Osiris Luna Meza traveled on a private luxury jet funded by a Mexican security firm which sells video surveillance systems among other equipment.   ARENA and FMLN are reportedly both unwilling to support the loan package which requires a super majority vote in the Assembly.

In making this move, Bukele is counting on his very high approval ratings among the Salvadoran populace in comparison to the low esteem in which politicians and the Legislative Assembly are held.  This is especially true this past week as leaders from both ARENA and the FMLN were charged with paying negotiating payments to gangs in return for votes in the 2014 presidential election.   Bukele assumes that warnings that he is trampling institutional protections of Salvadoran democracy will be drowned out by his populist appeal to punish corrupt politicians who negotiate with gangs and delay granting funding for modernizing the security forces.


David said…
One thing you might want to add is the international reaction - beyond that of the US Ambassador.

Also, the fact that the PPI agents (security detail) of all (? - or just opposition) legislators were told to go home.
David said…
One important thing - Nayib announces his intentions to invoke Art. 167 in the same Thursday press conference with US Ambassador Ronaldo Johnson by his side (ostensibly to announce the work visas for 1000 Salvador.) Did Johnson know this was going to happen? Or did he get played?
Don said…
The constitution of El Salvador guarantees that the president and his cabinet of minsters have the right to convene the Legislative Assembly whenever there is a valid public interest (and yes, a loan for a security plan for the nation is in their interest and so yes the article definitely applies). I don't see how exercising that right constitutes a constitutional crisis.

I do, however, see a problem when deputies in the LA refuse to obey this article of the constitution and then cry "GOLPE". This is a case of checks and balances. The constitution gives the president the right to convene the LA as a way to overcome impasses and accomplish meaningful and sometimes controversial policy changes. This is a simple case of checks and balances. When the LA refuses to cooperate with this extraordinary session they are opposing the checks and balances that exist. If you want to blame someone for this, but somehow not blame the deputies, then blame the people who wrote the constitution.

The events went down like this:

1) On the 7th during a press conference with the U.S. Ambassador, Bukele announced that he was using his constitutional right to convene the LA on Sunday at 3 P.M. (He also mentioned that the LA had used their constitutional right during the past months to draw out and stall a vote on the proposed security plan. So, he will use his constitutional powers to bring them together in a meeting and get over any impasse)

2) Norman Quijano said on TV that Bukele's call for a Sunday meeting was AUTHORITARIAN (i.e., deputies can't possibly work on a Sunday like the rest of the country, please.)

3) Saturday the 8th Bukele reiterated that the meeting on Sunday is not optional per The Constitution of El Salvador.

4) ARENA released a statement that CALLED ON THE UN, OEA, OR ANYBODY REALLY TO STEP IN AND STOP THE PRESIDENT (lol). The statement called on the armed forces of El Salvador to act apolitical. At this point nobody except for ARENA's statement had brought up the armed forces. (THIS WAS LEFT OUT OF YOUR BLOG POST BY THE WAY)

5) The Armed Forces tweeted back that they would remain apolitical, and that they would continue to serve the Salvadoran people per the constitution which designated the president as their commander.

6) Bukele reiterated that he expects everyone to attend this meeting on Sunday.

If you didn't know better this blog, el faro, and revista factum would have you believe that Nayib Bukele is a Salvadoran Rodrigo Duterte.

ARENA and FMLN have achieved one of their goals here in this blog. The goal is to move the conversation away from the results of the security plan and away from their past 30 years of absolute pilfering of the state away from paying gangs for votes away from 30 years of ineptitude and lies.

They would prefer that we all talk about a constitutional crisis and forget about the failed state that they handed over to this government. The people here see through this and will support Bukele and the security plan legislation until it is passed.

So, this story leaves out the results of the policy, the popular support for the policy, the actual chain of events, ARENA asking for external organizations to intervene and STOP THE PRESIDENT FROM CARRYING OUT A RIGHT GUARANTEED TO HIM BY THE CONSTITUTION.

Don said…
Bukele calls an extraordinary session of the legislative assembly for a Sunday afternoon in order to overcome an impasse in negotiations between deputies and acquire funding for the third phase of a security plan that has reduced gang violence. We are talking about gang violence that was at historically unprecedented levels world wide. The population was invited to show their support (or disapproval) of the loan.

El Faro, ARENA, FMLN, Mauricio Funes, and revista factum: "THIS IS A GOLPE DE ESTADO! SEND THE UN TO SAVE US FROM THIS MONSTER!!!!"

Also, no mention of the fact that the LA is due to vote on the fuero for the deputies of FMLN and ARENA soon. So, of course any way that they can make the government look illegitimate is their number one priority.

Seems like everybody is falling in line too.

Greg said…
Good - the only way to break the backs of the FMLN and ARENA - who are struggling to retain whatever power they still have and by any means.

Kudos to the US Ambassador - he knows the players and the game well.