When residents of La Libertad don't stay at home, Bukele punishes whole town
Over the past weekend, the town of Puerto La Libertad received a punishment from the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele. In a tweet, he ordered the city to be cordoned off by the military with no one allowed to enter or leave. Residents were confined to their houses without permission to leave even to buy food or medicine.
The military blocked all access to the city, and patrolled it wearing masks and toting semi-automatic weapons. Although the national stay-at-home order permits one member of each household to leave the house to purchase food and medicine and permits workers involved in the provision of food and groceries to work in that essential activity, all was shut down in La Libertad.
The blockade of La Libertad lasted for 48 hours. The lockdown was apparently prompted by a video circulating on social media which showed various resident of the town strolling the streets in violation of the nationwide stay-at-home order ("cuarentena domiciliar"). Bukele responded with a collective punishment for the actions of those out on the street.
Bukele was fairly unapologetic about his purpose to punish the town and its inhabitants for not staying at home. In announcing that the sanitary blockade would be lifted at 8pm on Sunday night, he wrote:
El cerco sanitario en el Puerto de La Libertad, termina hoy a las 8:00pm.— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) April 19, 2020
Sin embargo, continúa la cuarentena domiciliar obligatoria, con todas las restricciones y excepciones del Decreto Ejecutivo 19.
Usen bien las excepciones, los abusos nos llevan a los cercos sanitarios.
The sanitary enclosure of Puerto La Libertad ends today at 8:00pm. However, mandatory home quarantine continues with all the restrictions and exceptions of Executive Decree 19. Use well the exceptions. Abuses bring us the sanitary enclosures.The president finds his power to take actions like this in powers given to the Ministry of Health in the country's health code. The Ministry has the power to seal off areas of the country when it is necessary to stop the spread of a contagion. The government argues this gives it the power to treat people who violate the stay at home order as a source of contagion. As a practical matter, Bukele worries that the population may not be sufficiently heeding his stay-at-home order, and he needed to have a dramatic show of firmness to reinforce compliance.
Opponents to the measure, however, point to the fact that there have been no cases of COVID-19 detected in La Libertad. How can one cordon off a city to avoid the spread of a disease when the disease is not present? Bukele's actions, which came without notice, punished many in the town who were fully complying by staying at home. Like many actions of Bukele's management of the crisis, the measure was announced first by tweet, and gave the impression given that Bukele acted solo without consulting anyone else. The cordoning off of La Libertad follows by a few days Bukele's announcement that he would not follow supreme court rulings prohibiting him from detaining persons in quarantine centers for merely violating the stay at home order.
Bukele and his supporters justify his actions with the logic that an extreme crisis calls for extreme measures. His critics responded with a wave of social media posts using the hashtag #BukeleDictador.
In other COVID-19 news:
- With the sanitary blockade lifted this morning, the government tweeted photos of bags of food and bottled water being prepared for distribution in La Libertad.
- The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in El Salvador stands at 218 with 7 deaths. The number of community spread cases where there is no connection to international travel has risen to 101, with the greatest number in San Salvador and the surrounding area.
- El Salvador's international airport will remain closed to commercial passenger flights until at least May 4, continuing to leave hundreds of Salvadorans abroad no way to return home.
- The government announced it had received 2.2 million pills of hydroxychloroquine, the drug touted by Donald Trump and which has some anecdotal proof of efficacy.
- A sanitary zone is being established in the historic center of San Salvador with entrance being limited to persons who work in food markets, banks and pharmacies, and persons authorized to go and purchase such items.
Today is the 30th day of the cuarentena domiciliar / stay-at-home order.