Salvadoran politicians quibble while country suffers

The stalemate continues between Nayib Bukele and the Legislative Assembly in El Salvador over ongoing measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.   The country has largely been on lockdown since the fourth week of March.   Early unanimity among the legislators, the private sector and Bukele about prevention measures has long since broken down. 

Twice the Legislative Assembly passed laws with its own version of emergency provisions to deal with the pandemic and its consequences.   Both times the Assembly did not give Bukele everything he wanted and so the president vetoed the measures, despite the fact that these vetoes left without legal support his executive decrees declaring stay-at-home orders, closing businesses and suspending the transportation system.

On Monday, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling invalidating all of the pandemic-related laws and decrees.  The court overturned two laws and eleven executive decrees.   The court did delay the effective date of its ruling for four days to give the president and the legislature time to come to agreement on a constitutionally firm package of pandemic response measures.

"Coming to agreement" is not something that this president and this Legislative Assembly have had any success in doing.   The Salvadoran public watched the sad spectacle today of the executive branch inviting the legislature to meet at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients while the deputies insisted the president's team to come to a meeting at the Assembly offices.   Both waited as neither showed up.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement, there is the possibility that Salvadorans will spring out of their houses this weekend, freed from the strict stay-at-home orders in place since March, and furthering the spread of the virus.

The primary points of disagreement between the Assembly and Bukele are:
1. The restart of the country's bus system used by a majority of Salvadorans. The legislators want to restart the system immediately, but the government wants the suspension of transport service be extended until the second phase of reopening the economy.  
2.  The days that a "strict quarantine" could continue, confining people to their homes except on specific days. The Government asked for 15 more days, but the deputies agreed only that this period would apply to the public sector, but for those going to work in the private sector quarantine would end sooner. The end of this "strict quarantine" would mark the beginning of reopening the economy.  
3.  Purchasing rules.  The government wants to continue provisions which have allowed it to procure goods and services without complying with the public procurement laws.   The deputies want such procedures to be followed.
4. Delivery of reports.   The Assembly wants the government to provide detailed reports on its spending to the legislature for oversight purposes.  The government only wants to respond to the Court of Accounts.   The government wants to continue suspending any response to public record requests.
Yet these disagreements come at a time when El Salvador needs its leaders to put aside bickering and produce measures for the common good.    There are more and more images from all over El Salvador of families in poverty waving white flags along roadsides to indicate a desperate need for assistance.   Thousands were affected by Tropical Storm Amanda.   Remittance flows from relatives in the US have plunged.   Thousands of jobs have disappeared.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase in the country.  The hospital system is being severely taxed while a promised COVID-19 hospital in the CIFCO convention center is still not up and running.  As elsewhere around the world, front line workers like medical professionals and police are contracting the virus.   There are reports of the virus in facilities for the elderly. 

It's hard to be optimistic.