Developments in attack on FMLN supporters
Following the deadly attack on a truck carrying FMLN supporters leaving an election rally on Sunday night, the situation is only slightly clearer. Responses to the event have been along three lines:
- Condemnations of the murders and demands for a transparent investigation.
- Concerns that this event does not signal a return to times of political violence which have marked El Salvador's past.
- Denunciations of the style of discourse of president Nayib Bukele and his allies, especially as represented by Bukele's tweet in the moments after the attack which insinuated that the deaths were a self-attack by the FMLN on its own to generate sympathy for the party and criticism of his government.
What we know at this point is that two people died in the attack: Juan de Dios Tejada y Gloria Rogel del Cid, both FMLN members, and at least three more were wounded. There are three captured suspects who are all connected to El Salvador's Ministry of Health. One of the suspects is a body guard for top officials within the Ministry of Health and another was a driver for the ministry. A third suspect was reported to be a private security guard for the ministry. After the shooting they drove their car to a parking lot annexed to a building of the Ministry of Health. There are social media posts attributed to the Ministry of Health bodyguard where he expresses antagonism towards the FMLN and has a profile picture with a shotgun on his lap.
One of the Ministry of Health bodyguards was also wounded by gunfire. The president and his supporters are now describing the deadly confrontation as a shootout with both sides exchanging gun shots. The Minister of Health, Francisco Alabi, called the shooting "totally mutual." Bukele tweeted on Tuesday night that a surveillance camera on the street recorded an FMLN member shooting one of the bodyguards. FMLN representatives say the group of party supporters were unarmed.
Attorney General Raul Melara responded to a reporters questions saying that, at this point, the narrative of what happened was "confused." Melara characterized the event as one of "intolerance" and declined to answer whether he thought the shooting was an event of political violence.
In reporting in El Faro there is the account of an eyewitness in the FMLN vehicle when it was approached by the car with the shooters and unable to get away from them. Another digital periodical, Diario1, has a narrative of the events purportedly from someone in the truck.
Monday morning Attorney General Raul Melara summoned the heads of the country's political parties to meet with him. All of the parties sent representatives with the exception of the president's party, Nuevas Ideas.
The US Embassy tweeted:
As the United States Embassy, we express our sincere condolences to the victims of tonight's attacks. Any violence is unacceptable and those responsible must be brought to justice.
Everyone must condemn this act clearly, immediately & forcefully. El Salvador must not return to the violence of the past. I support a full investigation by AG @MelaraRaul
Father José María Tojeira, head of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America, tweeted:
To kill on the street, in front of numerous witnesses and in an electoral context, is a brutal and savage act that especially damages democratic coexistence. To investigate, pursue, and capture is inevitable. Bloodstained elections would be repugnant. Justice is the only path.
The Central American human rights organization Cristosal issued a call for an "exhaustive and prompt" investigation with "guarantees of transparency." Cristosal urged the president to guaranty conditions so that the population could participate in the elections "with freedom, without intimidation or fear."
The online periodical El Faro, which has been a frequent critic of the president, published an editorial stating
Arrests have been made and the alleged perpetrators — two of them bodyguards assigned to Francisco Alabí, the minister of health — have been charged. And while the details of the crime have yet to completely emerge, we can already confirm that Bukele used a deadly attack to go after his political opponents. He did so without proof, and he did it purposefully. This was not an aberration from his style, it was its essence. This is the man who governs El Salvador....
Despite the gravity of the president’s reaction, it comes as no surprise. It is the continuation of the rhetoric this president has wielded since he took office: insulting, disqualifying, lying about, and attacking his political opponents. Dissident voices have no room in the country he rules.
He conceives politics as a battle to eliminate the adversary by any means necessary. His discourse of hate has been the central pillar not only of his campaign, but his governing strategy. It is constant warfare.
Bukele has not removed his original tweet about a "self-attack" nor has he expressed any condolences to the victims. The country's vice president Felix Ulloa Sunday night had tweeted out a more measured, appropriate response to the shooting, stating:
Ante el hecho violento de este dia expreso:— Félix Ulloa (@fulloa51) February 1, 2021
1.Mi sentido pésame a la familia.
2.Mi absoluta condena al mismo.
3.Mi llamado a no crispar el ambiente electoral, menos aún querer sacar ventajas políticas, haciendo señalamientos infundados.
4.Dejar a las autoridades hacer su trabajo
Faced with the violent act of this day I express:
1. My condolences to the family.
2.My absolute condemnation of it.
3. My call not to upend the electoral atmosphere, even less to want to get political advantages, by making unfounded remarks.
4.Let the authorities do their job
But others were quick to point out that in the morning Ulloa had spoken at an event of war veterans telling those gathered that today the country was involved in a "new war."
There were those in the FMLN who were also amping up rhetoric rather than calming the situation. Jorge Schafik Handal tweeted the hashtag "#BukeleAsesino." There is no evidence that this killing was directed by Bukele or his close associates.
The best thing which could happen now is a transparent investigation and prompt justice for those involved. Everyone should lament the loss of innocent lives. Everyone should avoid rhetoric which might inflame tensions and make a repetition of this event possible. That starts at the top.
UPDATED - 11:30AM, 2 Feb, to indicate that PNC has said no one from the FMLN is under arrest in connection with the event.