Showing posts from September, 2021

The World's Coolest Dictator and his Bitcoin gambit

Here is another round-up of El Salvador related news in the English language press around the world.   Many of the recent headlines take off from Nayib Bukele's decision to label himself the "world's coolest dictator" in his Twitter profile.   Other articles continue the world press fascination with Bukele's Bitcoin experiment in the country.   Too little attention was paid to Bukele's overhaul of the judicial system with judges to his liking.   Nayib Bukele calls himself the ‘world’s coolest dictator’ – but is he joking? (The Guardian) “Few world leaders have navigated the Covid-19 crisis for their own political benefit better than the Salvadoran president.” Fears for democracy in El Salvador after president claims to be ‘coolest dictator (The Guardian) -- “US diplomat raises concerns after Nayib Bukele makes outlandish claim on Twitter and replaces judges to permit future re-election.” President of El Salvador rebrands himself ‘world’s coolest dictator’ a

Judicial purge in El Salvador

 El Salvador is currently in the midst of an ongoing conflict which will determine if the judicial branch in the country has any remaining ability to check abuses of power by the executive or legislative branches. On August 31, the Legislative Assembly adopted a measure from President Bukele to purge a significant part of the country's judges from their posts.  The changes require judges and prosecutors to retire once they turn 60 or have 30 years of service, which would remove more than 200 judges (one-third of all judges) and dozens of prosecutors.   Then the Supreme Judicial Court and the National Council of the Judiciary, filled with Nuevas Ideas appointees and allies, will be able to replace the judges with ones whom they approve.  The law also allows for re-assigning judges across the country. That law could go into effect today, September 25.  A court in San Miguel, however, has issued an order staying the law for now.  The order requires the Supreme Judicial Court, the Pr

Bukele pushes back as US places top judges on "Engel List"

Jean Manes, Acting US Ambassador to El Salvador US relations with Nayib Bukele's government in El Salvador hit a new low this week.  The Biden administration expanded its Engel List on Monday, September 20, by adding the five magistrates of El Salvador's Constitutional Chamber to the list of corrupt actors who undermine democratic institutions. The announcement from the US State Department declared:    Elsy Dueñas De Aviles, Oscar Alberto López Jerez, Hector Nahun Martinez Garcia, Jose Angel Perez Chacon, and Luis Javier Suárez Magaña , current Magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, undermined democratic processes or institutions by accepting direct appointments to the Chamber by the Legislative Assembly. The previous five Magistrates were abruptly removed without legitimate cause following the May 1 seating of the newly elected Legislative Assembly. After being installed, the new Magistrates declared their installation by the Legislative Assembly to

Uncomfortable journalism

The last few days have seen the battle between Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele and the independent press in his country escalate even further. The current round began with publication of an important story by digital media site GatoEncerrado about the ruling by El Salvador's Constitutional Chamber which opened the possibility for presidents including Nayib Bukele to be immediately reelected for a second term.  That decision, which altered prior precedent and the recognized interpretation of the Salvadoran constitution has been widely criticized.   In its reporting, Gato revealed that, after the decision was signed but before it had been disclosed to the public, the office of the president was informed of the decision.  The legal assistant to the president, Javier Argueta , contacted the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and asked for a meeting. The TSE is the body which oversees Salvadoran elections and decides who can run for office. Argueta conversed with fo

El Salvador's Bicentennial Independence Day

Today was an Independence Day in El Salvador quite unlike any in recent memory.  It is the Bicentennial of the independence of El Salvador and the rest of Central America from Spain, and is occurring in the midst of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of   civic parades  with school marching bands and military units, thousands of Salvadorans took to the streets in a series of marches protesting government policies. In 2019, on the last Independence Day celebration before the COVID-19 pandemic, president Bukele hosted a large military parade , including a mock "anti-terrorist" operation against gang members.  The pandemic greatly limited any public gatherings in 2020.  This year, however, with parades and civic events still largely restricted to mitigate pandemic illness, civil society groups, healthcare worker unions, student groups, social movements all called for combined protest marches in the capital city of San Salvador.   The concerns of the marchers spanne

El Salvador hopes to vaccinate its way out of third wave of COVID cases

  Daily confirmed cases El Salvador is in the middle of a third wave of COVID-19 cases acknowledges the government .  The country recorded 324 confirmed cases on September 12, the highest confirmed daily total since mid-January of this year at the height of a post-holiday wave of cases.  The 324 cases equates to a high 13% test positivity rate on the approximate 2500 tests run by the government lab.  (The government does not report test results performed by private labs or other entities and has held the daily number of tests steady since May 2020).   The official confirmed death toll is 3,043 out of 99,701 confirmed cases, for a mortality rate of 3%.  You can see a set of all the El Salvador confirmed COVID-19 information at Our World in Data .   The actual death toll is unknown but certainly much higher . As always, the scarcity of quality data being released by the government continues to be a challenge in assessing the extent of the pandemic in El Salvador.   Other than the number

Have chances for justice in the El Mozote massacre case vanished?

This story was originally published under the title  Survivors and Families of Victims of a 1981 El Salvador Massacre See Justice Slip Away Again  a t ProPublica . The judge investigating the 1981 El Mozote massacre has been fired by El Salvador’s government as the right-wing populist president, Nayib Bukele, consolidates power. For victims, survivors and their families, that means justice could never come. By Raymond Bonner and Nelson Rauda, Sept. 13, 2021 In a makeshift courtroom on the second floor of a nondescript brick building in northeastern El Salvador, Judge Jorge Guzmán has spent the last six years painstakingly gathering evidence from the survivors of one of the worst massacres in the modern history of Latin America: the slaughter of a thousand old men, women and children by the Salvadoran army during the country’s civil war. Forty years after the massacre, former senior military officers, including the minister of defense at the time, have been facing charges rangi

A collection of news coverage

El Salvador has been receiving a great deal of coverage in English language press in recent weeks. Here's a collection touching on Salvadoran democracy, Bitcoin, Bukele and TPS. “El Salvador isn’t a democracy anymore”  (El Faro, Sep. 8, 2021) -- Interview with Santiago Cantón, former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.   Is El Salvador’s President Trying to Shut Down a Hearing on the Infamous El Mozote Massacre? (The New Yorker, Sep 9, 2021) -- the law terminating careers of judges over 60 years of age and its impact on the historic trial of the worst single massacre in Latin America history. Gift for El Salvador mudslide victims comes at steep price  (AP, Sep. 3, 2021) -- Nayib Bukele delivered small modern houses to the victims of a mudslide, but never asked if that's what they wanted. El Salvador's bitcoin digital wallet beset by technical glitches  (Reuters, Sep. 10, 2021) -- four days after the launch of the Chivo App, many users are

The ineffectual US policy towards El Salvador

It is pretty obvious that the US does not know what to do about the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele.  Bukele has made it clear that he rejects the criticism from the US and will not allow it to influence his actions. When the US expressed its support of Attorney General Melara in April, the Bukele-controlled Legislative Assembly fired him on May 1. When the US  announced  additional funding for the CICIES anti-corruption commission, Bukele terminated the CICIES. When the US protested the dismissal of Constitutional Chamber magistrates on May 1, Bukele tweeted that the changes were "irreversible." When the US published the  Engel List  of corrupt actors which included several in the Bukele administration, none have been removed or investigated. When on August 4, US Secretary of State Blinken  announced  enhanced use of denial of travel visas to persons believed to be involved in corruption or subverting democratic institutions like judicial independence, nothing changed

It was Bitcoin Day in El Salvador

Today, September 7, 2021, Bitcoin (BTC) became legal tender in El Salvador.  That makes El Salvador the first country to adopt the crypto-currency as one of its recognized currencies, along with the US dollar, for engaging in all sorts of transactions.   This comes only four months after Nayib Bukele announced his plans at a speech to a Bitcoin conference in Miami.    It is still a plan with which the Salvadoran public disagrees . The day started with technical glitches as the Chivo digital wallet app did not appear in the Apple or Android app stores at the start of the day.   President Bukele tweeted that testing was still going on.   By mid-day, the app was available for Apple devices, but later in the day it was still not available for Android devices other than Huawei phones through the Huawei app gallery. On social media, it was a day of competing images.  The twitter account of Chivo spent the day tweeting the advertisements of various local establishments who announced they wer

Opinion polling on El Salvador's current reality

The Institute for Public Opinion at the University of Central America released results of polling done in August regarding the current situation in El Salvador.  You can find the full report here . Here are some points of interest: Nayib Bukele still has a high job approval rating (7.64 out of 10), although the IUDOP says this is the lowest rating he has held during his term in office. The Legislative Assembly also gets a passing grade (6.27  out of 10), although those polled do believe that the deputies in the Assembly work more for their political party than the good of the people. The principal problems people see confronting the country are: Crime / insecurity   21.8% Economy   19.5% The COVID-19 pandemic  16.9% Unemployment    12.7% Poverty    7.2% High cost of living    4% Bad government policy    3.5% Violence    2.7% Gangs    2.6% Corruption    2% Politics / politicians / parties    1.7% Bad / lack of education    0.9% The new currency / Bitcoin    0.9% Inequality    0.7% Anoth

Sweeping changes help Bukele consolidate power

This week may go down in Salvadoran history as the week in which Nayib Bukele completed his consolidation of one man / one party rule in El Salvador. By eliminating one third of the country's judges and procuring a ruling from the Constitutional Chamber which allows him to run for an additional five years in office, the 40-year-old head-of-state has reduced the independence of any part of government which could act as a check on his actions. The first event happened on August 31 as the Legislative Assembly suspended normal procedure and adopted a previously undisclosed plan to remove hundreds of judges and prosecutors.   From El Faro English : On Tuesday, August 31, four days after President Bukele announced via Twitter that it’s time to “purge the judicial branch and remove the corrupt,” El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved previously unannounced changes to the Law of Judicial Careers and the Organic Law of the Attorney General’s Office, upending term-limits and placement o