Bukele's armed forces
The history of El Salvador's military during the 20th century was filled with violations of democratic rule and basic human rights. Decades of military dictatorship began in 1932 with General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, who ordered "La Matanza", the massacre of 10,000-20,000 mostly indigenous campesinos after a peasant-led uprising. There would follow 47 years of governments imposed by the military and sham elections.
During El Salvador's civil war from 1980-1992, the military would be responsible for massacres killing tens of thousands of civilians. The largest single massacre in Latin American history, the the massacre at El Mozote and surrounding communities, left a thousand dead, including more than 400 under the age of 12. In 1989, a military squad would invade the campus of the University of Central America and kill 6 Jesuit priests, a female employee and her daughter.
|At memorial wall to civilian victims of civil war
Throughout those decades, the Salvadoran military acted as a tool of repression on behalf of the wealthy oligarchy in the country.
Now, fast forward thirty years from the end of the civil war to September 15, 2022, Independence Day in El Salvador. The national celebration put together by the government of Nayib Bukele had as its centerpiece a military parade. (There had even been an edict earlier in the week that no local school celebrations could take place until the national parade of military and police units had occurred, but that edict was largely ignored across the nation).
The Salvadoran armed forces occupied the place of honor at the front of the Independence Day parade. For more than 90 minutes, all the elements of the Salvadoran armed forces marched in lockstep past the Divine Savior of the World monument and a statute of Saint Oscar Romero. Thousands of troops carrying automatic weapons strode past flag-waving Salvadorans and their children. Overflights by military helicopters, jets, and drones, passed repeatedly over the parade route. The parade came complete with a simulated capture of gang members by military special forces members.
|Independence Day military parade
Announcers on the government television broadcast gushed about the valiant heroes of the country and all of the modern armaments and tactics with which they were equipped. The government-sponsored messaging linked patriotism and love of country with praise and celebration of the military.
Under El Salvador's constitution as amended by the 1992 Peace Accords, public security is the job of a professional, civilian police force to be completely separate from the Armed Forces. The president is allowed to call out the armed forces, only in exceptional circumstances after he has exhausted all ordinary means of maintaining public order. (El Sal. Const. Art. 159 and 168).The Chapultepec Peace Agreement dedicated its broadest and most detailed chapter to the institutional reforms of the Army. The core of the reform was to remove public security functions from it and constitutionally assign it the mission of guaranteeing the sovereignty of the State and the security of the territory. Thus, the reform of its doctrine, at least on paper, was based on the distinction between the concepts of security and national defense. ...
Since that 2014 decision, the active role of the armed forces in public security and policing has rapidly increased. The 2016 UCA editorial continued:
The great paradox is that the Army ended up revitalized by those in Chapultepec who most advocated for its reduction and purification. With the support of notable members of the FMLN, the Armed Forces not only grew exponentially in the number of active troops and personnel deployed in security functions, but also expanded its powers: it began to carry out patrols, searches, arrests, and seizures; implanted new operational centers for criminal control in the cities; and took control of the borders, penal centers and the international airport.
|Budget of the Salvadoran Armed Forces since 1992
|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
En los lugares donde hemos puesto en marcha la fase 4 del #PlanControlTerritorial, mantenemos presencia permanente 24/7.— René Francis Merino Monroy🇸🇻 (@merino_monroy) August 6, 2021
- En este momento estamos realizando patrullajes en distintas colonias de Soyapango para que la ciudadanía descanse tranquila en estas vacaciones. pic.twitter.com/5EU6m3jPnh
Under the current State of Exception, there is no pretense that the armed forces are acting as an adjunct to the civilian police. Soldiers patrol separately from the PNC, detain persons suspected of being affiliated with the gangs, and carry them off to detention. The armed forces tweet out photos of the suspects they have captured on a daily basis.In the places where we have launched phase 4 of the #PlanControlTerritorial, we maintain a permanent presence 24/7.At this time we are carrying out patrols in different neighborhoods of Soyapango so that citizens can rest easy during these vacations.
[The Salvadoran armed forces have] figured prominently in Bukele’s decisions regarding public security, pandemic containment, and political pressure on other branches of government. The paradox is now obvious. An administration that arose out of a broad political movement and replaced the traditional political powers dominating El Salvador’s democracy over the last 30 years, is now strengthening its position by resorting to unconstitutional measures with the support of an institution — El Salvador’s Armed Forces — whose separation and independence from political involvement is fundamental to a strong democracy.The military parade on Independence Day continued El Salvador down this path, as Bukele gave the armed forces the place of honor in the country’s celebration of its national day. Later in the day, units of the military stood at attention just outside the hall in the presidential palace where Nayib Bukele announced that he would stand for reelection in 2024, despite a prohibition on consecutive presidential terms in the Salvadoran constitution.
El Salvador is already celebrating its #TrueIndependence with the announcement by President Bukele of running as a candidate for president in the next elections. #Nayib2024
The lessons of the 20th century in El Salvador appear to have been forgotten. The abuse of democratic order and the commission of atrocities by the military trouble few in Bukele's camp. When Bukele talks of the suffering of the civil war, he refers to it being inflicted by outside powers, not by the country's own soldiers following the orders of their military commanders in the government. Today, all sins are forgiven for those who will swear loyalty to Bukele.