The far right in the US falls for Bukele

President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador has become the Latin American leader most lauded by the far right in the United States. The millennial president, who once labelled Donald Trump “nice and cool” after meeting with Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting, is now being held up by the far right as a model for what strong national leader should be.   

Among the conservatives, one group of Bukele fans are libertarian in their leanings – these are the supporters who enthusiastically promote Bitcoin.  They support Bitcoin for providing a currency system which is free of government control and not dependent on the actions of multinational financial institutions. When Bukele tweets “We will stand for freedom… bitcoin is FU money” these libertarian Bitcoiners stand up and cheer. 

More recently, a different swarm of conservative pundits has come out in praise of Bukele after his recent videos of the transfer of the first prisoners into the new mega-prison outside of San Vicente.   The images of heavily tattooed, shackled, half-naked prisoners in positions of submission made perfect video for tough on crime messaging by right wing commentators.

Two members of the New York Young Republican Club wrote an opinion piece in Newsweek proclaiming Bukele has “a blueprint for restoring law and order to its rightful place in governance.”  An article in The American Conservative declared “there is still inspiration to take from Bukele’s success.”   In a speech on March 4 at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting, Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire said to applause:

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, cut the nation’s murder rate in half in just one year. How did he do it? Well, he built a big prison and put all the criminals in it,” to much applause from the audience. He added, “If one of the weakest countries on Earth can do it, why can’t we? I think we can.”

MediaMatters has a good collection of Knowles and other right wing television and Internet pundits praising Bukele and his prison state in El Salvador.  Bukele also appeared to really enjoy the praise he received from InfoWars, the ultraright wing conspiracy theory site of Alex Jones, so he retweeted it to his millions of followers on Twitter.

Most prominent among Nayib Bukele’s admirers from the US conservative movement is Tucker Carlson of the Fox News Network. He hosts the programs where Nayib Bukele has most often appeared.  Bukele routinely turns down interview requests from other international media outlets.  For example, When Jorge Ramos of Univision was requesting an interview of Bukele – Bukele replied in a tweet “tell that Jorge who is asking for an interview I already gave it to Tucker.”

On November 1, 2022, Bukele was the guest for an hour long broadcast of Tucker Carlson Today.  The interview was conducted in English and was presented on the Fox Nation streaming service.  The Salvadoran president then had Spanish subtitles added to the program and made it available from the president’s own social media channels.

During their hour long conversation, Carlson praised Bukele for his wisdom while Bukele offered up his opinions on global macroeconomics, adoption of Bitcoin, and how the international media and economic press is "Fake news" and propaganda.  Bukele recently tweeted this interview a second time to his followers on March 4, 2023, as the chorus of praise for him from other conservative pundits was spreading.

The Salvadoran president, has granted several other interviews to Tucker Carlson.  Appearances have included Tucker Carlson Tonight on Sept. 21, 2022 and March 16, 2021 and Tucker Carlson Originals, June 10, 2021 – Hunting MS-13.    

Who is Tucker Carlson?

Tucker Carlson is a prominent personality on the Fox News Network in the United States, owned by Rupert Murdoch.  He is one of the most popular hosts on primetime cable, with more than three million viewers each night.  In addition to his primetime cable show, he also hosts Tucker Carlson Today on the Fox Nation streaming service.

Carlson has long been popular in right wing conservative circles in the US.  Carlson was a strong backer of Donald Trump, and is a critic of Democratic president Joseph Biden.  His diatribes about race and immigration on his programs lead his critics to label him a white supremacist. In a study of Carlson’s influence, the New York Times wrote:    

Mr. Carlson has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful.

Carlson is not a news anchor or a journalist. In fact, his employer Fox successfully won a defamation lawsuit by claiming no reasonable person would believe that what Carlson states is factual.  From the court decision in 2020:

This “general tenor” of the show should then inform a viewer that he is not “stating actual facts” about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.” .... Fox persuasively argues that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer “arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism” about the statements he makes.

Carlson on immigration

One of the defining characteristics of Tucker Carlson is a xenophobic opposition to migration into the United States from poor countries in the world.   For example, in this clip he describes immigrants as making the US “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”  His broadcasts frequently include anti-immigration rants, suggesting an “endless chain of migrant caravans” bring "garbage to the border."

Carlson has openly embraced the “great replacement theory” of white supremacist groups.  That theory asserts that advocates for immigration are seeking to replace white Christian Americans with persons of color and different “un-American” values.    

Why Bukele likes Tucker

Considering Tucker Carlson’s reputation, then why is Bukele so willing to sit down with him?   

For one thing, Carlson flatters Bukele calling him “very wise” and “not like other politicians” and “the single most popular democratically elected president in the world.”

Secondly, Carlson has a very large audience, currently the second largest on prime time cable “news” in the US with more than 3 million viewers and a large following on social media as well.  As Bukele seeks the votes of the Salvadoran diaspora in the 2024 elections, having a media reach in the US is of value to that effort.

Thirdly, Carlson is staunchly opposed to international media outlets like New York Times and Washington Post. Bukele also despises those same media for their reporting which highlights Bukele’s human rights abuses.

Bukele finds a kindred spirit in Carlson in their opposition to Biden administration policies.   Under the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Bukele and Carlson are very close friends indeed.

Carlson interviews Bukele March 2021

Why Tucker likes Bukele

And so why does Tucker Carlson find Bukele such a congenial guest for his programs?  After all, Bukele is the president of a country where one fourth of its native born population has emigrated to the US.   Bukele has presided over a growth in migration out of El Salvador towards the US in record numbers.

Carlson likes authoritarian rulers around the world.  Carlson has shown himself to be a fan of strong white authoritarian rulers.  For example, he has praised Viktor Orbán, the right wing authoritarian ruler of Hungary for opposing migration into that country and as a defender of European Christian values.  As Vladimir Putin prepared to invade Ukraine, Carlson criticized the US opposition to Russia and has continued to critique the support of the US and European allies for Ukraine’s defense of its country. 

Other favorite rulers of Carlson are Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil and Poland’s conservative president Andrzej Duda.

Given Carlson’s fondness for authoritarian leaders, it should come as no surprise that he has invited Bukele to join him on his programs.  It is a right wing talking point that US cities are being overwhelmed by out of control crime.  Bukele is lifted up as a “tough on crime” leader who does not let niceties like human rights or due process get in his way.  Bukele will give Carlson soundbites surrounding immigration such as the presence of gang members among migrant groups, or that US is inducing immigration with public benefits made available to migrants.   And Bukele is head of state willing to publicly criticize the Biden administration.

Bukele’s appearance on Tucker Carlson Today in November 2022 came at a time when the Salvadoran government was telling the Salvadorn public that it was advocating for the continuation of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for almost 200 thousand Salvadorans living in the US.  El Salvador’s Ambassador to the US, Milena Mayorga tweeted multiple times that month about her government’s advocacy for extension of the TPS program.   For example, this tweet: 

Our embassy has had a very active agenda with the Biden administration, Congress and pro-migrant organizations.   We are seeking to join forces with diverse organizations for this common goal regarding TPS.

Yet Tucker Carlson has been a supporter of Trump’s cancellation of the TPS program.   Trump cancelled TPS for El Salvador along with Haiti and various African countries, calling El Salvador a “shithole country.”  When there was a vocal response in opposition to that comment, Carlson responded:


Bukele’s willingness to ignore those comments and grant long interviews to Carlson is consistent with his approach throughout the Trump administration.   Bukele would overlook the racist condescension of Trump and his allies towards hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans living in the US while the US was giving Bukele positive attention.  He is doing the same with his new fan club from the far right in American politics.

It appears that Bukele may be doubling down on the right wing in American politics with a bet that Biden will be a one term president.   2024 is an election year in both countries.