Elections, big projects, and sports
Today's post weaves together several different news stories from the past week in El Salvador, from changes in the structure of government, to big projects promised in electoral campaigns, to sport stadiums.
The Legislative Assembly has enacted Nayib Bukele's plan to reduce the number of municipalities in El Salvador from 262 to 44 by combining existing towns and cities into single municipalities. Together with changes in the number of Legislative Assembly seats and the mathematical formula to allocate seats among parties, the new measures serve to consolidate power in Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party and lessen the chances of small, minority political parties getting a toehold.
Despite these changes to the rules of the game, or perhaps because of them, a coalition of civil society groups, calling itself "Citizen Resistance" has proposed a presidential candidate, Joel Humberto Sánchez. Sánchez is a Salvadoran businessman who left El Salvador when he was 19 years old during the civil war, and now lives in the US with no prior involvement in politics. Just being backed by civil society, however, will not be enough for him to appear on the ballot in 2024; a political party must nominate him as its candidate, and Citizen Resistance denies having any agreements with political parties concerning the Sanchez candidacy. A prior civil society coalition which goes by the name of "Sumar" or Coming Together has proposed a presidential ticket which is being adopted by the small Nuestro Tiempo political party.
It is likely that this upcoming presidential election will occur while important constitutional rights remain suspended in the country. It was not really news that the Legislative Assembly passed yet again a one month extension of the Regime of Exception with its suspension of constitutional rights in the country. This was the 15th consecutive extension of the measures which suspend due process protections for persons arrested during the government's war on gangs.
With an election only 8 months away, the computer generated renderings of new projects are flowing from the Bukele government. This week, Bukele laid the first stone for a new public hospital to replace the aging Hospital Rosales in San Salvador and released drawings of a gleaming new facility. The new hospital was promised during Bukele's 2019 presidential campaign, although it had actually been approved and loan funding obtained before Bukele even entered office. Bukele, who apologized in his speech for the four year delay, says the project will cost $61 million and be funded entirely by taxpayer dollars. The hospital will be built by the government public works administration rather than private contractors. This suggests a possible scaling back of the project from what was envisioned 5 years ago. Previously the project was going to be funded with a $170 million loan made by the Interamerican Development Bank, and apparently that money can now be used by the Ministry of Health for other purposes.
Other Bukele promises of big projects are also far from fruition. The government announced that the promised Train of the Pacific and an airport in the eastern part of the country will not be moving forward until the second administration of Nayib Bukele (under the likely assumption that he is re-elected). Computer generated images of both projects played a big role in Bukele's prior campaign and will probably be used again this year.
Another big project is a new national soccer stadium which China has promised to build for the country. No work has begun on the $100 million new stadium. Meanwhile, the international body FIFA is going to make a review of safety in El Salvador's existing soccer stadiums following the crowd stampede in May which killed nine and left more than a hundred injured. A Salvadoran court ordered the release from jail of team officials being prosecuted for the stampede after they reached a settlement with victims' families, but El Salvador's attorney general says he will appeal.
Stadiums and sporting venues across the country will be the site of the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games, which kick off on June 23.
Finally, on an unrelated note, the Biden administration extended Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans for 18 months. The action probably moots the lawsuit concerning Trump's termination of the program, but still offers no more protection or path to residency or citizenship.