Bukele's spectacle

Nayib Bukele threw himself a coronation on Saturday. His swearing in for an unconstitutional second term in office was not a celebration of democracy, but the celebration of an unquestioned ruler.

One of the hallmarks of Nayib Bukele's rapid rise to exercise unchecked power in El Salvador is his understanding of image.  All of the symbolism of the day was about the power and authority of El Salvador's strongman. There was the honor guard in military dress uniforms, wearing capes while holding automatic weapons. Bukele wore a high-collared jacket with gold braid on the cuffs and collar.  The National Palace had a rapid makeover, replacing artwork and precious century-old tilework with marble and gold paint and red carpets, attempting to summon images of European halls of power, but coming closer to Donald Trump's club at Mar-a-Lago.  

Bukele received an artillery gun salute and emerged from the National Palace to receive the tributes from the country's armed forces and preside over a military parade with jets flying over. Bukele spoke from the palace balcony to adoring crowds below and asked them to take an oath to defend the projects of his government.

It was an exhibition of the power of a Latin American strong man, who would ask the multitude to follow him unquestioningly and without complaining.  Bukele made this obvious when he chose today to pin this tweet at the top of his profile on X:

Bukele no doubt felt himself vindicated in his dealings with the Biden administration.  Less than three years ago the US had imposed sanctions on the Bukele imposed judges in the Constitutional Chamber for ruling that Bukele could run for a second term.  But on Saturday, a high level US delegation led by Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Majorkas accompanied by senior State Department officials was in attendance.  It was a decision decried by Salvadoran advocates for the rule of law, who saw the US giving legitimacy to Bukele's illegal second term in office.       

But even the reversal of US public policy surrounding Bukele continuing in office could not prevent Bukele from showing whom he favors in the US presidential race.  Also invited and attending the inauguration were members of the MAGA right-wing of the Republican party including Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Matt Gaetz, Tucker Carlson and Sen. Mike Lee.  Not only were they invited to attend with seats in the courtyard of the National Palace, but they were invited to stay on in El Salvador after Saturday and meet with Bukele in casual settings.  For example, Bukele tweeted this video together with Don, Jr.:   

If you measure how you are faring with Bukele by how often he retweets your messages about him, the Biden administration lost out to the MAGA folks.  For every tweet which included Majorkas, Bukele tweeted multiple images of the MAGA gang.  (I actually counted -- as of Monday night, Nayib Bukele retweeted 22 posts from the MAGA group while they were in El Salvador, but only 9 from Sec'y Majorkas and the US State Department).

Bukele's speech to the crowds which filled Plaza Barrios was short on specifics. Instead, most was a long allegory which could be boiled down to "I am the doctor who gave El Salvador the cure for the cancer of the gangs and violence in the country.  El Salvador suffers from other ills, like the economy, and so must continue to follow my advice, even if it involves bitter medicine, and not the prior doctors who could not cure your cancer and only made it worse."

Bukele offered no specifics of plans for the country over the next five years, other than insisting on unquestioning loyalty to whatever Dr. Bukele is going to prescribe.

Bukele invoked divine providence on his project for the nation, stating "We achieved the unimaginable and we have done it here, but not with our strength or our intelligence, but only with the glory of God and the wisdom of God."

Bukele would conclude by asking those gathered to raise their hand and repeat  "We swear to unconditionally defend our national project, following it to the letter, each of the steps, without complaining...We swear to never listen to the enemies of the people."

The day was vintage Bukele, the strong man and master of spectacle

You can watch a video of the entire national broadcast of the ceremonies.

A transcript of Bukele's address is here


Sarah S. Forth said…
The honor guard in capes makes me think the art director for this spectacle got his/her design ideas from the Star War franchise, which borrowed heavily from Nazi military fashion and formation.