El Salvador Expels Venezuela’s Diplomats and Takes the Fight to Twitter

The President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele speaks at a conference on the 2019 Forecast on Latin America and the Caribbean on October 1, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

The government of El Salvador expelled the entire diplomatic corps of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro on Saturday, triggering a reciprocal response on Sunday and a war of words in which Maduro dismissed Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele as a “nincompoop.”

Bukele fired back on Twitter, calling Maduro illegitimate and laughing with emojis at the long-winded speech in which Maduro deviated from his point to insult Bukele.

A former leftist turned pro-American independent, Bukele is a frequent user of Twitter and has branded himself one of the world’s first millennial presidents. He is the first speaker to take a selfie at the podium for world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.

“The Government of El Salvador is expelling the diplomatic corps of Nicolás Maduro’s regime, in concert with President Nayib Bukele’s repeated declarations in which he does not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s government,” the president’s office said in a message on Saturday.

El Salvador gave Maduro’s representatives 48 hours to leave the country. The country also expects a delegation representing Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó to occupy the Venezuelan embassy at some point in the near future.

Maduro ceased being the legitimate president of Venezuela in January 2019, after staging a fraudulent election in May 2018 in which he allowed only other far-leftists to compete and international observers found a host of discrepancies in vote counting. As per the Venezuelan constitution, the National Assembly gets to appoint an interim president tasked with hosting elections when, through a “disruption of the democratic order,” the incumbent loses his legitimacy. The assembly chose its president, Guaidó.

Guaidó does not have control of the presidential palace or the military, despite his legal status as the only legitimate head of state in the country.

Guaidó’s foreign affairs chief, Julio Borges, thanked Bukele for the move and asked other nations to expel Maduro’s envoys, as well. It is not yet clear at press time if Guaidó will send an ambassador and delegation to San Salvador.

El Salvador joins most Latin American states and the United States in not recognizing Maduro as president of Venezuela.

Maduro swiftly retaliated by declaring El Salvador’s diplomats personae non grata, which he does not have the constitutional power to do.

Maduro’s foreign ministry said it would expel El Salvador’s diplomats “in strict application of the principle of reciprocity.”

Maduro himself was far less diplomatic. Speaking at a communist event titled the “Anti-Imperialism Summit of Solidarity for Democracy and Against Neoliberalism” in Havana, Maduro dismissed Bukele as a “puppet” of the United States.

“It’s embarrassing how a person who arrived at the presidency of the republic with some hope for the Salvadoran people disfigures himself, how he melts before imperialism [the United States], but you will not save yourself from history as a traitor and dummy of the people, Bukele,” Maduro said.

“Let the people of El Salvador feel secure that no nincompoop … of imperialism, like this so-called Nayib Bukele, will separate the peoples of El Salvador and Venezuela … Bukele, those who mess with us get hung out to dry!” Maduro bellowed.

Bukele republished the videos of Maduro’s insults on Twitter with his own response.

“More respect, Mr. [Maduro], you are talking about a president elected democratically, unlike you,” Bukele responded. “Unlike you, 9 out of ten people approve of my government. And in El Salvador, without banking on a sea of oil, a roll of toilet paper doesn’t cost a monthly salary.”

Bukele later added, laughing, “Looks like [Maduro] brought me as a topic to Havana,” noting the presence of former Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Ceren at the affair and asking, “by the way, who is paying his trips?”

Bukele often uses Twitter to reach his public directly. In June, he astonished the nation by publishing a list of high-ranking officials he was firing on Twitter; the officials also found out they no longer had jobs through the medium. Bukele ensured to add when relevant the officials’ connections to others in power and their hefty salaries as an explanation for why he was firing them.

Bukele was once a member of El Salvador’s far-left Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and did not leave voluntarily – he was expelled after significant in-fighting with the party’s leadership. He went on to create his own party, the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), which has governed with centrist, pro-American policies.

Some have noted that his past is one of support for the regime that brought Maduro to power. Bukele openly mourned the death of dictator Hugo Chávez, who brought socialism to the country, in 2013.

Bukele has attempted to strengthen ties with Washington and has stated that his goal in doing so is, in part, to convince Salvadorans not to immigrate to the United States but, rather, invest in their home communities and economies.

“We want people to stay here. That should be our goal. And [the Trump administration likes] that goal, and they want to help us in that goal,” Bukele said during a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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