Nayib Bukele Tells ‘Rich Neighbors’ to Leave El Salvador Alone at ‘Obsolete’ U.N.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: President of El Salvador Nayib Armando Bukele addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations on September 20, 2022 in New York City. After two years of holding the session virtually or in a hybrid format, 157 heads of state and representatives of government …
Stephanie Keith/Getty

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele made use of his platform at the United Nations — which he once again deemed obsolete and claimed to no longer believe in — to deliver a speech on Tuesday centered around the topic of freedom, and his country’s fight towards such an ideal.

Bukele, whose official delegation was accompanied by his wife and young daughter, began his speech by sending salutations from “the land of surfing, of volcanoes, of coffee, of peace, Bitcoin and freedom.”

He continued his address by espousing the virtues of freedom — a word said by Bukele 14 times during his speech — demanding more powerful nations respect the freedom of his country and similar small nations.

Watch below as Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele addresses the U.N.

“And it is that freedom is a word that is easy to say; but that requires struggle, perseverance and many sacrifices, for it to be true. The freedom to choose where we want to go and how we want to achieve it. The freedom to define our path as human beings,” he said. “But to be free, like much of what defines us, depends on how others see us, but above all, on how we see ourselves.”

“Therefore, in addition to deciding that we want to be free, it is an essential requirement that the powerful respect our freedom,” he stated.

The Salvadoran president then went on to denounce countries with “more territory, much more money,” and “much more power,” for “correctly thinking that they own their country; but who incorrectly think that they also own ours,” without naming any country specifically.

To elaborate, he used an extensive analogy of a “rich neighbor” and a “poor neighbor,” the latter plagued by his wealthier, nosy peer consistently demanding he not implement any modest adjustments to improve his home and demanding oversight on what happens in the poor neighbor’s small hut. The analogy appeared to clearly be a reference to tensions between Bukele’s government and the United States, which has expressed concerns over, among other moves, Bukele’s takeover of the Salvadoran Congress and a “state of emergency” that has resulted in mass arrests of suspected gang members nationwide.

In May 2021, and right after assuming control of Congress, the overwhelmingly pro-Bukele majority in Congress voted to replace the nation’s top Supreme Court justice and the attorney general, considered to be the last remaining checks on Bukele’s rule. One month later, the Salvadoran Congress appointed ten more judges in court, a move that raised the alarms of a possible power grab of Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) political party in the country.

Bukele’s presidency has been accused by organizations such as Amnesty International of having used the “exceptional state” decree — which has been renewed in a monthly basis a total of five times so far — to commit arbitrary detentions, human rights violations, violations of due process, torture, and mistreatment, with at least 18 citizens dying while in state custody. In August 2022 it was reported that over 50,000 citizens have been mass-arrested as part of the state of emergency decree. These actions drew criticism from the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The U.S. Congress conducted a hearing on September 12 regarding El Salvador’s ongoing emergency.

Bukele appeared to compare human rights criticism to the owner of a mansion telling the owner of a hut not to replace his leaky roof.

“The poor neighbor should not oppose his rich neighbor, he should not envy him, he should not aspire to have what the rich neighbor has, he should not pretend that he will give orders to his palace or demand that he change the marble of his room,” he advised. “But the poor neighbor should at least have the right to clean his house, patch and paint his walls, change his furniture, plant flowers in his garden and change his roof for one that doesn’t leak and covers him from the rain.”

As Bukele did not name Washington’s government, the analogy appeared to apply to several international situations, from the Russian invasion of its much smaller Ukrainian neighbor to the Chinese Communist Party’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which it is using to saddle poor countries with debt that it can later leverage to influence their politics.

Under Bukele, El Salvador joined the predatory BRI in 2019, a move that followed the Central American nation’s rupture of relations with Taiwan in 2018 under the presidency of Salvador Sánchez Ceren, Bukele’s predecessor. Bukele has repeatedly insisted that China is gifting El Salvador millions of dollars in infrastructure development, not loaning the money.

Bukele continued his speech by claiming that El Salvador has gone from being the most dangerous country in the world to being on the track of being the safest country in America. Since March, El Salvador has been under an anti-crime “state of emergency” imposed by his nation’s Congress – now run by Bukele supporters.

Other than during his initial salutations, Bukele made no mention of the bitcoin cryptocurrency, of which he is an avid enthusiast, and its effects on the country. Bukele adopted bitcoin as legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar in 2021. Due to volatility in the value of bitcoin, El Salvador’s crypto-gamble has yet to produce the once-promised economic book Bukele said it would yield.

Bukele continued by reminding his audience that he had deemed the United Nations as “obsolete” in 2020 and that he found it “even more” so this year.

“I came here, to stand on this podium, in a format I no longer believe in, to say something that most likely won’t change the way powerful countries see each other anyway,” he concluded. “But maybe it will change the way we developing countries see ourselves.”

Bukele announced via Twitter that his U.N. speech would be broadcasted on his social media channels and through a mandatory television and radio broadcast in El Salvador at 08:00 p.m. local time (10:00 p.m. Eastern Time).

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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