Marco Rubio Visits El Salvador, Condemns Biden for ‘Alienating’ Anti-Gang President

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) traveled to El Salvador this weekend to meet with Salvadoran Presi
Twitter/Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) traveled to El Salvador this weekend to meet with Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, criticizing President Joe Biden for “alienating” Central American and other allies with combative policies.

Bukele is currently engaged in a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest gangs, most prominently Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13) and 18th Street. His country has been in a “state of exception” that has restricted civil liberties such as freedom of assembly for month, allowing police to arrest thousands of people suspected of having gang ties. The campaign is widely popular in El Salvador, where nearly 70 percent of citizens want Bukele to run for reelection even though he legally cannot do so.

Under former President Donald Trump, Bukele’s administration maintained friendly relationships with Washington. The Biden administration has condemned the gang crackdown, however, resulting in Bukele accusing Biden last year of “supporting the gangs.”

In an official press release this weekend, Sen. Rubio remarked, “as Latin America and the Caribbean turn towards left-leaning, anti-American governments, El Salvador remains an important strategic ally in Central America.”

During their meeting, the Floridan senator and the Salvadoran president discussed Bukele’s ongoing security initiatives, the importance of democratic order in the region, and mutual cooperation between the United States and El Salvador. U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador William Duncan was also present in the encounter.

“I had a productive meeting with President Bukele and U.S. Ambassador Duncan during my first official visit to El Salvador,” Rubio said in the official press release. 

“At a time when the Biden Administration actively alienates our allies and opts to appease murderous dictators in our region,” Rubio continued, “it’s important we stand in support of those democratic leaders in our hemisphere who are actually leading the fight against brutal gangs and criminals in Central America.”

“For the future of our bilateral relations, it’s essential that El Salvador’s democratic institutions remain strong,” he concluded.

Upon his return to the United States, Sen. Rubio published a video summarizing his trip to El Salvador and Bukele’s actions to crack down on El Salvador’s gang violence, which have so far significantly reduced violence in the country and have reportedly caused gangs to largely disappear across Salvadoran territory. Rubio condemned the Biden administration’s stance on Bukele.

“So how does the Biden administration react to this? By badmouthing the guy [Bukele], by sanctioning people in the government, by going after them because they’re being too tough and too harsh, and so forth,” Rubio said. “And on top of everything else, this is a guy that has tried to be friendly and an ally to the United States, and we have a problem with our foreign policy. We treat our enemies better than we treat our friends.”

“We have an administration that bends over backwards to try to accommodate [Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolás] Maduro, an administration that’s afraid to do anything tough on [communist dictator Daniel] Ortega in Nicaragua, on the regime in Cuba.” Rubio continued. “But on the other hand decides ‘I’m going to crack down on El Salvador, and sanctioning and badmouth them and try to make them a global pariah.’”

Bukele shared Sen. Rubio’s with added Spanish subtitles through his official Facebook account on Monday. 

“U.S. Senator Marco Rubio visited our country to learn first-hand reality, facing the accusations of the Biden administration,” Bukele’s Facebook post read. “Unlike many, he decided to come and know the truth, with his own eyes.”

El Salvador has been placed under a state of emergency since March 2022 to combat gang violence after 62 homicides occurred in a single day that month — the most violent day in El Salvador in over a century. The decree placed the Central American nation in a de facto state of martial law.

The decree, which originally lasted 30 days, has been continuously renewed over the past year for additional 30-day periods and can be extended so long as the causes used to initially enact it still exist, according to the nation’s constitution.

Bukele’s actions under the state of emergency have resulted in a dramatic reduction in violence in the country. The Salvadoran president announced on his Twitter account on Saturday that, according to the government’s daily homicide statistics, March 2023 was the safest month in the history of El Salvador, one year after living through the most violent day in over a century.

Bukele’s actions to combat gang violence in El Salvador, the ongoing state of emergency, and other actions taken by the pro-Bukele Salvadoran Congress and the nation’s Supreme Court of Justice have been the source of tensions between the Biden Administration and the Salvadoran government. Members of the United States Congress’ Human Rights Commission held a hearing in September to discuss El Salvador’s state of emergency decree and “its consequences for human rights.”

The Biden Administration has imposed sanctions on several of the members of Bukele’s cabinet. In December 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned prison system chief and Vice Minister of Justice and Public Security Osiris Luna Meza and the Chairman of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit Carlos Amilcar Marroquin Chica, accusing both of having participated in undercover negotiations with leaders of the MS-13 and 18th Street.

In December, the Department of the Treasury sanctioned Salvadoran Labor Minister Rolando Castro for alleged misappropriation of public funds for his personal benefit. It also sanctioned Bukele’s legal secretary Conan Castro for allegedly obstructing investigations into the misappropriation of public funds intended to fight the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

The United States Department of State accused the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador of undermining democracy in September 2021 after the Salvadoran top court — whose top justices were replaced by the overwhelmingly pro-Bukele majority in Congress in 2021 — issued a controversial new interpretation of Article 152 of El Salvador’s constitution that paved the way for a possible Bukele re-election as the nation’s constitution explicitly forbids a president from seeking an immediate re-election.

Bukele referenced the tensions between his government and the United States in September during his speech at the 77th United Nations General Assembly, using an analogy of a “rich neighbor” and a “poor neighbor” to describe the United States’ concerns over El Salvador’s human rights under Bukele’s state of emergency policies.

“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,” Bukele said during his speech. “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.”

The Salvadoran president’s crackdown on gang violence has largely contributed to his high approval ratings, which hovered around 92 percent at the start of March, giving Bukele the highest approval rating of any state leader in Latin America.

Although the Salvadoran constitution explicitly forbids a president from seeking an immediate re-election — going as far as stripping a Salvadoran citizen of his or her rights should they “promote or support the reelection or continuation of the President of the Republic” — a poll conducted in March showed that nearly 70 percent of Salvadorans expressed their support for a prospective Bukele re-election in the upcoming 2024 elections.

The mayor of the Colombian city of Medellín, Daniel Quintero Calle expressed in March his intention to build an inmate center in the same vein as El Salvador’s recently debuted 40,000-bed “mega prison,” known as the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT). The move directly defied the administration of far-left Colombian president Gustavo Petro, who has been highly critical of the new prison and has insisted that his government will not build new inmate centers despite Colombia’s prison facilities facing widespread overpopulation problems.

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


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