WASHINGTON, DC— El Salvador’s President-elect Nayib Bukele on Wednesday pledged to completely “end” the emigration of Salvadorans to the United States who are “forced” to leave by a lack of economic of opportunities and gang-linked violence, noting that the exodus of people is “really shameful for our country.”
Bukele also vowed to “end” gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and its rival Barrio 18 (18th Street) and stop the flow of deadly drugs trafficked to the United States through El Salvador.
The president-elect said he is ready to “refuse” U.S. foreign aid “handouts” in favor of “jumpstarting commerce” between the United States and El Salvador.
Some countries would come to the United States and ask for handouts. But a handout is like giving a drug addict money who will go out and buy drugs. We don’t want any handouts. Actually, I’m ready to refuse aid if we will jumpstart commerce. We are ready to do business with the United States our greatest and most powerful ally.”
In February, Bukele won a landslide election as a third-party outsider vowing to jumpstart the economy, crack down on corruption, as well as fight gang-fueled violence. His victory ended the two-party system’s three-decade stranglehold over the Central American country.
He said there is “common ground” on immigration between U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and El Salvador, adding, “We know the [primary] origin of emigration is lack of opportunities and violence in our countries.
Bukele vowed to completely halt “forceful emigration” from El Salvador to the United States during his first term, telling the audience of mostly Salvadoran expatriates:
We’re going to end emigration, forceful emigration and we want the United States to help.
Not because they’re going to send us aid, but because it’s a common interest. We want our talents to stay in El Salvador, and we want some of the talent to come back. …The fact is we should be ashamed of that — why people are leaving our country.
In the interview with the Daily Signal, the president-elect elaborated further what he means by “forceful emigration,” noting that unlike “professional emigration,” it is “caused by other factors, like, for example, lack of opportunities or violence or both of them, both of those factors.”
“This is really shameful for our country, ” he stressed.
Conceding that stopping emigration is “a gigantic job,” Bukele highlighted steps he plans to take to end the practice, telling the Daily Signal, “You have to provide opportunities, you have to provide jobs, and you have to provide security.”
Latin America is the top source of illicit narcotics, including cocaine and opioids fueling the unprecedented number of fatal drug overdoses in the United States. Some of those drugs pass through El Salvador on their way to the United States from South America.
“We are committed to stopping 100 percent of the drug trafficking that comes through El Salvador and to the United States,” Bukele told the audience.
In his interview with the Daily Signal, Bukele also pledged to demolish the gangs in El Salvador, noting that they are responsible for 80 percent of the country’s homicides.
Referring to the gangs, he proclaimed:
They are a quasi-state because they function like a … they collect taxes. They provide security…but the fact is that these organizations, they have to end. …We haven’t done it because the previous administration and the current administration have been focusing on stealing money.
Bukele distanced himself from the leftist regimes of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and China. However, he said his politics “transcends ideology.”
Although Mexico remains the largest source of U.S. immigrants, El Salvador has been one of the top sources of legal and illegal immigration to the United States in recent years. In recent months, there have been caravans of thousands of people from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala — hoping to enter the United States at any cost. The majority of the immigrants from El Salvador are living in the United States illegally.