The President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele ordered the military into the nation’s parliament on Sunday to demand that lawmakers pass legislation to secure a loan aimed at reducing the country’s shocking levels of gang violence.
Dozens of armed troops entered the building to demand that lawmakers vote to approve a $109 million loan intended to better equip police and other security forces in their fight against out-of-control gang violence. Some of the new equipment would include new police vehicles, uniforms, surveillance equipment, and a helicopter.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, leading Bukele to launch an initiative known as the Territorial Control Plan. According to data from El Salvador’s National Civil Police, the average daily murder rate fell from 9.2 in May 2019, the month before Bukele assumed office, to 3.8 by last month.
— La Prensa Gráfica (@prensagrafica) February 9, 2020
Bukele has attributed this drop to the implementation of his Territorial Control Plan, which largely involves upgrading the equipment. The majority of lawmakers failed to attend a debate over the weekend to discuss legislation that will allow Bukele to implement its third phase.
After the number of attendees failed to reach quorum, Bukele called on his supporters to take to the streets in protest. Around 50,000 consequently attended a pro-Bukele demonstration on Sunday. Addressing his supporters outside parliament, Bukele gave his opponents a week’s deadline to pass the legislation before stepping up his efforts by expelling them from parliament.
“If we wanted to press the button, we would press the button,” he said, in reference to removing the lawmakers. “But I asked God and God told me: patience, patience, patience. On February 28  all these scoundrels are heading out the door. If they do not approve [the loan for] the Territorial Control Plan, we will summon them here on Sunday.”
Bukele’s methods have drawn international condemnation, with critics comparing it to the behavior of an authoritarian dictator. The Washington-based human rights group Human Rights Watch denounced the move as an “exhibition of brute force” and called for a meeting of members of the Organization of American States (OAS).
United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for “dialogue and full respect for democratic institutions to guarantee the rule of law, including the independence of the branches of public power.” Yet in a message to the international community on Monday, Bukele insisted he had the backing of Salvadorans.
“El Salvador is dominated by the sides of the civil war, these two sides continue with corruption and negotiate with criminal groups. There are videos of them negotiating lives in exchange for votes. The people have already tired of this and their president feels the same.”
A la Comunidad Internacional:
El Salvador está dominado por los bandos de la guerra civil, esos dos bandos continúan con la corrupción y negocian con grupos crimínales. Hay videos de ellos negociando vidas a cambio de votos. El pueblo ya se cansó y el Presidente está con ellos.
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) February 9, 2020
Bukele, who was expelled from the leftist FMLN, was elected on a populist platform that sought to blend elements of both the left and right. He has turned himself into one of Latin America’s most unconventional leaders. Shortly after taking office, he went on a firing spree via Twitter of many senior government officials.