Youth and Popular Social Movement Groups Denounce Bukele's Reelection Bid
On September 15, in the wake of massive popular movement demonstrations protesting his administration, President Nayib Bukele announced a bid for reelection in 2024. The announcement was not unexpected: in 2021, a new bench of handpicked Supreme Court magistrates who had been unlawfully imposed by Bukele's legislative backers laid the groundwork for this move with a ruling permitting reelection–despite the fact that at least six articles of the Salvadoran Constitution prohibit consecutive presidential terms.
Even though it was anticipated, for defenders of El Salvador’s nascent democracy, the announcement still sends chills and is discussed in El Salvador as one of President Bukele’s most flagrant violations of the rule of law and another step toward consolidation of power.
Social movement organizations and civil society associations that form the Salvadoran Popular Movement Coordination denounced the bid as “yet another violation of the constitutional framework of the country” and “one of the most palpable characteristics of a dictatorship. . . a setback for the democratic system, only comparable to the years of social and armed conflict in the country.”
Many have also denounced another glaring parallel in El Salvador’s history: the military dictatorship of Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (1931-1944). In a social media post published shortly after Bukele’s announcement, the youth organization Kolectivo San Jacinto highlighted the following similarities between the two rulers - and the importance of historical memory:
- Throughout his administration, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez imposed 16 States of Exception.
- He ruled by means of decrees.
- He was the only president to be re-elected, going above the Constitution of the time.
- The repression, disguised as a fight against crime, focused on crushing poor and Indigenous populations.
- His government, in addition to being authoritarian, promoted aesthetic remodeling in the city.
- He maintained strict control over the media.
- He persecuted, exiled, and assassinated journalists, intellectuals, artists and any dissident voice against the regime.
- To this day, he is praised by many who believe that ‘in spite of everything, he did good things.’
- Under the current Constitution that governs us as a republic, there are articles (88, 154, 248 clause 4, 75 ordinal 4, and 72 ordinal 3) that prohibit [consecutive] re-election and 1 article (87) that gives the citizens the right to insurrection [in the case of an attempted re-election].
- However, we know that the laws of this country only punish the poor, so no judicial body will act against this illegality.
- If Nayib Bukele goes above the Magna Carta, the same document that also gave him power, it means that in official terms we have ceased to be a republic and have become an autocracy.
- You don't need to wear a uniform to have a militarized mindset; that applies not only to the current president but also to his followers and the followers of Martínez.
Social movement organization Nosotros y Nosotras also took up a similar theme in an analysis they published, asking, “If this isn’t a dictatorship, what is?” Drawing on the same history, they explore why El Salvador’s Constitution prohibits consecutive presidential terms:
“The prohibition of presidential reelection . . . is rooted in the political experience of authoritarianism that has already sadly and repeatedly showed us that reelecting oneself in office consolidates and/or perpetuates despotism, corruption, tyranny, demagogy, militarism, and, therefore, the misery of the working class.
“The tyranny held by a single character, clan, faction, group, or elite, is generally and initially disguised as democracy, due to the fact that it is based on alleged massive popular support (support that, as we witnessed in the past elections of 2019 and 2021, does not really exist if we take into account the statistics of voters sympathetic to the Bukele regime, which has been more or less 27% of the entire electorate).
“From here, dictatorships demonize. . . the right to public demonstration and social protest, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, access to public information and transparency in public administration–all instruments that allow an educated people to control, pressure, and demand that public officials comply with laws and respond to the needs of the sovereign people who elected them.
“Power is fragile, and the people consolidate their resistance in time; it is thus that over millennia kings, emperors, tyrants, and dictators always fall under their own weight. But the consequences are irreversible. No victim of despotism comes back to life, after the fall of a dictator: the stolen and destroyed land is not restored, nor the plundered resources, nor the rivers; nor the thousands of murdered, tortured, and disappeared people returned. And the ways that short and long-term consequences haunt survivors and later generations are not easily resolved.
“Democracies are fragile, imperfect, and, at times, disappointing if the people do not stay vigilant over their political leaders. The architecture of democracy depends on permanent struggle against fascism and the ambition of a few for total power. That is why it is necessary to educate ourselves: to learn from history, to preserve historical memory, and to avoid repetitions that rob us of irreplaceable beings and resources.
“The answer lies in remembering that if wars in the world have served for anything, it is to understand that no citizen should be above another, that everything must be questioned, that respect for human rights and the constant struggle to advance them is one of the few guarantees for a true democracy.”