17 August, 2022

Bukele and the club of populist rulers

Populism in Latin America

President Nayib Bukele is part of at least thirty leaders in the world, both right and left, who exercise power under an overloaded populism that is very fashionable in contemporary societies

n watch, President of the Republic of El Salvador

By Guillermo Mejía

President Nayib Bukele is part of at least thirty leaders in the world, both right and left, who exercise power under an overloaded populism that is very fashionable in contemporary societies, which have opened minds and hearts to the guidance of a kind of divine leader who embodies the happiness of the people.

To show communication strategies, differences, coincidences and speeches of the populist rulers, specifically in Latin America and El Salvador in particular, we return to the valuable contributions of the Mexican teacher Rubén Aguilar Valenzuela, communicologist, professor and columnist, very committed to our country for decades.

Aguilar Valenzuela placeholder image, who usually publish on these topics in Mexican magazines Etcétera, Political Animal and Nexos, among other, lists populist presidents: in North America to the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. In Central America to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, President and Vice President of Nicaragua and Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador.

In South America to Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela; Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil; Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner, president and vice president of Argentina; and José Pedro Castillo, president of Peru. "In terms of the operational strategies they adopt, there are no significant differences", points.

“The analysis shows that it is in this field where the coincidence is most evident and clear. In all cases, it doesn't matter if they are from the right or left, it is the foundation of the articulation of your communication and discourse strategy, but also his way of doing politics ", affirms Aguilar Valenzuela, then exposes the operational strategies that they share and are the following:

Presenting yourself as an anti-system, despite the fact that all have always been part of the political system of their countries.

  • Capitalize in their favor the public outrage at the corruption of previous governments and at the levels of insecurity in their countries.
  • Propose yourself as the only solution to the great problems of the country. Stand up as saving messiahs.
  • Assume yourself as the only and true representatives of the people. They are his incarnation.
  • Make continuous reference to God and the Bible in support of your policy. Approach the most conservative evangelical groups.
  • Polarize society with a Manichean discourse of good and bad. The confrontation between those "above" and those "below" is promoted..
  • Always create enemies. They are accused of attacking their person or project. They are indispensable in the construction of your narrative.
  • Using lies or half-truths. There are other data. Build an alternate reality to what it really is.
  • Disqualify and minimize the other powers of the State and the autonomous bodies. Use state institutions, to investigate and beat his opponents.
  • Make constant use of the Patria history, the one learned in school books. Continually quote official heroes.
  • Systematically attack the media and journalists who do not think like them and who do not support your project.
  • Use mechanisms, to have direct communication with your social base and supporters. Intensive use of social networks.
  • Address only your base and supporters. Tell them what they want to hear. The others do not exist.
  • Promote the cult of personality through multiple mechanisms.
  • Presenting themselves as the victim of a possible coup d'état when they have control of the Army and all powers.
  • Blame the past for all evil. Not being responsible for the consequences of their actions.
  • Assume yourself as morally superior to those you consider your enemies.
  • Relativize the law and put oneself above the Constitution. They are your only valid interpreters.
  • Always aim to be present in the media. It is key in your communication strategy and in the project as a whole.

"There are also significant differences, but that are not related to their ideological positions, rather, they are directly related to his personality and his ethics both on a personal and public service level ", affirms Aguilar Valenzuela. The differences pointed out by the Mexican researcher are the following:

  • Some are openly homophobic, macho and even racist, but others don't.
  • Some are in favor of the death penalty and the use of torture, but others clearly not.
  • Some present themselves as a "strong hand" against organized crime, but others have decided not to face it or negotiate with it.
  • Some have gotten rich at the expense of power, but others don't.
  • Some have made the government take over the big media, but others don't.
  • Some openly promote censorship and freelance journalists are thrown in jail, but others don't.
  • Some imprison opponents through false accusations and the factual use of the state's justice apparatus, but others don't.
  • Some use identity symbols as certain types of clothing (suits, shirts, hats ...), but others don't.
  • Some use the "political obituary", as a central part of the speech. They make constant mention of those who are gone, but others don't.

“The most important difference is that at the end of their mandate some populist leaders, taking advantage of the institutional weakness of their countries, they use a series of maneuvers, to perpetuate himself in the presidency ", warns Aguilar Valenzuela. "For it, in various ways, they manage to modify the Constitution, to 'legally' stay in office. There's others, given the institutional strength of their countries, at the end of their mandate they leave power and lead to the holding of democratic elections ", add.

Regarding the discourse of the populist presidents of Latin America, the Mexican professor affirms that a distinction is made between form and content, sometimes the demarcation between form and content is very tenuous. Some of the most common elements that characterize the shape are:

  • They conceive the exercise of governing as a media spectacle. They act like celebrity stars.
  • They build scenarios where the people participate, to "produce" identity. They are always televised and posted on the networks.
  • They use emotional rhetoric, to motivate and keep your social base under control, to town.
  • They use a strident and scandalous tone, to get the attention of audiences and the media.
  • They use phrases and slogans that are easy to understand and assume typical of advertising and marketing. A common one is "that they return what was stolen".
  • They constantly use the Manichean distinction between good and bad.
  • They systematically use aggression and disqualification, to face his "enemies", that they themselves build according to the occasion.
  • They often make long, boisterous speeches, but still they are well received by their social base.

Regarding the content, some of the most common themes in the speech of populist presidents are:

  • Refer to nationalism and national sovereignty.
  • Refer to the story in the school textbook version. Mention of the heroes with which they identify.
  • They use the concept of town, that is understood as those who are with him and follow what they are told.
  • They insist that only the poorest (pueblo), understand the project to be promoted.
  • They promise an end to corruption and solve the security problem.
  • They promise to restore the values ​​that have been lost. Bring back the national greatness that is gone.
  • They reject the full rights of the LGBTI community. It is common to speak out against abortion, same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
  • They are against the legalization of marijuana and other drugs.
  • They defend the traditional family. They only accept one type of family. Your personal history doesn't matter.

"In terms of form and content, there are no relevant differences between left and right populists.. In what is said there are some changes, for example, who are the ‘enemies’, but the way, the structure and phrasing of the speech is the same. The differences that may exist are more specific to the personality of each one of them ", Aguilar Valenzuela sentence.

The profile of the populist Nayib Bukele

Specifically about President Nayib Bukele, the Mexican communicologist and researcher makes a profile where the following characteristics should be mentioned:

  • Bukele uses Twitter and other social networks intensively and very effectively. Through them "governs, run ministers, gives orders or shows pictures that present him as a tough man.
  • His speech includes the concept of people, disqualification of the powers of the State that does not control or contradict it, criticism of local and international independent media and God.
  • When deemed necessary, like other populists, uses state institutions, to investigate and hit your opponents. And also the lie on a recurring basis.
  • His way of communicating and saying things, in a society as conservative and traditional as the Salvadoran, excites the young. In this sector of the population it has a great acceptance.
  • Build high-impact advertising phrases such as "return what was stolen", to refer to the previous governments that he describes as corrupt and not without reason.
  • There is a very planned job, directed by himself, to build your image and promote the cult of personality, present yourself as the only and coolest president in the world. The way she dresses seeks to underline that condition.
  • Makes heavy use of surveys. With one of the most trusted pollsters you have conversations in the early hours of the morning, to design the communicative messages of the day.
  • Those who have studied the character suggest that politically his first circle, the most trusted, It is made up of only two of his brothers.
  • The president frequently emphasizes that his only ideology is doing and that it be effectively. That in a country where the last 40 years there has been a permanent and open confrontation between the left and the right.
  • There are different versions to explain the dramatic reduction in violence in El Salvador, but it is a fact that has taken place during the government of Bukele. He presents himself as a ruthless ruler in the face of crime.
  • The type of government, Bukele's speech and behavior, who frequently appears as an artist and a frivolous character, has permeated the Salvadoran population.

“Its success is based on the fact that it has known how to awaken hopes and illusions in a society hit by war, violence and poverty. Like many other populists, he poses as the messiah capable of changing everything ", concludes Mexican professor and researcher Aguilar Valenzuela. Overloaded populism gains strength in presentist societies, emotional and despising historical memory.

(Guillermo Mejia, journalist and university professor).

Image for illustrative purposes (Courtesy)