Nayib Bukele and the authoritarian enchantment

By Guillermo Mejía

Authoritarianism has been gaining strength in the spirit of Salvadorans under the administration of President Nayib Bukele, who has shown his commitment to this way of exercising power, to which is added the return to the privacy of the conglomerate in the face of the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic.

The start of that imprint must be recorded in the military parade of the 15 September 2019, that relegated students to the background, and that the 9 February of last year when the president stormed the Legislative Assembly with his entourage of military and police.

It does not hurt to bring up, the way in which the military and police enforced orders from the Executive during the quarantine almost a year ago that showed the repressive face of the Bukele government, with arbitrary arrests and fences that of toilets did not have much. The impossibility of returning home for thousands of compatriots also injured families.

The last episode was the photograph of armed soldiers that Bukele tweeted in response to the refusal of the Constitutional Chamber to the candidacy of the controversial right-wing politician Walter Araujo for the New Ideas party, favorite of the elections of mayors and deputies of the next 28 February.

The offensive of the president and his relatives against "the same as always" -with reference to the Arena and FMLN parties, mainly- It has managed to penetrate the Salvadorans with great force, but it is strange that it does not bother to know that Bukele comes from the left party and was twice elected mayor under that red flag.

Although the bet of Salvadorans for authoritarianism is really not new, it is worth observing some of the latest results of the two surveys of the Central American University "José Simeón Cañas" (UCA) on the assessment of the country's situation at the end of 2020 and the election of the mayor of San Salvador.

In the first study, where the population of the country was consulted, a 48.9 percent say that in some circumstances they agree or strongly agree with the presence of an authoritarian government than with a democratic government versus a 43.9 percent who say they disagree or strongly disagree. The rest are undecided.

As for groups and individuals who pose serious threats to society should be eliminated, the population opted for a 67.8 percent for agreeing or strongly agreeing, while almost the 30 percent showed to disagree or strongly disagree with this position. The rest are undecided.

On the need for the authorities to rule with a heavy hand, the population opted for a 73.2 percent for agreeing or strongly agreeing, while almost a 24.7 percent showed to disagree or strongly disagree with this position. The rest are undecided.

Regarding the fact that in emergency situations it is acceptable for the authorities to use severe force against any person who does not comply with the measures ordered by the Government, the population opted for a 73.8 percent for agreeing or strongly agreeing, while almost the 25.4 percent showed to disagree or strongly disagree with this position. The rest are undecided.

In the second study, where the population of the capital was consulted, a 30.6 percent say that in some circumstances they agree or strongly agree with the presence of an authoritarian government than with a democratic government versus a 65.9 percent who say they disagree or strongly disagree. The rest are undecided.

As for groups and individuals who pose serious threats to society should be eliminated, the population opted for a 61.3 percent for agreeing or strongly agreeing, While 36.7 percent showed to disagree or strongly disagree with this position. The rest are undecided.

On the need for the authorities to rule with a heavy hand, the population opted for a 61.5 percent for agreeing or strongly agreeing, while a 35.6 percent showed to disagree or strongly disagree with this position. The rest are undecided.

Regarding the fact that in emergency situations it is acceptable for the authorities to use severe force against any person who does not comply with the measures ordered by the Government, the population opted for a 63.9 percent for agreeing or strongly agreeing, while almost the 34.7 percent showed to disagree or strongly disagree with this position. The rest are undecided.

It should be clarified that for this article only four questions have been taken from the set of questions about democracy and authoritarianism in each UCA survey, but that the results obtained illustrate the presence of that mentality that the authorities on duty have known how to take advantage of or that they have been striving to cement.

To contextualize the phenomenon, I believe it is necessary to put into a situation the positions of three Salvadoran intellectuals who have written in recent days about politics, elections, exercise of power, authoritarianism, Peace Agreements, among other important topics: Father José María Tojeira, the analyst Marco Pérez Navarrete and the historian Roberto Turcios.

The Jesuit José María Tojeira, director of the Human Rights Institute of the UCA (IDHUCA), wondered recently are we going in an overtly authoritarian direction? And then answered: "The Bukele government has clear authoritarian features as well as a certain dependence on the army. But previous governments, more Arena than the FMLN, they were not very different in this regard ".

And I add: "In these almost 30 years since the Peace Accords, no one has dared to appoint a civilian as defense minister, as timidly suggested in such agreements. But beyond permanence, with more or less emphasis, of the authoritarian tendency in the current government, the truth is that irresponsible proposals for constitutional reform, growing support for the Armed Forces, the youth and inexperience of many of the candidates for deputies, and delay - with traps included- compliance with the sentence of unconstitutionality of the infamous amnesty law is setting the objective conditions for a very dangerous advance of the authoritarian culture and the deterioration of democracy ".

And his second question comes, will we reach a dictatorship? Who then responded: "It's too early to tell, but we are taking steps to move towards an increasingly authoritarian type of government. And that is dangerous for everyone ".

Meanwhile, analyst Marco Pérez Navarrete recently wrote that “This new political group, regurgitado, from the bowels of the country's political party system, is the maximum expression of the capital sins of political parties. The real disconnection of the traditional parties with the population in recent years 30 years is a fundamental factor to understand its historical wear, making democratic representativeness the last cycle of democracy, cutting off any possibility of turning it into a participatory instrument of citizenship ".

"Contemporary media manipulation supplies that connection between government and population, a connection that ends up being false, that is to say, falsely hopeful. As a corollary, the half truths that are also half lies, they overlap the information from the ministries of the executive government ", he pointed.

And warned: “Capitalizing on political manipulation is not new either, It has always been a Magalomaniac exercise from the party leadership, especially during electoral periods, where the shares generated in the formal power and even with an alliance of illegal powers are put up for sale ".

In the end, "The contradictions underlying this‘ communication model ’end up strengthening ignorance in the population, that remains only waiting for the biased information to finally become an objective action towards the satisfaction of basic life needs, no matter how minimal this action is: a new street, a bag of groceries, a vaccine", sentenced Pérez Navarrete.

Definitely, authoritarianism walks at ease, but it would be unfair only to blame the lack of political education of the people or the bad procedures of the authorities on duty, without taking into account the historical responsibility of the dominant power groups and the failure of successive governments that have relegated the interests of the vast majority.

For the historian Roberto Turcios there is something that we must take into account: "Everything began to change with the last government, during pandemic management. The president assumed powers of constitutional interpretation, it went as far as contempt and ordered its officials not to respect legislative orders ".

"To complete that unpublished painting", Turcios wrote, “Promoted a process of constitutional reforms. From power, the new group raises the purpose of founding something like another regime and, according to your statements, it would have more features of authoritarianism than of democracy ".

In fact, according to the Salvadoran historian, as it tends to happen with any power group, Bukele's shows signs of imposing his interpretation of more recent history, this is how he has denied the Peace Accords, signed in 1992, calling them a sham, perhaps because they do not fit into their narrative of being the "largest government in history".

"The question of the day is why does this power group need to present its explanation to a historical event? Perhaps it is the product of electoral emergencies, because the president and his power group are interested in turning the FMLN and Arena into references of corruption ", Turcios pointed out.

"Will that be all? Who knows; dominant groups have always tended to find reasons to present themselves as the rightful headlines who are above good and evil. The current group takes the same position, but with a novel communication strategy. We have, so, an old style of power with a new communication strategy. And the last one has been very successful; has operated as the flowery saying of the authoritarian act ", he added.

It depends on the election results of next February, in good measure, that the government of Nayib Bukele has fewer stones on the road, in his eagerness to consolidate his authoritarian project that began to pull out its tusk with the empowerment of the military and police, situation well used in the framework of the coronavirus pandemic.