Six months into his term, El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has an impressive list of accomplishments and continues to chart a hopeful vision for the Central American country.
On February 3, the young former mayor of the capital was elected as president, obtaining more votes than his two opponents combined. Bukele’s election was historic as it was the first time since the end of the civil war in 1992 that the nation elected a president who was not of the two main parties, the right-wing ARENA or the leftist FMLN.
Being 37 when taking office, Bukele became not only the youngest head of state in El Salvador’s history but also one of the youngest in the world.
Bukele’s Election Campaign
Bukele ran promising to modernize the way El Salvador is governed and to change the country fundamentally. He vowed to eliminate gang violence by growing the army, lure foreign investment, fight corruption by establishing an international commission similar to the one in neighboring Guatemala, and drastically lower emigration.
Bukele did not only campaign on his innovative vision but also on his record as mayor of both the municipality of Nuevo Cuscatlán and the country’s capital, San Salvador. This was specifically the case regarding his term as San Salvador’s mayor, where he transformed the city’s dilapidated historic center to a recreational venue, encouraged youth expression through arts such as music and graffiti, and encouraged community policing initiatives.
His public fall out with the FMLN party in 2017 over issues of corruption and criticism of then-President Sánchez Cerén led many Salvadorians to believe that he was the principled leader they had been longing for. He promised to be transparent and be an accessible president.
Bukele indicated this was more than simply rhetoric by holding a public inauguration ceremony in the historic center of San Salvador. During his address, he referred to the capital as a “sick child” whose cure would require “bitter medicine” and “sacrifice.”
Notably, he invited scores of foreign investors to his inauguration, demonstrating his commitment to creating jobs to decrease reasons to emigrate.
One of Bukele’s first acts as president was laying off several hundred employees from government agencies, including staff members perceived to have benefited from and been complacent about the corrupt practices of his predecessors.
He eliminated five Secretariats of the Presidency, which had long been used as a venue to embezzle and divert government funds. He subsequently issued a Presidential Decree creating the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador in collaboration with the Organization of American States.
Bukele announced an initiative to recruit 3,000 new soldiers to combat gangs and criminal activity in the country. He has brought in 30 percent of that goal to date. He also made clear that he intends to implement a hard-hand approach to combating gangs, which satisfied many Salvadorians who overwhelmingly oppose negotiating with gangs.
Por primera vez en décadas, iniciaremos un proceso masivo de reclutamiento en nuestra @FUERZARMADASV.
Incrementaremos sus filas en 2,000 nuevos soldados, que nos ayudarán a combatir la delincuencia.
El reclutamiento es totalmente VOLUNTARIO.
Dios bendiga a El Salvador. pic.twitter.com/qYNFiDxPO8
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) July 17, 2019
Simultaneously, Bukele outlined initiatives such as after school and sports programs, along with community policing in low-income areas, to engage vulnerable youth. This is particularly relevant as research shows that the vast majority of Salvadorian youth who join gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 do so not for economic profit, but to gain a sense of community and security.
Bukele has courted foreign assistance from diverse partners ranging from Japan to the European Union. He also has successfully re-set relations with the United States after they reached an all-time low in January 2019 over immigration flows. Bukele has been recruiting foreign investment from traditional partners such as the United States but also non-traditional ones such as South Korea and Morocco.
The Salvadorian people have indicated they continue to support Bukele, as a poll released on December 2 shows 88 percent approve of his performance.
A Salvadorian taxi driver named Augusto said, “he has accomplished more in six months than his predecessors have in years, he is going to save this country.” Others are more skeptical, such as Elmer, who was recently deported from the United States. “He is trying to change the country,” Elmer said, “but I think corruption and crime are too embedded.”
While it is clear that Bukele and his vision for El Salvador retain the support of the nation, whether or not he succeeds in its implantation over the coming years is a question that is yet to be answered.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.