El Salvador: Everything Can Change

Nayib Bukele on June 1, 2019, the day of his inaguration.  Photo: Rodrigo Sura EFE / Confidencial

Mister Bukele has as an unfinished business to share the details of his Government program

By Roger Lindo  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – On June 1, the El Salvador debuted with a new president. The fascination for the new overrides everything, for the uncontaminated or not trampled on, is what voters wanted when they chose Nayib Bukele, a man that was not tied to any party, platform or ideology.

His first message, when addressing the nation as president-elect on the night of February 3, was to decree that times had changed: the post-war era was over. History would no longer be written by the same people as always.

Bukele defeated his opponents—also young—let us say, without effort, practicing an irreverent style, without abiding by existing rules. His victory had been announced by the polls and, nevertheless, surprised: he won in the first round in the entire national territory, something wished for by many politicians elsewhere.

On election day he obtained an invaluable political capital, an irrefutable mandate. His main resource was the weariness of Salvadorans with those that hegemonized power during the last 30 years, and that seemed so embroiled in their past glories and brawls that they did not see the asteroid coming.

Being a politician without a party (or who changes colors at his convenience), the president is not obliged to submit to any more rules than his own. This independence gives him the privilege of rehearsing a style and an original roadmap, to forge alliances according to the juncture and putting and unseating officials at his will. It is a double-edged sword, because he will have no excuses if he disappoints his enthusiastic followers.

His opponents, in contrast, retired by the exit ramp worn and booed. The population sees them as the two sides of the same coin. Frequently, “those who are seated above in their circle, ignore what luck has reserved for them” (from an epigram of “Sombras nada más” (Only Shadows), a novel by Sergio Ramírez.

To avoid falling into irrelevance, the parties that have dominated political life in the last 30 years are forced to resort to heroic self-rescue maneuvers. In this, Arena has it more difficult, with a mutiny on board. Young people, and, most notably, women of the party demand another course, another leadership, another ideology. But, as everywhere else, older people cling to power: previous attempts to reform or change that formation did not prosper.

As for the FMLN, instead of a comeback, it suffered a stampede: massive desertions by its militants and traditional voters, which crossed the street and went to join Bukele. The Front, which embodied the hopes of change ten years ago, enters the most difficult phase of its existence without abilities for this leap in history. However, it is still too early to write its epitaph.

On June 1, a new leadership saluted from the podium of the National Palace, immersed in the mass celebration and with a memorable ending: the newly invested swore in at the same time the multitude that filled Plaza Barrios: he made them swear, by raising their hands, that they and all Salvadorans, inside and outside, will also strive, like good mothers and fathers, to save the country, which he compared to a sick child.

The first lesson of these events is that things can change. Overnight. Without a doubt, many things will change. And many others, realistically, will remain the same. Our brand as a nation is of a tribe of mareros, teenage mothers, slum shacks and obscurantist thinking. We carry with us problems and social, psychological and cultural structural flaws. Sometimes, there is nowhere to start.

But now comes the good. Dark areas abound in this novel leadership, which starts engines in the middle of uncertainty. Mr. Bukele has as an unfinished business to share the details of his Government program. Towards where are we going? We are not clear yet. But, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Are one hundred days enough to assess if this bet was worthy?

The president is criticized for the impression he gives in the sense that accountability does not come with the job. Inquisitive journalists and untimely questions are inevitable, indispensable in a democracy. With more reason if Bukele includes the Salvadoran conglomerate in the mission of carrying out a country’s project forward.

Many of Bukele’s critics and analysts do not know how to deal with a politician who does not follow the formulas and manners to which we are accustomed. That upsets them. It turns out that what for some is shocking, for others is fascinating; but do not be fooled. There are mechanisms that can be a decoy flare that baffle and do not allow us to be right on the essential issues.

Already deep in the 21st Century, faced with countless present and future challenges, there are winds of change. Bukele deserves, at least, as I mentioned above, the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, there is no denying that he aims to hit the target. On the night of June 1, at the end of the swearing-in ceremony, he ordered the Armed Forces—always, by Tweeter—to remove the name of Domingo Monterrosa, the most visible face of an unforgettable history of repression, from the façade of the Third Infantry Brigade, in San Miguel, where it ostentatiously defied civil power.

The following morning, his order was fulfilled without questioning. Now, the nation is with expectation about what comes next.
Roger Lindo is a Salvadoran writer and journalist.  Text originally published in Spanish by El Faro.