By Max Ross ‘20
El Salvador, the former Cuscatlán (Land of the Jewel) of the Pipil tribe, has been tarnished by decades of war, gang violence, and natural disaster. Despite the country’s lack of fertile soil it was once a major producer of coffee, but it has since transitioned to service. However, the coffee industry left the country with a major wealth gap, where two percent held most of the country’s wealth. Moreover, social inequality and repressive military regimes led to a civil war from 1980-1992 which killed tens of thousands of civilians. With the 1998 Hurricane and 2001 earthquake, the country’s wounds still fester. Who can fix the country?
Thirty-seven years old, nearly 500,000 followers on instagram, and 540,000 followers on twitter, Nayib Bukele believes he can. He has never attended a political debate and is not a part of the two-party system, yet he won the election.
Nayib Bukele began his political career in 2012 as a member of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) when he ran for mayor in the town of Nuevo Cuscatlán. However, in 2017 Bukele was expelled from the FMLN over allegations of him throwing an apple at the municipal comptroller. Following this incident, he created a political party called “New Ideas,” which garnered too few votes to be recognized. Instead, he chose to join the Grand Assembly for National Unity (GANA). To promote the party, he live-streams and tweets, but he refuses to participate in formal debates.
Bukele has marketed himself as an honest and patriotic man dedicated to ending corruption; however, his actions say otherwise. During his time as mayor he refused to receive a salary but was paid close to one million dollars from family businesses. Moreover, his platform of anti-corruption and habit of criticizing president Cerén’s spending habits is ironic, given that GANA has a history of corruption. His other plans to create thousands of scholarships and to have tax exemptions for the poorest families would create massive debt in the already gargantuan deficit. Even if there was enough funding, Bukele’s party could not pass these measures through the Assembly as GANA only has ten members out of eighty-four. Given that the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) is in power, Bukele may struggle to pass anything left-leaning. In addition, his desire to end gang violence entails no plans and does not address the problem with MS-13.
Exemplified by his fifty-three percent win, Nayib Bukele has convinced the people of his worthiness as president, yet the trust of the people may be misplaced. Sketchy deals, poor policies, and a failure to address gang issues mar the slick image of Nayib Bukele. However, his ebullient spirit and vitality as a candidate may be what the country needs.