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Translator: Larissa Kassner

The End (or Restart) of an Era

Five months prior to the presidential election in El Salvador, scheduled for February 2024, the country is experiencing a moment of intense tension due to the unprecedented possibility of re-election. This is due to the approval, through an internal vote of the Nuevas Ideas party, of the new candidacy of the current president, Nayib Bukele, for the presidential elections next year. This re-election attempt contradicts constitutional provisions that state the impossibility of running for the presidency for anyone who has "exercised the Presidency of the Republic for more than six months, consecutively or not, in the immediately preceding period, or in the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential mandate."

This advancement by the ruling party can be interpreted as the result of a series of political implementations made over the last four years of the Bukele regime, whose contradictory nature has been previously analyzed by the World Social Forum on Health and Social Security (WSFHSS) in its initial textual approach to the topic. Despite the Salvadoran president's "anti-system" discourse, which does not have a specific affiliation to right or left-wing ideologies, actions such as the armed invasion of the National Assembly, the restructuring of the Constitutional Court (which acts as the Supreme Court), and the forced retirement of one-third of its judges, have all worked together to create a political context favorable to the "reinterpretation" of the Fundamental Law by the judges of the Constitutional Chamber, thus establishing the possibility of continuous re-election. Therefore, it is evident that this discursive narrative, far from seeking an alternative to the generalized crisis of its society, aims to exploit it and, thus, reaffirm a regime for a privileged minority that is and continues to be the system.

This "maneuver," however, is neither original nor restricted to El Salvador. A similar approach to political, economic, and social challenges was carried out by Jair Bolsonaro's campaign in the elections that made him the president of Brazil in 2018. Through an "anti-political" stance, the team of the then-candidate managed to benefit from the political weariness experienced by Brazilian society at that time - mainly due to corruption scandals, economic tensions, and political polarization - presenting him as the only possible solution: someone "from outside" - an ordinary citizen, or rather, a "good" citizen. Therefore, through highly mobilizing media content (controversial speeches and images that often spread fake news), Bolsonaro gained widespread popularity, which, in turn, contributed to further social polarization and reinforced his image as the savior of the nation (the Messiah), ensuring his victory in that year's electoral competition. However, far from "new ideas," Bolsonaro's term was marked by a strong political, economic, and social regression, depriving many Brazilian citizens of their basic rights. A strong example of this is his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, denying preventive measures, such as mask-wearing, and hindering vaccine negotiations. In this sense, his actions, instead of pointing towards a distant and contrary horizon of the current political system, reaffirm and perpetuate a government for and by a privileged minority.

Although Jair Bolsonaro was defeated in the 2022 elections by the Brazilian left-wing candidate Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), the same cannot be said for the "anti-system" ideology. It continues to be present in the Latin American continent through regimes like the one from Nayib Bukele's in El Salvador and candidates like Javier Milei in Argentina - both marked by the predominance of liberal ideology, which, among other aspects, exempts the state from its social responsibilities by individualizing them to the citizens of each society. Thereby, they are responsible for weakening the public sphere and advancing agendas such as the legalization of firearms, criminalization of abortion, prohibition of same-sex marriages, among other measures that ignore the real demands of their populations and reinforce their asymmetries.

The situation in El Salvador is even more serious considering that much of its development has occurred under an uninterrupted state of exception implemented by President Bukele in the country for over 15 months. The maintenance of the state of exception occurs in a scenario of war against the "pandillas" - known as street gangs - a campaign promise of the current leader to put an end to the high levels of violence associated with organized crime in the country. In March 2022, after an escalation of homicides, around 87 deaths in just two days, the National Assembly approved the establishment of a state of exception that was initially supposed to last for one month but has already been extended 15 times at the president's request. With this decision, some guarantees established by the Constitution, such as the right to free association and the inviolability of correspondence and communications, were suspended, and daily detentions without judicial orders and the rights conferred to detainees, such as the right to legal defense, have become common. As a result, the Salvadoran population has witnessed a wave of mass incarceration (with approximately 60,000 detainees so far) and the construction of the largest prison in Latin America, making the country home to the largest incarcerated population in the world.

Two Faces of a Crime

To President Bukele, his "tough on crime" policy enabled an immediate reduction in violence and mortality rates in El Salvador, leading the country to achieve the lowest homicide rate in its recent history: from 100 to 7.8 people per 100,000 inhabitants. However, these statistics have faced some scrutiny from civil society organizations and even members of the government, who claim it to be a "false positive." According to German Arriaza - a former Salvadoran prosecutor responsible for leading an anti-corruption investigation unit in the country's Public Ministry (which was abruptly shut down at the president's orders) - there is concrete evidence of a pact established between the ruling government and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs to reduce homicide rates and collaborate with the ruling party Nuevas Ideas in winning the legislative elections in February.

In addition to this, Bukele's "war" has had serious collateral effects for the Salvadoran population. The extension of the state of exception in the country continues to suspend a series of individual citizens' rights, such as the right to freedom of expression and organization, the right to move freely, to security and defense, and even the right to privacy. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in partnership with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Cristosal, more than 1,600 children and adolescents aged between 12 and 17 have been detained under the prerogatives of the state of exception in the country. The report "We Can Arrest Whoever We Want: Widespread Human Rights Violations Under El Salvador's State of Emergency" features testimonies from 1,100 people from all 14 states of the country, interviewed between March and November 2022, where detentions, often accompanied by cases of torture and even death, are reported.

These detentions would mostly be arbitrary, as they are based on stigmas of race, class, and gender. In this sense, as observed in Brazil, especially during the management of former President Jair Bolsonaro throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it is evident how socially marginalized populations become the primary targets of violence - whether through a virus or by the state itself - in times of crisis. In line with the thoughts of Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, the concept of "necropolitics" becomes evident in this situation, which involves the power to decide who can live and who must die, based on the acceptability of the death of those constantly at risk, primarily defined by race, with the addition of class and gender considerations.

Nothing New on the Front

A mapping conducted by the Observatory of Conflictuality in Social and Environmental Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean (ObservActiva) pointed to the implementation of certain political decisions that are leading the country backward in terms of guaranteeing the human rights of its population. Firstly, the 30-year prison sentence handed down to Esme, in addition to the 2 years of preventive detention already served, due to a spontaneous abortion in May 2022, highlights an ongoing social conflict in El Salvador.

This conflict revolves around the total criminalization of abortion, meaning the penal condemnation resulting from the practice in any circumstances, including cases of brain malformation, risk to the mother's life, and rape. This conservative aspect not only constitutes a violation of women's sexual and reproductive rights but also questions their rights to access social justice. The lack of support from the Salvadoran state on a matter of public health intimidates these women who often put their health at risk to achieve their rightful goals. In this matter, President Bukele is strongly opposed to women's struggle for the legalization of abortion in his country, even having shelved a project to reform the country's Penal Code that would review such criminalization.

Secondly, the reform of the Special Law for Telecommunications Intervention, carried out by the Salvadoran Congress in November 2022, streamlines the authorization of phone tapping and expands the offenses that can be investigated. According to its new version, telephone surveillance must be requested by the Attorney General of the Republic and the director of the Intervention Center and must be authorized by the judge within a maximum of four hours. While this measure aims to combat the increase in virtual crimes, it is worth noting that this breach of protocol in terms of established barriers and urgency compromises the guarantee of the privacy rights of Salvadoran citizens.

Furthermore, considering the "non-neutral" nature of digital technologies - since these are products of human thought and activity and, therefore, reproduce their ideas, opinions, and conceptions of reality - their rapid and uncritical interpretation can have serious consequences for the guarantee of the rights to security and social justice for those who are socially marginalized.


In conclusion, despite being elected with the promise of renewing El Salvador's political system, breaking with its bipartisanship, and ending its corruption, Nayib Bukele has proven to be the primary driver of the authoritarian turn in the country's government. Therefore, the paradoxical nature of the "anti-system" narrative becomes evident, as it not only fails to provide an external solution to the multiple crises of a society but also capitalizes on these crises to mobilize the emotions of its population and elevate eccentric figures to power, most of the time serving as a smokescreen for the advancement of strategies and decisions that secure the privileges of a minority at the expense of the majority.

In this sense, there is an urgent need to critically examine the socio-political situation in El Salvador, starting from the local social organizations' complaints, with the aim of developing proposals for changes capable of restoring to the Salvadoran population the guarantee of their fundamental right to life.


Os trabalhos do FSMSSS são revisados por Isadora Borba e Rafaela Venturella De Negri

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