El Instituto Samuel Robinson
The decision of the Salvadoran Congress, dominated by President Nayib Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party, to dismiss the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General raised local and international concerns about the division of powers in the Central American country to the highest level.
Scenario: As anticipated, the new Legislative Assembly -with the votes of 64 of the 84 deputies of that body- removed the five magistrates with their respective substitutes and immediately appointed their replacements, who were sworn in smoothly. It also removed the Attorney General, Raúl Melara, and appointed attorney Rodolfo Antonio Delgado in his place.
The removal of the magistrates took place on the first day of functions of the parliament controlled by Bukele and occurred in an express manner in clear violation of the Constitution of the country, in an extemporaneous manner, only under denunciations of the parliamentarians, without the right to defense of the magistrates, without the disclosure of evidence and without going through due process.
Context: The Central American nation had suffered another serious political crisis when in February 2020 Nayib Bukele burst into parliament on a Sunday escorted by heavily armed military and police. Bukele went to Congress to demand that deputies approve a $109 million loan to finance his controversial anti-gang plan, even calling for “popular insurrection” if the legislature did not give in.
The questions about Bukele’s policy of “pacification” of the armed groups are based on accusations of financing and a pact between the president and the groups, where the use of public resources would be used in a discretionary and unaccountable manner.
Bukele’s new escalation over the country’s judicial institutions also has narrative components that convey the message of imposition by force. Flanked by the National Civil Police, the new magistrates took office, as did the new prosecutor.
Reactions: Bukele appears to have lost favor with the U.S. government. Secretary of State Blinken called Bukele to express his “concern” for the unleashed crisis, in unison with the Organization of American States (OAS), which criticized the parliamentary escalation.
There had already been friction between Bukele and the Biden Administration. Weeks ago, Bukele stood up a U.S. official who visited the country to deal with the immigration issue. Apparently, the Salvadoran leader was reciprocating a similar “snub” to him in Washington during a previously unannounced visit.
Why it is important: It is essential to consider that the U.S., with its long history of “friendship” with despotic regimes (as can be seen in its current relations with some monarchies in the Middle East), is possibly making a pass at Bukele for his ties with China. Since he visited the country in 2019 their relationship continues to strengthen.
Bukele strengthened his country’s relations with China recently and in 2019 accepted a major “non-reimbursable” cooperation package, putting aside the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The State Department reacted and signaled “disappointment” for “turning its back” on Taiwan. In a 2019 statement (Trump Adm.) they criticized that visit and stated that “what China does economically in the Western Hemisphere, and elsewhere, affects all of us.”
Since then, various media alleged that Washington had its relationship with El Salvador under review. And it seems that, as in the Trump Administration, the Biden administration is applying the same methods of pressure against China and those who get close to it.
Translation by Internationalist 360°