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A police special forces officer on patrol in San Salvador, El Salvador A police special forces officer patrols near a mural of Armando Bukele, father of President Nayib Bukele, in San Salvador, El Salvador, April 23, 2020 (AP photo by Salvador Melendez).

Bukele’s COVID-19 Response Is Undermining the Rule of Law in El Salvador

Thursday, May 14, 2020

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, has overseen one of the quickest and most aggressive strategies to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the Western Hemisphere. He ordered a national quarantine on March 12, four days before President Donald Trump announced federal social distancing guidelines in the United States and a week ahead of California’s statewide stay-at-home order. And he has ordered the police and the military to enforce a tough lockdown, which allows Salvadorans who work for nonessential businesses to leave their homes only twice a week to shop for food and medicine. Thousands of people have been detained for violating the restrictions on movement.

The brash, 38-year-old president’s heavy-handed approach has generally been well received by most Salvadorans, over 90 percent of whom approve of his handling of the crisis in public opinion polls. The tough measures also appear to have produced a very low infection rate, with around 1,100 confirmed cases and 20 deaths. But they have reinforced concerns, in El Salvador and elsewhere in the region, of Bukele’s troubling brand of illiberal and anti-democratic politics. ...

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