Bukele’s ‘Cool Authoritarian’ Model Makes for a Dangerous Export

Bukele’s ‘Cool Authoritarian’ Model Makes for a Dangerous Export
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele addresses personnel of the armed forces in San Juan Opico, El Salvador, Nov. 23, 2022 (Sipa photo by Camilo Freedman via AP Images).

El Salvador’s controversial president, Nayib Bukele, has clearly captured Latin America’s attention—and its imagination. Polls around the region show that not only is Bukele’s name-recognition rising, but that his image is quite favorable among the general public.

Some politicians are now trying to cash in on his popularity, offering approaches that play off of Bukele’s war against El Salvador’s gangs, which has included a state of emergency limiting civil liberties, mass arrests and, most recently, the opening of the world’s second-largest prison to hold up to 40,000 prisoners. Other politicians and a large portion of civil society are quite critical, pointing to Bukele’s authoritarian tendencies and corruption, as well as the human rights abuses carried out in his anti-gang campaign, all of which appear to be leading El Salvador down a path that will eventually turn out poorly. From both the positive and negative perspectives, however, no leader in the hemisphere has driven the conversation this way since Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Xiomara Castro, the left-wing president of Honduras, has launched a state of emergency in that country that is at least somewhat modeled on the one Bukele has used in Salvador over the past year. Zury Rios, the leading candidate for Guatemala’s presidential election later this year, has promised a Bukele-like crackdown on crime if elected. Politicians in Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile have also begun praising Bukele and using his name when promoting their own policies. In contrast, this past week, Colombian President Gustavo Petro ended up in a war of words on Twitter with Bukele over their respective security policies.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review