Bukele Has Delivered El Salvador to the Military He Once Defied

Bukele Has Delivered El Salvador to the Military He Once Defied
Soldiers march during a military parade commemorating El Salvador’s Independence Day, Sep 16, 2022 (Sipa photo by Camilo Freedman via AP Images).

Almost four years ago, at an outdoor cafe in Paris, a Salvadoran friend who had come of age during El Salvador’s civil war described to me the hope she felt after the inauguration of the country’s new president earlier that day. Brash and iconoclastic, the 37-year-old Nayib Bukele represented a generational break with the established political parties that had emerged from the civil war and dominated El Salvador’s politics ever since. Both the left-wing FMLN and the right-wing ARENA parties had a vested interest in maintaining impunity for El Salvador’s rampant corruption, but also for the crimes committed—mainly by the Salvadoran military—during the war.

In contrast, though he had only recently been expelled from the FMLN—under whose banner he had served as San Salvador’s mayor—Bukele had won the presidency as a dark-horse independent candidate willing to criticize the political establishment in ways that resonated with most Salvadorans. He promised to crack down on corruption. And in his first act as president, announced via Twitter, he ordered the removal of a plaque at a military barracks honoring the officer responsible for the infamous massacre in El Mozote, where in December 1981 the Salvadoran army killed almost a thousand people, including more than 500 children, with many of the victims raped and tortured as well.

For my friend and other hopeful observers, Bukele’s gesture suggested the start of a new era for El Salvador, one that would be characterized by accountability for the country’s military and security forces, and the defense of human rights and civil liberties.

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