Bukele’s Election Represents a New Era in El Salvador—and a Chance for Trump

Bukele’s Election Represents a New Era in El Salvador—and a Chance for Trump
El Salvador’s president-elect, Nayib Bukele, at a press conference in San Salvador, El Salvador, Feb. 3, 2019 (AP photo by Moises Castillo).

Is there any chance that President Donald Trump would see the recent election in tiny El Salvador as an opportunity to take a different, more humane approach to his campaign against the influx of migrants and asylum-seekers from Central America? That seems like a very long shot, but Trump would do well to consider the possibility.

In the presidential election earlier this month, Salvadorans sent a powerful message to their own leaders—one that may also just hold a key to reversing the stream of desperate families pouring out of their country toward the United States. At the very least, El Salvador has an opportunity to ease the human suffering that propels impoverished families to leave it all behind and risk the dangerous trek north. And in an unlikely turn, the election has created an opening for Trump.

Salvadoran voters broke sharply with tradition on Feb. 3 and chose 37-year-old Nayib Bukele as their next president. In doing so, they cracked the 30-year-old monopoly held by the two main parties, relics of the brutal civil war of the 1980s, which have dominated politics as the heirs to the Cold War-era combatants. The National Republican Alliance, or ARENA, inherited the rightist mantle of the militias allied with the U.S. during the civil war. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, became the party of the left, transforming a Marxist guerrilla movement into a socialist political one.

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