Last Sunday, as the red carpet arrivals began at the Oscars, a scene out of a Hollywood thriller unfolded far away in the capital of El Salvador. Dozens of police officers and soldiers in full battlefield regalia, armed with assault weapons, burst into the country’s Legislative Assembly. Stunned legislators watched as President Nayib Bukele marched in and sat in the chair of the president of the assembly. “Now,” he declared, “I think it’s very clear who has control of the situation.”
Outside the legislature, Bukele’s followers, summoned by their young, charismatic leader, were smashing pinatas meant to look like his opponents.
Invoking an article in the constitution, the 38-year-old Bukele had ordered legislators to come to a special session of the assembly on Sunday to approve his plan to request a $109 million loan to fund his gang-fighting security initiative, known as the Territorial Control Plan. When they refused to appear, uniformed security forces went to the homes of opposition legislators, delivering orders from the president to attend. Many refused, leading to a lack of a quorum in the legislature. After he and the security forces left the Legislative Assembly, Bukele issued a one-week ultimatum to lawmakers, demanding they approve his funding request.