Bukele sends hundreds of judges into retirement and secures a new presidential candidacy. Massive citizen protest.

The bicentenary of Central American independence (15/9) was the occasion for various sectors of Salvadoran society to once again fill the streets of the capital, showing their rejection of various measures adopted by the government of Nayib Bukele.

“As we commemorate the bicentenary of independence, the working people are facing an authoritarian regime, headed by the Bukele clan, which is dismantling the democratic institutions that emerged with the Peace Accords and setting up a structure of corruption, abuse of power and impunity”, states the manifesto to the nation of the Popular Resistance and Rebellion Bloc.

This space, which brings together a wide range of social, popular and trade union organisations, declared itself in “popular resistance” against “the dirty business of bitcoin, the high cost of living, massive layoffs, presidential re-election, regressive constitutional reforms, political persecution of the opposition, the arbitrary and forced dismissal of judges and the illegal imposition of usurper officials”.

He also rejected the harassment of journalists, the lack of transparency, the concealment of public information, the abuse of power, the coups d’état and the instrumentalisation of the Armed Forces and the National Civil Police.

“There were not only many people, but also a great articulation of sectors that are dissatisfied with the government and the measures it has been taking. This generates the possibility of a great alliance against the government,” said economist and political analyst César Villalona*.


As of 7 September, El Salvador has become the first country in the world where a cryptocurrency is a legal exchange currency alongside the US dollar. The so-called Bitcoin Law had been passed three months earlier by the ruling party’s legislative steamroller.

A few days before the law came into force, a survey by the University Institute of Public Opinion (Iudop) of the Central American University (UCA) warned that 67.9% of the people consulted disagreed or strongly disagreed with this measure. Likewise, 8 out of 10 Salvadorans said they had little or no confidence in the cryptocurrency.

The survey also indicated that almost 40% of those interviewed thought that this law would only benefit the rich, 22% foreign investors, and only 5.8% believed that the population would benefit from this measure.

Finally, 70% of respondents thought that the Bitcoin Law should be repealed immediately and 65% did not plan to download the “Chivo” (virtual wallet) application.

The Coordinadora Salvadoreña de Movimientos Populares also spoke out against the Bitcoin Law, demanding its repeal on the grounds that bitcoin “is not a currency, but a highly volatile digital asset”. It also recalled that the law “was approved abruptly without consulting the population” and that it did not respond to a demand from citizens.

In this sense, the organisations that make up the Coordinadora warned that this cryptocurrency “could favour illegal activities, hide embezzled public money or evade the payment of taxes”.

Likewise, the lack of information and the technological gap in the use of bitcoin would “increase the risks for the majority of the population and increase inequalities”.

If a good day starts in the morning…

According to national media, the cryptocurrency’s debut day was disastrous and President Bukele’s expectations were not met.

In addition to the serious failures suffered by the application – thousands of citizens were unable to download it or have access to the $30 in bitcoin promised by the government when obtaining the virtual wallet – the price of the cryptocurrency collapsed. In less than 24 hours, the executive recorded a public money loss of almost $3 million after the purchase of 550 bitcoins ($28.4 million).

What has also come to light in recent days is that the company Chivo, which is behind the virtual wallet for bitcoin use, was set up with public funds from the Executive Commission of the Lempa River (CEL). In 1999, CEL and Empresa Transmisora de El Salvador (ETASAL) created Inversiones El Salvador No 1, a company that this year was renamed Chivo SA de CV and will be managed by two public officials. However, it will operate as a private company and will not be subject to any state control over the management and use of its resources.

“It is a law that was stillborn. You go to the markets, to the shops and bitcoin is not being used, nor will it be used. There is widespread rejection in Salvadoran society. In the end I think they are going to leave bitcoin to fulfil its real objectives: the Chivo ATM business, currency speculation for a few rich people and the laundering of ill-gotten money,” said Villalona.

The economist recalled that the approval of the law last June was preceded by a whole series of corruption scandals, linked to the pandemic and overpriced purchases.

“We are talking about a billion dollars in 2020 expenses that have no accounting support and for which the Court of Auditors is demanding an audit. For almost a month, the (Ministry) of Finance denied the auditors access and then provided them with partial and incomplete information. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this money is converted into bitcoin and thus legalised.

Villalona pointed to a major contradiction between what the law says, what President Bukele says, and what happens in reality.

“According to the law, all prices have to be fixed in dollars as well as in bitcoin. You can even pay salaries, pensions and have savings in both currencies. However, at a press conference, Bukele said the opposite. The whole thing is an absolute failure.

The economist also recalled that the country is heading towards bankruptcy.

“The public debt has reached U$23.3 billion and is approaching 100% of GDP. In two and a half years of Bukele’s government, the debt has increased by almost U$5 billion. The government is bankrupt despite having managed many millions and has been inflating the budget figures.

But as it has no money to finish the year – the economist explained – it has had to cut spending. One of the results is that public investment fell by 49% between January and April this year and, possibly, money will no longer be transferred to the municipalities. Meanwhile, there are at least 17,000 jobs that have not yet been recovered in the formal sector”.

Shaky democracy

The protests on 7 and 15 September, the second much more massive and representative of broad sectors of the Salvadoran population, took place in a context of great national and international uncertainty and tension, following the decision of the ruling party’s bench (Nuevas Ideas) and its allies to reform the Judicial Career Law and automatically retire judges and prosecutors who have reached the age of 60 or who have served for more than 30 years.

We are talking about at least a third of the country’s judges, who will undoubtedly be replaced by figures loyal to the Salvadoran president.

Likewise, on 3 September, the Constitutional Chamber, made up of magistrates in total confidence of the president following the illegal dismissal of his predecessors and the attorney general when the new Parliament was installed on 1 May, issued a very original resolution, euphemistically speaking, in which it allows presidents to run for the immediate successive term, something that is prohibited by the Salvadoran Constitution.

In the resolution, the magistrates order the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to allow “a person who holds the presidency of El Salvador, and has not been president in the immediately preceding period, to participate in the electoral contest for a second time”. In this way, Nayib Bukele will be able to seek presidential re-election once his term ends in 2024.

“We are facing an authoritarian regime that imitates the democratic model, that invokes in its discourse fundamental principles of that model such as legitimate popular representation, free suffrage, public liberties, citizens’ rights, citizen participation through popular consultation and even referendums, but it has been demonstrated that these elements are not applied in practice because they are co-opted. Rather, they serve as a camouflage to hide and endorse what is really happening”, warned the Foundation for the Application of Law Studies (FESPAD) after the magistrates’ decision.

In addition to being unconstitutional, the issue of presidential re-election is rejected by a broad sector of the population. But how can this situation be reversed if all the powers of the state are controlled and respond to the interests of one person and not those of the population? asks Villalona.

“If there are no rights for judges, magistrates and prosecutors, if the president bursts in and takes over parliament escorted by police and military, if he manipulates the constitution, what can he not do with the population?

We are in a very delicate situation. We must continue to inform the people, we must strengthen the organisations, we must continue to articulate sectors and efforts, we must continue to protest and take to the streets.

The way to stop a policy adverse to the people is with citizen protest, and the mobilisation of 15 September is hopeful and sends a very clear message to the government”, he concluded.

* (César Villalona’s statements were given to different national media, both radio and written).

Source: LINyM

The original article can be found here