El Salvador has always had challenges in becoming a democracy. El Salvador has a difficult past when it has come to becoming a democratic state. The country has been troubled with high rates of poverty, inequality, under-, and unemployment with high school drop-out rates, dysfunctional family structures, and easy access to arms, illegal substances, and gang violence (3). These can be attributed to the policies and legislation that have been put in place in El Salvador, which stems back to the Salvadorian Civil war of 1980.
The Salvadorian war was a civil war in El Salvador that lasted from 1979-1992. This was a war fought between the military ran the government and the Farabundo Mart National Liberation Front, or the FMLN (2). The killing of protesters during the military junta coup in 1979 is what is thought to be the start of the war. This new military-led government made promised to enhance living standards but failed at doing so. This prompted the main guerilla groups in the country to come together and form the FMLN, which lead to an attack against the government. The government took to targeting anyone who was suspected of supporting economic and social reform, the victims were often clergy, farmers, unionist, and university officials (2). An estimated 75,000 people died as a result of the 12 years the war persisted.
The United States was heavily involved. They played a major role in the war, its eventual outcome, and El Salvador’s future. The U.S. was supporting and funding the military ran the government from the very start of the war. This was during the height of the cold war where a growing population of people in surrounding countries was growing socialist sentiments. These impending “threats” urged the United States to get more involved. Military aid and funding supporting the government continued until near the end of the war in the 90s. At the height of the war, the United States was giving 1.5 million dollars a day in aid to fund the El Salvadorian government. This funding only stopped because of the confirmation of human rights violations and the United Nations becoming more involved (2). During the war, there ware new constitutional provisions, influenced by the United States, were put in place after the war, one of which was put in place was the military is prohibited from playing an internal security role within the government.
In 2019, Nayib Bukele won by a landslide and was elected to be the 46th President of El Salvador. He ran under the promise to fight corruption and improving security within the country. Last year in February 2020, Bukele was criticized for his clear violation of the constitution by sending in soldiers to the Legislative Assembly (5). He attempted to intimidate congress into the passing of a loan to help with his security efforts by bringing military enforcement. This is a violation of the constitution and goes against what he campaigned for. For many people, this was seen as a reminder of what initially started the civil war in 1979 (4).
Currently, with the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been more concerns being brought up about his practices. Bukele was one of the first Latin American leaders to assertively shut down borders and implement strict lockdowns. Any violators of the new laws faced arrest, while Salvadorans that were returning home from other countries faced being placed in stringent quarantine facilities that are run by the military and police (6). These laws were ruled unreasonable by the Salvadorian Constitutional Chamber that determined Salvadorians cannot be arrested for not following the president’s orders, law enforcement needs to follow that rule in order to not violate human rights. This brings the question of what line should be drawn when a president’s powers have been exceeded? Bukele wasn’t able to fully enforce his rules until he made an unproven claim that someone in legislation had Covid-19 to where his lockdown laws were implemented. This shows he has the power to surpass legislation when he feels or when they are pressured. He is slowly showing his autocratic tendencies by trying to exercise these practices (6).
- Wood, Elizabeth (2003). Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.