[Grassroots leaders in El Salvador discuss what they anticipate
from President Nayib Bukele, what they demand, and how they plan to
navigate the distance between the two.] [https://portside.org/] 

 100 DAYS OF NAYIB BUKELE IN EL SALVADOR: SOCIAL MOVEMENT PERSPECTIVES
(INTERVIEW)  
[https://portside.org/2019-09-14/100-days-nayib-bukele-el-salvador-social-movement-perspectives-interview]


 

 CISPES 
 September 9, 2019
NACLA Reports
[https://nacla.org/news/2019/09/06/100-days-nayib-bukele-el-salvador-social-movement]


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 _ Grassroots leaders in El Salvador discuss what they anticipate from
President Nayib Bukele, what they demand, and how they plan to
navigate the distance between the two. _ 

 Demonstrators carry signs against water privatization at a May Day
march in El Salvador., (Photo by CISPES) 

 

When Nayib Bukele was inaugurated as El Salvador’s new president
[https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10714839.2019.1617469?af=R] on
June 1, the ceremony—open to the public for the first time—was,
like several other opening gambits of the new administration, more
symbolic than substantive. Held outdoors in the historic center of
downtown San Salvador just blocks from the bustle of street vendors
and the wheeze of city buses, the event was squarely _on brand_ with
Bukele's populist messaging and widely promoted as the first glimpse
of a “new era
[https://www.heritage.org/americas/event/new-era-el-salvador]” of
governance in El Salvador: inclusive, accessible, and transparent.

However, as Bukele marks his first 100 days as president and the
substance of his administration begins to take form, Salvadoran
popular movement organizations warn that far from any “new ideas”
(for which Bukele’s party, _Nuevas Ideas,_ is
named), _Bukelismo_ signals a return to the all-too-familiar
neoliberal program
[https://nacla.org/news/2019/02/14/el-salvador%E2%80%99s-backslide] of
wealth reconsolidation and acquiescence to empire, albeit rebranded in
the populist, “post-ideological” rhetoric of our times.

Bukele’s first public address post-election was delivered at the
ultraconservative U.S. Heritage Foundation, where he assured the
right-wing crowd
[https://www.heritage.org/americas/event/new-era-el-salvador] that
the Salvadoran people “want the same thing Americans want,” like
“free enterprise and limited government.” On the heels of that
speech came a broad invitation to foreign investors to “come to the
banquet
[https://twitter.com/PrensaBukele/status/1144326307678969858?s=20]”
of opportunity laid out for them in El Salvador.  During his
inauguration, Bukele spoke
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQ-pYFYF8yM] of El Salvador as a
“sick child” whose cure would require “bitter medicine,”
“individual responsibility,” and “sacrifice.” Neoliberal
tropes like these set the social movement on edge, as they infer from
them a return to the austerity measures, paternalism, and bootstrap
ideology of previous Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA)
administrations (1989-2009) that triggered the economic and social
crises that continue to keep much of El Salvador in poverty.

Three short months in office have confirmed social movement fears.
Within weeks of assuming power, President Bukele launched a massive
layoff campaign
[https://lta.reuters.com/articulo/politica-salvador-bukele-idLTAKCN1T72PB] that
eliminated hundreds of public sector workers under the guise of
“rooting out corruption.” Several government agencies have been
dissolved entirely, including, ironically, those responsible for
social inclusion, citizen participation, and government
transparency—precisely the things his new era of government has
promised to deliver. Beyond the direct and immediate material damage
to public sector workers and unions, however, the social movement
fears that these cuts lay the groundwork for an even more radical
project of state restructuring, one which the International Monetary
Fund and the U.S. Embassy have been pushing for years through
mechanisms like the proposed Public Services Law
[https://www.diariocolatino.com/trabajadores-dicen-no-a-la-ley-de-servicio-publico-impulsada-por-organismos-internacionales/]. 

On matters of immigration and security, Bukele has openly signaled
concession to the United States. When the lives of Oscar Alberto
Martinez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, were taken
crossing the Rio Grande River, instead of denouncing U.S. migration
policies that criminalize refugees and routinely subject them to
violence, Bukele put the blame on Salvadorans, calling the deaths
“our fault.”
[https://www.nytimes.com/es/2019/07/01/bukele-migrantes-rio-bravo/] Extending
this sentiment to policy, he recently initiated a new phase
of cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
[https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/dhs-chief-el-salvador-security-migration-talks-65251742] to
patrol El Salvador’s borders and unleashed a massive increase of
“anti-gang” forces in its streets. This last measure has prompted
sharp outcry from human rights leaders, especially in light of the
broad prohibition of military participation in domestic security
enshrined in the 1992 Peace Accords. Nonetheless, this increase in
police and military presence will likely be welcomed by incoming U.S.
Ambassador Ron Johnson
[http://cispes.org/article/human-rights-organizations-high-alert-senate-considers-cia-liaison-us-ambassador-el-salvador],
who arrives directly from the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command. In
sum, Bukele appears fully on board with the Trump Administration’s
war on the citizens of Central America.

None of these developments come as surprise, however, to social and
popular movement organizations in El Salvador who warned well before
the election of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As Bukele marks 100 days
in office, CISPES revisits a conversation we convened with social
movement leaders on the eve of the inauguration: Onidia Gomez from the
Salvadoran Foundation for Local Development and Democracy (FUNDASPAD)
discusses human rights, corruption, and impunity; activist and scholar
Sara Garcia from the Citizen’s Group for the Depenalization of
Abortion addresses women’s and reproductive rights; and Bernardo
Belloso from the Development Association of El Salvador (CRIPDES)
takes up defense of the environment.

What follows is our conversation, translated from Spanish and lightly
edited, about what grassroots leaders in El Salvador anticipate from
their new president, what they demand, and how they plan to navigate
the distance between the two.  

CISPES: ONIDIA GOMEZ, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MAIN CHALLENGES TO THE
SOCIAL MOVEMENT UNDER THE NEW ADMINISTRATION IN TERMS OF GOVERNMENT
TRANSPARENCY, CORRUPTION, AND THE LIKE?

ONIDIA GOMEZ: The last ten years of progressive government under the
FMLN gave us important and significant changes, not just in social
indicators but also around transparency and corruption, specifically.
Before 2009, we didn’t really have any measures against corruption.
It wasn’t until 2010 that we saw a law guaranteeing access to public
information [the Law for Transparency and Access to Information].
Before the law, we had no way to know how the national budget was
distributed among various government agencies, salaries, or projects -
or really how the central government was operating at all.

With the new government, we are worried about some specific issues
regarding transparency. One is the way Bukele has used social media
to denounce or promote certain individuals, without proof either way.
If there is an accusation, it should be made through the Attorney
General’s office; people should not be tried on social media. The
latter will only lead to a lynching of public figures, and that’s
not really transparency, in terms of carrying out government; in fact,
it’s circumventing all the mechanisms of transparency. 

CISPES: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU SEE IN THE NEW PRESIDENT’S
STANCE TOWARD THE UNITED STATES?

OG: The truth is that this is one of the most concerning situations
we’re facing. For example, after the election in February, the U.S.
Ambassador to El Salvador was invited to participate in the transition
of government. For the United States to accompany or work alongside a
transition is one thing, but to be considered part of the transition
team is another. This is something we’ve never seen. Likewise, the
role that the United States Embassy has taken regarding many national
issues that we face is also highly concerning.

First is the Public Service Law, which challenges the right of the
public sector to unionize at the government level. The main force
behind this law is the U.S. Embassy. This is a major concern because
it jeopardizes the ability of unions to fight for job stability and to
collectively bargain, which are hard-won battles that we hope will not
be undone. One of the interventions that we’ve heard a lot about
from the United States is the need to “modernize” ourselves. To do
this, it’s even been suggested that we return to a twelve-hour
workday to increase productivity.

Other issues where we see strong U.S. influence is in the call to vote
this way or that way—with the National Reconciliation Law, for
example [_Editor’s note_: Following the 2016 Supreme Court ruling to
overturn the Amnesty Law, the right-wing dominated Legislative
Assembly has debated a replacement law as the court mandated]. The
U.S. has been very “active,” let’s say, on this issue, taking a
strong position on it and how justice should operate in El Salvador.
We don’t think this is the role that an embassy should play. It’s
up to us as Salvadorans to come to agreements on these issues.

If at some point the U.S. would be interested in actually contributing
to this issue of national reconciliation, perhaps they’d like to
extradite Elliot Abrams, who was involved in the El Mozote massacre
[https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/14/el-salvador-massacre-el-mozote].
Perhaps they’d like to acknowledge his role in El Salvador’s war
and the role of the U.S. in funding and training a brutal military
that killed so many of our people. That is at the root of the
reconciliation that our country needs. But perhaps they are not
interested in contributing to reconciliation in that way.

The role of the Embassy also raises concerns about transparency, as
the new government is not saying just how far they intend to allow the
U.S. government to participate in our own affairs. Bukele has already
made a number of statements in favor of international commitments, and
we know that part of the geopolitical strategy of Trump’s presidency
has sought out the support of the incoming president. So this is
concerning. These types of decisions should not take place behind
closed doors but should be presented to our people. 

CISPES: SARA GARCIA, WHERE IS EL SALVADOR IN ITS STRUGGLE FOR
WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS?  

SARA GARCIA: El Salvador has an absolute abortion ban, no
exceptions.  The context of the current situation in El Salvador
involves profound structural and social violence against women. This
is borne out by sobering statistics: In 2018, there were 353
femicides, and to date in 2019 there have been 131 femicides in El
Salvador. There are over 19,120 pregnancies of girls and adolescents
[https://www.unfpa.org/news/teen-pregnancies-and-attendant-health-risks-major-concern-el-salvador] [yearly].
The number-one cause of maternal death among teenagers in El Salvador
is suicide. These things are part of the concrete Salvadoran reality,
and the numbers cry out the injustice that we’re facing. Our fight
to decriminalize and depenalization abortion takes place in this
environment. 

CISPES: THOUGHTS GOING FORWARD UNDER A NEW ADMINISTRATION?

SG: Bukele has said he believes in decriminalizing abortion when the
woman’s life is in danger. However, “life and health of the
mother” entails a much wider context than many people understand. If
you’re in favor of saving the life and health of the mother, it’s
necessary to remember that we’re often talking about violence
towards and violation of young girls, which clearly threatens their
lives and health as well.

There are also other aspects of women’s lives and health that
justify the right to abortion
[https://nacla.org/news/2016/12/08/feminist-movements-challenge-el-salvador%E2%80%99s-total-abortion-ban];
these are the “four causes” [under which we are advocating that
abortion be permitted—when the women’s health is at risk, in cases
of rape, when the fetus is nonviable, and in girls who are underage,
especially when the pregnancy is a result of rape]. So, the struggle
and the issue is beyond the personal beliefs of the candidates. 

The previous Ministry of Health took a very clear and powerful
position on the issue of abortion. And so the very minimum that the
new government should do is to take up and advance that same strong
position. We will fight to prevent any rollbacks of our progress. And
we will fight in solidarity with the feminist movement across Latin
America and in the Caribbean because our struggles are connected;
it’s a regional struggle. 

Additionally, we believe it’s important not just for the president
to take up the proposals of the social movement but also to enter into
dialogue with our movement, because without dialogue there will not be
democracy. We require freedom of expression, specifically in this
context.

CISPES: BERNARDO BELLOSO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONCERNS REGARDING THE
ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES IN EL SALVADOR?

BERNARDO BELLOSO: When ARENA won the biggest bloc of seats in the
Legislative Assembly last year, they immediately wanted to reform
Article 105 of the Constitution, which establishes the limit of the
amount of land that a person can hold in El Salvador. They want to
make that land available to transnational corporations as well as to
big business within El Salvador. This is a central concern. Likewise,
right-wing parties in the national assembly want to reverse the 2017
ban on metallic mining. This is a very real threat because the right
wing has a [super] majority of seats. Part of our struggle now is to
attach the mining ban to the constitution so it can't be repealed. 

The other big issue that we’ve been fighting against is
the privatization of water resources
[https://nacla.org/news/2017/09/01/water-wars-el-salvador-tacuba-resists].
This is a struggle that we’ve been fighting since 2006, 2007 because
of the policies of [ARENA] president Tony Saca. Now that the
right-wing parties have an even stronger majority in the legislature,
they have begun again to try to privatize water in El Salvador. The
social movements continue to advocate for the General Water Law, which
would ensure the right to water. 

One of the big challenges for us regarding the new government is how
or whether it will support these environmental objectives. So far,
Bukele’s positions tend to favor economic interests over popular
interests.

CISPES: WITH REGARD TO ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS, HOW DO YOU VIEW THE
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION AND THE BUKELE
ADMINISTRATION? 

BB: The relationship between the U.S. government and the incoming
Salvadoran government is deepening and this will affect the lives of
our population. The geopolitical influence that the United States
seeks to maintain in El Salvador in order to strengthen economic and
military power across Latin America violates our sovereign and
constitutional right to govern ourselves. Greater U.S. involvement
will without a doubt have consequences, especially among more
vulnerable social and economic classes in El Salvador. We see the
impact of U.S. involvement in other areas of Latin America, in
Venezuela, for example, where the people’s right to choose their own
leaders and decide their own future is being challenged. We interpret
this as an intention on the part of the United States to build a new
axis of power in Latin America that will serve the political interests
and neoliberal policies of the United States. Meanwhile, we have
populations here in Central America, particularly indigenous people,
who are being massacred, their natural resources taken, and Bukele has
not spoken out about it. 

The new government is in alliance with the U.S. government and with
multinational, transnational private industries. What we expect is a
new state of criminalization, like we’re seeing [elsewhere in
Central America] where entire communities are being criminalized by
repressive governments on behalf of private industry. There is also
the threat of the anti-terrorism law, which was created by ARENA but
is still in effect, being used to squash any actions that we might
take as a movement. That’s a concern. 

What that means is that the people of this country have to continue
resisting. It’s important to keep fighting for what we’ve already
won and to recognize that we’ve won our victories in the streets –
they weren’t given to us by anyone. So if we’re seeing bad
governance, we’re going to have to mobilize. We will see if Bukele
is going to work for the majority of Salvadorans—if he responds to
the needs of the many, or for the minority. 

_The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
is a grassroots solidarity organization that has been supporting the
Salvadoran people’s struggle for social and economic justice since
1980._

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