Nayib Bukele

Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez (Spanish pronunciation: ; born 24 July 1981) is a Salvadoran politician and businessman who is the 43rd president of El Salvador, serving since 1 June 2019.

He is the first Salvadoran president since 1984 who was not elected as a candidate of one of the country's two major political parties: the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), of which Bukele was formerly a member.

Nayib Bukele
A vertical upper-body portrait of Nayib Bukele smiling, facing the camera, and wearing a business suit and the presidential sash of El Salvador
Official portrait, 2019
43rd President of El Salvador
Assumed office
1 June 2019
Vice PresidentFélix Ulloa
Preceded bySalvador Sánchez Cerén
13th Mayor of San Salvador
In office
1 May 2015 – 30 April 2018
Preceded byNorman Quijano
Succeeded byErnesto Muyshondt
Mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán
In office
1 May 2012 – 30 April 2015
Preceded byÁlvaro Rodríguez
Succeeded byMichelle Sol
Personal details
Born
Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez

(1981-07-24) 24 July 1981 (age 42)
San Salvador, El Salvador
Political partyNuevas Ideas (since 2017)
Other political
affiliations
Spouse
(m. 2014)
Children2
Parent
EducationCentral American University (no degree)
OccupationPolitician, businessman
CabinetCabinet of Nayib Bukele
SignatureA graphic of Nayib Bukele's signature

Beginning in 1999, Bukele worked at an advertising company owned by his father and also established his own advertising company. Both his and his father's companies advertised election campaigns for the FMLN. In 2011, Bukele announced that he would enter politics, and in 2012, he officially became a member of the FMLN. That year, he was elected as the mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán and served until 2015. That same year, Bukele was elected as the mayor of San Salvador and served until 2018. In 2017, Bukele was ousted from the FMLN, and shortly afterwards, he founded the Nuevas Ideas political party with which he sought to pursue a presidential campaign in 2019. After the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) refused to register his party, Bukele ran for president with the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) and won with 53 percent of the vote.

In July 2019, Bukele implemented the Territorial Control Plan, an anti-gang program that sought to reduce the country's homicide rate which stood at 38 homicides per 100,000 people in 2019. Homicides decreased by 50 percent during Bukele's first year which he attributed to the Territorial Control Plan, while the El Faro digital newspaper and the United States Department of State accused Bukele's government of secretly negotiating with gangs to reduce the homicide rate. After over 80 persons were killed by gangs over the span of one weekend in March 2022, Bukele's government initiated a nationwide crackdown on gangs. This has resulted in the arrests of over 79,000 people with alleged gang affiliations as of 2 April 2024, with over 12,000 of them incarcerated at the Terrorism Confinement Center. The country's homicide rate has decreased to 2.4 homicides per 100,000 as of 2023. In 2021, Bukele passed a law which declared bitcoin as legal tender in El Salvador, and he has promoted plans to build a Bitcoin City powered by geothermal energy to mine bitcoin. In June 2023, the Legislative Assembly approved two of Bukele's proposals to reduce both the number of municipalities from 262 to 44 and the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from 84 to 60; the reductions will go into effect on 1 May 2024.

Politicians, activists, and journalists have accused Bukele of governing in an authoritarian and autocratic manner. In February 2020 Bukele ordered 40 soldiers into the Legislative Assembly building to intimidate lawmakers to approve a US$109 million loan for the Territorial Control Plan. In May 2021, after Nuevas Ideas won a supermajority in the Legislative Assembly in that year's legislative election, Bukele's allies in the legislature voted to remove the attorney general and all five justices of the Supreme Court of Justice's Constitutional Chamber, replacing them with Bukele's allies. Bukele has attacked journalists and news media outlets on social media and has implemented laws which critics claim censor the press. Bukele ran for re-election in the 2024 presidential election, when the country's constitution was previously interpreted as banning consecutive re-election, and won with over 85 percent of the vote. Before Bukele's presidency, he considered himself to be a member of the "radical left", but since becoming president, he has not identified with any political ideology. During Bukele's presidency, political analysts have described him as a populist and a conservative. Bukele retains high job approval ratings and is highly popular both within El Salvador and across Latin America.

Early life

Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez was born on 24 July 1981 in San Salvador, El Salvador. His father was Armando Bukele Kattán, a businessman and industrial chemist, and his mother is Olga Marina Ortez; Bukele's father died in 2015. Bukele was the couple's first child. He has three younger brothers: Karim, Yusef, and Ibrajim. He also has four half-sisters and two half-brothers from his father's side of the family. Bukele's father converted to Islam from Christianity in the 1980s, became an imam, and founded four mosques in El Salvador; Bukele's mother is a Roman Catholic. Bukele's paternal grandparents were Palestinian Christians who immigrated to El Salvador from Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the 1921; Bukele's maternal grandfather was a Greek Orthodox and his maternal grandmother was a Roman Catholic.

Bukele completed his secondary education from the Escuela Panamericana in 1999 at the age of 18. He enrolled at the Central American University in San Salvador to study judicial sciences with aspirations to become a lawyer, but he dropped out to work for the Nölck advertising agency, one of his father's businesses. Nölck campaigned for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a left-wing Salvadoran political party.

In 1999, Bukele founded Obermet, S.A. de C.V. (also known as 4am Saatchi & Saatchi El Salvador), a marketing company. He served as its president from 1999 to 2006 and again from 2010 to 2012. This company ran political advertising for the FMLN presidential campaigns of Schafik Hándal in 2004 and Mauricio Funes in 2009.: 239  From 2005 to 2007, Bukele was the president of CLS, a company which issued Salvadoran passports. From 2006 to 2010, Bukele was the president of Nölck, for which we previously worked for. From 2009 to 2012, Bukele was the president of Yamaha Motors El Salvador, a company that sells and distributes Yamaha products in El Salvador. During Bukele's career as a businessman, he described himself as a "businessman with a great future" ("empresario con gran futuro").

Early political career

Mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán

In 2011, Bukele announced that he would enter politics as a member of the FMLN. He stated that his reason for doing so was to get out of "his comfort zone" ("su zona de confort") as a businessman. Bukele officially joined the FMLN in 2012 and campaigned to be elected as the mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, a municipality in the department of La Libertad which is a part of the San Salvador metropolitan area. Bukele's campaign was supported by the Democratic Change political party. On 11 March 2012, Bukele was elected as mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán with 51.67 percent of the vote. He defeated Tomás Rodríguez of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), who was his primary challenger. Bukele took office on 1 May 2012 becoming the country's youngest mayor.

As mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, Bukele created a scholarship program for youths in the municipality; he donated his salary of US$2,000 to fund the program. On 27 August 2014, Bukele launched Sphere PM, a project which launched a high-altitude balloon to an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,000 m) and took pictures of various parts of El Salvador. Bukele stated that the goal of Sphere PM was to promote education in science and technology in order to prevent the municipality's youth from turning to crime. On 31 November 2014, Bukele spoke at the United Nations headquarters to discuss the projects he had undertaken up to that point as mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán as a part of World Cities Day. On 21 January 2015, Bukele inaugurated a new boulevard which connected Nuevo Cuscatlán with Huizúcar and Antiguo Cuscatlán; its construction cost US$1.7 million. Bukele performed much of his works as mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán with funding from ALBA Petróleos, an association owned by the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.: 239 

Mayor of San Salvador

In August 2014, Bukele announced that he would seek election as mayor of San Salvador in the upcoming 2015 elections. His candidacy was confirmed by FMLN Secretary-General Medardo González on 19 August 2014. Bukele delegated administration of Nuevo Cuscatlán to Michelle Sol, a council member, on 10 February 2015 in order to focus on his electoral campaign. During Bukele's electoral campaign, which was supported by the Salvadoran Progressive Party [es], FMLN party leadership called him the party's "crown jewel" ("joya de la corona"). Bukele's campaign utilized catchphrases such as "we have to change history" ("tenemos que cambiar la historia") and "together we will come out ahead" ("juntos saldremos adelante") to rally support among young voters. Bukele's primary opponent was Edwin Zamora, a businessman and a then-incumbent deputy of the Legislative Assembly from ARENA. Bukele led Zamora in opinion polls prior to the municipal election. On 1 March 2015, Bukele defeated Zamora with 50.38 percent of the vote; he assumed office on 1 May 2015. Upon assuming office, Bukele appointed one of his cousins, Hassan, and one of his half-brothers, Yamil, in administrative positions on the San Salvador municipal council. These appointments were criticized by politicians from both ARENA and the FMLN.

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele at the opening of the La Colmenita children's theater
Nayib Bukele 
Bukele at the XVIII summit of the Union of Ibero-American Capital Cities

As mayor, Bukele began his "reordering" ("reordenamiento") plan to revitalize the city's historic downtown and combat crime in the city. On the day Bukele assumed office, he reverted the names of two streets in San Salvador: Calle Mayor Roberto D'Aubuisson and Boulevard Coronel José Arturo Castellanos. Bukele renamed the former to Calle San Antonio Abad and the latter to Boulevard Venezuela, both names which were changed by Bukele's predecessor as mayor, Norman Quijano. Zamora, who had become a member of San Salvador's municipal council, explained that the names were reverted to due supposed flaws in the initial renaming process. Zamora assured that another street would be named in honor of Castellanos, who provided fake Salvadoran passports to 40,000 Central European Jews to help them escape the Holocaust during World War II; Bukele eventually did inaugurate the renaming of 89 Avenida Norte to honor Castellanos in June 2016.

In December 2016, Bukele inaugurated the Cuscatlán Market to incentivize street vendors to relocate their businesses. Despite the market's inauguration, many vendors expressed their refusal to relocate and some accused him of negotiating with gangs to organize its construction as it was located in gang-controlled territory. In January 2016, Bukele initiated his "San Salvador 100% Illuminated" campaign to "have a light on every corner of San Salvador" in an effort to combat crime in the city; the campaign was completed by May 2016. Bukele also installed video surveillance cameras in parts of San Salvador which were severely affected by crime. In October 2017, Bukele inaugurated the renovated Gerardo Barrios Plaza in historic downtown. In April 2018, he inaugurated the new Lineal Plaza, also in historic downtown.

Like in Nuevo Cuscatlán, Bukele created a scholarship program—known as the Dalton Project—for youths in San Salvador to prevent them from joining gangs. He donated his salary to fund the scholarship program. He also created the My New School project to modernize San Salvador's primary schools. In November 2015, Bukele signed an agreement with the Spanish National League of Professional Football to promote sports among San Salvador's youth.

In May 2015, Bukele signed an act with José Blandón, the mayor of Panama City, to establish a sister city relationship between San Salvador and Panama City. In September 2016, Bukele visited Washington, D.C. and met with Muriel Bowser, the city's mayor, to discuss the implementation of city development projects. During his visit, he was given the keys to the city of Gaithersburg, Maryland and 11 September was designated as the "Day of Mayor Nayib Bukele" ("Día del alcalde Nayib Bukele"). In February 2017, Bukele visited Taipei, Taiwan and met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to "enhance" the sister city relationship between San Salvador and Taipei. In February 2018, Bukele attended the 32nd International Mayors Conference in Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Bukele prayed at the Western Wall.

"Troll Center" case

In January 2016, the El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica newspapers reported that the Búnker digital programming company had created mirror sites of the two newspapers in June 2015 and posted false information in an attempt to damage both newspapers' reputations. The newspapers described the incident as a cyberattack. In a subsequent investigation conducted by the office of the attorney general (FGR), Bukele allegedly instructed a Twitter user to create the mirror sites. Bukele denied all involvement with the creation of the mirror sites. The incident became known as the "Troll Center" case. Five individuals were charged in relation to the Troll Center case, but the charges were dropped in December 2017.

On 4 July 2017, Bukele sued La Prensa Gráfica for US$6 million alleging that the newspaper had defamed and slandered him in the newspaper's reporting of the 2015 cyberattacks against it by "falsely" ("falsamente") connecting him to the Troll Center case and that the reporting "damaged [Bukele's] image" ("dañó la imagen del señor alcalde"). Later that month, a court dismissed Bukele's lawsuit, and three further courts all rejected subsequent appeals made by Bukele. In December 2018, the FGR stated that it had reviewed information which supposedly linked Bukele's cell phone to the June 2015 cyberattacks.

Expulsion from the FMLN

Nayib Bukele 
Then-Mayor Bukele with President Salvador Sánchez Cerén in May 2015

Bukele's relationship with the FMLN began to deteriorate after he became mayor of San Salvador. Bukele clashed with other party members on Twitter and frequently resisted FMLN party leadership.: 239  He was also a strong critic of Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the FMLN president of El Salvador who was elected in 2014. In 2015, Bukele openly threatened to leave the party if the government–led by the FMLN at the time—reappointed Luis Martínez as the country's attorney general, whom Bukele described as "a gangster, very corrupt, [and] the worst of the worst". The FMLN relented and replaced Martínez, however, Bukele later admitted that his threat to leave the party "was a bluff".

In September 2017, Xóchitl Marchelli, a municipal syndicate of San Salvador from the FMLN, alleged that Bukele had thrown an apple at her, supposedly calling her a "damn traitor" ("maldita traidora") and a "witch" ("bruja") in the process. Bukele did not attend a party ethics tribunal hearing on 7 October 2017 FMLN Ethics Tribunal claiming that the ethics tribunal was biased in favor of Marchelli. On 10 October 2017, Bukele was expelled from the FMLN after the ethics tribunal determined that he had engaged in "defamatory acts" ("actos difamatorios" against the party, showed "disrespect" ("irrespeto") towards the women's rights and the party's statutes, and expressed "disqualifying comments" ("comentarios descalificadores") towards party members. Marchelli sued Bukele through the Specialized Investigative Court regarding the incident, but sent a letter to the court in October 2018 stating that she would no longer pursue the matter citing health reasons. Regardless of Marchelli's withdrawal, the FGR proceeded with the case. On 29 March 2019, the Specialized Sentencing Court acquitted Bukele.

In the 2018 legislative and municipal elections, in which Bukele was favored to win re-election before being expelled from the FMLN, the FMLN suffered its worst electoral performance since the 1994 election (the first election the party ever participated in). The FMLN lost 6 seats in the Legislative Assembly and 16 municipalities. During the election, Bukele called on his supporters nationwide to spoil their vote or stay home on election day rather than support the FMLN. In February 2019, FMLN presidential communications secretary Roberto Lorenzana admitted that Bukele's expulsion from the party was a mistake and resulted in the party losing votes.

2019 presidential election

Bukele's popularity as mayor of San Salvador led some journalists to believe that Bukele would run for president during the 2019 election,: 239  however, Bukele denied that he would. Bukele eventually expressed interest in running for president with the FMLN, however, the FMLN resisted and did not even want to consider him as the party's vice presidential nominee. After Bukele was expelled from the FMLN, he utilized the situation to claim on social media that the party had purged him.: 240–241  He portrayed himself as an independent politician who rejected the country's political system.

On 15 October 2017, Bukele officially announced his intention to run for president in 2019 and that he would form a new political movement. On 25 October 2017, he established the Nuevas Ideas political party, announcing the establishment on social media. He stated that Nuevas Ideas would seek to remove ARENA and the FMLN from their established power. Throughout his presidential campaign, Bukele and a network of YouTubers, bloggers, and internet trolls attacked both ARENA and the FMLN seeking to discredit them.: 242  Bukele sought to associate the two parties with the governments of previous presidents which were marred with corruption scandals. In the process, he utilized slogans such as "there's enough money when nobody steals" and "return what was stolen". Among Bukele's campaign promises included the creation of an international commission to combat corruption, the development of a trans-national railroad and a new airport, create job opportunities for Salvadorans, and reduce crime rates.

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele on election day in 2019

In order for Bukele to run for president with Nuevas Ideas, he had to get the party registered with the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE). Although Nuevas Ideas surpassed the number of signatures required to register the party, Bukele believed that the TSE would not register the party in time before the 29 July 2018 deadline to acquire a presidential nomination with a political party. Prior to the deadline, Bukele registered as a member of Democratic Change and sought the party's presidential nomination, however, the TSE canceled the party's registration four days before the deadline citing the fact that Democratic Change failed to receive more than 50,000 votes during the 2015 legislative elections. On 29 July 2018, Bukele registered with the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA)—a right-wing political party—and acquired the party's presidential nomination. Bukele selected Félix Ulloa, a lawyer, as his vice presidential pick.

Bukele used social media extensively throughout his campaign such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to communicate with his supporters. He did not attend either of the two presidential debates held in December 2018 and January 2019, respectively, despite stating that he would attend. He explained that he did not attend by claiming that the rules of the debates were not explained to him. Bukele was the election's frontrunner, leading virtually every poll by substantial margins. His three opponents were ARENA's Carlos Calleja, a businessman who owned the Super Selectos supermarket chain, the FMLN's Hugo Martínez, a former minister of foreign affairs, and Vamos' Josué Alvarado, a businessman. On 3 February 2019, the date of the election, Bukele defeated Calleja, Martínez, and Alvarado with 53.10 percent of the vote. Bukele was the first president candidate to be elected since José Napoleón Duarte (1984–1989) who was not a member of either ARENA or the FMLN.

Presidency

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele speaking at his inauguration.

Bukele was inaugurated as president of El Salvador on 1 June 2019 in front of a crowd of supporters. Bukele held his inauguration ceremony at the National Palace due to its location in the Gerardo Barrios Plaza which he renovated as mayor of San Salvador. He held the ceremony here instead of in the Blue Room (meeting room) of the Legislative Assembly in an effort to portray himself as focusing his presidency towards the country's population. Bukele's supporters booed and insulted the deputies of the Legislative Assembly as they were introduced.: 244  Bukele announced a cabinet of sixteen people composed of eight men and eight women.

Homicide rate and crime

During Bukele's presidential campaign, he promised to bring an end to gang violence in El Salvador. Prior to his presidency, El Salvador was considered to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to gang violence. Most of El Salvador's violent crimes were committed by MS-13 and the 18th Street gang (Barrio 18). Although both gangs are the country's largest gangs, both originated in Los Angeles in the United States; the former was formed in the 1980s by Salvadoran refugees fleeing the country's civil war, while the latter was formed in the 1960s by Mexican immigrants. Much of the gang violence stemmed from factors such as income inequality, poverty, poor education standards, a lack of job opportunities, and high urbanization rates.: 2–3 

El Salvador's homicide rate peaked at 107 homicides per 100,000 people in 2015. By 2019, the El Salvador's homicide rate had decreased to 38 homicides per 100,000 people, however, it was still one of the world's highest homicide rates. Gangs exerted total control over some parts of El Salvador: 237  and demanded business owners pay them an extortion tax, referred to as renta, under threat of violence. In early-2019, there were an estimated 67,000 gang members in El Salvador.

Territorial Control Plan

On 19 June 2019, Bukele announced that his government would implement a seven-phase security plan known as the Territorial Control Plan which sought to disrupt gang finances. The Territorial Control Plan began that night at midnight. Phase one, known as "preparation", called for members of the country's security forces—the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and the National Civil Police (PNC)—to be stationed in 12 of the country's 262 municipalities at locations where gangs were known to collect extortion taxes. The government also implemented a temporary state of emergency in the country's 28 prisons, putting them on lockdown and revoking visiting rights.

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele with members of his cabinet discussing phase two of the Territorial Control Plan

Phase two of the Territorial Control Plan, known as "opportunity", began in July 2019 and called for the creation of programs and initiatives and to prevent youths predisposed to crime from engaging in criminal activity. Such programs and initiatives included creating scholarships, building schools and sports centers, and improving healthcare. Bukele established the Social Fabric Revitalization Unit to implement phase two. Phase three, known as "modernization", began in August 2019 and called for improve the quality of equipment utilized by the country's security forces. This included issuing new weapons, gear, helicopters, and drones to the security forces. Phase four, known as "incursion", began in July 2021 when the security forces entered and began patrolling areas which had a high gang presence and were considered difficult to access.

Phase five of the Territorial Control Plan, known as "extraction", began in November 2022 and called for the security forces to "surround large cities and extract the terrorists [gang members] who are hiding within the communities, without giving them the slightest possibility of escape". Phase six, known as "integration", began in September 2023 when Bukele established the National Integration Directory with the intentions of to combatting poverty and unemployment. Details regarding phase seven of the Territorial Control Plan, which has not yet been implemented, are not publicly known.

El Salvador's homicide rate has decreased every year of Bukele's presidency, following a downward trend in homicides which began in 2016. According to the Salvadoran government, El Salvador's homicide rate was 38 homicides per 100,000 people in 2019; 19.7 per 100,000 in 2020; 17.6 per 100,000 in 2021; 7.8 per 100,000 in 2022; and 2.4 per 100,000 in 2023. This was the second lowest homicide rate in the Americas, after Canada. Bukele has attributed this decline to his security policies. According to the Bukele, the government had recorded 500 cumulative days without a homicide during his presidency as of 4 December 2023. According to Celia Medrano [es], a human rights lawyer and the former general coordinator of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights of Central America, it is "impossible" ("imposible") to verify the Salvadoran government's official homicide figures as there is ("no hay acceso público") to a daily homicide registry. She also stated that deaths in custody are not registered as homicides. Bodies found in mass graves and missing persons are also not included in the government's official homicide figure.

Alleged gang negotiations

Nayib Bukele 
Video surveillance footage inside a prison supposedly depicting Osiris Luna (labeled 1) during alleged negotiations with gangs in March 2020.

In July 2020, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published an analysis which alleged that the reason for the decrease in homicides during Bukele's first year in office could have been a result of "quiet, informal understandings" between the government and the gangs. The Salvadoran government denied the ICG's allegations, and the ICG itself admitted that it had no evidence to support this claim.

In September 2020, the Salvadoran digital newspaper El Faro accused Bukele's government of having engaged in secret negotiations with MS-13. El Faro alleged that the government agreed to grant MS-13 more freedoms in prison in exchange for the gang reducing the number of homicides it would commit and support Nuevas Ideas during the upcoming 2021 legislative elections. Bukele denied El Faro's allegations. He published photos on Twitter of gang members rounded up in cramped conditions from a prison crackdown in April 2020 in an effort to discredit the allegations.

On 8 December 2021, the United States Department of the Treasury accused Bukele's government of secretly negotiating with MS-13 and Barrio 18 to lower the country's homicide rate. The department claimed that Bukele's government had "provided financial incentives" to both gangs to ensure that they would reduce the country's homicide rate and support Nuevas Ideas in the 2021 election held earlier that year, similar to El Faro's allegations the year prior. The department sanctioned Osiris Luna Meza (the general director of penal centers and vice minister of justice) and Carlos Marroquín Chica (the chairman of the Social Fabric Revitalization Unit) for allegedly repeatedly negotiating with the gangs. Bukele denied the department's accusations, stating that the United States sought "absolute submission" from El Salvador instead of cooperation.

Gang crackdown

From 25 to 27 March 2022, gangs in El Salvador committed a total of 87 homicides; 62 of those homicides occurring on 26 March alone, making it the deadliest day in Salvadoran history since the end of the civil war. José Miguel Cruz, the research director at Florida International University, attributed the series of killings to a breakdown between a secret truce between the government and the gangs, a truce which Bukele denies. Cruz believed that the killings were the gangs sending a message to the government in order to receive better concessions as a part of the secret truce.

Nayib Bukele Twitter
@nayibbukele

English: "MESSAGE TO THE GANGS: We have 16,000 'homeboys' in our power. Aside from the 1,000 arrested these days. We seized everything they had, even their mattresses, we've rationed their food, and now they won't see the sun. STOP KILLING NOW or they will pay too."

28 March 2022

On 27 March 2022, the Legislative Assembly voted to declare a 30-day state of emergency, formally referred to as a "state of exception" ("régimen de excepción") and sometimes known as the "war on gangs". The state of emergency suspended some constitutional rights, including freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy in communication, to be informed of the reason for an arrest, to remain silent, and to legal representation. The requirement for any arrested individual to see a judge within 72 hours of arrest was also suspended. The military was mobilized to neighborhoods controlled by gangs in an effort to reassert government control and proceeded to initiate large-scale arrests of suspected gang members across the country. In some instances, Bukele ordered the security forces to implement blockades of certain municipalities in an effort to capture all gang members present within them. As of March 2024, blockades have been implemented in Apopa, Cabañas, Comasagua, Nuevo Concepción, southern Chalatenango, and Soyapango.

Nayib Bukele 
Soldiers standing on a sidewalk in Soyapango during the blockade of that city in December 2022
Nayib Bukele 
Bukele and some of his government officials touring a cell block in the Terrorism Confinement Center

Bukele has threatened incarcerated gang members. Upon the beginning of the crackdown, Bukele posted on Twitter that the government had seized incarcerated gang members' belonging, removed their mattresses, and rationed how much food they would receive. He also published a video showing prisoners sleeping on floors and complaining about a lack of food and sanitation. In April 2022, Bukele threatened to deprive them of food rations entirely if the gangs attempted to retaliate against the crackdown, claiming that there were rumors that the gangs would commit revenge killings. After members of Barrio 18 killed three police officers in Santa Ana in June 2022, Bukele stated in a press conference that the gangs were "going to pay dearly" for the "ambush" against the police. In November 2022, the government began destroying gravestones belonging to deceased gang members to prevent them from becoming "shrines", and Bukele compared this to denazification in post-World War II Germany. Bukele warned Salvadoran parents to keep their children away from involvement with gangs as it would lead to "prison or death".

Shortly after the crackdown began, Bukele called for the construction of a new prison to hold 20,000 prisoners. In July 2022, Bukele officially announced the construction of a new prison, known as the Terrorism Confinement Center (CECOT), in Tecoluca which would be able to hold 40,000 prisoners, making it one of the largest prisons in the world. In February 2023, Bukele published a video on Twitter of him and some members of his cabinet touring the prison. The prison is staffed by 250 police officers, 600 soldiers, and covers 410 acres (170 ha) of land. On 24 February 2024, Bukele published a video on Twitter showing the transfer of the prison's first 2,000 prisoners; he published a similar video the following month showing the transfer of 2,000 more prisoners. As of 9 July 2023, CECOT has a population of over 12,500 inmates.

Liz Throssell, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the actions of El Salvador's security forces during the gang crackdown as an "unnecessary and excessive use of force". In May 2022, Human Rights Watch claimed that there was "mounting evidence" and "credible allegations" that Salvadoran authorities were committing human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and deaths in police custody during the gang crackdown. In June 2022, Amnesty International stated that the Salvadoran government has committed "massive human rights violations" including torture against those incarcerated.

As of 9 April 2024, the state of exception has since been extended 25 times by the Legislative Assembly. As of 2 April 2024, a total of 79,184 suspected gang members have been arrested. The large scale arrests increased El Salvador's prison population from 37,190 in 2020 to over 105,000 as of December 2023. With 1.7 percent of the country's population incarcerated, El Salvador has the highest incarceration rate in the world. As of August 2023, more than 7,000 people have been released after the government determined that they were innocent. As of April 2024, at least 241 people have died while in custody according to the Humanitarian Legal Relief non-governmental organization. According to opinion polling conducted multiple polling firms between May 2022 and June 2023, around 80 to 90 percent of Salvadorans approved of the gang crackdown and the measures the government had taken against the gangs.

Political crises

The 2020 crisis (top) and 2021 crisis (bottom) are known by the numeronyms "9F" and "1M", respectively.: 77 

Beginning in November 2019, Bukele sought to secure a US$109 million loan from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to fund phase three of the Territorial Control Plan, but the legislature, which was controlled by ARENA and the FMLN, asked Bukele to grant them more time to evaluate the loan. On 6 February 2020, Bukele invoked article 167 of the country's constitution calling for an emergency meeting of the Legislative Assembly to approve the loan. Bukele also called for his supporters to rally around the Legislative Assembly during the emergency meeting which was scheduled for 9 February 2020. On the day of the emergency meeting, Bukele ordered 40 soldiers into the Legislative Assembly's meeting room to intimidate legislators to approve the loan, however, an insufficient number of legislators attended and the loan was not approved. Opposition politicians described the incident, known in El Salvador as "9F" or "El Bukelazo",: 84  as a "self-coup".

In the 2021 legislative elections, Nuevas Ideas won supermajority in the Legislative Assembly. On 1 May 2021, Nuevas Ideas formed a governing coalition with GANA, the National Coalition Party (PCN), and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC).: 89  That same day, the governing coalition voted to removing the five justices of the Supreme Court of Justice's constitutional court as well as Attorney General Raúl Melara. The five justices were replaced by five of Bukele's allies, and Melara was replaced by Rodolfo Delgado. The incident, known in El Salvador as "1M",: 89  was described by journalists and opposition politicians as a "self-coup" and a "power grab". The incident was also condemned by the United States.

COVID-19 pandemic

On 11 March 2020, Bukele issued an executive decree declaring a "quarantine throughout the national territory" ("cuarentena en todo el territorio nacional") shortly after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. This quarantine suspended all school activities for 21 days, prohibited foreigners from entering the country, and mandated a 30-day quarantine for everyone who enters the country. Bukele confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in El Salvador on 18 March 2020. The country's first death to the disease was recorded on 31 March 2020. On 5 May 2023, the Pan American Health Organization declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 27 September 2023, El Salvador had 201,807 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,230 deaths as a result of the disease according to the WHO. As of 2 June 2023, 11,426,688 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered according to the WHO.

Nayib Bukele 
Entrance of Hospital El Salvador

On 21 March 2020, Bukele instated a 30-day nationwide lockdown in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, 4,236 people were arrested by the National Civil Police for allegedly violating the lockdown order, 70 of whom were arrested prior to the lockdown order becoming public. Those arrested were quarantined in a "containment center". Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch criticized the arrests, citing that there were instances of arbitrary arrests and police abuses. In April 2020, when ordered lockdowns in the country's prisons and published images of prisoners lined up in cramped positions, Human Rights Watch criticized the prisons' living conditions as "inhumane", especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 27 May 2020, the United States donated 250 ventilators to El Salvador. During the press conference where Bukele received the ventilators, he stated that he took hydroxychloroquine as prophylaxis. He claimed that "most of the world's leaders use [hydroxychloroquine] as a prophylaxis". On 22 June 2020, Bukele inaugurated the Hospital El Salvador, the largest hospital in Latin America used exclusively for treating cases of COVID-19, on the site of the former International Center for Fairs and Conventions [es]. Hospital El Salvador had a capacity of 400 beds, 105 intensive care units, and 295 intermediate care units staffed by 240 doctors. In August 2020, the hospital's bed capacity was increased by 575. The hospital began treating conditions over than COVID-19 by June 2022. In April 2021, Bukele inaugurated a vaccination center at Hospital El Salvador to administer up to 10,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per day; the center closed in August 2022 as dose administrations diminished.

Most of El Salvador's COVID-19 vaccines were donated by the United States and China. On 13 May 2021, Bukele donated 34,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to seven towns in Honduras following pleas from their mayors for vaccine doses. At the time, El Salvador had received 1.9 million doses, while Honduras had only received 59,000. Gabriel Labrador, a journalist for El Faro, told the Spanish newspaper El País that Bukele made the donation to Honduras in an effort to promote and improve his public perception across Central America.

Adoption of bitcoin

Nayib Bukele 
An Athena Bitcoin ATM in El Zonte
Nayib Bukele 
Bukele and Mexican architect Fernando Romero viewing a model of the planned Bitcoin City airport.

On 5 June 2021, Bukele announced at the Bitcoin 2021 conference that he would introduce a bill to the Legislative Assembly which would allow the usage of the cryptocurrency bitcoin as legal tender, claiming that it would "generate jobs" and promote "financial inclusion" in the short term. The Legislative Assembly approved the bill on 8 June 2021. While the World Bank rejected a request from the Salvadoran government to assist it with the implementation of bitcoin as legal tender, citing concerns over transparency and the environmental effects of bitcoin mining, Athena Bitcoin announced that it would invest US$1 million into installing 1,500 bitcoin ATMs. This would allow users to exchange U.S. dollars for bitcoin and vice versa.

On 7 September 2021, bitcoin officially became legal tender in El Salvador, which became the first country to do so. Bitcoin became legal tender alongside the United States dollar, which had been adopted in 2001 after replacing the Salvadoran colón. The day bitcoin became legal tender in El Salvador, its price fell from US$52,000 per bitcoin to under US$43,000. Additionally, Apple and Huawei were not offering Chivo, Salvadoran government-backed digital wallet, on their platforms. Around 1,000 protesters marched in the streets of San Salvador to express their opposition to the country's adoption of bitcoin.

The day before bitcoin officially became legal tender, Bukele announced that the Salvadoran government had bought its first 200 bitcoins. Bukele continued to buy more bitcoins as its price declined throughout 2021 and 2022, during which, El Salvador lost up to US$56 million by June 2022. Economist Steve Hanke stated that El Salvador had "the most distressed sovereign debt in the world" due to its adoption of bitcoin, and other economists predicted that the country would likely default on its debt. During Bukele's first term, El Salvador was the slowest growing economy in Central America. As the price of bitcoin rose to US$44,000 in December 2023, Bukele announced that El Salvador's investment into bitcoin had broken even. In March 2024, Bukele revealed that El Salvador had made a 50% in profit off of bitcoin. Bukele mocked news media outlets on Twitter by claiming that there were "literally thousands of articles" about El Salvador's bitcoin losses and that those same outlets were now "totally silent". As of March 2024, the Salvadoran government has 2,380 bitcoins.

In November 2021, Bukele announced that he planned to build Bitcoin City in the southeastern region of La Unión at the base of the Conchagua volcano. The city would use geothermal energy to power bitcoin mining. Ricardo Navarro, the head of the El Salvadoran Center of Appropriate Technology, criticized the plan and claimed that it would result in an "environmental disaster". Bukele published images of models of Bitcoin City and its planned airport on Twitter in May 2022 and claimed that the city would have "no income tax, zero property tax, no procurement tax, zero city tax, and zero CO2 emissions". In December 2023, the Legislative Assembly passed a law which allowed individuals to purchase Salvadoran citizenship by donating bitcoins to El Salvador.

Foreign policy

In June 2019, Bukele stated that his government would no longer recognize Nicolás Maduro as the president of Venezuela, instead, recognizing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president amidst Venezuela's presidential crisis. On 3 November 2019, Bukele expelled Maduro-appointed Venezuelan diplomats from El Salvador. Bukele considers Maduro to be a dictator. Bukele refused to recognize the presidency of Manuel Merino in Peru in November 2020, describing his government as "putschist". Bukele and the Legislative Assembly denounced the results of the 2021 Nicaraguan general election, which were widely been seen by several governments as fraudulent. From 2022 onwards, El Salvador has abstained from resolutions critical of Nicaragua at the Organization of American States, with Bukele's government citing "non-interference" ("no injerencia") as its justification. In 2024, El Salvador was the only country to abstain on an OAS resolution to condemn Ecuador for raiding the Mexican embassy in Quito to arrest former Ecuadorian vice president Jorge Glas.

During Bukele's presidency, he has met with foreign state leaders to improve El Salvador's bilateral relations. These state leaders include United States President Donald Trump in September 2019, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping in December 2019, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in January 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in January 2022, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in May 2022, and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in September 2023.

In February 2022, Bukele accused United States President Joe Biden of "crying wolf" regarding a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. Bukele did not comment on the invasion once it began later that month, instead, he posted on Twitter about bitcoin and bonds. Throughout 2022, El Salvador abstained from votes on United Nations resolutions condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Bukele condemned the 2023 Hamas-led attack on Israel. He described Hamas as "savage beasts" that "do not represent the Palestinians" and compared Hamas to MS-13. He wrote on Twitter that "the best thing that could happen to the Palestinian people is for Hamas to completely disappear". In March 2024, Bukele offered to send a mission to Haiti to "fix" the country's gang war with United Nations Security Council support.

Relations with the United States

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July 2019

During Bukele's September 2019 meeting with Trump, Bukele called on Trump to promote legal migration in an effort to combat illegal immigration and to maintain the United States' Temporary Protected Status (TPS) policy for Salvadorans living in the United States. The following month, Bukele confirmed that the United States would continue TPS for Salvadorans. In February 2021, Biden refused to meet Bukele when he arrived unannounced in Washington, D.C. with the intentions to meet Biden. Bukele did not attend the 9th Summit of the Americas of June 2022 due to frustrations over the U.S. government's allegations of corruption and human rights abuses committed by his government.

Some members of the Democratic Party have been critical of Bukele's government, while some members of the Republican Party have supported Bukele and his policies. In April 2021, Bukele and Norma Torres, a U.S. congresswoman representing California's 35th congressional district, engaged in an argument on Twitter regarding illegal immigration at the United States' southern border. In November 2022, Torres accused Bukele of interfering in that month's 35th congressional district election by endorsing Republican challenger Mike Cargile. In January 2024, fourteen Democratic congress members sent a letter to Biden to address Bukele's "authoritarian" actions. Meanwhile, Republican congressmen such as Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, have praised Bukele's crime policies.

Relations with China

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele with Chinese ambassador Zhang Yanhui at the beginning of construction of the National Stadium of El Salvador in November 2023

In 2018, El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognized the People's Republic of China as the legitimate government of China. This led to both Bukele and the United States to accuse China of interfering in both Salvadoran and Latin American politics. Despite Bukele's criticism of China before becoming president, Ulloa stated in May 2019 that Bukele's government would not restore diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In December 2019, Bukele met Xi Jinping in China and signed a "gigantic" infrastructure agreement with China for an unknown amount. El Salvador and China have cooperated on infrastructure projects in El Salvador such as the National Library of El Salvador (completed in November 2023) and the National Stadium of El Salvador (commenced construction in November 2023).

In November 2022, Bukele announced that El Salvador and China had entered negotiations for a free trade agreement between the two countries. China donated fertilizer and wheat flour to El Salvador, and according to a Salvadoran government official, China also offered to buy El Salvador's external bond debt. Bukele stated that a free trade agreement with China was "very important" due to El Salvador having been "isolated from [the] potential" provided by China's economic strength.

Accusations of corruption in government

In November 2020, twenty of Bukele's government institutions came under investigation by the office of the attorney general on suspicions of corruption relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the investigations were halted after the attorney general was removed by the Legislative Assembly on 1 May 2021.

The United States has placed sanctions on several of Bukele's government officials, labeling them as being corrupt. Those officials include Javier Argueta (presidential advisor), Osiris Luna Meza (general director of penal centers), Carlos Marroquín Chica (chairman of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit), Martha Carolina Recinos (chief of the cabinet), Rogelio Rivas (former minister of justice), Ernesto Sanabria (press secretary), and Alejandro Zelaya (former minister of finance). The United States also considered some of Bukele's allies in the Legislative Assembly, such as Guillermo Gallegos and Christian Guevara, as being corrupt. Some of these individuals are included on the U.S. State Department's "Engel List", a list of Central American politicians and judges whom the U.S. government considers to be "corrupt and undemocratic". Bukele described the sanctions and labels as "absurd". In May 2021, the United States diverted funding to El Salvador away from government institutions and instead towards civil society groups in an effort to combat perceived corruption in Bukele's government.

On 11 November 2021, Bukele introduced a bill to the Legislative Assembly called the "Foreign Agents Law" with the goal of "prohibiting foreign interference" in Salvadoran political affairs. Juan Carlos Bidegain, the Minister of the Interior, stated that the law was meant to "guarantee the security, national sovereignty and social and political stability of the country". Bukele stated that the law was modeled on the United States' Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), but critics have compared it to various Nicaraguan laws which institute press censorship by shutting down organizations and arresting journalists. Human Rights Watch reported on 16 December 2021 that 91 Twitter accounts belonging to journalists, lawyers, and activists were blocked by Bukele and various government institutions.

Anti-corruption campaigns

In September 2019, Bukele established the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador [es] (CICIES), an anti-corruption commission to combat drug trafficking, corruption, and white-collar crimes. CICIES was jointly operated by the Salvadoran government and the Organization of American States (OAS), and it cooperated with the National Civil Police to form an anti-corruption unit. Bukele dissolved CICIES in June 2021 after the OAS named Ernesto Muyshondt as an anti-corruption advisor; Ernesto Muyshondt was accused by the Salvadoran government of electoral fraud and illicit negotiation with gang members to vote for ARENA during the 2014 presidential election. He was subsequently arrested and will go on trial in April 2024 despite ongoing concerns about his health.

On 1 June 2023, during a speech celebrating his fourth year in office, Bukele declared that his government would begin a "war against corruption" ("guerra contra la corrupción"). Bukele also announced that he would build a prison to hold individuals convicted of committing white-collar crimes similar to the Terrorism Confinement Center. He stated that the police and military would capture white-collar criminals similar to how they capture gang members in the gang crackdown. During Bukele's announcement, he stated that Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado was in the process of raiding and confiscating assets worth up to US$68 million belonging to former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani as a part of the anti-corruption campaign. Other individuals charged during Bukele's war on corruption include deputies Erick García, Lorena Peña, and Alberto Romero, and national security advisor Alejandro Muyshondt.

In 2022, the last complete year before the war against corruption was announced, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index gave El Salvador a score of 33 out of 100 and ranked it 116th out of 180 countries. According to an opinion poll conducted by CID-Gallup in February 2023, only 4 percent of Salvadorans considered corruption to be the most pressing issue facing the country.

Municipal and legislative reductions

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele holding a bill proposing the reduction of the total number of municipalities from 262 to 44

In December 2022, Bukele tweeted that he believed that the country's 262 municipalities should be reduced down to only 50 municipalities. He stated that it was "absurd" ("absurdo") that the country, around 8,100 square miles (2.1×1010 m2) in size, was divided into 262 municipalities. Some lawyers and politicians criticized Bukele's proposed reduction as an attempt to consolidate power and as gerrymandering. Meanwhile, Bukele's allies supported the proposal, with some also proposing reducing the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly.

On 1 June 2023 during a speech celebrating his fourth year in office, Bukele announced that he would present two proposals to deputies of the Legislative Assembly. One proposal sought to reduce the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from 84 to 60, while the other sought to reduce the number of municipalities from 262 to 44. Bukele justified the legislative reduction by stating that the legislature had 60 seats before the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords in 1992 that ended the Salvadoran Civil War. He continued by claiming that the only thing the peace accords accomplished was adding 24 seats to the legislature. For the municipal reduction proposal, Bukele added that the 262 municipalities would retain their cultural identities and be given the classification of districts. The Legislative Assembly approved the proposal for legislative reductions on 7 June 2023 and approved the proposal for municipal reductions on 13 June 2023. Both reductions are scheduled to go into effect on 1 May 2024.

2024 re-election campaign

On 3 September 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the president is eligible to serve two consecutive terms in office. The ruling overturning a previous 2014 ruling which held that presidents had to wait ten years until being eligible to run for re-election. Constitutional lawyers criticized the ruling, stating that consecutive re-election violates El Salvador's constitution. The 2021 ruling allowed Bukele to run for re-election in the 2024 presidential election. Both ARENA and the FMLN protested the court's ruling. A representative of ARENA calling the ruling a "precursor to a dictatorship" while a representative from the FMLN claimed that the state is serving only one person, in reference to Bukele. The ruling was also condemned by the United States government. Jean Elizabeth Manes, the chargé d'affaires of the United States to El Salvador, claimed that the ruling was "clearly contrary to the Salvadoran constitution". According the Manes, the ruling was a direct result of the legislature replacing the judges of the Supreme Court in May 2021.

External video
Nayib Bukele  Bukele's speech celebrating 201 years independence, where he announces he is running for re-election in 2024 (34:00)

On 15 September 2022, Bukele officially announced that he would be running for re-election in 2024 during a speech celebrating El Salvador's 201st anniversary of independence. Bukele justified his announcement by claiming that "developed countries have re-election, and thanks to the new configuration of the democratic institution of our country, now El Salvador will too". Constitutional lawyers criticized his announcement, stating that presidential re-election violates "at least" four articles of the El Salvador's constitution.

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele registering his 2024 presidential candidacy with the TSE

On 26 June 2023, Bukele officially registered as a presidential pre-candidate with Nuevas Ideas. Ulloa registered as Bukele's vice presidential pre-candidate. On 9 July 2023, Nuevas Ideas officially nominated Bukele and Ulloa as their presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively. On 26 October 2023, Nuevas Ideas officially initiated the process to register Bukele and Ulloa's candidacies with the TSE, the last possible day to do so. On 3 November 2023, the TSE officially registered their candidacies amidst various requests made to the TSE by the opposition to reject Bukele's candidacy.

On 30 November 2023, the Legislative Assembly granted both Bukele and Ulloa leaves of absence to focus on their re-election campaign. The leave of absence, which suspended Bukele's presidential powers, went into effect the following day. The Legislative Assembly named Claudia Rodríguez de Guevara, Bukele's presidential secretary, as the presidential designate and became the first woman in Salvadoran history to hold presidential powers. Rodríguez's appointment was criticized by some lawyers and opposition politicians unconstitutional.

Including Bukele, there were six presidential candidates in the 2024 election. Bukele's primary opponents were ARENA's Joel Sánchez, a businessman, and the FMLN's Manuel Flores, a former legislator. Bukele led both Sánchez and Flores by large margins in opinion polling conducted prior to the election. Throughout Bukele's campaign, he promised to maintain the gang crackdown, invest in infrastructure projects, and promote economic growth during his second term. On 4 February 2024, Bukele won re-election with 84.65 percent of the vote. The final results were announced on 17 February 2024 due to technical issues with electronic voting systems. During the same election, Nuevas Ideas retained its supermajority in the Legislative Assembly, and together with its allies, it won 43 of the country's 44 municipalities. Several news media outlets described the election results as a "landslide victory" for Bukele and Nuevas Ideas. On 29 February 2024, the TSE granted Bukele and Ulloa their presidential and vice presidential credentials, respectively. Bukele's second term is scheduled to begin on 1 June 2024.

Personal life

Family

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele with his wife, Gabriela Rodríguez, and their daughter, Layla

Bukele married Gabriela Rodríguez, a psychologist and ballet dancer, on 6 December 2014. The couple has two children. The couple's first child, Layla, was born on 15 August 2019; their second child, Amineah, was born on 8 November 2023.

Wealth

According to the Salvadoran government's transparency website as of July 2019, Bukele's presidential annual salary is US$5,181. According to the same website, Bukele has a net worth of US$2,548,967 as of July 2019. Bukele acquired most of his wealth through his business ventures before he entered politics.

Religion

Bukele's father converted to Islam from Christianity in the 1980s, became an imam, and founded four mosques in El Salvador; Bukele's mother is a Roman Catholic. Bukele's paternal grandparents were Palestinian Christians who immigrated to El Salvador from Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 1921; Bukele's paternal grandfather was a Greek Orthodox and his maternal grandmother was a Roman Catholic.

Bukele's religious beliefs were a matter of controversy during his 2019 presidential campaign. Conflicting rumors claimed that Bukele was either a Christian, a Muslim, or an atheist. The controversy began when images from 2011 depicting Bukele praying at a mosque with his father and brothers spread on social media. Bukele dismissed the controversy as an attempt by the political right to exploit Islamophobia in the predominantly Catholic country.

Bukele does not identify with any religion, however, he has stated that he believes in God and Jesus. In a 2015 interview Bukele said that "I am not a person who believes much in the liturgy of religions. However, I believe in God, in Jesus Christ. I believe in his word, I believe in his word revealed in the Holy Bible. And I know that God does not reject anyone because of their origins". Prior to 2015, some Salvadorans believed that Bukele was a Muslim.: 166  Bukele has referenced Bible verses, God, and Saint Óscar Romero—the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980—in some of his speeches.: 166–172  He has also called himself an "instrument of God" ("instrumento de Dios").: 177  In April 2015, Bukele met with Pope Francis, after which, Bukele assured that the pope had told him that Rutilio Grande—a Jesuit priest who was assassinated in 1977—would be beatified shortly.: 166 

Honors

In 2019, the Beijing International Studies University bestowed an honorary doctorate to Bukele. In 2021, Time named Bukele as one of the world's 100 most influential people.

Political views

While serving as mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, Bukele described himself as being a part of the "radical left" ("izquierda radical") because he wanted "radical changes" ("cambios radicales") for El Salvador. Bukele also stated that his family had always had significant connections to the Salvadoran political left. He believed in social justice and that the state was obligated to guarantee Salvadorans the opportunity for "health, education, [and] productive infrastructure" ("salud, educación, [y] infraestructura productiva"). Some members of the FMLN criticized Bukele's occupation as a businessman, believing that it contradicted the "historical goal of the proletariate" ("papel histórico del proletariado") of eliminating capitalism.

Since becoming president, Bukele has stated that he does not adhere to any specific political ideology. He has criticized both the political left and right in El Salvador for having divided the country after the civil war. Despite Bukele not personally claiming to adhere to any ideology, some journalists and political analysts have described him as being a populist, a right-wing populist,: 82 : 5  and a conservative. Bukele himself has received support from conservatives abroad in both Latin America and the United States. Bukele's political views and government policies have sometimes been referred to by some journalists as "Bukelism" or the "Bukele method".

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele with U.S. President Donald Trump (to whom Bukele and his style governance have been compared to) in September 2019

Some Western journalists have compared Bukele to Trump, citing Bukele's style of governance, government policies, rhetoric, and criticism of the press as being similar to Trump's. In 2019, Foreign Policy's Melissa Vida referred to Bukele as "El Salvador's Trump" and Jacobin's Hilary Goodfriend referred to Bukele as "the Donald Trump of Central America". In 2024, The Economist described Bukele as politically "hard right" and compared him to Jair Bolsonaro, José Antonio Kast, and Javier Milei.

Bukele is a critic of George Soros. In May 2023, Bukele stated that "in all the countries of Latin America, there are outlets and 'journalists' paid by Soros" ("en todos los países de Latinoamérica hay medios y 'periodistas' pagados por Soros"). In February 2024, Bukele attended the American Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as one of its speakers. During Bukele's speech, he criticized Soros and accused him of attempting to "dictate public politics and laws" ("dictar políticas públicas y leyes") in El Salvador. Bukele also expressed his opposition to globalism, adding that "it's already dead" in El Salvador.

Social issues

In 2023, Medrano described Bukele's positions on social issues as being "flexible" ("flexibles") and a "liquid ideology" ("ideología líquida"). Medrano asserted that Bukele changes his positions in order to appease as many voters as possible and to gauge public opinion on certain issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.

In 2014, Bukele stated that he was an ally of the LGBT community, that he supported their cause for civil rights, and that he opposed discrimination against LGBT individuals.: 167  In August 2021, Bukele proposed a constitutional reform to legalize same-sex marriage in El Salvador. The proposal would have changed text in the constitution which defined marriage as being between "a man and a woman" ("hombre y mujer") to defining marriage as being between "spouses" ("cónyuges"). The proposal also would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. The earliest Bukele's proposal could have gone into effect would have been 2027 as it would have had to be approved by two consecutive sessions of the Legislative Assembly. The following month, Bukele confirmed that the proposed constitutional reform would not legalize same-sex marriage, stating on Facebook that the original text would remain intact. In March 2024, Bukele stated that his government would remove "all traces" of "gender ideologies in schools and colleges".

El Salvador has one of the world's strictest abortion laws, banning the practice in all circumstances with no exceptions. In 2013, when a Salvadoran woman known as "Beatriz" was denied an abortion despite doctors asserting that she would die while giving birth, Bukele labeled individuals who denied her an abortion as "fanatics" ("fanáticos"). In October 2018, Bukele stated that he only supported abortion in cases where the mother's life was at risk. He also expressed his opposition to abortion on request. Shortly after becoming president, Bukele came out in total opposition of abortion in any occasion. In an interview with Puerto Rican rapper René Pérez, Bukele told him that "someday, we are going to recognize that [abortion] is a great genocide" ("algún día, nos vamos a dar cuenta de que es un gran genocidio"). In Bukele's August 2021 constitutional reform proposal, he also considered legalizing abortion in cases where the mother's life was at risk. He stated that the proposal would have recognized the right to life for both the mother and the unborn child. In September 2021, Bukele changed his mind, maintaining that abortion would not be decriminalized and recognized the "RIGHT TO LIFE (from the moment of conception)" of the unborn. He also ruled out legalizing euthanasia.

Central American unionism

Nayib Bukele Twitter
@nayibbukele

Spanish: Aunque por ahora suena a utopía, el sentido común debería apuntar a la unificación de Centroamérica en un solo país.


Although for now it sounds like a utopia, common sense should point to the unification of Central America into a single country.

27 January 2017

Bukele is a proponent of Central American reunification, an ideology which calls for the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to reestablish the Federal Republic of Central America. Bukele has remarked that Central America should be "one single nation" in some of his speeches. In January 2024, Bukele reaffirmed on Twitter that he believes that Central America should unite under one country. He argued that each Central American country individually is small and lacks natural resources, but that a unified Central America's population and biodiversity would help strengthen the region. In his tweet, he also conceded that he needed "the will of the peoples" ("la voluntad de los pueblos") of Central America in order to unite the region.

Bukele served as the president pro tempore of the Central American Integration System (SICA), a Central American economic and political organization, from 5 June 2019 and 22 December 2019. Ulloa serves as one of El Salvador's delegates to SICA and has promoted Bukele's idea of reunifying Central America. In February 2020, Bukele signed an agreement with the Guatemalan government to remove restrictions on border crossings between El Salvador and Guatemala, and to designate flights between the two countries as "domestic" flights to promote tourism. The agreement also granted Bukele's government the ability to build a port on the Caribbean Sea in Guatemalan territory which would grant El Salvador access to the Atlantic Ocean. Bukele described the agreement as "the greatest step to the integration of Central America in the last 180 years" ("el mayor paso en la integración de Centroamérica en los últimos 180 años").

According to Will Freeman, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, Bukele has styled himself as the "second coming of Francisco Morazán", a Honduran politician who served as the president of the Federal Republic of Central America in the 1820s and 1830s. Gabriel Labrador, a journalist for El Faro, compared Bukele to Simón Bolívar, an 18th century military officer and Venezuela independence leader, in wanting to form a "union of the [Central American] people".

Emigration

In an interview with VICE News' Krishna Andavolu shortly after Bukele's inauguration, he stated that he "share[s] the same concern President Trump [has with] immigration, but for different reasons. [...] [Trump] doesn't want our people to go; I don't want our people to leave." In a 2021 interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Bukele attributed mass emigration from Central America to the United States to the region's "lack of economic opportunity" and "lack of security". He described the then-present state of emigration to the United States as "immoral". He argued that emigration strained the United States and also impeded domestic efforts to improve living conditions in El Salvador.

Public image

Relationship with the press

Bukele and various of his government officials have attacked journalists and news media outlets in speeches and on social media platforms such as Twitter.: 29–30  Bukele has dismissed critics of his government as spreading "fake news" and accused them of being "mercenaries". Journalists have also and harassed and threatened online by Bukele's supporters. As of November 2022, at least a dozen journalists had fled El Salvador ever since Bukele took office citing fears for their safety according to the El Salvador Journalists Association (APES).

Bukele has been described by journalists, politicians, and political analysts as an autocrat, an authoritarian, a strongman, a caudillo, and a "millennial dictator". Through irony of these descriptors, Bukele has referred to himself in his Twitter profile as the "Dictator of El Salvador", "the coolest dictator in the world" (although news media outlets often render this as the "world's coolest dictator"), the "Emperor of El Salvador", the "CEO of El Salvador", and the "Philosopher King". Eduardo Escobar, a lawyer of the Citizen Action non-governmental organization, stated that Bukele's usage of his Twitter profile was part of his strategy to "ridicule the feelings of the public or the opposition".

In November 2021, Bukele introduced a bill called the "Foreign Agents Law" ("Ley de Agentes Extranjeros") to the Legislative Assembly with the goal of "prohibiting foreign interference" ("prohibir la injerencia extranjera") in Salvadoran political affairs. He added that the law was modeled on the United States' Foreign Agents Registration Act, but critics instead compared the Foreign Agents Law to Nicaraguan laws which institute press censorship by shutting down organizations and arresting journalists. In April 2022, the Legislative Assembly passed a law which allowed courts to sentence journalists to 10–15 years imprisonment for reproducing or transmitting messages from gangs amidst the beginning of the country's gang crackdown. The APES described the law as "a clear attempt at censorship of media".

After the El Faro digital newspaper alleged that Bukele's government had negotiated with gangs in 2020 to reduce the country's homicide rate, Bukele subsequently launched an investigation into El Faro on suspicions of money laundering a few weeks later. Although the office of the attorney general did not launch such an investigation, El Faro was subject to tax audits which Human Rights Watch's José Miguel Vivanco described as "selective and abusive". These audits were suspended in March 2021 following a Supreme Court order citing concerns of a risk to freedom of expression. In 2022, Amnesty International revealed that at least 22 Salvadoran journalists (most of whom worked for El Faro) had their phones tapped by the Salvadoran government using the Israeli Pegasus spyware. In April 2023, El Faro relocated its headquarters to San José, Costa Rica, stating that it was trying to avoid "fabricated accusations" from Bukele's government.

Hosting of international events

Nayib Bukele 
Bukele with Miss Universe 2022 R'Bonney Gabriel in October 2023

During Bukele's presidency, El Salvador has hosted multiple international sporting events and one edition of the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Some experts have described El Salvador hosting such events as an attempt at sportswashing.

Bukele has promoted surfing as a part of El Salvador's tourism market. He designated part of El Salvador's Pacific coastline in the La Libertad Department as "Surf City", where both the 2021 and 2023 ISA World Surfing Games were hosted. El Salvador also hosted the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games. At the tournament's opening ceremony, Bukele openly rebuked his critics by stating that he was "not a dictator" and told his critics to ask everyday Salvadorans what they think about the "supposed dictatorship".

In January 2023, Bukele announced that El Salvador would host the Miss Universe 2023. The last time El Salvador had hosted the Miss Universe up to that point was in 1975. At the pageant, Bukele stated that Miss Universe had given El Salvador the opportunity to "show the world what we are capable of". On the day Miss Universe 2023 was held, 300 members of the Movement for Victims of the State of Emergency held a protest. The protestors demanded the release of innocent people arrested in the country's gang crackdown and wanted "Miss Universe to see that Salvadorans are suffering". Some protestors wore sashes reading "Miss Political Prisoners", "Miss Persecution", and "Miss Mass Trials".

Job approval and popularity

Nayib Bukele 
A crowd of Bukele's supporters in from of the Legislative Assembly's meeting room in 2023

Although protests have manifested against Bukele in 2020 regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and in 2023 regarding this re-election campaign and the gang crackdown, he has retained high job approval ratings throughout his presidency. Bukele's approval rating has never gone below 75 percent and has averaged in the 90s percentage range. Bukele is one of the most popular presidents in Salvadoran history. The Los Angeles Times' Kate Linthicum described Bukele as "one of the most popular leaders in the world". Risa Grais-Targow, a director at the Eurasia Group political consulting firm, described Bukele's approval rating as "sky-high" and "really unprecedented".

In addition to being popular domestically, Bukele is also highly popular among Salvadorans living in the United States and throughout Latin America. Some Latin American state leaders and other politicians have sought to emulate his government policies. In some countries, such as Colombia and Ecuador, opinion polls found that Bukele was more popular with those countries' residents than domestic politicians. Steven Levitsky, a political scientist and the director of the Harvard University's Latin American studies center, stated that "everybody wants to be a Bukele" and compared Bukele's popularity across Latin America to that of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Some political analysts have described Bukele's popularity as a cult of personality.

Electoral history

The following table displays Bukele's electoral history.

Year Office Type Party Main opponent Party Votes for Bukele Result Swing Ref.
Total % P. ±%
2012 Mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán General FMLNCD Tomás Rodríguez ARENA 2,862 51.67 1st N/A Won Gain
2015 Mayor of San Salvador General FMLNPSP Edwin Zamora ARENAPCN 89,164 50.38 1st N/A Won Gain
2019 President of El Salvador General GANA Carlos Calleja ARENAPCNPDCDS 1,434,856 53.10 1st N/A Won Gain
2024 President of El Salvador General NI Manuel Flores FMLN 2,701,725 84.65 1st +31.55 Won Hold

See also

Notes

References

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Álvaro Rodríguez
Mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán
2012–2015
Succeeded by
Preceded by Mayor of San Salvador
2015–2018
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of El Salvador
2019–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
New office Leader of Nuevas Ideas
2017–present
Incumbent
New political party GANA nominee for President of El Salvador
2019
Most recent
New political party NI nominee for President of El Salvador
2024
Most recent
Honorary titles
Preceded by President pro tempore of the
Central American Integration System

2019
Succeeded by

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