U.S. Members of Congress, Invoking Trump-Incited Violence, Issue Warning to Bukele

Roman Gressier / Publicado el 8 de February de 2021

This Sunday, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives responded to the escalating political and institutional crisis in El Salvador in a letter voicing support for the Attorney General’s investigations into last Sunday’s shooting after a political campaign event for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in downtown San Salvador and, in a separate incident, the ambushing of a medical envoy registered with Doctors Without Borders. The missive comes exactly three weeks before legislative and municipal elections in El Salvador.

“We urge you to fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s independent investigations of these violent attacks and to use the influence of your office to pursue peace, justice, and unity,” wrote U.S. Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), chair of the Central America Caucus, and Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), member of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in their letter to President Nayib Bukele. For days, Bukele has used official social media accounts to publicly undermine the attorney general’s investigation into the killing of two FMLN campaign event attendees last Sunday and promote unfounded theories about the shooting’s origins. 

Minutes after the shooting, which prosecutors allege was perpetrated by employees of the Ministry of Health, Bukele tweeted insinuations that the FMLN had organized a false flag operation. The following day, Monday, he claimed that the attack was a two-sided firefight. On Wednesday night, the president and the National Civil Police (PNC) promoted accusations via official social media accounts that the Attorney General’s Office had deliberately covered up evidence of the crime in publishing only one of four crime-scene videos in its possession, thereby politicizing the investigation. 

In response to the accusations, Attorney General Raúl Melara announced on Thursday that he would submit a formal request for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to review the case. “The president has no right to interfere with the attorney general’s investigations,” Melara stated in a Thursday afternoon press conference. “The day that the attorney general responds to a political party or the president, they lose the ability to administer justice on behalf of all Salvadorans.”

The allegations against Melara, as promoted by the president and PNC, come after months of sparring between the police and the Attorney General’s Office, amidst ongoing investigations into pandemic-related corruption. In November, PNC officers obstructed the Attorney General’s office in the execution of a search warrant on Ministry of Health offices relating to pandemic expenditures that the administration had refused to provide to Legislative Assembly auditors. Then, when Treasury Minister Alejandro Zelaya refused to testify before the Legislative Assembly about the administration's pandemic spending, PNC director Mauricio Arriaza Chicas refused to compel him to do so.


In the U.S. representatives’ letter, they also called on Bukele to temper his increasingly aggressive rhetoric toward his party’s electoral opponents. 

“As members of the United States Congress, we know too well what can happen when political leaders respond to warning signs of violent unrest with vitriolic messages of misinformation, division, and fear,” wrote Representatives Torres and Sires. “As President of El Salvador, we urge you to use the power of your office not to stoke divisions in the interest of political gain, as former President Trump did, but to convey messages of peace and unity.”

The representatives also called on Bukele to deploy government resources to ensure the physical safety of humanitarian missions such as that of Doctors Without Borders, which opened a Salvadoran mission in 2018. On Sunday, as an emergency medical team responded to a call in a closed community in Ilopango in the early hours on Sunday, January 31, unknown assailants commandeered the vehicle at gunpoint, drove the team to an unknown location, and physically assaulted them. While the team managed to escape, Doctors Without Borders has announced the suspension of its El Salvador operation pending an internal review of the incident.

In the first days of the Biden administration, Representatives Torres and Sires have taken a leading role in reforming Central America policy among Democrats. Just days after the inauguration, they wrote a letter to Biden, the incoming secretary of state, and a senior official on the National Security Council, arguing that the Biden administration’s Central America policy should center disaster relief,the expanding of temporary protected status (TPS), curbing unauthorized migration, increased sanctions toward officials accused of corruption, and a toughened stance toward authoritarian governments in the region.