Opinion / Politics

Fraud upon Fraud: Bukele Is Not on Presidential Leave

Víctor Peña
Víctor Peña

Wednesday, December 13, 2023
El Faro Editorial Board

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The deed is done. The leave of absence from the presidency that the Legislative Assembly granted to Nayib Bukele on November 30 has consummated the constitutional fraud designed for him to seek reelection.

And in the process, they committed a second fraud. After violating the array of articles of the Salvadoran Constitution that prohibit running for immediate presidential reelection, they tried to use one of them to justify themselves: article 152, which bars candidates who “filled the Presidency for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the period immediately prior to or within the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential period.” This, the presumed basis for their argument, they also betrayed.

Bukele did not renounce the presidency; he asked for leave. So he continues in the position despite temporary permission to take absence from his responsibilities. That is why he maintains presidential immunity, security detail, and other prerogatives as head of state: because he is still president.

When asked about the legislative procedure to grant leave to the president, pro-Bukele legislator Guillermo Gallegos said that such a protocol does not exist, and that one must be created, because since the Constitution came into force in 1983 no president requested leave in order to campaign for reelection. As strange as it might sound, Gallegos is right. No such procedure exists.

It does not exist because reelection is prohibited literally, clearly, and repeatedly in our Constitution. So in granting leave to Nayib Bukele to seek reelection, the Legislative Assembly has contradicted and re-contradicted the Salvadoran Constitution. In article 131, it orders the legislature to “obligatorily disavow the President of the Republic or his substitute if, when his constitutional term has ended, he continues in the exercise of his post”. It also clearly states that the presidency is to last only five years.

The president’s lackeys in the legislature, led by Assembly President Ernesto Castro, violated the Constitution and approved Bukele’s violation of it yet again, dismissing their own legal duty. Bukele’s circle must be rotten if Guillermo Gallegos, long-time suspect of corruption, emerges as the voice of reason. He was the one who clarified, too, for those in the legislative chamber who did not read the text granting leave, that Bukele “is not renouncing the presidency”.

The person appointed by the legislature —without following any of the constitutional requirements to be nominated as a presidential designee— to carry out administrative tasks of the Executive, Claudia Juana Rodríguez, is not the interim president, but rather a designee who will handle some tasks in Bukele’s —and Vice President Félix Ulloa’s— formal absence.

Again, not even the leave of absence is real. He just appeared to delegate some of his tasks, probably as special deference to his vice president, who spent a year and a half touring the world to claim that there is “a hidden article of the Constitution” (sic) permitting reelection. That, too, is a lie.

That is why Bukele named his assistant, loyal to the point of complicity, who has managed his money whenever he needs to hide income. He did not even bother to send a slate of candidates for presidential designee, as the Constitution also establishes.

Until the end of November, Rodríguez, former Financial Secretary of Bukele’s party Nuevas Ideas, was the head of the Directorate of Municipal Works, an institution created in 2021 by the administration to centralize municipal funds without the need to account for their use.

This week, online news outlet Gato Encerrado published an investigation showing that Rodríguez received from the San Salvador Mayor’s Office more than a million dollars secretly and without legal explanation, when it was governed by Bukele.

This has all been a charade, a mockery of the Constitution, the laws of the Republic, the separation of power, and judicial independence by the Bukele brothers. A brazen step in their accumulation of power and illicit enrichment, with the complicity of Ulloa, their legal advisors, cabinet, party legislators, illegally instated Supreme Court, and illegally instated Attorney General.

At this moment it does not matter how many articles of the Constitution Bukele has violated on the road to reelection, or what shameless expressions of cynicism Castro and Ulloa utter to justify the unconstitutional. It does not matter because the Bukele family controls all the judicial system, from the top prosecutor’s office to the lower court judges to the Supreme Court magistrates. Therefore, there is no way to apply the law and punish their affront against our rule of law nor their scandalous pillaging of public coffers. El Salvador is submitted to the will of a crime group.

This means that all Salvadoran citizens now depend not on a body of laws, but on the whims of a family governing and in position to decide who will receive state contracts, what information should be made public, who can be a judge and who cannot, who goes to prison and who does not, who has rights or not.

Nayib Bukele is still president, and his brothers are still making the decisions together with him. Public officials and legislators merely execute. Presidential Designee Claudia Juana Rodríguez has always been their subordinate financial officer, whether in businesses, municipal administrations, or the current presidency. She has been Bukele’s accomplice.

The accumulation of power grants impunity. And impunity allows laws and constitutions to be broken without consequence. The man who plans to be reelected as head of state in El Salvador recently said on a national broadcast that he does not want to be remembered as a president surrounded by thieves. Then he asked Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado to investigate officials in his government. 

But Delgado responds to him alone and will only take action against those Bukele considers disposable. If he were independent, the Attorney General’s Office would have dozens of open investigations into sitting officials, not the least of them being Nayib Bukele himself and his new presidential designee.

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