Opinion / Politics

A Dictatorship Is Born

Víctor Peña
Víctor Peña

Saturday, June 1, 2024
El Faro Editorial Board

Art. 154 - The presidential term shall be five years and shall begin and end on the first day of June, without the person who has exercised the Presidency being able to continue in office for one more day.”

Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador

Nayib Bukele’s constitutional presidency has come to an end. From this day on, his permanence in power is exercised in violation of six articles of the Salvadoran Constitution.

The now de facto president and his family clan have risen above our laws to assume the throne, without any institution capable of imposing limits to their constitutional trampling. The authoritarian regime has become a dictatorship.

All the other elements of a dictatorship are present as well: control of the three branches of government; concealment of public information and lack of accountability; use of security forces and the judicial system for political ends; persecution of the opposition and critical voices; political prisoners; systematic torture in prisons; absence of rule of law; Bukele’s demand for obeisance; and a growing conviction on the part of the population that one must beg the president on social media to secure favors: the release of an unjustly imprisoned relative or redress in the face of violations by public officials.

To find a parallel in our history we must go back to 1935, when the last Salvadoran dictator to reelect himself, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, commenced his second term against the provisions of the constitution in force at the time. It was Martínez and his advisors who invented the charade that we now see repeated nine decades later: requesting a six-month leave of absence in order to argue that his next term was not a reelection, but a second term. It is precisely the same formula used today by Bukele, under the tutelage of Vice President Félix Ulloa, and with the complicity of the Supreme Court justices. Not even that idea is new under the Bukele regime.

Today, the practices we thought we had left behind several chapters ago in our history have returned. When an entire country fails to learn and absorb its lessons, the worst calamities always find a way to come back.

That is why we are publishing this edition in sepia, the color of photographs from 1935, to show how anachronistic, how retrograde, how tired and worn out this imposition of a dictatorship is. A lesson from history: our rights, already extremely restricted, will be further eroded at the whim of a dictator who, in turn, will continue demanding obeisance and repressing dissent and criticism.

But there are some new elements to this contemporary version: its use of social media to impose a narrative and disseminate propaganda and lies is one. The amount of resources at the state’s disposal is another. The Bukele clan’s style of government leaves no room for doubt: the sealing of information on the management of public funds, the use of the Legislative Assembly to create amnesty laws as a response to corruption, and the manipulation of the state apparatus to blackmail and increase the personal fortunes of those in power —among them businessmen unworthy of the country where they made their fortunes— will increase without restraint.

Bukele has managed to garner significant popular support, which —another lesson from history— will come to an end with the implosion of the economy. Then will come more state repression, conformism, and collective fear, already very present, and indispensable for any dictatorship.

It is not the less privileged, but the middle and upper classes, whom we implore to stand up to the dictatorship. These are the sectors best positioned, and thus more obliged, to act in the face of the night that has befallen us.

In a recent conversation, historians Héctor Lindo and Roberto Turcios concluded that the 20th century in El Salvador was marked by an authoritarian tradition, but also by a democratic tradition that resisted it.

Both traditions have now returned to face off in El Salvador: the authoritarian one, embodied by a corrupt, familial, and mafioso dictatorial project. The other, the democratic one, which awaits citizens willing to assume the leadership that history demands of them. To organize in opposition, and to fight for the return of our republican life.

At El Faro, we renew our pledge to do all in our power to shed light on this dark chapter in our nation’s history. That is our duty.

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