Marred by allegations of human rights abuses, the Salvadoran government extended their controversial state of emergency on July 20 for the fourth time, which will last through Aug. 23.
President Nayib Bukele first requested the state of exception in late March after gangs were blamed for 87 killings in one weekend.
Bukele believes this will make the country safer from violence. Since then, more than 46,000 people have been arrested.
The state of emergency allows the government to restrict the right to freedom of assembly and of association, the right to confidentiality of correspondence and the inviolability of private communication without prior court approval. The state of emergency also restricts the right to appear before a court within 72 hours of arrest, and the right to be informed of the reason for the arrest and the right to receive legal assistance and fair trial, according to a May 19, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung article.
While some Salvadorans are in favor of Bukele’s tactics, many are against these tactics and believe it violates human rights.
Marissa Guzman, community organizer for the Bay Area chapter of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) said his actions are that of a dictatorship.
“Not only has he militarized the police force but now he’s just taking more power than he should have as president,” Guzman said. “We’re seeing a direct attack on social movements [and] a lot of the policies are going against what democracy should be.”
She said he’s not only detaining gang members but also social movement organizers and union leaders.
“I think this is definitely an excuse to detain whoever he wants, it’s a very strategic surveillance tactic to monitor and police people from organizing against the government,” she said.
Guzman said Bukele knows how to control the media and gain support from the youth, which helps him gain popularity within the country and Salvadorans living in other countries.
“He is a master at crafting media and narratives and everything he does is very controlled,” she said.
Cracky Rodriguez, a Salvadoran artist and part of the movement Los Siempre Sospechosos de Todo, echoed this sentiment and said Bukele has the capacity to apply in less time what other famous dictators in history couldn’t achieve.
“He is a great communicator and skilled at persuading Salvadorans to submerge in his dictator regime,” Rodriguez said.
He said Bukele is packing prisons with innocent people and not only those who are committing crimes or are gang members.
“He has studied how all Salvadorans think and knows what they want to hear. They believe he is the savior of El Salvador and the world,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the media portrays El Salvador as having democracy in the past, but that in reality it has always been precarious.
“They present it as if there was democracy in El Salvador. There hasn’t been,” Rodriguez said. “It’s always been a destitute democracy. What we’re seeing now are the effects of how precarious democracy has always been.”
“Lo plantean como que en El Salvador había democracia. En El Salvador no habido. Siempre ha estado con una democracia paupérrima. Ahora lo que estamos viendo todo ese efecto de lo precario que era la democracia.”
On July 24, CISPES alongside the Committee of Family Members of Political Prisoners in El Salvador (COFAPPES) hosted a webinar to bring awareness and demand the release of more than a dozen political prisoners who were unlawfully arrested and are being held in pretrial detention without charges that go against Salvadoran law.
President of COFAPPES, Lourdes Palacios, said that democratic order has deteriorated over the last three years.
“Everytime we open this book that is our constitution, we can notice how this social contract has been disrespected to our Salvadoran society,” Palacios said.
Palacios said Bukele is paying some police officers a fee to capture innocent people among vulnerable communities, making the Salvadoran people believe they are safe so they can re-elect him in next year’s election.
“That is why many human rights organizations called upon the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to verify what is happening in El Salvador,” she said. “It’s a petition that must continue to be circulated because it has to be exposed how human rights in El Salvador are being violated.”
“Es por eso el llamado que se hizo de muchas organizaciones de derechos humanos ante la corte interamerica de derechos humanos para que existan verificaciones en El Salvador. Es una peticion que hay que seguir fotaliciendo porque se tiene que verificar en El Salvador como se estan vulnerando esos derechos humanos”
Improving the country’s safety isn’t Bukele’s only controversy, but also whether or not his bitcoin gamble is going to succeed.
After almost a year since the country adopted bitcoin as its legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar, many Salvadorans remain concerned for the future.
“To me it’s imaginary money. It’s not for everybody because you need a certain level of technology in order to access bitcoin, which the majority of the population doesn’t have, not to mention a lot of street vendors who rely on daily wages don’t know how to work [bitcoin] and and are going to lose on a ton of their livelihood,” Guzman said.
Ahmed Banafa, a San Jose State University engineering professor and author of “Blockchain Technology and Applications,” said El Salvador still has a long way to go to implant [bitcoin] and have access points where people convert bitcoin to cash and vice versa using terminals or ATM machines.
“Educating the public will be paramount for this young experiment and keep in mind bitcoin is another option like Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and not a replacement,” Banafa said.
Bukele announced Bitcoin City in November of last year that will be located near the Conchagua volcano in the south-east part of the country, as a city that will be free from most taxes and fully based on bitcoin as a cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin City will be powered by geothermal energy from the volcano that will also be used to mine for bitcoin.
“It’s another way to get the required power for processing bitcoin orders and if they manage to make it happen that will lower the needs for regular sources of power like fossil fuel,” Banafa said. “The story of blockchain as a technology is now beginning and many applications will appear as we understand it and treat it as we treated electricity in the past or the internet in the ‘90s.”