Nayib Bukele is not your average guy, and he is certainly not a stuffy president who respects the usual diplomacy, formal communications, and suit and tie that we are used to seeing most of the world’s presidents in.
While in much of the world presidents continue to conform to the traditional political image of the twentieth century, the president of El Salvador has broken the mold to communicate his decisions directly via Twitter, buy bitcoins with his country’s public money from his phone and attend galas and events in his capacity as president wearing a cap and dark glasses.
You can hate or love Bukele, but he is certainly not someone who will go unnoticed.
Personally, I must admit that a couple of years ago when the media irruption of the current president of El Salvador took place, I did not like him, just by observing his biography you could sense that he was someone dangerous, he had been elected mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, and also of San Salvador by the extreme left party “Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front” (FMLN), and then continued his political escalation to occupy the presidency with more moderate parties; However, the current president of El Salvador seems to shy away from debates and ideological labels, which has made him a difficult politician to decipher and also to defeat, as he is the perfect example of the “catch-all” candidate, not in vain his approval level among citizens is above 80%.
However, despite refusing to categorize himself with any ideological doctrine, it seems that in the last year, the president of El Salvador has been evolving in his conception of the duties of the State, this, I believe, is fueled by his understanding of bitcoin and all that decentralized economies and libertarianism entail, giving the usual ideological leap executed by many people in the world: from the extreme left to the right, and even to classical liberalism. Is this really the case of Bukele?
The president of El Salvador reportedly comes from a wealthy family in the Central American country, however, this did not prevent him from approaching the Marxist-Leninist FMLN party that would lead him to win his first municipal elections. However, there are no records of Bukele making calls to defend socialism or to implement a communist revolution, what there are is calls for a “fair distribution of wealth” in 2014.
“Economic growth without a fair distribution of wealth is useless. Better a piece of bread than a cold chart,” he tweeted.
And also criticisms towards “neoliberalism” in 2013, adopting leftist positions:
“Honduras is one of the best examples that neoliberalism concentrates wealth in a few hands and leaves underdeveloped countries,” Bukele posted back in 2013.
After 5 years in the extreme left party “FMLN”, Bukele decides to leave behind his stage with the reds, then joins the center-left party “Cambio Democrático”, to quickly leave them and form his own grouping called “Nuevas Ideas” located in the center-right, However, due to the impossibility of registering his candidacy through this party, Nayib ended up joining the conservative party GANA (Grand Alliance for National Unity), with which he would end up becoming president of the Republic after defeating his former party “FMLN” in the first round.
Beyond the evident political movement to consolidate himself in groups to the right of the ideological spectrum, Nayib has never been seen defending socialism at all costs, but neither capitalism, even in his most recent times as president, it is common to find statements where he criticizes both the left and the right.
Bukele likes to present himself as a pragmatist, but for months now he seems to clearly reject collectivist measures by which states seek to control the economy of nations, in order to embrace more liberal economic postulates, something that has even earned him conflicts with the White House for his continuous criticism of the Biden Administration’s policies.
“Can they stop printing more money? They’re only going to make things worse. Really. It’s a no-brainer,” Bukele tweeted after the Fed chairman’s comments warning that the word “transitory” should be removed from inflation.
Also in October, he wrote that Keynesianism does not work, that resources are finite, and that the time had come to think about a new economic system due to the madness of different countries printing tons of money and increasing debt without thinking about the consequences, which clearly evidences a change of position, at least, in his views on the economy.
Is Bukele an “authoritarian” president?
Bukele’s decisions, but above all, his way of governing, has earned him the criticism of much of the international press that has even labeled him as “authoritarian”, an accusation to which the president responded with sarcasm by putting in his Twitter biography the caption “Dictator of El Salvador”, a fact that was naturally reflected by the entire Western press.
The biggest scandal of Nayib’s presidential adventure occurred when he asked the parliament to approve a budget to finance his security plan against gangs in El Salvador, and the deputies boycotted his plans by failing to attend the parliament, then Bukele appeared in the precinct surrounded by military and police to demand the approval of the money to fight crime; however, this triggered the alarms of the international community that repudiated the way in which the Salvadoran handled the situation and branded him as “authoritarian”.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, Bukele tried to justify his decision:
“Someone who does not know El Salvador sees the photo of the military in Congress and says: What a barbarity! But, what is more serious, a photo of a military where nobody was assaulted, there were no injuries, no shots… or to know that there were deputies (of previous governments) who negotiated with gang members. The military was only an act of presence. To focus on that is to focus on the superficial.
“If I were a dictator or someone who does not respect democracy, I would have taken control of everything by now. According to the polls, 90% of the people support us. So do the Armed Forces and the Police. The people were angry when I asked for calm, but if I had wanted to, I would have taken control of the whole government tonight.”
The balance after his first years of government
Under Bukele’s administration, crime rates have dropped drastically: by 2015 -when the leftist FLMN governed- 106 murders were committed daily, that figure was reduced to 21 homicides in 2020 -already with Bukele in power- and 2021 aims to be another record year in the decline of crime rates, in large part, his success in security matters is what has won him the massive support of his citizens.
The economic numbers are also encouraging; in the second quarter of 2021, while many countries were just beginning the post-pandemic recovery phase, El Salvador’s economy had grown by an astonishing 24.5%.
On the other hand, a report made by “La Prensa Grafica”, a Salvadoran newspaper that the president calls an opponent of his government, indicates that 93.5 % of Salvadorans approve of his management of the coronavirus crisis, numbers that show the enormous support Bukele has in his country.
However, even in healthcare policies, Bukele has shown an important change of position: while in 2020 the Salvadoran used the power of the state to subject citizens to a radical quarantine, which was even criticized by the leftist NGO, Amnesty International, and which provoked clashes between citizens and police officers, in 2021, just one year later, has published messages stating that individual freedoms and the right to choose should be above any vaccination mandate, claiming that “There are no vaccine mandates or passport mandates in El Salvador, no mask mandates, no testing requirements to enter the country”.
Did Bitcoin transform the president of El Salvador?
Certainly, it would seem that since Nayib Bukele became involved with the bitcoin community worldwide, his statements, his tweets, and even, his political decisions have been affected to the delight of some and the disdain of others. In June, after announcing that his country would adopt bitcoin as legal tender, he even published a new message announcing El Salvador’s tax benefits and bureaucratic facilities to attract investors:
“1. Excellent weather, world-class surf beaches, beachfront properties for sale; 2. One of the few countries in the world with no property taxes; 3. No capital gains tax for #Bitcoin, as it will be legal tender; 4. Immediate permanent residency for crypto entrepreneurs,” he tweeted.
El Salvador’s president remains a difficult politician to predict, he himself offers no clues as to what next steps he intends to take, but more than 80% of Salvadorans approve of his leadership.
The truth is that it is quite difficult to pigeonhole Nayib Bukele in any ideological camp or to decipher whether he will end up becoming the best president in the history of the Central American country, or just another caudillo who ends up abusing his popularity and power.
For the sake of El Salvador and the emergence of a new decentralized economic system, I hope this is not the last case, but only time will tell.