After two years without condemning the great abuses of power of Nayib Bukele, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, recognized this week that democracy is at risk in El Salvador

In a recent discussion, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, pointed out that El Salvador faces a worrying situation for democracy.

Without the forcefulness with which other actors inside and outside the country have spoken, Almagro expressed in a virtual forum organized by Inter-American Dialogue that “our technical reports show certain levels of alteration of the constitutional order.”

He also added that the OAS has issued some pronouncements on episodes of dismantling democracy, such as the illegal and forced removal of magistrates from the Constitutional Chamber and the Attorney General of the Republic on May 1.

On May 2, the hemispheric entity issued a statement that began as follows: “The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) expresses that, given the decisions adopted yesterday by the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador, it rejects the dismissal of the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and that of the Attorney General, Raúl Melara, as well as the actions of the Executive Power that guided these decisions ”.

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In this statement, he recalled that parliamentary majorities cannot be used to undermine pluralist principles or the balance of powers.

And four months after that event, Almagro continues to recognize that there is a worrying situation in El Salvador. However, he affirmed that the hemispheric apparatus does not move at the same speed as civil society or non-governmental organizations that, in addition to condemning Bukele’s abuses, demand more forcefulness and greater speed from the OAS in their positions.

This acknowledgment by the secretary general, while timid in contrast to the strong condemnations of other actors, is in contrast to his initial positions regarding the Nayib Bukele administration.

Faced with his first major abuses of power, such as intolerance of criticism, the harassment of his opponents or the militarization of the Legislative Assembly in a failed coup attempt on May 9, 2020, the Secretary General remained silent or, worse still, justified these facts. In a discussion with young people, he stated that the country was experiencing a “vibrant political system” and later described those who denounced these excesses as “hysterical voices”.

But this seems to be changing and the OAS no longer excuses these undemocratic behaviors of the Salvadoran ruling party.

“Very serious case”

Diego García-Sayán, the United Nations Rapporteur for Judicial Independence, also participated in this forum. In his participation, he described the situation of balance of powers and democracy in El Salvador as very serious and said that the country acts like many others that are following an “authoritarian wave in the world.”

Too: UN asks to protect democracy in El Salvador after presidential re-election ruling

This wave, he explained, has a fundamental pillar: “the attack and the demolition of judicial independence.”

In El Salvador, this has been seen in the ignorance of President Bukele of judicial decisions, in the forced removal of magistrates who limited their power to replace them with people related to his political project, in the recent reforms to the judicial career that would favor a purge of judges, as well as the taking of the Prosecutor’s Office to turn it into another arm of the ruling party.

Faced with these visible abuses, García-Sayán regretted that “the slowness of democratic countries in reacting is surprising” and stated that “they have been taking longer and longer” to speak out when their neighbors are on the brink of the authoritarian abyss.

Given this, the Argentine jurist Santiago Cantón said that “the silence of the States is stunning” and pointed out a profound “lack of leadership” in the democracies of the hemisphere to defend these principles.

Just a few days ago, in an interview with CNN, Cantón said that with the recent events (seizure of institutions, purge of judges, endorsement of re-election), “El Salvador is no longer a democracy.”

In his opinion, the region is experiencing one of its worst moments in terms of democracy and El Salvador is one of those cases.

Caudillismo “is alive and well”

The sociologist and pro-democracy activist Mariclaire Acosta agreed with the diagnosis of Cantón and García-Sayán, and considers that democracy and the rule of law are going through difficult times in the region.

In his participation in the virtual forum, he regretted that “caudillismo is alive and well” despite efforts for decades to institutionalize politics and that it depends on processes, and not on the personal whim of some.

For this, he placed the examples of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexican president; Nicolás Maduro, his Venezuelan counterpart; and the Salvadoran Nayib Bukele. In all these cases, Acosta added, national politics revolves around his figure and not a network of state policies.

In his opinion, except in the case of Maduro, the other two leaders came to power by electoral means and from that moment began to erode democratic norms.

And this erosion, he lamented, undermines the credibility of the work carried out by hemispheric organizations such as the OAS to safeguard the rule of law and prevent new authoritarianisms in the region.

HITS TO DEMOCRACY IN EL SALVADOR

Concentration of power

When all the institutions depend on the whim of one person, as is beginning to happen in El Salvador, the rights of everyone, and especially of those who are critics of the regime, are in great danger.

In El Salvador, a person determines the actions of the Executive, the Legislature, the constitutional justice (pillar to avoid abuses of power), the Prosecutor’s Office (which prosecutes or shelters crimes) and seeks to take control of the judges.

Politicization of the security forces

In a functional democracy, the police and military must respond to the Constitution and not be used as tools of intimidation, pressure or repression of those who are not aligned to power. Under Nayib Bukele, this legal role of the armed forces is blurred and every time more act following whims of power. For example, the military and police took over the Assembly to pressure deputies, police officers carried out the coup on May 1, and it was police who illegally captured a young critic of the Bitcoin Law.

On February 9, 2020, Nayib Bukele took the Blue Room accompanied by soldiers with long weapons. The Police were also there, he justified, like the Ministry of Defense, that they only provided security. Photo EDH / file

Critic harassment

In the two years of Nayib Bukele’s rule, there has been a practice of harassment, harassment and humiliation of those who oppose how power is exercised.

Furthermore, journalism is under attack and there are numerous and significant efforts, as put forward by the United States government in May 2020, to “silence critical voices.”

Hide information

A fundamental right is freedom of expression, whose counterpart is access to information on how the State and public funds are managed.

But the Nayib Bukele administration has captured the bodies that ensure transparency and keeps hidden data that serves to understand how they govern, beyond slogans and propaganda.

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