Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) traveled to El Salvador over the weekend to meet Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, criticizing President Joe Biden for ‘alienating’ Central America and other allies with policies combative.
Bukele is currently engaged in a campaign to root out the country’s biggest gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13) and 18th Street. His country is in a “state of exception” which has curtailed civil liberties such as freedom of assembly for a month, allowing police to arrest thousands of people suspected of having links to gangs. The campaign is very popular in El Salvador, where almost 70 percent citizens want Bukele to run for re-election even though he cannot legally do so.
Under former President Donald Trump, Bukele’s administration has maintained friendly relations with Washington. The Biden administration has sentenced the crackdown on gangs, however, led Bukele to accuse Biden last year of “supporting gangs”.
In an official press release this weekend, Senator Rubio REMARK“As Latin America and the Caribbean turn to anti-American leftist governments, El Salvador remains an important strategic ally in Central America.”
During their meeting, the Florida senator and the Salvadoran president discussed Bukele’s ongoing security initiatives, the importance of democratic order in the region, and mutual cooperation between the United States and El Salvador. The United States Ambassador to El Salvador, William Duncan, was also present during the meeting.
“I had a productive meeting with President Bukele and US Ambassador Duncan during my first official visit to El Salvador,” Rubio said in the official press release.
“At a time when the Biden administration is actively alienating our allies and choosing to appease murderous dictators in our region,” Rubio continued, “it’s important that we support those Democratic leaders in our hemisphere who are in fact leading the fight against brutal and criminal gangs in Central America.
“For the future of our bilateral relations, it is essential that the democratic institutions of El Salvador remain strong,” he concluded.
In El Salvador @nayibbukele put thousands of gangsters in jail
It has an approval rating of over 90% because for the first time in decades people feel safe going out at night and they no longer have to pay an extortion tax at MS13. pic.twitter.com/GSZIYX2XGb
—Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 1, 2023
Upon his return to the United States, Senator Rubio released a video summarizing his trip to El Salvador and Bukele’s actions to quell gang violence in El Salvador, which has so far significantly reduced violence in the country and is believed to have caused mostly gangs. disappear throughout Salvadoran territory. Rubio condemned the Biden administration’s stance on Bukele.
i just got back from #El Salvador where government officials are being sanctioned by the Biden administration for assembling gangs that have extorted, maimed and murdered people for decades pic.twitter.com/Cp8uanXlBO
—Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 3, 2023
“So how is the Biden administration reacting to this? By bashing the guy [Bukele], sanctioning members of the government, prosecuting them for being too tough and tough, etc. “said Rubio. “And on top of everything else, he’s a guy who tried to be friendly and an ally of the United States, and we have a problem with our foreign policy. We treat our enemies better than we treat our friends. .
“We have an administration that bends over backwards to try to accommodate [Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolás] Maduro, an administration afraid to do anything harsh [communist dictator Daniel] Ortega in Nicaragua, on the regime in Cuba. Rubio continued. “But on the other hand decides ‘I’m going to crack down on El Salvador, sanction them and denigrate them and try to make them a global pariah.'”
Bukele share Senator Rubio’s with Spanish subtitles added via his official Facebook account on Monday.
“US Senator Marco Rubio traveled to our country to learn the reality first hand, in the face of accusations from the Biden administration,” reads Bukele’s Facebook post. “Unlike many, he decided to come to know the truth, with his own eyes.”
El Salvador was put under a state of emergency since March 2022 to combat gang violence after 62 killings occurred in a single day that month – the most violent day in El Salvador in more than a century. The decree placed the Central American nation in a de facto state of martial law.
The decree, which originally lasted 30 days, has been continuously renewed within the past year for additional periods of 30 days and may be extended as long as the causes used to enact it initially still exist, in accordance with the country’s constitution.
Bukele’s actions under the state of emergency have led to a dramatic reduction in violence in the country. El Salvador’s president announced on his Twitter account on Saturday that, according to the government’s daily homicide statistics, March 2023 was the safest month in El Salvador’s history, a year after experiencing the most violent day in more than ten years. ‘a century.
Por cierto, marzo 2023 cerró como el mes más seguro en toda la historia de El Salvador 🇸🇻 https://t.co/IxHRKkUKCr
—Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) April 2, 2023
Bukele’s actions to address gang violence in El Salvador, the ongoing state of emergency, and other measures taken by the pro-Bukele Salvadoran Congress and the country’s Supreme Court of Justice were behind the tensions between the Biden administration and the Salvadoran government. Members of the United States Congressional Commission on Human Rights held a audience in September to discuss El Salvador’s state of emergency decree and “its consequences for human rights”.
The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on several of Bukele’s cabinet members. In December 2021, the US Treasury Department sanctioned the head of the penitentiary system and deputy minister of Justice and Public Security Osiris Luna Meza and the president of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit Carlos Amilcar Marroquin Chica, accusing both of having participated in secret negotiations with the leaders of MS-13 and 18th Street.
In December, the Treasury Department sanctioned Salvadoran Minister of Labor Rolando Castro for alleged embezzlement of public funds for his personal benefit. He also sanctioned Bukele’s legal secretary, Conan Castro, for allegedly obstructing investigations into the embezzlement of public funds intended to fight the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
The United States Department of State accused the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador for undermining democracy in September 2021 after the highest Salvadorian court – whose main judges were replaced by the overwhelming pro-Bukele majority in Congress in 2021 — published a controversial new interpretation of Article 152 of El Salvador’s constitution that paved the way for Bukele’s possible re-election, as the country’s constitution explicitly bars a president from seeking immediate re-election.
Bukele referred to tensions between his government and the United States in September during his speech at the 77th United Nations General Assembly, using a “rich neighbour” and “poor neighbour” analogy to describe U.S. concerns about human rights in El Salvador in the context of policies state of emergency in Bukele.
“The poor neighbor should not oppose his rich neighbor, he should not envy him, he should not aspire to have what the rich neighbor has, he should not pretend that he will give orders to his palace or demand that he change the marble in his hall,” Bukele said during his speech. “But the poor neighbor should at least have the right to clean his house, patch and paint his walls, change his furniture, plant flowers in his garden and change his roof for one that does not leak and that protect it from the rain.”
The Salvadoran president’s crackdown on gang violence has been a major contributor to his high approval rating, which plane around 92% in early March, giving Bukele the highest approval rating of any Latin American head of state.
Although the Salvadorian constitution explicitly prohibits a president from seeking immediate re-election – going so far as to disenfranchise a Salvadoran citizen if he “favors or supports the re-election or continuance of the President of the Republic” – a survey conducted in March showed that nearly 70% of Salvadorans expressed support for Bukele’s possible re-election in the upcoming 2024 elections.
The mayor of the Colombian city of Medellín, Daniel Quintero Calle Express in March its intention to build a detention center in the same vein as the one in El Salvador recently made its debut 40,000-bed “mega prison”, known as the Containment Center for Terrorism (CECOT). The move directly challenged the administration of far-left Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who was very critical of the new prison and insisted that his government would not build new detention centers despite Colombian correctional facilities facing widespread overcrowding problems.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.