Latin America

Thousands in El Salvador march against President Nayib Bukele

Published : October 18, 2021 15:17 IST

While grievances against Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele were varied, the united message was one against authoritarianism. Photo: Salvador Melendez/AP Photo/picture alliance

Demonstrators in the capital San Salvador took to the streets against what they say is increasing authoritarianism.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in El Salvador's capital San Salvador on October 17 to demonstrate against President Nayib Bukele's government. While Bukele was very much the focus of the protests, grievances of those gathered ranged from his effort to supplant the Supreme Court justices with judges more to his liking and the move to make bitcoin legal tender in El Salvador.

Feminist groups, human rights organizations, environmentalists, and opposition political parties were among those who gathered in the capital carrying signs that read, "Bitcoin is fraud," and, "Democracy is not up for negotiation, it is defended," along with numerous anti-authoritarian messages. They also burned an effigy of Bukele near the main square in San Salvador.

El Salvador has used the U.S. dollar as legal currency for two decades, but recently it became the first country in the world to make bitcoin a national currency. Bukele's government has said bitcoin could help revitalize El Salvador's struggling economy and may help the country retain fees that are lost when remittances are sent back to the country. Remittances from Salvadorans abroad account for more than $400 million (€345 million) or 22 per cent of El Salvador's GDP.

'Emperor' Bukele's concentration of power criticized

Last month, amid increasing concerns over Bukele's efforts to consolidate power, he proclaimed himself "emperor" in his Twitter bio. On the social media site, he criticized October 17's protests as a failure.

For the first time, Congress is dominated by lawmakers belonging to Bukele's New Ideas party. In May, they voted in favor of firing judges on the Supreme Court's constitutional panel and the attorney general. Their replacements were perceived as friendly to Bukele. The Supreme Court then ruled that Bukele could seek a second conservative term. The maneuvers led to strong criticism from the U.S. and other international rights groups.

What do the protesters say about Bukele?

Ricardo Navarro, head of the environmental NGO Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology, told the AFP news agency that Bukele "is already taking us down a cliff with his bad ideas that are already affecting the economy with this bitcoin." Rosa Granados, a labor union member, told Reuters news agency, "If he raises his hand, all the deputies approve it and there is no law and no legal process that is respected."

ar/fb (AFP, Reuters)

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