Tactics of Guatemalan presidential candidate El Salvador’s leader


Candidates for Guatemala’s next president are dictating to the leader of neighboring El Salvador and promising their voters that they will build mega-prisons and crack down on criminal gangs.

Salvadoran President Nayeb Buquele’s resolution has caught on with Latin American citizens, and the tough-talking, bitcoin-loving leader enjoys approval ratings the envy of any world leader, even a year after suspending basic rights to wage war against. the gangs of his country.

“It would be good to adopt his plan” in Guatemala, said Lucrecia Salazar, 48, a government worker who lives in a neighborhood of the capital known as a hotbed for gangs and crime. “We have the resources, we lack the will.”

Now, many of Guatemala’s leading presidential candidates are claiming similar will, saying ahead of the June 25 vote that they would emulate Bukele’s heavy-handed tactics if elected.

Former First Lady Sandra Torres of the National Unity Party of Hope announced her platform to cheering supporters at a hotel in May, saying she would implement Bukele’s strategy to “end the scourge of murder, murder and extortion in our country.”

He says he’s going to build two mega-prisons for gang members.

Since the outbreak of gang violence in El Salvador in March 2022, Bukele has pursued a strategy of locking up anyone with a whiff of gang affiliation, which now numbers more than 68,000 people. He built what is considered the largest prison in Latin America.

Homicides, already on the decline, have dropped dramatically. Life returned to the streets and squares of many communities long under the grip of gangs and where families holed up indoors after dark.

In Guatemala, many of the same gangs terrorize and extort the population. But the country has nearly three times the population and five times the land area of ​​its neighbor, so there’s no guarantee that El Salvador’s strategies can be replicated here.

The province’s homicide rate dropped in 2020 due to pandemic lockdowns. But while since then they have continued to decline every year in El Salvador, from 19 per 100,000 in 2020 to just 8 per 100,000 last year, they have rebounded in Guatemala.

Guatemala had 17 murders per 100,000 last year, up from 15.3 per 100,000 in 2020. Last year, Honduras had 36 murders per 100,000 residents.

Renzo Rosal, a political scientist at the University of Landivar in Guatemala, said the candidates are imitating Buquele partly because of their own strain of Guatemalan authoritarianism and partly because they have no proposals of their own.

One long-running candidate, Amilcar Rivera of the Victory Party, even donned a Bukele look, complete with a dark, close-cropped beard and baseball cap. “The level of emptiness is such that they even duplicate his physical appearance,” Rosal said.

Bukele fans and imitators have also appeared in other parts of Latin America.

Santiago Cuneo, a marginal candidate in Argentina’s October presidential election, has his and Salvadoran president’s photos side by side on his campaign posters.

Colombia’s right-wing magazine Semana recently put Bukele on its cover under the headline “The Bukele Miracle” for a story praising his administration’s security achievements. Local and regional elections will be held in Colombia in October.

Another high-profile Guatemalan candidate, Zuri Ríos Sosa, daughter of the late dictator Efrain Ríos Montt and flag bearer of the far-right Valor-Unionista coalition, expressed admiration for both Buquele and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who led the sweeping operation. offensive against leftist guerrillas during his presidency from 2002 to 2010.

Ríos Sosa has pledged to build at least three new prisons under what he calls the “El Salvador-Colombia Capacity Plan.”

“We must recognize that President Bukele had the character, strength and determination to enforce the law,” Ríos Sosa said. He visited El Salvador on Monday, telling local media that Guatemalans have heard a lot about Bukele’s security success. “We are delighted with the public safety policies he has pursued,” he said.

Human rights activists have widely criticized what they call a violation of due process in El Salvador. Carolina Jimenez, president of the Washington-based non-governmental organization WOLA, which focuses on human rights in the Americas, calls the events promised by Bukele’s Guatemalan fans an illusion of security.

“The Bukele effect is contagious because of people’s need for safety, a fundamental need that has not been met,” he said. It is the easiest thing to say. “I can apply that security model here.”

“But what comes next?” Jimenez asked. “The roots of (the problem) are related to social exclusion, poverty and other structural problems.

Danilo Cardona, a 49-year-old security guard at a restaurant in the Guatemalan capital, said Bukele’s policies cannot be replicated in Guatemala “because we are different with different problems.”

“Security is a priority, but so are education, the economy and malnutrition,” Cardona said.

Perhaps Bukele’s biggest fan among Guatemalan candidates is no longer in the race after Guatemala’s Supreme Court ruled him ineligible for violations of electoral law.

But last month, while conservative businessman and populist Carlos Pineda was still leading the polls, he released a video of himself landing in El Salvador to see how the country can be prosperous “when money isn’t stolen.”

Pineda also sent a video “open letter” to Bukele praising the president’s highly controversial moves. “I aim to do in Guatemala exactly what you are doing in El Salvador,” he said.

Oscar Romero, 64, a graphic designer, said he would support Bukele’s anti-gang policies in Guatemala, particularly to combat extortion. But people should be aware of the potential trade-off, he said.

“You have to see how things go because it’s security versus freedom,” he said.

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