Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Nayib Bukele the neo-authoritarian who does not break ties with the FMLN
What at first turned out to be a curious — and at times even amusing — way of governing, turned into authoritarianism and a strategy to distract public opinion from the real focus of attention that are the increasingly repeated irregularities that take place in the current Salvadoran administration.
By Maibort Petit
The fed-up that the people of El Salvador have about a corrupt bipartisan hegemony that ruled the Central American nation for 30 years paved the way for a young politician who stood as the hope to restore institutionality, justice and democracy: Nayib Bukele, who received the full support of a nation that identified with his postulates. , ideas and opinions, expressed in messages of 120 characters poured into social networks. However, once in power, his decisions, orders and actions revealed the true mood of a government that has made secrecy, confrontation and arbitrariness, a state policy that places it on the border, very much on the edge, of the irregular, of criminality. Bukele was mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlan and San Salvador, where he had creative and successful efforts that captured the sympathy of the whole country, but at the same time allowed him to distract the attention of public opinion from what was happening behind the scenes, a network of negotiations between his family's companies, especially , Obermet, S.A. de C.V., a company he owned that was now in the hands of his brother Karim Armando Bukele, who obtained multiple contracts and tenders. He presented himself as the anti-system candidate who offered a transformation of the Central American country through a program called the Cuscatlan Plan of "new governance," which contained his proposals for security, social inclusion, combating gangs and corruption, educational reforms and university scholarships, tax exemption for 100,000 families in vulnerable situations, as well as the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES).
Government of friends
Nayib Bukele began governing El Salvador on June 1, 2019, after assuming the presidency of the republic in a public ceremony that, for the first time, was held in the central square of San Salvador. When the integration of the cabinet was finally known, it could be observed that the core of it was made up of 14 people belonging to Nayib Bukele's circle of confidence. They were childhood friends, people who had been employees of his companies, former officials who accompanied him in the Mayor's Office of San Salvador and leaders of Nuevas Ideas. A group that showed that, for its choice, more than skills, preparation, experience and merit, it had deprived unconditionality. Everything that until then had held Bukele as a flag was going to be was going to the ground. He didn't seem to remember how he had criticized Salvador Sánchez Cerén, whom he said "was intoxicated with family and friends." Nor did he remember the nepotism of GANA, the CPN and Arena, which he had accused so much. Now his cabinet was made up of family members, associates and close friends.
Surrounded by family
The son of Armando Bukele Kattán and Olga Marina Ortez, a native of Bethlehem, he a Muslim and she a Catholic, Nayib Armando Bukele Ortez was born in San Salvador in 1981. Karim Alberto and the twins Yusef Ali and Ibrajim Antonio are also part of this family nucleus —Armando Bukele had more unions and children. His brothers, although not officially holding positions in the government, are unofficially part of the administration of President Nayib Bukele with great and ascendant power over the president. In fact, according to media investigations, the opinion of the brothers supposedly prevails over that of the 16 ministers, six secretaries of the presidency and three commissioners who make up the cabinet, when it comes to frontline matters. It is even claimed that when it comes to important decisions, Nayib Bukele only consults his brothers, which gives the Bukele Ortez a decisive role, but little controlled, this because they are not public officials, they are not subject to the opinions of the comptroller's office of public employees. Another brother of the president, namely Yamil Alejandro Bukele Pérez, chairs the National Institute of Sports of El Salvador (INDES), while his cousins, Xavier Zablah Bukele (president of Nuevas Ideas) and his brother Francisco, also make up this first ring. His uncle, Jorge Miguel Kattán, is secretary of trade and investment of the presidency of the republic and Nayib Bukele's wife, Gabriela Rodríguez, would exercise the function of recruiting the members of the Social Cabinet. According to a note from El Faro, the brothers "Have been divided by areas: Yusef is the one in the economic cabinet; Karim, the political strategist, the one with the speeches; Ibrajim is an emissary for negotiations or special missions of the president: for example, executing economic recovery projects." However, this same source warns that this is not an absolute division of tasks, because "everyone moves at will throughout the structure of the Executive, but a tacit ordering of the items in which, after a year of management, each one has more control." The review notes that the president himself publicly acknowledged the role of his brothers, especially Karim. On Ibrajim and Yusef Bukele Ortez, the newspaper report states that "They are usually part of private meetings. Ibrajim was, for example, Bukele's delegate to a meeting of the committee created to administer $2 billion for the coronavirus emergency, which was made up of six government officials and five representatives of civil society." It is unknown if the Bukele brothers receive any salary for their duties, although Nayib Bukele has assured that their consultancies are free. The Bukele brothers are known to have participated in official missions both domestic and abroad. Karim Bukele was instrumental when El Salvador signed a series of cooperation and trade agreements with China in 2019, during an official visit by the president to that Asian nation. A task that even recognized the Ambassador of China in the Central American country: "A special thanks to Mr. Karim @bukele. Without his valuable work and important input, we would not have achieved the successes of President Bukele's State Visit to China." However, El Faro points out that such acknowledgements were not sufficient when "the Presidency of El Salvador declared any information related to Karim Bukele's trip to be non-existent. ' According to the investigation process carried out in the different units regarding Mr. Karim Bukele, I inform you that he is not named in the Presidency, according to data from the Human Resources Management, just as no records of travel paid with institutional funds have been found, according to the response of the Financial Management," says a memorandum from the Private Secretariat. One more example of the limbo in which the president's brothers move: they execute, they agree, they negotiate, but none of it is public if they do not reveal it, nothing is auditable, there is no official information. For practical purposes, it appears that a Salvadoran citizen like any other, in his personal capacity, negotiated agreements with China on behalf of El Salvador." The creation of the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES) is progressing half-heartedly and with many limitations that leave its effectiveness in doubt. During the little more than a year that he has been in office, Bukele's ministers, secretaries, collaborators, friends, and associates have been accused of committing acts of corruption or, at least, irregularities that are highly at odds with ethics, and that the president has given the slightest indication that he should investigate the accusations. In this regard, InSight Crime warns that the investigations into alleged illicit enrichment that weighs on some of the officials of the government cabinet or the high leadership of the political parties that support him, make us suspect that there has been no progress in punishing those responsible. It also limits the "rejection of the local private company that, perhaps intimidated by corruption investigations that the CICIG opened against powerful Guatemalan businessmen, insists that a CICIES is not necessary." Another fact that tarnishes Nayib Bukele's trajectory is the discovery that he received money from the Alba Petróleos consortium that receives funds from PDVSA in Venezuela and that is being investigated for possible money laundering in El Salvador and the United States." This occurred at a time when he was serving as mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlan, when Inversiones Valiosas de El Salvador (Inverval, S.A. de C.V.), investigated for money laundering, gave him USD 1,974,200. In addition to these disbursements Inverval also gave loans to people now in his cabinet for USD 3,474,894.70. Factum Magazine says that "Between February 1 and October 24, 2013, Inverval issued eight checks from a Promeric Bank account in favor of Nayib Bukele; Obermet, the advertising company of the president's family; and Starlight, the company that owns the TVX Channel. All these funds, according to the documents held by the Prosecutor General's Office, were intended for the purchase of shares and capital investment in Starlight, an audiovisual communication company that became important in Bukele's political rise, and of which Carolina Recinos, current chief of staff, was a special representative." Pablo Anliker, minister of agriculture, and Nelson Fuentes, finance minister, also obtained loans from Alba Petróleos between 2012 and 2016. "The first loan Alba gave to Pablo Anliker was in his personal capacity and was recorded in 2012: $2.3 million. The following year, Alba reported a consolidated data of the debt to be paid by Pablo Anliker and the company Precocidos de El Salvador, founded on September 3, 2009, of which Anliker is a shareholder with his father. Total debt had grown to $3.3 million, although the amount for which each party should be liable was not specified." For 2016, Nelson Fuentes' debt to Alba Petróleos was USD 72,411. All these facts, added to the refusal of the administration of Nayib Bukele has turned the popular support he has into a patent of corso to act without control in the presidency of the republic, reluctant to be accountable and submit to public scrutiny, which places his government very much on the verge of irregularity and criminality.