Salvadoran Supreme Court reprimands Bukele (Feb. 11, 2020)
El Salvador's Supreme Court ordered President Nayib Bukele to abstain from using the country's armed forces "in activities contrary to the established constitutional ends." Yesterday's ruling, and a subsequent statement, rebuke the executive branch for taking over the National Assembly on Sunday, backed with armed troops, and orders the Council of Ministers to stop pushing an extraordinary legislative session over a loan to finance a security plan. (El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Gráfica)
Magistrates in the Supreme Court's Constitutional Chamber acted in response to a claim of inconstitutionality presented on Saturday, after Bukele and his cabinet sought to push lawmakers to meet over the weekend in order to evaluate a $109 million loan destined to finance a security plan. (See yesterday's post.)
Lawmakers gathered yesterday afternoon, and rejected Bukele's intromission into the legislative branch. The resolution said the actions constitute a "violation of the independence of the Legislative Organ, affecting the democratic system and the functioning of the weights and counterweights in the exercise of power." In a symbolic gesture, National Assembly head Mario Ponce refused to use the chair Bukele occupied on Sunday, and lawmakers referred to an attempted coup. (El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Gráfica)
The show of force has stoked fears about democratic backsliding, and condemnation from across the political spectrum and internationally, reports Reuters.
Attorney General Raúl Melara said the Armed Forces and the National Civilian Police (PNC) overstepped their mandate by taking over the National Assembly building on Sunday. He said a team of prosecutors would review the military deployment and see whether any penal action may be required, reports the Associated Press. But he also claimed that Bukele prevented an escalation of violence from civilizan supporters gathered outside the National Assembly in support of the president. "People wanted blood, they said to the president, insurrection!" (La Prensa Gráfica)
Bukele is wildly popular, with a 90 percent approval rating, but lacks a majority in parliament, where he has only 11 supporters out of 84 seats. He needs a qualified majority of congressional support to unlock the funds from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. But many analysts were puzzled over why he picked the fight. Lawmakers were likely to eventually approve the loan, security is a central concern for the country, notes the Financial Times.
The point isn't the loan itself, rather Bukele is angling to modify the constitution, argues political scientist Álvaro Artiga in an interview with Gato Encerrado. In any case the military occupation of the National Assembly is a watershed moment for Salvadoran democracy, he says, eloquently.
Bukele defended his actions Monday in a string of Twitter posts, noting that there was no violence at the congress even as four Salvadorans were murdered by gangs elsewhere the same day, reports the Associated Press.
As the situation in El Salvador is evolving, I divided the regular briefing in two -- I'm sending the main post now, and will follow up with the regular briefs covering the rest of the region shortly.