Nayib Bukele, the youngest and most popular president in Latin America

Nayib Bukele, the youngest and most popular president in Latin America
Nayib Bukele. Image: Danilo Medina Government via Flickr

Nayib Bukele, 39, has been at the center of Latin American politics practically since he took office, in 2018, as the youngest president in the entire region. Back then, he came to power as an "independent" with pragmatic political ideas and away from traditional Salvadoran politics. The reality, as it usually is in these cases, was more complex.

He was mayor of the capital, San Salvador, between 2015 and 2018, for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a historic leftist party. But in his presidential candidacy he ran for the conservative Gana party. His greatest asset, at the beginning, was knowing how to use the general weariness of his citizens with respect to the Salvadoran political class.

At the same time, he made a very effective use of social networks to the detriment of the traditional press, which won him the support of the younger sectors. Between the images of Monsignor Romero, his measures against insecurity and bitcoin, Nayib Bukele never ceases to surprise his own and strangers.

His response to the pandemic brought him great popularity in the country. He not only imposed mandatory quarantines to curb the spread of the virus, but also implemented large social aid. Despite his conservative and liberal disposition, Nayib Bukele demanded that businessmen should "be willing to earn 20% less". He also suspended the collection of rents, essential services such as electricity, water, gas, and taxes for three months during 2020.

In February of that year, when the pandemic had not yet reached Latin America, the President had faced another more domestic crisis: the opposition accused him of plotting a self-coup by storming, with police and military, the Parliament, fed up with not being able to pass his laws due to the lack of legislative majority. On that occasion, the president, who professes the evangelical faith, prayed publicly and assured that God "asked him for patience".

His opponents accuse him of violating Human Rights and of taking advantage of the security plan, which he presented in 2019 with the objective of "defeating the gangs", to concentrate almost total power under his figure. The support of the forces, both police and military, is almost total. El Salvador, which once had the highest homicide rates in all of Latin America, experienced a drop in murders since Nayib Bukele's arrival: in 2020, 1332 homicides were registered, 45% less than in 2019.

This is a historical record, lowering the murder rate by more than half, reaching 19.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, being 52.2 per 100,000 in 2019. Despite the fact that different human rights organizations have denounced the actions of the National Police and the treatment of prisoners, with these numbers Nayib Bukele's popularity is sky high.

In the middle of this year the president announced that he would make the cryptocurrency Bitcoin a legal tender asset in El Salvador. The country has had a dollarized economy for two decades, and what he seeks with this decision is to energize it. As of September 7, the "Bitcoin Law" will come into force. With this, it will launch a free electronic wallet called "Chivo", where it will be possible to make transactions of all kinds with Bitcoin, and will include 30 dollars in Bitcoin for anyone who downloads it.

The opposition, both right and left, claims that citizens will lose their money if they bet on Bitcoin. In addition, they accuse the government of wanting to pay workers' salaries with that cryptocurrency, something the Executive denies, for the time being. To this, Nayib Bukele simply replied: "And what if someone does not want to use bitcoin? Well, nothing, don't download the application and go on with your normal life. No one is going to take your dollars away from you."

Nayib Bukele is the owner of a very particular communication style, he usually gives orders to his ministers via Twitter, to demonstrate the transparency of his government actions. In a deeply religious country, he does not escape traditional symbolisms: he vindicates the figure of Monsignor Oscar Romero, bishop assassinated by the military during the civil war, while he openly declares himself evangelical and prays in public.

His nickname of "millennial president" is reinforced by decisions such as bitcoin; his opponents say he is a "centrist populist" who lacks a real government program; his supporters say he is a pragmatist who seeks to modernize a country that has not yet recovered from a bloody civil war, and is plagued by organized crime and gangs.

For now, the numbers seem to prove Nayib Bukele right. Not only is he the youngest president in the region, but his positive image comes in a context where the popularity of almost all his colleagues is falling both in the polls and in the streets.

Source: Hoy dia