See IRTF's letter to President Bukele here on our Rapid Response Network page.
May 2, 2021
Washington, DC: The Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) categorically condemns the decision of the New Ideas, GANA, PCN, and PDC parties, who, upon taking office on May 1, and with the backing of President Nayib Bukele, voted to unconstitutionally remove the five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, in what is being denounced in El Salvador as a coup d'etat.
While it is true that Supreme Court magistrates have historically represented oligarchic interests and that the new Legislative Assembly was democratically elected — though the process was plagued by violations to the electoral code on part of the president and his New Ideas party — this does not justify an assault on democratic institutions. The legislators' actions set a dangerous precedent that deteriorates the democratic advances made in El Salvador since the signing of the Peace Accords.
The decision to remove and replace the five magistrates did not adhere to the constitutionally-established justifications for doing so, nor were the magistrates granted a hearing and defense, as is their right under the law. Clearly, the basis for this decision is to eliminate any institutional opposition and guarantee the president's authority over other branches of government. This explains why legislators also removed the Attorney General, Raúl Melara and next may remove the Human Rights Ombudsman, José Apolonio Tobar Serrano, who, during the pandemic, denounced widespread violations of human rights and corruption among many members of the Bukele administration.
We reject President Bukele assertion's that this issue is "not the purview" of the international community. To Bukele we say: CISPES does not respond to authoritarian governments. CISPES' relationship is with the Salvadoran social movement, with whom we have built strong people-to-people ties over the past forty years and have accompanied during the bloodiest dictatorships of the 1980s and in historic moments such as the transition to democracy. While El Salvador's democracy, like in the United States, has not been perfect, the transition to peace in El Salvador has been the result of a popular struggle and a pluralist negotiation, not of the whims of a demagogue.
CISPES remains steadfast in its accompaniment of the country’s organized working class (see our solidarity statement from International Workers Day) and thus hereby makes a call to the United States government to:
- Immediately restrict funding to the police and military in El Salvador;
- Immediately restrict so-called development funding that benefits the economic interests of the elites who seek to privatize natural resources and public services, violate the rights of workers, and displace communities from their communal and indigenous lands.
Given the clear intention by the Bukele administration to govern unilaterally and with total disregard for the Constitution, the United States government has a moral obligation to restrict its assistance to security forces that carry out the President’s mandates and that will surely be used to repress the social movements and human rights defenders, who moving forward might constitute the only opposition force in the country.
As President Bukele made clear in his tweet, his new political power bloc seeks international support not to further human rights or social advances but to implement economic policies of plundering natural resources and public goods without respect for the rights of the people. Because of this, it becomes ever more urgent that the United States cease to promote an economic model of exploitation, including on an international level through its influence over multilateral banks.
The current crisis of political persecution and state repression in Honduras is a grave example of what happens when the United States government legitimizes and maintains support for governments that result from a coup, as was the case in 2009, or from an illegitimate election, as was the case in 2017. It is no coincidence that Bukele’s current actions bear striking resemblance to Juan Orlando Hernandez's in Honduras, including illegally deposing Supreme Court magistrates to set the stage for his seizure of power.
Condescending lectures from the Biden administration will not impede the continuation of these assaults on democracy; President Bukele and his party are very clear on the type of dictatorship they wish to establish in El Salvador. If the United States government does not immediately act to restrict police, military, and other funds that strengthen the regime, there is no doubt that the United States, too, will be responsible for what follows.
In the face of more authoritarianism, more resistance!