Nayib Bukele

This article was prepared for LAB by Anne Liedloff from several posts in Tim Muth’s excellent El Salvador Perspectives blog. You can read the originals here. Tim can be contacted on Twitter (@TimMuth)

After being expelled from the FMLN, Nayib Bukele, the mayor of San Salvador, has decided to run for president of El Salvador in 2019.

In a 20 minute discourse on Facebook Live last Sunday night, Bukele announced that he will not fight the expulsion in the courts, but will instead form a new political movement to achieve the presidency. Bukele spent much of his time talking about his roots in the FMLN and his father’s friendship with Schafik Handal, an ex-guerrilla leader and leader of El Salvador’s communist party. But Bukele asserted that the FMLN is now controlled by a small leadership group, which is corrupt and seeks only to protect its own narrow interests and corruption.

Nayib Bukele. Photo: By Idea SV – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia

On 10 October the Ethics Tribunal of the FMLN expelled Bukele for violating the principles and statutes of the party.

Ostensibly, the reason for the expulsion was a claim that Bukele had verbally abused a female FMLN lawyer during a meeting of the San Salvador municipal council. Yet the writing had been on the wall for weeks. Senior FMLN leaders like Medardo Gonzales had been publicly complaining about Bukele, and seemed to be looking for a pretext to justify separating the FMLN from the brash young mayor of the capital city.

Nayib Bukele was elected mayor of San Salvador in 2015 on the ticket of the left wing FMLN. In the campaign, as well as during his time in office, he has always kept himself at a distance from the party leadership. His agenda as mayor has always been branded as Bukele’s agenda for the city, not the party’s agenda.

Such independence is sometimes tolerated, but never appreciated, within the hierarchy of the FMLN.

Recently, the relationship between Bukele and the FMLN had hit a new low. Bukele was unable to gather votes in the San Salvador municipal council for two of his big improvement projects in the city’s historic center when FMLN council members voted against him. Bukele went to Twitter to complain that some members of the FMLN were no different than the right wing party ARENA, with the only exception being that they did not sing the ARENA hymn.

Then Bukele had picked another fight, when Lorena Pena, a deputy of the FMLN in the National Assembly and former president of the legislature, tweeted that cocaine and other drugs could make people do crazy things. Bukele replied that having so much money in one’s hands after never having had it, makes some forget that they were sworn to fight for the people.

Since then a counterattack had started against Bukele.  The FMLN had condemned Bukele for allegedly calling FMLN lawyer Xochitl Marchello a “bruja” (witch) during a meeting where she demanded he discipline a member of the municipal government who had been repeatedly denounced for mistreating women. Marchello has filed a complaint against Bukele with the attorney general’s office, and the women’s organization within the FMLN is demanding a public apology.

Bukele denies any of this happened, and released an audio recording of his interactions with Marchello in the meeting in question. The recording does not cover the entire meeting, however, and FMLN members from the San Salvador council released a statement denying that they are attempting to thwart Bukele’s agenda and affirming that the abuse of Marchello occurred in parts of the meeting not covered by Bukele’s recording.

This falling out of the FMLN with its most popular politician comes with less than 6 months before the 2018 nation-wide elections for mayors and deputies in the National Assembly. Last week the FMLN announced that its new candidate for mayor is Jackeline Rivera, a deputy in the National Assembly for the department of Cuscatlán.

Jackeline Rivera. Source El Salvador Perspectives Blog

Rivera shared details of her biography earlier this year in an interview at 102Nueve.com. She was born in the municipality of Cinquera, where her father was an early guerrilla leader. She was a child soldier, joining one of the five member groups of the FMLN, the Fuerzas Populares de Liberación (FPL) in 1979 when she was only 8 years old.  At age 16 she was a radio operator for the FMLN operating in the mountains. After the war, Rivera studied law and became a lawyer. Eventually she reached her current position in the National Assembly.

Rivera will have an uphill battle competing against ARENA’s candidate, Ernesto Muyshondt, and will have her work cut out to win back voters upset by the FMLN’s expulsion of the popular Bukele. It remains to be seen whether Bukele’s presidential campaign will take off, and how the FMLN will respond to it, but Rivera’s success or failure in the mayoral elections will certainly be a factor.


You can read other posts on the El Salvador Perspectives blog here.

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