WorldBukele puts one-third of El Salvador's 690 judges into compulsory retirement

Bukele puts one-third of El Salvador’s 690 judges into compulsory retirement

Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador, at a press conference last June.JOSE CABEZAS / Reuters

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El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly, majority-controlled by President Nayib Bukele, enacted a controversial reform of the Judicial Career Law that results in the mandatory retirement of one-third of the country’s 690 judges, as well as dozens of prosecutors. The main argument of the President of Parliament, Ernesto Castro, was that “no more corrupt judges and justice tailored to the groups in power.”

The provision affects judges who are over 60 years of age or 30 years of service. Among those deposed is Jorge Guzmán, the judge in charge of the El Mozote case, a massacre of at least 1,000 civilians committed in 1980. In November 2020, Guzmán asked the Public Ministry to determine whether Bukele had committed an offense by blocking judicial inspections in several units military, incurring in alleged crimes of “prevarication, disobedience, concealment of documents and cover-up”.

Guzmán’s case condenses everything that Bukele’s group suggests. “For those that the regime or any of its officials consider enemies, there is no longer any escape,” said the El Faro in editorial. “Anyone is now subject to judicial harassment, with no right to due process, no possible defense. There is no longer any judicial independence, constitutional guarantees or judicial remedies. There is no longer the rule of law. For the friends of the regime, on the other hand, there is no longer any fear that their crimes will be punished”.

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After parliamentary approval, judges from various instances expressed their displeasure with the reform and the debates prior to its approval, “because they are offensive and unworthy of judicial investiture”.

The judges allege that Parliament does not have the authority to reform the Law on Judicial Careers, which is why the project approved by the ruling party Novas Ideias (with the support of the associations Ganha, PDC and PCN) would be spurious. “These reforms violate the country’s judicial independence and violate constitutional rights such as the right to work, job stability, equality, human dignity, due process and legal security,” they said in a statement.

The Salvadoran Judicial Employees Union also disapproved of the reforms and accused the government of trying to “deceive the people saying that they are doing it because the people asked for the purification of the Judicial Organ. The law already established mechanisms to sanction judges who act outside the law”.

The reforms approved on Tuesday were not “surprising”, according to the editorial of the El Faro, as the steamroller commanded by Bukele had already threatened judges to “suffer the consequences if they didn’t solve it in a certain way”. “And they were accused of favoring the interests of ‘benefactors’ when they judge against the wishes of Bukele and his group. It is not, therefore, a secret the objective of the reform approved with exemption from formalities”, warned the publication, constantly attacked and despised by the government for its journalistic investigations, such as the one that recently showed how the Government negotiated with organized crime and tried to erase the proof of this with the new attorney appointed by the legislature, Rodolfo Delgado.

The reform of the Law on Judicial Career was introduced in the plenary session this Tuesday, with exemption from the procedure by a legislator from Novas Ideias and approved without further parliamentary debate, with the votes of 63 of the 84 deputies.

Bukele loyalists will nominate replacements

In addition to the judicial purge, the approved reforms include one authorizing the Court to “take pertinent measures to cover the judicial seats that become vacant” and “verify” compliance with that order. Another reform authorizes the court to make “corresponding, necessary and indispensable transfers and appointments in the seats that remain vacant, so that access to justice is not altered”.

The Full Court and the Attorney General report directly to President Bukele and will be responsible for appointing replacements for the judges and prosecutors defenesced. This new blow against judicial independence is in addition to the one delivered on May 1st, when deputies irregularly removed the judges of the Constitutional Chamber and the attorney general.

“This was a step [destituição de juízes] expected in the process of dismantling democracy and concentration of power, which the group that governs today started on the same day that Nayib Bukele took office as President of the Republic”, highlighted the El Faro. “It is a group that has intolerance as an ideology, authoritarianism as an ideal, propaganda as a strategy and corruption as an exclusive exercise. These reforms signify an advance on the path towards its objectives, which are, in short, to end our democratic era”.

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