World“There is a majority that supports the president. The people threw...

“There is a majority that supports the president. The people threw it all away and gave power to Bukele”



El Salvador’s vice president, Félix Ulloa (Chinameca, 70), wants to change the narrative in the media and international organizations about President Nayib Bukele’s two-and-a-half-year term, which he considers distorted. In an interview given this Monday in Madrid, he denied that there is any authoritarian chavista-style course in his country, as pointed out by Governments such as the United States and NGOs such as Human Rigths Watch (HRW). This is one of the objectives of a trip that takes him to Spain after passing through Sweden, Belgium and France, including a meeting in Strasbourg with the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell. For this lawyer, son of Félix Ulloa – the so-called martyr rector of the University of El Salvador, assassinated by the dictatorship in 1980 – the controversial measures taken by Bukele since the victory of his New Ideas (NI) party in the March legislative elections are just part of the change process in El Salvador. Among these measures are the replacement of judges of the Constitutional Court by others like them, the removal of a third of the judges, the adoption of bitcoin as currency and a constitutional reform bill that has Ulloa himself as author. “It’s a passive revolution, as Gramsci used to say, without weapons.”

Question.Have you managed to reassure the European Union? In May, Borrell himself expressed concern about the situation of the rule of law in El Salvador…

Response. That’s a very strong word, because it wasn’t exactly the EU that was giving very strong signals, like the ones that the US Administration issued.

FOR. Are you referring to Juan González, President Biden’s adviser for Latin America, who said they were sliding down the same authoritarian slope as Venezuela?

A. This clarified to Borrell: that there was no such direction, that all this story that was told that Nayib [Bukele] he wanted to perpetuate himself in power as Chávez did not exist.

FOR. So Bukele won’t get re-elected?

A. You haven’t made the decision yet. Our Constitution, as currently drafted, does not allow immediate re-election, only after some time has passed. The problem is that, as it is written, that period is not clear. Therefore, in the project I wrote, it is stated that the person who holds the presidency, if he wants to present himself again, has to wait for a period of one term, which is five years. But what had the previous Constitutional Court said? To prevent the previous president from re-presenting himself, he established that there were two terms, which was not what the constituents had written. This wording was interpreted differently by the new court and says that there is no need to wait for any period, that the president can come forward immediately. What is the problem? The problem is that a constitutional court tells you that you have to wait two terms, and the new one that comes in tells you that you don’t have to wait at all. Where is the problem? The problem is the writing of the article, which is not clear. If this is the current legislation, it must be complied with. The president could introduce himself.

FOR. Governments and NGOs criticize that there is no longer any separation between the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary powers.

A. If you read this superficially, you come to this conclusion. The president of the Republic of El Salvador has neither the capacity nor the power to remove magistrates from the Supreme Court. It is the Legislative Assembly that does this.

FOR. Which, at the moment, is controlled by the ruling party.

A. There is a majority that supports the president, not the previous assembly, which was totally hostile. This is a political reality and it is the will of the people, the people voted a super majority in line with the president because they saw the behavior of the previous assembly, in which everything was to block the president. Bukele did not make 43 deputies, which is the majority, he made the absolute majority. A friend told me that this is a popular revolution. The people threw it all away and gave all power to Bukele. I interpreted this more as a passive revolution, Gramsci-style, these great transformations that take place without violence, because what is being done now is what was wanted to be done in the eighties, and now the transformations are being done without firing a shot .

FOR. There are voices that say this removal of judges is for political reasons alone. By the way, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced sanctions against these new Constitutional Court magistrates.

A. Is not true. The document read in the assembly to justify why they were taken had 29 pages, in which the violations these judges had committed during the pandemic and their application of selective justice were reported. If they say that Bukele pushed them away for political reasons, they were there for political reasons. What is the image that presents itself of a young, disruptive leader, because it is nothing traditional? We no longer want philosopher rulers, we want men who do what needs to be done. They say about Bukele what they said about the French president, Emmanuel Macron: that he has no ideology, he has ideas.

FOR. The Inter-American Press Society (SIP, its acronym in Spanish) and other organizations are alarmed by the situation of freedom of expression and of the press. There are those who speak of persecution.

A. Is taxing a persecution?

FOR. The digital newspaper El Faro, for example, alleges that the accusations of money laundering against this vehicle and the subsequent investigation are due to its criticism of the government.

A. Look, victimizing is profitable. El Faro wanted to victimize itself when it knows it has a very large glass roof, because they are, yes, organically linked to an anti-Bukele project and campaign. This is notorious in El Salvador. The two big newspapers, the same thing. They are hurt. Who went to complain to IAPA? Vehicle owners went to file complaints.

FOR. The Mexican editor of El Faro, Daniel Lizarraga, was expelled from the country…

A. Another lie. He entered as a tourist, he did not have a work permit. He never took it off.

FOR. Bukele’s Venezuelan advisors dominate all instances. Do they have a work permit?

A. I understand that yes. I don’t even know them. If they don’t, it would be necessary to apply the same standard. Now, what we know is that they are from the Venezuelan opposition, Leopoldo López, which is not logical with being accused of Chavismo. He recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The problem is that a lot of intellectuals can’t label Bukele, they don’t know if he’s right-wing or left-wing, that’s what happens to them with this kid.

FOR. There were three demonstrations in two months against Bukele, despite his popularity…

A. They were against bitcoin…

FOR. In the first, slogans such as “Down with the dictatorship” were also shouted.

A. In this one there were more journalists than protesters.

FOR. El Salvador is the first country to adopt bitcoin as its national currency. There are polls that say the majority of the nearly seven million Salvadorans are against it, in a country that is 23 percent poor. Everyone has access to smartphones? How is it working?

A. It’s against them because they scared them – the news, the written press, the big banks and the intermediaries. Western Union will lose 400 million a year in remittances. Do you know how many Salvadorans have a bitcoin account? Three million. Do you know how many have bank accounts? Almost nobody. It is true that 20% of the population does not have access to a smartphone, but the government trained 3,000 young people to help people across the country who didn’t know how to download the application, because everyone over 18 with an identity card could withdraw 30 dollars, and there were people who didn’t know how. But the world goes around, the narrative of the media and banks was that we were at high risk, but there is none. You can pay with bitcoins at gas stations (the station owners give you a 10 cent discount), at the supermarket, at the pharmacy…

FOR. Do you pay with bitcoins?

A. Been gone. When it arrives, I’ll pay. And not only that: I’ll see how my account has increased…

FOR. The legislation does not provide for the right to abortion or same-sex marriage…

A. Bukele said he wouldn’t put it on, but he doesn’t make the Constitution. In the Constitution you don’t put these rights. I put in the project that the State has the human person as its origin and purpose, and that it has to guarantee life in all its forms, and that when the right of the unborn comes into conflict with that of the pregnant woman, the law must resolve it. Ditto with the equal marriage: marriage is the basis of the family, and other forms of legal unions, without saying whether they are accepted or not. I’m not for or against abortion, that’s criminal law. I am ashamed to say this, because in El Salvador abortion in any of its forms is penalized.

FOR. 30 years have passed since the end of the civil war. His father was murdered during the dictatorship. How do you see the past and the future? What’s the lesson?

A. In the 1979 coup d’état, I was in Spain and returned to my country. We went to take up arms against the dictatorship. Ten years at war, 80,000 dead, thousands missing and exiled, and we couldn’t change these structures of oligarchic power, and so we Social Democrats left the FMLN [Frente Farabundo Martí de Libertação Nacional], almost only the communists were left, and they were accomplices in these 30 years after the war, where not only did we not advance, because we wanted to found a new country. The country got worse: maras [quadrilhas], corruption… In two years, we made essential changes. We cannot be anchored in the past. The Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall fell. We are facing the prescription of a historic stage, and hopefully we will not return.

FOR. What was negotiated with the maras in exchange for the pacification of the country?

A. I don’t know what was negotiated and if it was negotiated. What I know is that the maras they grew up with the ARENA and FMLN governments, and they did negotiate.

FOR. Is it true that you are not part of the president’s intimate and family circle?

A. That’s true. I’m not in any circle of power, I’m there by chance in history, because it hadn’t even occurred to me.

FOR. Salvadoran friends tell me that you are a kind of Jedi who has gone over to the dark side of the force…

A. The right says I’m putting Bukele in the left, and the left says Bukele is putting me in the right. This is a sign that we are doing things right. Criticism from that side is welcome.

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