Salvadoran lawyers and human rights activists fear that the newly sworn in lawmakers will waver in the uproar of youth and fragile democracy councilors removed officials from key offices over the weekend.
The removal of the attorney general and judges of the Constitutional Court removes the remaining two checks of the leadership of President Nayib Bukele, who has been In addition to directing democratic institutions since he took office in June 2019.
Salvadoran human rights defender Celia Medrano said it also shows that the government wants to “keep its power and deal with the opposition”.
In a country that is still recovering from 12 years ago which ended in 1992 and left 75,000 dead, parliamentary votes on Saturday revive old memories of a time of violence and human rights abuses and become a minor reminder of the country’s democratic process.
“Everything indicates that this will be a long dark period in the country in terms of democracy,” Medrano told Al Jazeera.
‘Setting the Pattern’
Bukele won the leadership in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform that attracted for voters satisfied with two national parties, the left FMLN and the ARENA on the right. But without the support of the country’s legislators, many of his ideas were closed during his first two years in office.
Agencies including the Constitutional Court, the attorney general’s office, and the ombudsman often act as checks for its powers.
In February, the Bukele Nuevas Ideas, or New Ideas, won 56 out of 84 seats to the national convention after a clear demonstration of voter support. When the legislators took office on May 1, they promptly moved – and illegally, according to legal experts – to remove five Constitutional Court judges and Attorney General Raul Melara.
Five judges have already been appointed to the court by a new hearing. Three of the dismissed judges resigned, citing their reasons, but not yet rendering an appeal.
“With this, Parliament is setting an example. He tells all other officials: ‘If you doubt the president’s vision, you can be fired,’ said Manuel Escalante, a lawyer for the Institute of Human Rights at the University of Central America (IDHUCA).
Bukele and his supporters defended the incident to oust the country’s former government officials. “The people were not sent to negotiate. They’re leaving. All of them, ”Watch he wrote on May 3.
Also TwitterSuecy Callejas Estrada, one of the Nuevas Ideas lawmakers who led the process, defended the law as a legal document, citing three issues to support its principles.
Objectives of the case
However, legal experts have challenged the interpretation of the law, which sets the stage for dismissal, but for a few reasons which legal experts have not met.
Officials may be removed from office on “grounds already established by law” and the process of finding candidates for new positions must be followed. The new councilors passed this by force, according to Escalante.
“The details provided by the conference on Saturday did not cover the legal issue,” he said. “Instead, he said he was just satisfied with the court because they [the justices] it was not in line with the meaning of the president’s decrees. ”
Escalante added: “Their actions show that the only person who properly interprets the law is the president.”
In addition, the timing of the dismissal of the attorney general indicates a political motive, according to Medrano. “It is important to note that the dismissal of the attorney general was at a time when he was investigating corruption and contacting the existing government with cases,” he told Al Jazeera.
The presidency did not respond to a request for comment.
An international outcry
Human rights groups and U.S. officials immediately condemned the incident in El Salvador.
Vice President of the US Kamala Harris, who is leading Biden’s efforts working with Mexico and Central America to curb migration, officials say, with “serious concerns” about what has happened. “An independent court is essential for democracy to be healthy – as well as rich,” he tweeted on May 2.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the remarks in a statement to Bukele on Sunday, the Ministry of Culture said, while USAID, the country’s development agency, said independent courts were “essential to tackling corruption and money laundering” in El Salvador.
Bukele criticized this, however.
“To our friends all over the world: we want to work with you, do business, travel and get to know you and support us to the best of our ability. Our doors are more open than ever. But with all due respect: we clean our house… and you do not participate,” he tweeted Saturday.
To our friends from the International Community:
We want to work with you, sell, travel, get to know each other and support where we can.
Our doors are more open than ever.
But with all due respect:
We are renovating our house.
… And that’s not your job.
– Nayib Bukele 🇸🇻 (@nayibbukele) May 2, 2021
The economic crisis in El Salvador comes as Biden’s administration promises to prioritize democratic institutions in Central America.
“There is a clear message from the United States and I think it is important,” said Geoff Thale, president of the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), a non-profit organization that promotes human rights in the region. “But now he has to think about what to do.”
Acknowledging corrupt government officials and appealing to Bukele’s interests – both commercial and economic – are two steps the US can take in its commitment to building democracy, Thale told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Salvadoran lawyers and human rights activists who want to challenge the latest developments are gone. In the past, he would have turned to the Constitutional Court – but not again.
“In doing so,” says Escalante, “it forces us to deal with the fact that anyone who would seek justice or try to prevent the abuse of power from the main branch would not get it.”