El Salvador was once known as one of the most dangerous countries in the western hemisphere, violent gangs effectively controlled and terrorised the country, killing innocents as they pleased. The homicide rate in 2015 was 103 homicides per 100,000 people, the highest in the world. But in 2022, there were reportedly 7.8 homicides per 100,000. The homicide rate in the United States was 6.52. How did El Salvador achieve this drastic and seemingly impossible drop? With New Ideas.
Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) is a Salvadoran populist political party founded in 2017 and led by the current President of El Salvador, 41-year-old Nayib Bukele. They are a populist party, not strictly ideological in terms of left or right, ultimately their central vision for their country is a safe, free and successful El Salvador. The people seem to agree with this vision, Bukele won 53% of the vote in the 2019 Presidential Election, and in the 2021 legislative elections, Nuevas Ideas won a landslide victory, with aligned parties constituting a supermajority support for Bukele.
Bukele himself enjoys an approval rate hovering around 90%, the highest approval rating of any political leader in the world. Joe Biden’s approval rating hovers around 40%, and Rishi Sunak’s approval rating is around 30%.
Bukele has an approval rating that western politicians have never even come close to, how did he do it? Simply, he took back control of his country from the established political class and criminals.
After the deaths of 62 people in a single day in March 2022, Bukele knew he needed to act to reverse El Salvador’s spiralling reputation and remove the rampant criminality and corruption that plagued his country. Bukele asked the country’s parliament to institute a state of emergency that temporarily suspended some constitutional protections. Prisons were locked down and food was rationed as Bukele stated he would ‘not take budget away from schools to feed these terrorists’. The government took control away from unaccountable judges and restricted their ability to offer prisoners lighter alternatives to pre-trial detention, like bail and house arrest. They passed new tougher sentencing laws for convicted gang lords to forty to forty-five years (previously six to nine) and twenty to thirty years for other members (previously three to five). Police and military forces were used to patrol areas and raid houses and businesses, within a week 6,000 people had been arrested. Within two months more than 34,000 people had been arrested, and as of the publication of this piece, more than 60,000 people have been arrested. This equates to more than 2% of El Salvador’s entire population behind bars.
In July 2022, Bukele announced the construction of a new prison which would house 40,000 prisoners, one of the largest in the world. That prison was opened at the end of January 2023, less than 6 months after it was announced. HMP Five Wells in Britain took more than two years from announcement to inmates’ arrival, it only houses 1,680 prisoners. Bukele announced the arrival of the inmates to the newly built prison with a mesmerizing video which you can watch below.
Bukele has rightly been praised by the people of his nation, more than 90% of the people of El Salvador support the government’s actions according to one poll. They rightly see Bukele using the power of the state in extraordinary times to implement the will and protection of the people. Nothing is more important, nothing can dismiss that. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. I’d even argue the measures aren’t that extraordinary and should be in place in times of normalcy. Why should Salvadorans, why should anyone have to tolerate pure criminality and corruption in the country they live in?
However, if you take notice of what our essential international community and NGOs are saying, you’d think El Salvador was in the midst of some sort of anti-democratic dictatorship. The US Secretary of State urged Bukele to ‘protect civil liberties’. Amnesty International has stated ‘authorities are committing widespread and flagrant violations of human rights’ and that ‘they are subjecting the Salvadoran people to a tragedy’.
There is no greater way to protect civil liberties and protect the people of your nation than to protect them from violent criminals that run the country with impunity. El Salvador is a lesson for any country, that the national interest must always trump international interests. That it is right and it is moral to act against criminality and corruption, to do nothing is distinctly immoral. Our leaders have forgotten this.
El Salvador is perhaps a lesson for those in Britain who wish to take back control of their country. Power works, and it is all that matters. State power when used effectively is basically omnipotent. The meritocracy will be established, criminals and corrupt officials will be jailed, immigration will drop to zero, houses will be built, and our citizens will once again feel proud of the country they call home.
System change is possible, we just have to make it a reality.