Violence, corruption among problems facing El Salvador’s incoming president

World Today

On June 1, when the Central American nation of El Salvador swears in a new president, 37-year-old Nayib Bukele will become that country’s youngest leader ever. The challenges he faces are daunting.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports.

Bukele won February’s election with 53 percent of the vote. Amid widespread discontent with the country’s two traditional parties, he positioned himself as a political outsider.

His roots are Palestinian, his father, a businessman and local imam. Bukele started his political career in 2012, as the mayor of the small-town Nuevo Cuscatlán. With support from the leading leftist FMLN party, he won election in 2015 to become mayor of the nation’s capital, San Salvador.

Bukele was later ousted from the FMLN for creating divisions within the party, notably through his criticism of current President Salvador Sanchez Cerén. Just six months before the presidential election, he joined a fledgling right-wing party called the Great Alliance for National Unity.

In March, a month after his victory, he made his first public appearance in Washington DC, as a guest speaker of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative American think tank. He addressed the many complex issues he will confront.

“Gangs, violence, caravans, corruption. In two years from now, you’ll put the TV on and will see them talking about surf, tourism, jobs, economic growth, a partner and an ally of the United States,” Bukele said. “Perception will change because reality will have changed.”

Another central problem is the country’s perpetually stagnant economy and low wages that have kept many Salvadorans in poverty. To solve that, Bukele said he’ll seek more business partnerships with the United States and other nations.

Gang violence has thrived in El Salvador since the time of its civil war some 30 years ago. The country’s murder rate remains among the world’s highest.

Former Salvadoran Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Rubén Zamora was a peace negotiator when warring sides signed the historic 1992 peace accords. He said, “The Mara phenomenon is one of territoriality. That is why they are killing each other.”

“They fight over the same territories where they carry out extortions. It’s about setting the rules and getting the money. So we must confront it as a problem of territories,” Zamora told CGTN.

Educating El Salvador’s youth is yet another urgent matter for Bukele, who has promised improvements to the system. Experts say the country lacks an adequate pre-school program to get children on the road to learning early in their lives.