Many Salvadorans in the US are supporting the country’s president amid massive crackdowns and allegations of abuse

LOS ANGELES — The 17-year-old son of Carlos Zaragoza was tortured and killed by gang members in El Salvador three years ago after refusing to join them.

Zaragoza, a Los Angeles resident, is one of many who support Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s hard-line strategy against the country’s gangs, saying it is necessary “to claim our country and try to give our future generations a better future.” to offer”.

Bukele’s recent raids and raids, including reports of deaths, have drawn international examination. Corresponding human rights groups, the authorities committed “serious human rights abuses”, including dozens of arbitrary arrests. According to official figures, more than 43,000 people have been arrested since the state of emergency began at the end of March. According to Human Rights Watch, there are over 60 “credible reports” of deaths in custody.

“Bukele has branded his government as breaking with the past, fighting corruption, and ensuring security, an efficient state, and opportunity for Salvadorans,” said Juan Pappier, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But in practice his policies show that he follows similar or in some cases even worse practices than his predecessors.”

But in El Salvador and in the US diaspora, many agree with Bukele’s strategy, even as it mars the country’s fragile democracy.

In El Salvador, the 41-year-old populist Bukele’s approval rating has risen to almost 90 percent despite restricting civil liberties.

There are no US-based polls indicating the level of support for Bukele. But in the Los Angeles area, home to the largest Salvadoran population in the US, and other cities, he is rallying support.

Bukele recently tweeted at large rallies in his support in Los Angeles, Houston and Long Island, where people chanted for his re-election.

Zaragoza, who runs the El Salvador Foundation, a nonprofit that helps families in need, said Bukele does the “best” work in this area.

As in Zaragoza, much of the appeal of his supporters stems from the president’s crackdown on gangs. Bukele declared a state of emergency in March after Congress gave him the power to suspend some civil liberties to curb street gangs. It came after a deadly weekend in which gangs were blamed for 62 murders. A huge prison with room for 40,000 gang members is under construction. The “Terrorism Confinement Center” will be ready within 60 days, Bukele wrote in a tweet.

While Bukele has clashed with US officials over his tactics, he regularly reaches out to Salvadorans in the US who can vote in elections in their home country. Politicians from his political party Nuevas Ideas have traveled to US cities to meet with members of the diaspora.

“Bukele’s current popularity, particularly among the diaspora, has to do with the deep frustration of the Salvadorian people at the performance of previous governments,” said José Miguel Cruz, research director at Florida International University’s Latin America and Caribbean Center. He once headed the Public Opinion Institute at the University of Central America.

Many Salvadorans are fed up with the violence and lawlessness that has plagued the country for decades. Although the homicide rate has fallen in recent years, the small Central American country has historically been dubbed the homicide capital of the world. For decades, violence has prompted many Salvadorans to emigrate to the United States, which Salvadorans cite immigrant population exploding from 95,000 in 1980 to over 1 million today. Over 2.3 million people of Salvadoran descent live in the United States, making up the third largest Hispanic group.

After the end of El Salvador’s bloody civil war in 1992, the US deported thousands of Salvadorans who had ties to gangs that formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Once in El Salvador, the gangs grew into a transnational criminal network. Years of violence and instability have created frustration that leaders cannot control.

“A lot of people in the diaspora have left in the last 20 years,” Cruz said. “They are now hearing from their relatives that there seems to be a little bit more security and they have gotten used to the tales.”

Iris Lara Cubias, president of the Juntos Por Una Sonrisa Shulton LA Foundation, said Bukele is doing a good job of providing the country with an increased sense of security, as well as more hospitals and resources – “a lot of help that has never been seen before in the country.” ”

Bukele’s supporters point to the decline in gang violence since the millennial leader took office in 2019.

However, some experts say the violence has decreased because the Bukele government negotiated a truce with the gangs. Bukele denies this.

Use social media, attack US

Bukele, an avid social media user, boasts about arresting gang members on his Twitter account and has attacked the US government.

President Joe Biden’s administration has not had warm relations with Bukele, a reversal of Bukele’s embrace of former President Donald Trump.

Early in Biden’s presidency, the Bukele-dominated El Salvador National Assembly fired the attorney general and five Supreme Court justices in what many saw as an attempt to consolidate power. months later that Supreme Court ruled The country’s president can serve two terms in a row, paving the way for Bukele to be re-elected. Both moves resulted in a condemnation from the Biden administration.

At the end of last year, Biden sanctioned Salvadoran government officials for corruption and allegedly facilitating and organizing secret meetings with jailed leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio-18 gangs.

Bukele fired back on Twitter, calling the allegations “absurd”.

“It is clear that the United States government does not accept any cooperation, friendship or alliance,” he said.

In a move that shows how difficult relations between the two countries are, Bukele skipped the Americas Summit hosted by the US in Los Angeles, a rare snub from a small country like El Salvador.

But despite skepticism about democracy, Salvadorans in the US and at home continue to support him. Pro Bukele rallies in Los Angeles, Long Island and Houston were recently organized by Salvadoreños en el Exterior. People chanted “re-election.” Bukele, desperate to win support in the US, tweeted videos of the rally.

Politicians allied with Bukele have traveled to different parts of the US to hold meetings with the Salvadorans. Last year, Bukele urged voters in a California congressional district to subsequently vote out their representative, Guatemalan-born Norma Torres, a Democrat a quarrel between the two on twitter. Torres said that after exchanging sharp tweets She slept with a gun nearby because she received “hateful messages”.

Torres is up for re-election in November and her constituency is heavily Democratic. Her office did not respond to multiple email requests for an interview.

More perception than reality?

Yesenia Portillo, a Los Angeles-raised Salvadoran-American activist, said there was an impression that Salvadorans in the US overwhelmingly supported Bukele.

But Portillo said there are many in the US who don’t support him and are “voicing their concerns louder, especially as more and more political exiles come to the US.”

Portillo said there is more opposition to Bukele in El Salvador than polls reflect.

“Feminists, LGBTI+, labor and environmental organizations in El Salvador have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands to criticize his policies and that often goes unnoticed,” she said.

Benedicto Benavides, 54, of South Central, Los Angeles, says Bukele’s high approval rating doesn’t reflect what the majority of Salvadorans really think.

“There are a lot of people who disagree with him,” Benavides said, though he added that Bukele is “very savvy on social media” and everything about him “looks good.”

consequences NBC Latin on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Many Salvadorans in the US are supporting the country’s president amid massive crackdowns and allegations of abuse

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