Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Letter to the Editor: A Bukele Aide Defends the Security Crackdown

A response from AQ’s readers.
El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks at a new community center in January, 2023.Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In response to Ricardo J. Valencia’s May 2 article for AQ, “U.S. Citizens Are Getting Caught Up in El Salvador’s Mass Arrests,” a reader writes:

Ricardo J. Valencia’s recent article offered zero evidence that would support his hyperbolic headline. He mentions only two U.S. citizens who were arrested and notes that they were quickly released. He does not provide any proof of others at all. This opinion piece is the very definition of yellow journalism, based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.

El Salvador has no policy to arrest the innocent. In fact, the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety alongside the Attorney General’s office are working very hard to ensure only those with gang affiliations remain incarcerated. To date, of the 68,294 arrests made (as of May 4), over 4,000 have been freed. Of course, this is an inconvenient fact for those who are trying to paint a different picture, so it is ignored. Bukele does not want anyone who is innocent in prison, whether they are U.S. citizens or not. A terrorist is a terrorist no matter the nationality.

There is a reason Bukele has a 91% approval rating after nearly four years in office—this is unheard of in any democracy. The people of El Salvador also overwhelmingly approve by over 92% the state of exception, which is responsible for lowering the crime rate and homicides to numbers never before seen in El Salvador or anywhere in the Americas, the United States included.

The insinuation that authorities “disproportionately target anyone who ‘looks like’ a gang member” is preposterous. Racist and unfounded comments such as these should not be part of the conversation. The vast majority of arrests are conducted following either investigations or pending arrest warrants. Over 95% of those arrested gang members have already seen a judge and are awaiting trial.

The insinuation that bitcoin advisers Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert get special privileges is even more outrageous. They are bitcoin maximalists who volunteer and are helping the president and El Salvador become the new Singapore. They waited close to a year to receive their residency papers, because they followed the law and refused to ask for favors. This is a cheap shot and has no intellectual argument.

I agree that the Biden administration must do more: They should replicate the successful model that has brought back human rights to the population of El Salvador, something lacking in the rest of the Americas.

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz understand what a solid ally President Bukele is for the United States, especially at a time when the vast majority of leaders in the region are anti-U.S. and/or unpopular with their own constituents. For example, Gustavo Petro in Colombia and Gabriel Boric in Chile, who have approvals at 36% and 30% respectively, with only about a year in office.

While President Rodrigo Chaves in Costa Rica continues to enjoy approval of 63%, the country unfortunately has become dangerous and a major cocaine exporter. Meanwhile, El Salvador, working hand in hand with the U.S. military’s Southern Command, has reached record levels of maritime interceptions of cocaine trafficking, totaling over 13 tons and more than $300 million in interceptions in 2022.

President Bukele is implementing common sense policies that keep the people safe and grow the economy. Gang members today are where they belong, behind bars, not on the streets where they terrorized and killed innocent civilians. By the way, no one ever writes about them. Because these terrorists are in prison, El Salvador has enjoyed over 350 days without homicides, according to government data.

Lastly, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador William Duncan highlighted the freedom of press that exists in the country this week, as opposed to the dangerous conditions journalists experience in countries like Mexico and Colombia.

Lonely Planet has named El Salvador as one of the main travel destinations for 2023—see for yourself!

Damian Merlo is an advisor to President Bukele.

Tags: El Salvador, El Salvador Gangs, Nayib Bukele
Like what you've read? Subscribe to AQ for more.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Sign up for our free newsletter