(CN) — When El Salvador’s newly elected National Assembly takes office on Saturday, it will constitute a remarkable transition, in a single generation, from one of the most murderous, corrupt governments in Central America to a functioning democracy. Yet you wouldn’t know it by listening to the highest levels of the U.S. government, and the lax reporting from our most trustworthy news outlets, including The New York Times and Washington Post.
Nayib Bukele won a fair presidential election in February 2019, under the banner of his newly formed Nuevas Ideas party. He took office on June 1, 2019, without a single member in the unicameral Salvadoran congress, dominated then, and until now, by the right-wing ARENA and nominally left-wing FMLN parties.
Then in February this year, Nuevas Ideas candidates won 56 of the 84 seats in the National Assembly, to ARENA’s 14 and the FMLN’s 4. It was a national repudiation of the two parties that have dominated El Salvador for a generation since the end of the civil war: parties that have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from the nation they purported to lead.
Since taking office, and despite fierce opposition from FMLN and ARENA, Bukele has carried out nationwide sweeps of the gangs with whom FMLN and ARENA shared the loot: MS-13 and Barrio 18.
Not surprisingly, FMLN, ARENA and the gangs have tried to thwart Bukele again and again, with no response from the United States, nor much reporting from the U.S. press, which repeatedly describes Bukele as “authoritarian,” “socialist” and worse.
Let’s look at what Bukele has done, without a single member in the National Assembly.
He exposed the FMLN’s and ARENA’s looting of the country’s treasury and is trying to recoup some of the hundreds of millions of dollars his predecessors have taken with them and hidden offshore.
He imprisoned gang leaders and their enforcers and confiscated their cellphones in prisons from which they continued to direct murders and extortions.
He restricted visits to imprisoned gang leaders to thwart the introduction of drugs and the gangsters’ ability to issue orders to the streets.
He ordered everyone inside the prisons to work — even the capos — and sent trustees to work outside the walls, repairing streets and bridges, and assigned worthy trustees to educate people about the perils of joining a gang.
He closed prisons throughout the country and is converting them to schools and cultural centers. The former prison in Chalatenango (a province and its capital city northeast of San Salvador — a major conflict zone during the civil war) is being converted to a branch campus of the national university system.
Bukele is closing prisons in Metapán (a province and its capital city in northwest Salvador, on the Guatemalan border), Usulután (a southeast province and its capital city) and Sonsonate (a southwest province and its capital city) and converting them to schools.
Ninety-five prisoners on work detail this week removed tons of garbage from the once-again picturesque Waterfall of Malacapiután in Ahuachapán Province in western El Salvador, according to the daily Diario El Salvador.
And in February, Bukele’s government began distributing laptop computers to all students in public schools, beginning with high schools. The students can keep their computers, according elsalvadorinfo.net. The project is funded with $450 million in tax revenue. (El Salvador’s national currency is the U.S. dollar, a step taken in 2001 to fight inflation of its former currency, the colón.)
For these initiatives and more, Bukele is tremendously popular today, especially among the poor. For more than a year, polls have shown him to be the most popular president in Latin America by a long shot, with more than 75% approval in El Salvador.