By Benedicte Bull (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Until now, El Salvador has been known abroad mainly for civil war and brutal gangs. For the past few years, it has exported little more than migrants. But now a political experiment is underway that could give the country a “soft power” at the international level that it has never had before.
The experiment has been initiated by President Nayib Bukele using what is called “Bukelism”. Although it is known as an “-ism”, it is not a political ideology, but rather a political method. It has become very popular in his country and politicians from other countries are trying to copy it. In fact, this method may become more important for understanding Latin American politics than the traditional right-left axis. And perhaps, it may also be able to generate influence outside Latin America.
The method is both simple and technically advanced. It is not about visions of social development with goals, principles, and plans. The guiding principle is to retain and strengthen the power of President Nayib Bukele and his inner circle by ensuring that his popularity remains high at all times.
Bukelism incorporates strategies of Latin American authoritarian populists from Hugo Chavez to Jair Bolsonaro, and has traits of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Rodrigo Duterte. At the same time, Bukelism has developed far more sophisticated communication strategies and has taken politics into the virtual media world further than anyone else. There, the troop of “Nayibeliebers” (inspired by Justin Bieber’s “beliebers”) are fed with finely honed messages depicting a cool, youthful, modern, humorous, and relaxed Bukele, who appeals to a young population many of whom have one foot in the United States and one in El Salvador.
Since the civil war, the average annual number of murders in El Salvador has been around 4,000. But last year, 496 murders were registered and the trend continues downward. Cases of extortion have been reduced by 70-90% (depending on the area) and people are ba