State Department Shows Support for Bukele

Press Release

On October 26, El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele officially submitted his application to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to register as the presidential candidate for his Nuevas Ideas party in the upcoming February 2024 elections, despite numerous constitutional prohibitions on consecutive presidential terms. Days before, the National Civilian Police had closed off the streets around the TSE, while rumors swirled about the presidential battalion taking over the building to make way for Bukele’s anticipated arrival.

It was in this context that the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Brian A. Nichols flew to El Salvador to shake hands with Bukele at the Presidential Palace. On Twitter, Nichols touted the October 24 meeting as “excellent,” noting topics of discussion such as “mutual efforts to address irregular immigration” and “bilateral collaboration on rule of law,” a deeply troubling prospect given the Bukele administration’s widespread disregard for Salvadoran and international law.

This visit and its timing solidify a concerning trend of increased public support from the U.S. government for the Bukele administration in the months leading up to the 2024 presidential, legislative and municipal elections, all while his intention to remain in office in violation of at least five articles of the Salvadoran constitution and to further consolidate political control through drastic changes to the country’s electoral system has been entirely clear. In August, Secretary Blinken welcomed El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco with a press conference in Washington, followed by a September donation of two helicopter engines by the U.S. Ambassador William Duncan to the Salvadoran Air Force.

When asked during a press conference about the legality of reelection, Assistant Secretary Nichols washed his hands of the matter, saying that “[Salvadorans] will have the opportunity to express their will at the polls and they can decide if they are in agreement or not with the process.”

Following his meeting at Bukele’s Presidential Palace, Assistant Secretary Nichols met with staff at the Institute for Human Rights (IDHUCA) at the University of Central America José Simeón Cañas, where death squads assassinated six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989, Nichols tweeted about the U.S.’ an “unwavering commitment to supporting and protecting civil society actors in El Salvador.”

In reality, however, the Biden administration has chosen to look the other way during the past nineteen months of a now indefinite State of Exception, characterized by systematic human rights abuses, and the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of Salvadorans and other international citizens without due process, including dozens of labor union leaders and land defenders.


“What Assistant Secretary Nichols’ visit to El Salvador, and its timing, on the eve of President Bukele’s official bid to overstay his term limit in blatant violation of the Salvadoran constitution, makes crystal clear is that the United States supports the illegal and unconstitutional candidacy of Nayib Bukele in the February 2024 election.

The United States should absolutely respect the right of Salvadorans to decide their own political future. But to say this is a matter that can be decided at the ballot box promotes two dangerous falsehoods: first, that the results of February’s election could somehow justify or erase the unconstitutionality of Bukele's reelection bid, and second, that the election itself - set to take place after years of basic rights being suspended, unchecked human rights violations, and widespread political persecution - could be truly free and fair. These are the very illusions that the Bukele regime is promoting, and it is shameful that the State Department would give them credence.

Far from being neutral on the matter of Bukele’s presidency, the U.S. continues to back the massive police and military apparatus and growing prison industrial complex that Bukele is using to intimidate and punish political opponents, grassroots groups and communities across the country who dare to organize in defense of their hard-won democracy and their rights.

It is outrageous, although not surprising, that the United States government is choosing to put its weight behind Bukele, presumably in hopes he will carry out their economic and geopolitical interests, at the expense of the Salvadoran people. Nor is this the first time that the United States is pushing for ostensibly democratic elections to “resolve” a constitutional crisis and to embolden right-wing governments to take office illegitimately; the Obama administration rushed to do the very same after the U.S.-backed coup against President Zelaya in Honduras in 2009.

Once again, we see the hypocrisy of a United States government claiming to care about human rights and democracy, while simultaneously backing leaders who systematically violate these principles and financing their repressive security apparatus.

CISPES recognizes that those with a true commitment to protecting democracy in El Salvador are the popular social movement groups, led by and made up of workers, young people, feminists, and agricultural communities, who continue to protest in the streets - despite the very real threats of persecution and imprisonment under deadly conditions - to denounce Bukele’s abuses and attempt to bury the constitution and the 1992 Peace Accords that finally gave rise to democracy in El Salvador.

We call on the Biden Administration to immediately end its reprehensible support for the Bukele regime, and on Congress to take action to withhold security cooperation and other forms of assistance that facilitate and embolden repression in El Salvador.”


With media inquiries, please contact Alexis Stoumbelis: [email protected]

Take action here to tell Congress to demand that the U.S. State Department END its endorsement of President Bukele’s repression and his unconstitutional reelection campaign and WITHDRAW U.S. security financing and training to his repressive military regime!

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