AP Photo/Salvador Melendez

Nayib Bukele’s Total Destruction of a European Reporter Illustrates El Salvador’s Turnaround

In early February, Nayib Bukele won re-election as President of El Salvador in a landslide. That came amid arguably the greatest turnaround for a country in modern history, in which the once-gang-infested Central American nation went from the most dangerous country in the Western hemisphere to the safest

Not everyone is happy with that result, though. Members of the global press have routinely criticized Bukele’s tough-on-crime policies, claiming they infringe on civil liberties. One reporter recently confronted him about that, and his response perfectly illustrates El Salvador’s turnaround.

Bukele: We took the recipes from the European Union. We took the recipes from the United States. None of the recipes worked, more blood-shed, more people dying. So what do we do? Okay, we do something and we save people, and now, we’re the safest country in the Western hemisphere, but suddenly, something is bad. 
“Oh, you shouldn’t do that, you should do what I think you should do.” Why? Not only do we have the right to do what we think is right and what the Salvadorian people are going to decide whether or not they want to stay with the election, but also, we’ve proven it works, and you haven’t proven your system works in our country. It might work in yours, I don’t know, but it doesn’t work in ours. 
It’s like I told one time a member of the European Union, I know you Brexited that, but I told a member of the European Union, “You take your best government…you chose your best government, same people, same talent, same experts, the same will to do things the right way, you take your best government and you put them to govern Afghanistan, and tell them, okay, you govern Afghanistan the same way you govern this European country.” You’ll be dead in a week because you can not govern Afghanistan like you govern Europe. So stop trying to make us use your recipes because they don’t work here.

I’ve made this argument surrounding the situation in Syria several times, a nation that is proof that things can always get worse. Just because a dictator is bad doesn’t mean the alternative is better. That’s uncomfortable for many Americans and Europeans to admit, but it is a realpolitik truth of world affairs. In the case of Syria’s civil war, in which Western nations funded Islamic jihadists under the guise of being “moderate rebels,” hundreds of thousands of people died in the name of “regime change.” 

What was the payoff? There wasn’t one. Not only did Bashar Al-Assad remain in power, but the part of Syria he controls remains one of the most secular in the Middle East while Islamic terrorism thrives in the sections of the country still held by “rebels.” That’s not a denial of Al-Assad’s atrocities during the civil war (which happened), but it is an acknowledgment of the reality on the ground. 

Would regime change to an Islamic fundamentalist government led by elements and allies of the Al-Nussra Front have provided a better life for Syrians? Of course, not. It would have only accelerated the oppression of normal people. 

The lesson? Sometimes there is no perfect answer, and Western politicians and journalists would be keen to understand that, even within the framework of their own countries. I’m not suggesting European nations revert to being dictatorships. I am suggesting that perhaps enforcing their own democratically enacted laws might be prudent given the chaos unfolding across their continent, largely due to the migrant crisis and more recently exasperated by pro-Hamas radicals taking over the streets.

With all that said, unlike Syria, El Salvador is not a dictatorship. It is a nation whose citizens elected Bukele to crack down on the drug cartels and gangs that had completely taken over, preventing people from even being able to walk down the street without fear of harm or death. That may make a reporter from the United Kingdom uncomfortable, but that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is what El Salvadorans want, and they overwhelmingly support the state of emergency that has allowed the swift arrest and incarceration of violent gang leaders and members.

Is it possible some people have been caught up in the dragnet who were just ancillary to gang activity? Certainly, that’s possible, but was having the Western hemisphere’s highest murder rate preferable? Was it preferable for the abduction of children and the rape of women to be commonplace? Again, sometimes, there is no perfect answer. Not every policy that works in the United States works in El Salvador.

Bukele will remain popular in his country because he’s taking action when others wouldn’t. Western leaders can think what they will about that, but they can’t deny it has worked. Frankly, the preening in the face of such a turnaround just comes across as petty. El Salvador may not be a carbon copy of European idealism, but it could never be that because its situation was and is fundamentally different. Some people may not want to accept that reality, but it’s reality nonetheless.

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