It doesn’t sound like bad news for Nayib Bukele. At first. On October 21, the Mexican pollster Mitofsky published a ranking of the most popular leaders in America; At the top of the table, with 71% approval, is the Salvadoran. The issue arises when that figure is compared with a similar survey from March 2021, done by the same house, in which Bukele appears with 84% acceptance. A thirteen point slump in seven months. In the bukelist narrative that is not good.
Edwin Segura, head of LPG Data, the newspaper’s public opinion research unit The printing press, believes that the complicated thing for the president would be for these numbers to mark a trend, but warns that the comparison of Mitofsky’s two figures, the one for March and the one for October, are still not enough to speak of a downward trend.
“There are only two points (of comparison), you have to wait for a third measurement to appear to confirm that it is falling. It is a reduction, without a doubt, but we do not know if it is irreversible ”, says Segura.
Two predecessors of Bukele in the presidency, Antonio Saca of the right-wing ARENA and Mauricio Funes of the left-wing FMLN, also began their terms with high numbers, although neither of them reached the approval levels of the current president, according to the historical record of LPG Data.
Saca and Funes kept their approval numbers fairly constant in the first half of the term. Saca’s numbers began to decline steadily after his third year.
It is worth mentioning that some of Bukele’s image and propaganda consultants are the same ones that Saca had, such as Ernesto Sanabria, your press secretary, or Porfirio Chica, one of its main propagandists, who was also a partner of Christian Guevara, the head of the ruling party in the Legislative Assembly and one of the most loyal political operators to the president.
Anyway, the Salvadoran president He has been, so far, one of the most popular in the country’s political history, with numbers that until very recently said that 8 out of 10 Salvadorans had a good opinion of him and his management. But, mid-term, Bukele has already faced the first signs of popular discontent. in the form of street demonstrations that have claimed him for his intention to be reelected despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits it and for making bitcoin legal currency.
So far, Bukele’s propaganda apparatus appears to have been successful in containing political crises and changing the narrative whenever it has been adverse to the president and his government. In light of the numbers, that could be changing.
To understand the importance for Bukele, his government and his narrative has the acceptance of the president must go to the emotional connection that the young politician has achieved with society whose political destinies he directs. Amparo Marroquín, a Salvadoran professor specializing in political communication, explains: “He has built an emotional relationship with his followers based on three strategies. The first has to do with faith; he is a chosen one. The second is to embody in yourself a romantic love story; society has seen him be a boyfriend, husband, father… And finally he has become the spokesperson for certain emotionalities that are very present in society ”.
Bukele, estimates Marroquín, “he says what everyone wants to hear and later it doesn’t matter what he says because ‘it’s ours’, it’s ‘of the people’ “.
Ivonne Rivera, professor of social communication at the Central American University (UCA), also believes that Emotion is fundamental in Bukele’s communication, marked by “excessive emotionality, sarcasm, biased interpretations and, lacking data that do not pass the tests of methodological rigor in the production of the information necessary to be considered as reliable facts.”
Says Rivera: “If President Bukele’s speech and his communication plans are successful, it is because he also has the approval of many Salvadorans who see him as a hope to rebuild the country.”
In this logic, downward approval figures, which speak of a beginning of rupture or disconnection with the emotionality of the group are not good news.
Feverish propaganda and a complicated end of the year
Since October 20, when Mitofsky published his poll, the official propaganda apparatus, almost always headed by the president, has not stopped.
In two weeks, Bukele laid the first stone of a veterinary hospital that he said will be built with profits from the investment in bitcoin, announced renovations in two others, reopened a road project in the most important city in eastern Salvadoran, announced the repair of the main one Water purification plant of Greater San Salvador, said it will deliver 200,000 computers to students and anticipated that it will build 20 schools, also with bitcoin profits.
For the first time since the pandemic, the president was seen on the ground outside of San Salvador.
Regarding the works financed with the supposed profits of bitcoin, it is difficult to determine the veracity of the presidential assertion about the origin of the investment. In addition, the Bukele administration has made it impossible to access information of this type through reforms to the law on access to public information or simply by blocking its officials., it remains unclear what the real returns are from the public money that the state has invested in the cryptocurrency so far.
Nor is it known, in the case of bitcoin, how US $ 200 million diverted from the budget have been invested to operate a trust that, among other things, feeds the operation of the Chivo Wallet computer application, with which the government has circulated the bitcoin.
Journalistic investigations have shown that Venezuelan Bukele advisers have reached into Chivo Wallet and that the company that houses the application, also financed with public funds, has former Alba Petróleos operators, the business network created with money from the Venezuelan state PDVSA investigated for money laundering in El Salvador and the United States.
And, in the case of the announced infrastructure projects, most are financed with funds managed by administrations prior to Bukele’s.
In addition, as is usual in the presidential narrative in times of crisis, Bukele lashed out at those who have been labeled adversaries. This time, In addition to re-targeting journalists critical of his administration, he took it against his most recent enemy: the United States embassy.
On the weekend of October 30, the president’s party, New Ideas (NI), released an audio in which a man who is supposed to speak on behalf of the diplomatic headquarters embarks on an apparent negotiation to break the official bench . Immediately afterwards, the head of the NI fraction, Christian Guevara, announced that they would make a complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, controlled by a Bukele acolyte. On his Twitter account, Bukele himself suggested that the crime to be investigated is active bribery, equivalent to bribery in Salvadoran criminal law.
The embassy was quick to deny any link to the audio and people related to it.
Earlier, on October 23, two days after Mitofsky’s post, Bukele had used his Twitter account to fuel a public confrontation with Juan González, Joe Biden’s main adviser on Latin American issues. and who has been one of the US officials who has criticized the authoritarian drift of the Salvadoran in a more public way.
González had told a news agency that the United States was doing everything possible so that “El Salvador does not become another Venezuela,” to which Bukele responded by questioning Washington’s policy in Afghanistan.
After the incident of the audio leaked by New Ideas, Rolando Castro, Minister of Labor, requested the departure of Jean Manes, the American business manager in San Salvador. Castro is one of 19 Salvadorans named in the call Lista Engel, prepared by the State Department with names of officials identified for corruption or links to organized crime.
In addition to Castro, the Engel List includes Bukele’s chief of staff, his legal secretary, the former Minister of Security and the former Minister of Agriculture (a personal friend of the president), as well as the head of prisons, accused of appropriating public funds during the pandemic and being the main operator of the pact between the government and the gangs. In a second installment of the list, the United States included the five Supreme Court justices imposed by Bukele and who have paved the way for presidential re-election.
Since July 1, when the Engel List was made public, the tension between Washington and San Salvador has not stopped growing.
What remains of 2021 does not seem easy for the president. Facing Washington, according to two US diplomats consulted by Infobae, A third installment of the list is coming, which this time could include deputies and officials closest to Bukele.
In November, in addition, the negotiations between El Salvador and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a financing of US $ 1.2 billion, which stalled after the Legislative Assembly dominated by bukelistas dismissed the magistrates of the Supreme Court. and the attorney general to impose related officials. The talks with the Fund also suffered, according to an official of the multilateral system in the United States, due to the insistence on the implementation of bitcoin and because the Salvadoran government has not given an account of how funds granted by the IMF were used during the pandemic.
Bukele will face all of this in the short term, this time with a fissure in the most solid rock on which he rests his power: his popularity.