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5 Things to Know About El Salvador’s New President

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El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele

The smallest country in Latin America has elected a new president.

For a nation smaller than the state of Massachusetts, El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the word (51 per 100,000 people, or 10 times the US’s rate). It’s also the second-deadliest non-war zone in the world. After a 12-year-long civil war decimated the country in the ‘80s, present-day residents of El Salvador continue to experience daily violence and insecurity; all the while American politicians warn of the encroaching transnational threat of Salvadoran-affiliated maras, or gangs, like MS-13.

Depending on who you ask, Nayib Bukele is the innovating anti-establishment candidate the country was waiting for, or the media-hungry millennial who will prove his inexperience and naiveté with unaffordable policies and unqualified cabinet appointments. Either way, he’s poised to disrupt the status-quo Central Americans expect from their politicians, so we spoke with SIS professor Charles Call, whose newest piece on the subject appeared in the Brookings’ Order from Chaos blog, to better understand how the newcomer could change things for the nation—and the hemisphere.

1.) His anti-corruption campaign struck a nerve in a country where three former presidents have recently been indicted or are serving time for corruption charges. His win also reinforces the international sentiment of Latin Americans fed up with corrupt politicians: (Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama all have former presidents under investigation or convicted.)

2.) He’s the first candidate in 30 years to win the country’s presidency from a party unassociated with El Salvador’s brutal civil war.

3.) He believes in emphasizing private-sector approaches to confront insecurity and violence—rather than hardline military and police measures.

4.) He’s promised to set up an international anti-corruption mission to help the country’s attorney general prosecute corruption more effectively.

5.) He’s cool. Bukele’s informal and accessible public image propelled him from friendly-faced mayor of the country’s capital to president. The 37-year-old relied primarily on social media to campaign, and he wore jeans and a leather jacket for his victory speech.