Commentary: Why I support Salvadoran President Bukele, the scourge of gangs and corrupt politicians

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.
(Arnulfo Franco / Associated Press)
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It’s no secret that I support Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador.

A few years ago, for all intents and purposes, I had no clue who Bukele was. He did come to the 2015 Day of the Salvadoran event in Los Angeles, but I missed seeing or meeting him. Every year at that event, tens of thousands of Salvadorans gather to celebrate their cultural heritage and to honor the Monument to the Divine Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. It is a powerful Roman Catholic tradition.

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In 2015, Bukele already may have been laying the groundwork for the presidential campaign that he won in 2019. I kept meeting people at various Salvadoran cultural events in my hometown of Los Angeles and they would say, “Bukele will win the presidential election.” Why, I thought, are they so certain?


At first I was skeptical and even wrote a column titled “Is Nayib Bukele the real deal or just another pajero?” I assumed that he may have been just another corrupt politician similar to the likes of Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderon Sol, Francisco Flores, Tony Saca, Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren. They were presidents belonging to either of El Salvador’s major political parties, ARENA and FMLN, who stole hundreds of millions of dollars to enrich themselves, while the citizenry struggled to survive.

ARENA is the right-wing National Republican Alliance political party, founded by Roberto D’Aubuisson, leader of the death squads that terrorized El Salvador in the early 1980s during its 12-year civil war. The CIA nicknamed D’Aubuisson “Blowtorch Bob” because his favorite method of torture was applying a blowtorch to his victims.

The FMLN party, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, was a conglomeration of the five guerrilla forces that fought against the Salvadoran government and military from until a peace accord was reached in 1992. More than 80,000 Salvadorans were killed during the war. Most analysts agree that the military and its right-wing allies were responsible for the vast majority of deaths. Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans had to flee to save their lives by crossing into Guatemala and Mexico, and eventually often immigrating to the United States.

After Bukele overwhelmingly won the 2019 El Salvador presidential election I began to pay more attention and I realized that he was the real deal: a leader who would stand up for the rights of citizens and root out corruption.

Bukele began to prosecute and incarcerate dozens of corrupt former politicians and supporters of ARENA and the FMLN. Several former presidents chose to leave El Salvador to avoid being prosecuted. Former FMLN president Funes ran to Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega provided Nicaraguan citizenship and protection from extradition to El Salvador. He was sanctioned in July by the U.S. State Department. Former ARENA president Francisco Flores had already passed away in 2016 while serving his prison sentence due to corruption.


Seeing that Bukele was serious, former ARENA president Alfredo Cristiana fled to Italy in order to avoid legal proceedings and possible incarceration. Soon, ARENA and the FMLN got the message that Bukele was no pushover.

Then Bukele decided to confront the gangs that had terrorized El Salvador for decades.

In the 1990s, massive numbers of Salvadoran gang members were deported back to their home country from the United States, where young men and women had been ripe for recruitment into established gangs in Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities. Although some U.S. elected officials and community leaders have claimed that most of these gang members were children victimized by the Salvadoran civil war, who joined gangs to protect their own neighborhoods, there is scant evidence of this. Many were adult criminals who preyed on their adopted U.S. communities.

Inmates identified by authorities as gang members are moved
In this photo provided by El Salvador’s presidential press office, inmates identified by authorities as gang members are moved at the Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador, on March 15.
(Uncredited / Associated Press)

Some Angelenos may view gang members through their impressions of programs like Homeboy Industries, founded by Father Gregory Boyle, which attempts to remove individuals from the gang life and help them reenter society. We do have to give credit to Father Boyle, but his efforts have helped only gang members who want to rehabilitate and change their lives for the better.

The gang members whom Bukele is cracking down on are different from those who returned to El Salvador in the 1990s and 2000s. The Salvadoran gangs that thrived before Bukele took office were using tactics similar to those of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS. They tortured, raped and killed women, children and senior citizens in a merciless manner. If people did not pay them the required extortion money, known as renta, they could be kidnapped, tortured and mutilated. Some were beheaded to instill terror within the citizenry.


As soon as Bukele took office, he implemented a zero tolerance policy toward any groups. He began to build up the military and law enforcement. According to a Reuters news report, “murders in El Salvador tumbled 56.8% in 2022 amid a widespread crackdown on gang violence.”

Bukele also built new prisons because the number of criminals were in the tens of thousands. Many out-of-touch human rights advocates and civil rights activists in the United States and other countries have denounced Bukele for sweeping up innocent people in the gang crackdowns, further alleging that some gang members have been denied basic human rights. ARENA and the FMLN conveniently joined forces to denounce Bukele as a dictator. Some relatives of gang members, who’ve benefited from the criminal activity and extortions, also have attacked Bukele. Did these family members cry or protest when their relatives chopped off the hands and heads of some of their victims? No. Some of these criminals even recorded their gruesome, sadistic and wicked actions.

Recently, Bukele appointed Colombian national Andres Guzman Caballero to be his presidential commissioner for human rights in El Salvador. This is a smart political move, since Bukele does need to recognize that, in some cases, human rights violations may occur. We hope that Andres Guzman Caballero can serve independently and effectively, in order to safeguard the human rights of innocent individuals who may become victims of rumors, false accusations, or profiling due to having tattoos or a shaved head.

Bukele is not just a hero in El Salvador, he is now a hero throughout Latin America, and even among Salvadoran Americans residing throughout the United States. The Salvadoran diaspora residing in Canada, Italy, Spain and Australia also overwhelmingly supports Bukele.

The FMLN’s biggest error was to kick Bukele out of the party. He was its most talented supporter. Now he is the biggest headache for ARENA, the FMLN and the corrupt special interests that would love to continue exploiting Salvadorans.


Bukele has leadership qualities similar to those of Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Fela Kuti, Miguel Larreynaga and Simón Bolívar. Bukele goes against the grain and he is no puppet. If the haters and his enemies do not murder him, he may achieve what the great 19th century Central American statesman Francisco Morazán wanted — a united Central America. Morazán served as president of the United Provinces of Central America from 1830 to 1840. He was self-educated and a natural leader, who eventually was betrayed and murdered by his enemies in 1840.

Bukele’s dream of uniting Central America may sound too idealistic or far-fetched, but it is dreamers and visionaries who usually make transformative change. What Bukele is saying is that we are in a post-colonial era and that El Salvador can and should be free from U.S. intervention in Salvadoran internal political affairs. Bukele is much more than a populist leader; he is a pragmatic leader who speaks and is able to capture the hearts and minds of millions of Salvadorans and non-Salvadorans throughout the world. He is a free and independent thinker who cannot be bought.

Now, finally, millions of Salvadorans can walk the streets and live in peace due to Bukele’s firm, effective safety measures. Some supporters even dare to say that the modern-day Divine Savior of El Salvador is named Nayib Armando Bukele, El libertador de su pueblo.

Randy Jurado Ertll is a teacher and nonfiction and fiction writer in Southern California, and author of the novel “The Lives and Times of El Cipitio.”