DPA /Mexico City
The Supreme Court of El Salvador has admitted an unconstitutionality lawsuit against President Nayib Bukele, who on Sunday was accompanied into parliament by armed soldiers in an ongoing stand-off with lawmakers.
At the request of two citizens, the court admitted the case against Bukele and ordered him to refrain from using the armed forces “in activities contrary to (their) constitutionally established purposes.”
Bukele’s decision to bring armed soldiers into the parliament building during an extraordinary session on Sunday was seen as act of intimidation to secure a $109mn loan to better equip the country’s military.
The president appealed to an article from the constitution to force the session, but the majority of lawmakers were uncertain of the legality of the call and did not attend the session.
He also threatened to allow a popular uprising if the loan were not approved by the following Sunday. The Supreme Court will now determine whether the call for an extraordinary session was constitutional or not and, in the meantime, ordered as a precautionary measure that any action related to the dispute be paused.
One of Bukele’s campaign pledges ahead of his election victory eight months ago was to tackle the country’s powerful criminal gangs, whose battle for territorial control makes El Salvador one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of a war zone.
The 38-year-old president has deployed the country’s military to recapture land from the gangs.
Local media, including elSalvador.com, cited opposition lawmakers as saying that there had been almost no discussion of Bukele’s plan and that the lack of information about how the money would be used prevented them from making an informed decision. “We cannot react to the executive with a gun to our heads,” Mario Ponce, the head of El Salvador’s opposition-controlled Legislative Assembly, wrote on Twitter.
He also condemned the “institutional crisis generated by the executive branch” and called on the United Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to monitor the situation.
The presence of soldiers in the parliament building drew heavy criticism from international rights activists, who argued it undermined parliamentary independence.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the head of Human Rights Watch in the Americas, condemned the incident on Twitter, referring to it as “a show of brute force.” Amnesty International’s Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said the incident was reminiscent of “the darkest times of El Salvador’s history,” referring to the civil war that ended in 1992.
“The multiple reports of snipers stationed near the legislative assembly, the unnecessary military presence and the restrictions on press freedom could mark the beginning of a dangerous route for institutions and for human rights in the country,” she said.
Bukele dismissed the accusations of authoritarianism in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais.
“If I were a dictator or someone who doesn’t respect democracy, I would have taken control of everything,” the 38-year-old said.
Bukele came to power in June 2019, after pledging to counter the legacy of corruption and gang violence in the country and promising to stem illegal migration through Guatemala to the US.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
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