You hear a lot about the popularity of El Salvador’s authoritarian-trending president, Nayib Bukele, who has overseen an anti-gang “state of exception” that has jailed more than 1 percent of the country’s population since March 2022.
The result has been a sharp drop in violent crime that has people throughout the Americas saying “we need a Bukele here.” But there’s a dark side that’s evident to all who care enough not to look away.
One who’s not looking away is filmmaker Amada Torruella, whose short film “La Isla” appears today on the website of the New Yorker. It’s about the family of a man who authorities took away during a sweep early in the state of emergency, even though the part of coastal El Salvador where he lives does not have a significant gang presence.
The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer narrates:
The subjects of Torruella’s film are all female—the wives, mothers, and sisters of the men who have been arrested and sent to prison. “We had just come back from doing some shopping,” one of them says, “when suddenly an officer from the Armed Forces approached him.” She sits on a tidy bed in a small house, sifting through legal papers; her partner has been gone eighteen days. “It’s a lie,” she says, of the government’s accusation. Five months later, she’s still not heard anything from him.
Even though El Salvador’s homicide rate is now purported to be nearly as low as Denmark’s, there is no end in sight to the “state of exception” limiting basic rights, which has been renewed 18 times by Bukele’s legislative supermajority. As Bukele heads for re-election next year even though the country’s laws forbid it, he at least needs to end the pain of thousands of innocents caught up in his sweeps.