El Salvador’s President Bukele Uses Sports to Deflect Criticism of Gang Crackdown

by Chloe Baker
gang crackdown

Amidst mounting criticism of his aggressive measures against gangs, President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador sought to divert attention by embracing sports. Addressing a massive crowd of enthusiastic sports fans, Bukele refuted accusations of dictatorship and invited people to ask ordinary citizens about the safety and perception of El Salvador. The opening ceremony of the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games became a platform for Bukele to showcase a safer country, despite allegations of human rights violations and democratic erosion under his rule.

Concerned observers argue that events like these, often labeled as “sportswashing,” allow autocratic governments to distract from controversies, improve their image, and project a modern facade to the world. This tactic has been employed by authoritarian leaders worldwide, with recent examples including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s investments in international sporting events.

While crime rates have dropped significantly in El Salvador due to Bukele’s crackdown on gangs, the government’s methods have drawn international condemnation, including from the Biden administration. Around 70,000 individuals, suspected of gang affiliation but with limited evidence, have been detained, with reports of minimal due process. Despite the criticism, Bukele’s approval ratings remain high, and his populist approach has garnered attention from neighboring countries, with politicians seeking to emulate his success.

The decline in violence has allowed Bukele’s government to host major events like the Central American and Caribbean Games and the upcoming Miss Universe pageant, portraying El Salvador in a positive light. The opening ceremony of the games featured technological innovations and renowned artists, contributing to the perception of a transformed nation. While supporters of Bukele enthusiastically embrace this new era, critics argue that the government is neglecting the plight of those affected by its harsh measures.

In addition to the sports spectacle, Bukele’s government has taken steps to consolidate power, such as reducing elected positions and diminishing the influence of the judiciary. Legal experts and opposition politicians see these actions as part of a broader strategy to solidify Bukele’s control ahead of the upcoming elections in February 2023. Critics argue that these moves undermine the principles enshrined in El Salvador’s constitution and limit democratic representation.

Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas, announced his intention to seek reelection on Twitter, sparking controversy. Despite using social media as his primary communication channel, Bukele has shared minimal information about his reelection campaign, instead focusing on posting videos of sports matches and other non-political content. Sportswashing remains an effective strategy for autocratic governments, although social media has made it more challenging to present major sporting events as apolitical.

While many Salvadorans celebrate the positive changes and vibrant atmosphere brought by the games, there are individuals and groups who continue to suffer under Bukele’s aggressive policies. Activists, union leaders, and opposition figures claim that intimidation tactics have escalated during the election season, with detentions and threats becoming more common. The fear of reprisals, imprisonment, and harassment haunts those who dare to criticize the government’s actions.

As gymnasts, swimmers, and runners competed within the stadium, largely unaware of the surrounding political developments, ordinary citizens like Ingrid Escobar faced ongoing fears and threats. The games provided a brief respite from everyday worries, but for those directly affected by the crackdown, the impact remains unignorable.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about gang crackdown

What is the Central American and Caribbean Games?

The Central American and Caribbean Games is a large international sporting event that brings together athletes from 35 countries in the region to compete in various sports disciplines.

Why did President Bukele use the games to showcase a safer El Salvador?

President Bukele used the games as an opportunity to portray El Salvador as a safer country amidst his government’s crackdown on gangs. By hosting the event successfully and highlighting the dip in crime rates, he aimed to improve the country’s international image and gain support from both domestic and global audiences.

What is sportswashing?

Sportswashing refers to the use of sports events by autocratic governments to divert attention from controversies and improve their reputation. By associating themselves with successful sporting events, such governments aim to distract from internal problems, present a positive image, and gain acceptance or popularity.

What criticisms has President Bukele faced for his gang crackdown?

President Bukele’s aggressive measures against gangs have drawn international criticisms, including allegations of systematic human rights violations. Concerns have been raised regarding the lack of due process for the large number of individuals detained, as well as the labeling of individuals as gang members without sufficient evidence.

How has President Bukele consolidated power ahead of the upcoming elections?

President Bukele’s government has taken steps to consolidate power by reducing elected positions and undermining the influence of the judiciary. These actions have been viewed as attempts to increase Bukele’s control over the political landscape and limit democratic representation.

What impact has President Bukele’s crackdown had on public perception and approval ratings?

Despite international criticism, President Bukele’s tough stance on gangs has resulted in a significant drop in crime rates in El Salvador. This has contributed to high approval ratings, with a CID Gallup poll indicating an approval rating of 90% in June. However, there are concerns that the positive perception of safety and support may overshadow the human rights concerns and erosion of democracy under his rule.

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PoliticalObserver July 9, 2023 - 3:53 am

It’s concerning to see Bukele using sporting events to boost his popularity and divert attention from the serious issues at hand. The international community should not be swayed by these tactics and should continue to hold him accountable for his actions.

SoccerFanatic July 9, 2023 - 7:11 am

Who cares about politics? Let’s focus on the games and the athletes. That’s what matters here. Go El Salvador!

SportsFan23 July 9, 2023 - 9:46 am

so Bukele thinks that by showing off these games he can distract everyone from his problems typical move by politicians i’m more interested in the actual sports tho

GrammarNazi88 July 9, 2023 - 11:30 am

Wow, this text is full of errors and sloppy writing. Can’t they find someone who knows how to spell and use proper grammar? It’s hard to take this seriously when it’s so poorly written. SMH.

JaneDoe19 July 9, 2023 - 6:29 pm

el salvador president bukele using sport to hide his wrongs what a surprise but seriously why does he get to host these games when there are human rights issues it’s like they want to cover it all up smh


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