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Mac Margolis

Coronavirus Unmasks El Salvador’s Authoritarian-in-Waiting

President Nayib Bukele could learn a thing or two from Costa Rica’s effective democratic example.

Democracy catches the coronavirus.

Democracy catches the coronavirus.

Photographer: Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images


Latin America’s calendar is packed with homages to national heroes and historic watersheds. El Salvadorans will not soon forget February 9, 2020, when President Nayib Bukele marched into the National Assembly with soldiers to demand that lawmakers pass a languishing request for security loans.

His martial theatrics drew applause. Bukele enjoys rock-star ratings, while the Salvadoran legislature is encrusted with scoundrels and dominated by a tainted old guard. Young, media savvy and brilliantined, Bukele came to office promising efficiency and rectitude. With any luck, who knew, he might even help the violence-prone and democratically challenged nation morph into another Costa Rica, Central America’s gold standard for peace, progress and institutional integrity.