SLR: Gayton must go the full Bukele on crime

Simon Lincoln Reader praises Niyab Bukele, the President of El Salvador, as one of the most interesting political personalities in the world today. Bukele is described as deeply thoughtful with an interest in all major religions, and an outsider who won the presidential election in 2019. The article discusses Bukele’s domestic policies, which include a crackdown on gang violence, particularly the Mara Salvatrucha gang and the 18th Street Gang. Bukele’s policies have resulted in a significant reduction in the homicide rate in El Salvador. The article also mentions Gayton McKenzie, a South African outsider-turned-kingmaker, and suggests that adopting Bukele’s tough stance on crime could boost his political prospects.

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

Outside of my friend Gayton McKenzie or Robert F Kennedy, the most interesting political personality in the world today is Niyab Bukele, the President of El Salvador. 

Deeply thoughtful with a demonstrable interest in all of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Bukele was voted into office in 2019 as an outsider – a pattern that resembles Gayton’s own ascent. El Salvador’s politics were historically binary; Bukele assumed something of the centre, which is understandably confusing for the kind of low grade political reporting that swamps the BBC, the New York Times and much of America’s legacy networks. If your commercial terms are based on the conviction that there’s no business model in unity, then all you’ve done is afforded damaged people the opportunity to express publicly just how damaged they are. This is true of the BBC’s lazy journalists, as revealed excruciatingly by Elon Musk. 

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In 2021, sensing that digital currencies are the future, Bukele lobbied for legislative approval making Bitcoin legal tender in El Salvador. This generated intrigue and insults, as Bitcoin’s price nearly halved a year after its historic height. Bukele’s vision did not impress traditional central bankers who jeered him as “mad”. Bukele, one of the more based profiles in global politics, returned the jeer when the Bank of England announced yet another of its hare-brained, “quantitative easing” jollies. 

But more pertinent to SA’s future – particularly as they relate to Gayton’s sentiments around crime – are Bukele’s domestic policies. Because El Salvador has a gang problem that makes the Cape Flats look civilised. 

The Mara Salvatrucha gang (“MS-13”) is one of the most violent on the planet. Established just over an hour from where I write in Los Angeles by Salvadorian immigrants, it returned home, then spread to other vulnerable parts of Central America. Opposition to MS-13 arose in the form of “Barrio 18”, or 18th Street Gang, also formed in Los Angeles. Up to a tenth of El Salvador’s population is employed by MS-13 and 18th Street; in both the US and El Salvador, their crimes include murder, assault, drug-dealing and home invasions. Inevitably, their victims at home are always poor – abroad, other immigrants. 

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Upon being elected, Bukele launched a series crackdowns. Unlike the present US, the UK and SA, whose politicians and activist groups and media are manifestly pro-crime, there was no “defund the police” or social worker interventions – happily, Open Society wasn’t there to fund the elections of radical, pro-crime district attorneys. Rather it was a combination of Rudy Gulliani’s “broken windows”, high visibility and empowerment of enforcement agencies, including salary raises for police and restored military tactics (Lee Kuan Yew gamesmanship). Then last year, on the 26th March, 62 people were murdered by MS-13 or 18th Street. Bukele responded by instituting a state of emergency; in just under a year, over 67,000 people have been arrested – anyone boasting a tattoo with faint resemblance to either gang was fair game. The move coincided with a measure of Bukele’s anti-crime policies: polls suggested overwhelming support for Bukele (91% support – 78% strongly support). El Salvadore’s homocide rate, previously one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere, reduced by half in three years, then more recently (January 2023) by another quarter. 

One month ago, Bukele announced the completion of the mega-prison – the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (amazing name). In another genius move, he ordered portrait images of the prisoners – heavily tattooed men wearing only white boxers – to be distributed across the world, prompting squealing from pro-crime organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. When legacy reporters find themselves snookered they scramble to what they don’t believe in and ordinarily dismiss – God – something that emerged in the dreadful Los Angeles Times yesterday: “With more than 67,000 people arrested in El Salvador’s crackdown against gangs, there’s little attention to what’s disappeared along the way: burgeoning work by evangelical pastors who believed gang members could change,” it screeched. But Bukele’s response was swift: “These pastors are right,” he tweeted, “God can redeem anyone…but here on Earth they still must face the consequences of their actions.” 

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At home Gayton’s prospects as outsider-turned-kingmaker are steadily improving. Going total Bukele on crime will further boost his chances but even more, it will hold to fire those aided by his participation in 2024’s election. And the only people who will disagree are the destructive forces of US, UK and SA politics, activism and media – bad ideas accompanied by powerful handlers – so damaged, so deluded, so fiddled with that all they know is to hurt others.

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*Simon Lincoln Reader works and lives in London. You can follow him on Substack.