“I bring you greetings from the land of surf, volcanoes, coffee, peace, Bitcoin, and freedom.” This is how Nayib Bukele began his speech at United Nations General Assembly, held annually in New York.
Bukele dedicated his speech to “freedom” and used it to invoke the principle of a country’s sovereignty while criticizing rich and strong countries that interfere in the affairs of their smaller and poorer neighbors.
Bukele made his point by likening a poor country to somebody attempting to change the leaking roof of a house while more powerful neighbors pressured them to keep it. This euphemism is likely directed at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US, as El Salvador struggles to find ways to pay its debt while negotiating for aid.
El Salvador’s government currently owes up to $24 billion in debt, an amount that’s been accumulating exponentially since the military junta seized power in 1979. The IMF is projecting that the country’s debt will grow to $38 billion by 2027, and although it’s praised El Salvador’s recent economic rebound after the Covid pandemic, it has severely crticized Bukele’s Bitcoin strategy.
Last year, El Salvador introduced legislation that made bitcoin legal tender and has since spent $104 million on 2,301 bitcoin at an aggregate price of around $45,100 per coin. The IMF has criticized these purchases saying that “relying on leverage and thus increasing public debt to invest in bitcoin with the expectations of its continuous rise in price, while also timing the market to acquire bitcoin, is not a permanent solution to ease financing constraints.”
The country also recently announced that it will be using $360 million of its foreign-currency reserves to buy back government bonds at a discount in an attempt to stall fears of default.
Following his speech at the UNGA, Bukele also appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show where the host lauded Bukele’s seemingly-successful war against crime. El Salvador, with a population of only 6.5 million people, was previously considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world, seeing more than 6,650 murders in 2015 alone.
The murder rate has decreased substantially since then with a total of 1,140 people killed last year. Today, the capital city, San Salvador, ranks as the 24th most dangerous city in the world just behind Baltimore in the US.
Among other things, Bukele discussed with Carlson his threat to stop feeding imprisoned gang members if they continue to order murders from behind bars. He described prisons as headquarters of crime.
What Carlson didn’t mention is that murder rates in El Salvador have been decreasing since 2016 and Bukele came to power in 2019 when the trend in crime was already down. Bukele has ruffled feathers as he announced he’ll be seeking re-election in 2024 despite the constitution saying that the president cannot serve consecutive terms.
Local opposition parties, groups, and human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized and accused Bukele’s government of human rights violations. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos) has criticized the Bukele government for militarizing the state and the police, pointed to the increased cases of disappearances of people, and also noted a serious problem of misogyny, sexism, and discrimination against women and LGBT people throughout society.