Despite criticism of human rights violations, the fight against crime has earned the young 40-year-old president, fond of social networks, a record popularity of 91%, according to a recent poll by the Cid Gallup Institute. .

The “maras” can count on a total workforce of 70,000 criminals, but Nayib Bukele intends to get El Salvador out of the sinister list of the most dangerous countries in the world, outside conflict zones.

After a wave of 87 murders at the end of March, the Salvadoran president declared a state of exception.

Since then, thousands of soldiers have been patrolling the streets and 35,000 suspected “mareros” have been thrown into prison without going before a judge, joining the 16,000 already detained.

– “Bitter Potion” –

“The exceptional regime is a bold decision, necessary in the face of a complicated phenomenon like that of criminal gangs”, judges political analyst Dagoberto Gutierrez for whom it is a “bitter but necessary potion”.

If the fight against the maras “affects their ability to cause harm” and that the criminal gangs are “routed or hiding”, they will not disappear in the short term, however, warns criminologist Ricardo Sosa.

The war against criminals is approved by “eight out of ten Salvadorans”, notes the highly respected Central American University (UCA, Jesuit).

President Bukele points to a drop from 2,398 murders in 2019 to 1,147 in 2021. However, his critics attribute this flattering record also to alleged secret negotiations between the government and gangs, which the authorities deny.

Critics also denounce what they consider to be an authoritarian drift by the president. The United States and international organizations have called on his government to respect human rights by pointing to massive arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of prisoners.

In May 2021, thanks to a parliament dominated by his supporters, Mr Bukele ousted the judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body. He also sacked the Attorney General as well as judges aged over 60 or with more than 30 years of service, ie a third of the 690 Salvadoran magistrates.

Washington, the UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) then gave voice by asking the government of El Salvador to respect the rule of law and freedom of the press.

“These three years (in power) have been marked by authoritarianism, attacks on the separation of powers,” judge analyst Eduardo Escobar, director of the association Action Citoyenne.

– Bitcoin storm –

On the economic front, President Bukele is trying to obtain a loan of 1.3 billion dollars from the IMF to clean up the finances of the country whose public debt is around 90% of GDP.

Indifferent to the storm on cryptocurrency whose value is plummeting, the “millennium president” also wants to issue bitcoin vouchers for an amount equivalent to a billion dollars to build a “Bitcoin City” near the Conchagua volcano, which would provide him with energy renewable and inexhaustible.

Since September 2021, bitcoin has indeed had the status of legal tender, in the same way as the dollar.

But the negotiations with the IMF, however crucial, are bogged down because the government refuses the conditions imposed on it, according to economist Rafael Lemus. “The government does not want to (comply) with IMF standards on transparency, monitoring and the fight against corruption,” said the economist.

Mr. Lemus is worried about a situation of “instability” of the country which risks being in default of payment of the debt.

A perspective firmly rejected by the Minister of Finance Alejandro Zelaya, who denounces the “prophets of chaos”.