Is Ulloa Bukele’s Puppet or Not?

Is Ulloa Bukele's Puppet or Not?

ON CAMPAIGN IN COLORADO | Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador. (Photo/ Colorado Trade)

Jesús Sánchez Meleán

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I was eager to hear from you, Dr. Félix Ulloa, regarding a question that I had been contemplating since I learned of your arrival in Colorado. Yes, I confess I was somewhat confused. I wasn’t clear on whether I would be able to speak with you, considering your roles: Vice President of El Salvador, Vice President of El Salvador on leave, or candidate for Vice President of El Salvador. I could adjust my question depending on your role.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t speak with you in any of your three roles. Your nephew, who serves as your secretary in all three roles, denied me any possibility of speaking with you. The first thing he did was demand that I tell him what that question I had been thinking about was. When I shared it with him, his reaction was categorical. “Not that question. Ask something else. There’s no interview because we’ve already won,” said the young but well-trained assistant.

My question was different from the title of the article. I respect you. You have the trajectory and hierarchy to get my attention. My question had to do with reelection; I couldn’t have any other interest. As I understand it, the constitution of El Salvador indicates that immediate reelection is not allowed. Both Bukele and you, his vice president, reiterated endlessly that reelection in 2024 was not possible.

Your nephew didn’t want to understand me. For me, it was important to converse with you on such a debated and transcendent issue for Salvadorans and the rest of Latin Americans. I aspired to hear and even understand your arguments. The specific question was, why didn’t a government with such great popular support call for a constituent assembly to introduce presidential reelection in a new constitution?

Now, as I write to you, I think the question was even a foolish one. It’s just that I assumed that going to a constituent assembly would allow them to debate the issue of reelection, which has a history of resistance from many Salvadorans, as I understand. A popular president like Bukele, with the help of a knowledgeable man like yourself, could easily gain support on this issue.

By incorporating reelection into a potential new constitution, no one could say, there or anywhere in the world, that the Bukele administration violates the Salvadoran constitution. With that slight effort, such a popular government would dispel doubts about its legality and legitimacy. Going to a constituent assembly was an option, once your effort to advance a constitutional reform went nowhere.

You stumbled upon the windmills of Salvadoran constitutional law: the entrenched clauses. These are articles that could not be modified by a reform. Specifically, Article 248, which refers to the system of government and the principle of alternation. These are unalterable. That’s why I wanted you to tell me why you discarded going to a constituent assembly, which meant consulting the population on reelection and altering those principles.

But how naive I am. I hadn’t considered that after May 2021, the exercise of politics was no longer necessary. I mean that debate, discussion, evaluation of options was no longer needed. From that moment on, Bukele had a government with a supermajority in congress and dominance in almost all local governments. Since then, El Salvador is practically a single-party system with a supermajority.

Surely, the high government of El Salvador concluded that politics was no longer needed. The time of quick and effective decisions began. It mattered very little that there and in the rest of the world, they classified those decisions as authoritarian. One of those decisions was undoubtedly to expeditiously, without contemplation, without due process, without any shame, dismiss the members of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice.

Dr. Ulloa, it was important for me to know with what arguments you explained that assault on the constitutional chamber by the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly dominated by the Nuevas Ideas party. But, I become stubborn again. There is no valid legal argument there. The only reason is the exercise of power; I must come to understand. The new members of the constitutional chamber worked like dedicated and efficient tailors.

In three months, they tailored a suit for Bukele. By September of that same year, 2021, the chamber issued an interpretation of the constitutional articles on reelection. The chamber stated that Bukele could register to be a presidential candidate and, if victorious, could be sworn in for a new consecutive term. Here I am, still being stubborn. I would have liked to hear from Dr. Ulloa to understand this interpretation that clearly contradicts El Salvador’s current constitution.

By reading the sentence, one can deduce that those magistrates set a limit for Bukele. They tell him that he can register for the presidential reelection in 2024. But they indicate that this is the last immediate reelection. That is, above, without going into depth, it can be understood that there will be no third continuous term for Bukele. The detail, for a stubborn person like me, is that there is no guarantee of the stability of this judgment.

If the exercise of the constitution is going to be based on interpretations and not on entrenched clauses, in a couple of years, the same chamber, with these or other members, could change their minds and assert that indefinite presidential mandate is possible. Dr. Ulloa, I have doubts that you would have helped me clarify. By hearing your wisdom, I could have confirmed or disqualified all those who call you Bukele’s puppet.

I hope you have a pleasant stay in the beautiful state of Colorado. Happy return.

Jesús Sánchez Meleán

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