El Salvador: Repression and broken promises, the new face of the country after one year of President Bukele's government


After one year in government, Nayib Bukele and his administration have put national and international human rights communities on high alert as they now view El Salvador with great concern, Amnesty International said today.

“One year ago, President Bukele made a commitment to lead the country in a new and better direction. Unfortunately, this hope has been dashed by the actions of his government that have put human rights at risk,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.


The COVID-19 situation has highlighted a style of government that, despite seeming innovative in nature, ultimately resorts to the repressive and abusive tactics so often seen in El Salvador in the past.

Authorities have detained more than 2,000 people for allegedly violating home quarantine orders and have held them in “containment centers” that do not comply with minimum standards for sanitary conditions and physical distancing. Amnesty International has reviewed legal documents confirming that some people were detained solely for leaving their houses to buy food or medicine. In addition, the organization has verified audiovisual material revealing the poor conditions in the containment centers.

Amnesty International has also interviewed people who reported that they were victims of human rights violations as a result of the government measures implemented to contain the pandemic. One young person reported that he went out to buy food and fuel after being paid when a police officer detained him, beat him and shot him twice in the legs.

A human rights defender who has diabetes reported that she was detained when she went out to buy food and medicine for her three-year-old child. When she was detained, the police assured her that they would only give her a COVID-19 test and then she could return home. However, she was detained for more than one month in a “containment center”, despite not having been diagnosed with the virus.

In another case, a 17-year-old boy reported that the police detained him as he was leaving work on a sugar plantation. He and his family reported how, without taking into consideration that his work was one of the activities classified as essential, the police beat him and took him to a detention centre, where he was held with adults for almost three days before being released without charge.

“These cases clearly show that the measures the government is taking, under the pretext of containing the pandemic, are disproportionate. As a result, many people have been put at unnecessary risk of contracting COVID-19 and have suffered violations of their rights. The authorities have the obligation to protect them and never violate their rights,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Furthermore, other actions taken by President Bukele have alarmed the international community due to the serious regression that they could represent. In February, the Council of Ministers of government held an extraordinary session of the Legislative Assembly accompanied by an ostentatious and unnecessary military parade in the grounds of the Assembly and reports of snipers stationed in the vicinity and restrictions on press freedom.

Amnesty International also regrets President Bukele’s public messages in which he discredits human rights organizations, suggests that security forces use violent measures and calls for non-compliance with the rulings of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice.


In June 2019, following his inauguration, an Amnesty International delegation met with President Bukele to present him with serious concerns about the human rights situation in the country. The organization urged the president to leave behind the repressive public security strategies used by previous administrations and to guarantee an organized withdrawal of the participation of the armed forces in public security duties, as well as strengthening the capacity of the National Civil Police.

“During our meeting, the president made a commitment to be a different voice in Central America. However, the current government has grabbed international media headlines and alarmed international organizations with its contempt for human rights,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Amnesty International notes with concern that, rather than reviewing and evaluating the successes and failures of measures implemented by previous administrations, the current government insists on favouring a repressive approach to tackling violence and containing COVID-19.

In February, the organization took positive note of the presidential veto of the legislative decree containing the Special Law on Transitional Justice, Reparation and National Reconciliation, that did not fully guarantee the rights of victims of the armed conflict. However, it regrets that this veto was not accompanied by clear actions such as making the information in military archives from the years of the conflict public, which would help to guarantee truth, justice and reparation for victims.

“This is the right moment for the current government to make a radical change to its public policies and bring about substantial change in terms of human rights. President Bukele must stop blaming previous administrations and other state institutions, take responsibility and develop comprehensive solutions to strengthen the rule of law and address the historic debt that Salvadoran authorities have with the rights of the population,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.