In yet another advance of authoritarianism in El Salvador, the new Legislative Assembly, with a large government majority, removed five members of the country’s Supreme Court, as well as the attorney general.
The expelled magistrates were part of the court’s Constitutional Chamber – responsible for judging unconstitutionality actions and habeas corpus, in addition to disputes between the other branches of government – and had been taking decisions contrary to the interests of the controversial President Nayib Bukele.
Elected in 2019 with a populist and messianic discourse, Bukele has since proved his little appreciation for the rites and instruments of democracy.
At the beginning of last year, he carried out a grotesque invasion of Congress, accompanied by police and military personnel in camouflaged clothes and armed with rifles, to pressure parliamentarians to approve a loan for the purchase of equipment from national security forces.
Months later, during the pandemic, his government was accused by human rights organizations of promoting abuse through isolation measures.
People suspected of being infected with the virus started to be closed, indefinitely and without proper care, in a confinement center; localized quarantines were applied to stifle protests against the government, with the army being placed on the streets to enforce draconian rules.
In recent months, the president has fought a battle with the Constitutional Chamber over these and other measures related to the pandemic, considered unconstitutional by magistrates.
With his party’s overwhelming victory in the February legislative elections, Bukele gained free ground to pay back, replacing the recalcitrant members of the Court with judges aligned with him.
Although foreseen in the Constitution, the dismissal of magistrates, who had not fulfilled even half of the nine-year term, carries an unmistakable willingness of the president to equip the Judiciary and undermine the system of checks and balances, in an unprecedented concentration of power since the end of the country’s civil war in 1992.
The maneuver was condemned by international entities, such as the NGO Human Rights Watch, and by the American government. He received revealing praise, however, from deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP).