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El Salvador president rebuffs US envoy’s call to reinstate judges

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Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele delivers a speech during the commemoration of the Day of the Salvadoran Soldier and the 197th anniversary of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, at the Captain General Gerardo Barrios Military School, in Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador, on May 7, 2021. (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS / AFP)

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele on Wednesday rebuffed a suggestion by a visiting US envoy that parliament’s recent ousting of the attorney general and top judges be reversed.

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Parliament took the widely criticized step early this month at its very first meeting after elections in which Bukele allies won an overall majority, wresting power from the opposition.

“We believe, for both Parliament and the executive (of El Salvador), that it would be best to return to a constitutional situation,” US envoy Ricardo Zuniga told the TCS television channel in an interview Wednesday at the end of a nearly three-day visit.

“In our opinion, it would be best to return to the situation prevailing on April 30,” he said. “From our point of view, the decision of 1 May does not comply with either the law, the Constitution or the constitutional legal procedure.”

Bukele took to Twitter, a medium he uses often, to reject Zuniga’s suggestion.

“To the voices still asking us to return to the past, with much respect and affection: the changes we are making are IRREVERSIBLE,” the president wrote.

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“We’re not going back to the past, we are going towards the future,” Bukele added, and offered his “blessings.”

Following Bukele’s statement, the US charge d’affaires in San Salvador, Brendan O’Brien, reacted on Twitter.

“El Salvador is very important to the United States and we maintain the desire to carry out a constructive agenda of prosperity under democratic parameters and that promotes trust in local and international institutions,” he wrote.

Legislators voted to dismiss all of the judges of the Constitutional Chamber, one of four organs of the Supreme Court, for allegedly issuing “arbitrary” judgments.

The new parliament also voted to replace Attorney General Raul Melara over alleged ties to the right-wing Arena party.

Opposition parties in El Salvador denounced parliament’s move as a “coup,” while Washington and rights groups expressed grave concern.

The New Ideas party, which Bukele founded, and its allies gained an outright parliamentary majority in the February elections.

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Until then, Bukele, elected in 2019 for a five-year term, had faced difficulty getting programs approved in a parliament dominated by two opposition parties — Arena and the leftist FMLN.

His detractors have long accused him of authoritarian tendencies, and observers had warned that an election landslide for New Ideas could give Bukele undue power.

The 39-year-old, who often sports jeans and a leather jacket in public with a baseball cap worn backwards, has clashed repeatedly with the Supreme Court and the public prosecutor’s office.

On Tuesday, a dozen civil society groups urged Zuniga in an open letter to intervene to re-establish constitutional order in the country.

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El SalvadorNayib Bukele
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