People take part in a protest against the use of Bitcoin as legal tender and legal reforms to extend president Nayib Bukele’s term in San Salvador, El Salvador, September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
September 15, 2021
By Nelson Renteria
SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Thousands of Salvadorans took to the streets on Wednesday to protest against President Nayib Bukele, who they accuse of a power grab aimed at weakening democratic institutions and consolidating his grip on power.
A the heart of their complaints is the recent law making bitcoin legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar and the firing in May of the judges on the constitutional panel of the Supreme Court, among the most senior jurists in the country, as well as the then-attorney general.
Replacements seen as friendly to Bukele were swiftly voted, which generated harsh criticism from the United States as well as top international rights groups deriding the moves as a power grab.
The protesters, who vandalized an ATM where you can exchange bitcoins for dollars, also rebuked a court ruling saying the president can serve two consecutive terms, opening the door for Bukele to stand for re-election in 2024.
“It’s important to say this morning: Enough already! What the government is doing is arrogant, it is authoritarianism,” said 49-year-old protester Dora Rivera.
Some 4,500 people, included labor unions, university students, healthcare workers, farmers, lawyers, LGBTQ groups, indigenous communities and members of the opposition politicians took to the streets, according to organizer’s estimates and a Reuters witness.
There was no government estimate on how big the march was.
The protesters brandished banners with slogans such as “Bukele Dictator” and shouted for the polarizing 40-year-old leader to resign.
Bukele, who has been criticized for sending soldiers and police to occupy Congress in 2020 as a way to pressure lawmakers, before his party won a majority in legislative elections, is due to give an address Wednesday night.
“I don’t like the way he (Bukele) is behaving at all, he is like a capricious child,” said Norelbia Arias, a 28-year-old student.
Even so, a recent poll by La Prensa Grafica newspaper showed that 85.7% of the 1,506 people polled across the country in the second half of August approved of the president.
(Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Jake Kincaid; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Aurora Ellis)