Felix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador and candidate for re-election with President Nayib Bukele in Sunday's elections, defends the controversial model of his government and the policy of fighting gangs within the framework of the state of emergency. And he warns, in an interview with RFI, that if it were proven that officials negotiated secretly with gangs, They must be punished.
-Looking ahead to Sunday's elections, what would be a good result for you? Because we take it for granted that Nayib Bukele is going to win…
-A good result, first of all, is that a fair, transparent, democratic electoral process is developed, that the people have the possibility of voting without any type of pressure and that its result, its expression, whatever it may be, demonstrates the will from town.
In quantitative terms, we would love to exceed 75%, which is already a very high figure. If we managed to have a vote above 75%, it would be a historical record in our country and in many countries in the region, because the participation levels of our people, given that voting is not mandatory in our countries, have always hovered around the 50 something percent. So, massive participation and a favorable vote for President Bukele above 75% would be an ideal.
-There are many voices that speak of this risk of Bukele's accumulation of power, in addition to having a high percentage, that this re-election went against several articles of the Constitution. Isn't this strangling the rules of the game a little?
-I think that it is rather how democracy is understood, because many of the critics, some of whom are called intellectuals, others are called analysts, see democracy as an entelechy. They have a concept of democracy, and when democratic reality does not fit within that concept, for them there is no longer democracy. (…) A dictator oppresses, represses, humiliates the people. In the case of President Bukele, when people speak out, he sees him as a protector, as someone who brings them security and who is with the people in critical moments, as was seen during the pandemic.
-The opposition may remain in residual indices on Sunday. You criticize the opposition, accusing it with Bukele of going to free gang members. Why are they accusing her of that? What indications do you have that this may be true?
-Well, if you see, there is currently a spot on television, where all the deputies from all the opposition parties have expressed themselves in those terms, saying that the emergency regime must be suspended, that it should not have been imposed, and a deputy of the Arena party says that, if Bukele loses power, the prisons will be opened, that is, it is not a threat or intended to scare.
A prison in El Salvador with imprisoned gang members. Photo: AFP
-You know that one of the most controversial issues is the procedural guarantees of detainees. How would you rate the guarantees that a detainee in El Salvador has right now?
-Well, first we have to separate the detainees. There are detainees who are common prisoners for common crimes, which is the vast majority of people who commit a crime, it can be a robbery, a homicide, any type of common crime, and those detained for belonging to criminal structures. That is, the commoners do not go to the CECOT (Terrorism Confinement Center, maximum security penitentiary) and the procedural measures that are applied to gang members are not applied to them. And to make it clear, the emergency regime in El Salvador today only affects two constitutional guarantees.
-One has to do with the detention period. When there is no emergency regime, a person is detained for 72 hours and then placed under the judge's order. Now, with the exception regime, this period is extended to 15 days. The second is the inviolability of your correspondence: no one can review your correspondence, your email, or anything. With the exception regime, the person who is captured under the accusation of being a member of a criminal structure, the police immediately check his phone, his computer, his communications because it is the way to identify him. They are the only two guarantees that affect the exception regime. Therefore, when many people, especially in Europe, have suggested that how can there be elections under a regime of exception, well, because the regime of exception does not affect the Salvadoran population not a single public freedom: freedom of expression, freedom of mobilization, freedom of association, all public freedoms are guaranteed.
-Surely some of those things are debatable, but they respond, we understand, to a reality in El Salvador. But focusing on the long term, we cannot have a state of exception for life either. And I suppose that tackling the reality of gangs so that the problem does not return will have to go to deeper structural causes and we will have to have long-term policies that attack inequality, poverty and other types of things. That has to be there, in that political vision that you embody…
Gang members detained at CECOT. Photo: Marvin RECINOS / AFP
-Absolutely, 100% agree with you. The gangs did not emerge by spontaneous generation, they are the product of social inequality, of the State's neglect of a childhood that was abandoned after the war. That is the saddest and most tragic thing, because these children, who were orphans of the war, whose parents either died in the conflict or left the country and left them abandoned, were not cared for by the State and began as simple juvenile delinquents who later, when they encountered gang members deported from the United States, were structured until they became a parallel State.
-What is the plan so that this does not happen again?
-So that this phenomenon is not repeated, which is a product of the post-war, of the governments that administered the post-war and that did not take care of these children, these young people or the economic model, we have to see it with that exemplary vision so as not to repeat it. make the mistakes. I believe that this is what will guarantee the non-repetition of the gang phenomenon. Having them detained in the CECOT is a containment measure and a coercive measure of the State, just like capturing them and putting them there. But the corrective measure is, as you say, to attack the structural causes that generated the gangs, and those are mainly in the exclusive economic structure where the transitional economic and political elites benefited themselves and forgot about the popular sectors of the working classes because gangs emerge precisely in those neighborhoods.
-There is an NGO that reports 224 deaths in prison during the state of emergency. Are these cases being investigated?
I think so, but when NGOs give these figures, I have my doubts. If you see that the history of people who die or have died in the prison penitentiary systems of El Salvador, has been 200 people each year. If you review the history before the State of Exception 10 years ago, 8 years ago, 5 years ago, 20 years ago, an average of 200 people have died, that is, 248 is not an extraordinary figure or one that could break your heart. standard of that.
MS-13 and 18 gang members in the maximum security prison. Photo: Marvin RECINOS / AFP
-In the face of international criticism of an authoritarian drift, can you, as vice president, guarantee democratic standards for El Salvador in the future in the next term?
-Yes, if we return again to the concept of what democracy is, because I understand democracy in the etymological sense, let's give people and kratos power, that is. If we are doing what the people need, want, expect from a Government and the people give it in that delegation of sovereignty….
-But of course, this will also has to be accompanied by a free, independent press, by the ability to demonstrate in the streets of those who are against…
-This country perhaps has the greatest freedom of expression that exists, because there is no State that I know of, a government, a president who is attacked every day in the morning, in the afternoon, every other day and the next. by the main newspapers and the main media. If you have the opportunity to review the two large newspapers that are linked to the Arena party and the small newspaper, Colatino, which is linked to the FMLN, you will see that there is not a single positive reference to the Government or President Bukele or his project. . They are all critics and none of them has ever received a sanction, a censorship, a rule that limits their practice, there is no journalist in prison, there is no gag law, there is absolutely no threat to freedom of expression.