New Salvadoran President, Refusing to Blame the United States, Calls on His People to Help Build a Better Country

By Jerry Kammer on July 2, 2019

The United States has long been implicated in the turbulence and trauma that have plagued Central America, driving a large portion of the region’s population to seek asylum in the United States. In 1997, for example, the New York Times reported that: "During a conflict that lasted from 1979 until 1992, more than 70,000 people were killed in El Salvador, most of them by the American-backed army and the death squads it in turn supported, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced."

For decades that bloody historical background has been invoked to argue that the United States should do more to finance the repair of Salvadoran civil and institutions and the economy.

But in a recent BBC broadcast, El Salvador’s new President Nayib Bukele put the onus on his countrymen. He effectively challenged them to help him fulfill his campaign promise to make El Salvador a safer and better place to live and work.

Bukele, a former mayor of El Salvador who became president on June 1, said it was up to Salvadorans to improve the conditions that continue to drive Salvadorans to migrate to the United States. While many come legally, sponsored by relatives who departed years ago, many others come illegally. And many are now filing petitions for asylum.

"People don't flee their homes because they want to, people flee their homes because they feel they have to," said Bukele, who is of Palestinian descent. "Why? Because they don't have a job, because they are being threatened by gangs, because they don't have basic things like water, education, health."

"We can blame any other country but what about our blame?" Bukele said. "What country did they fled [sic]? Did they flee the United States? They fled El Salvador. They fled our country. It is our fault."

Bukele said that while he condemned mistreatment of migrants in the United States and Mexico, it was his country's responsibility to "focus on making our country better, making our country a place where nobody has to migrate." He added, "I think migration is a right. But it should be an option, not an obligation. And right now it's an obligation for a lot of people."