El Salvador Defends Firing Attorney General, Top Judges

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele defended his party’s removal of the attorney general and five top judges, saying the country’s constitution allows congress to do so and that the U.S. and other critics have a skewed view of what happened.

He said the dismissed attorney general, Raul Melara, had been chosen by Arena, the opposition political party, which he called unethical, and accused him of carrying out his work in a partisan manner. Salvadoran law allows congress to remove constitutional judges and the attorney general with a two-thirds legislative vote, which was surpassed on Saturday with the backing of 64 of 84 lawmakers.

El Salvador Defends Firing Attorney General, Top Judges

“I find it strange that when I talk to countries where they do exactly the same thing, they tell us we are doing it wrong,” he told members of the diplomatic corps in El Salvador on Tuesday night. U.S. officials did not attend the meeting, he added. “Elections have consequences. That’s not weakening democracy. That’s strengthening democracy.”

The Salvadoran president’s comments drew a fresh rebuke from the White House. A spokesperson called on Bukele to restore strong separation of powers and demonstrate his government’s and his party’s commitment to transparency and accountability. If the Salvadoran and U.S. governments are to continue working as partners, the U.S. will need to see concrete actions respecting all branches of government, the spokesperson added.

New Congress

Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party won a super majority in congress in February’s legislative elections. The new lawmakers were sworn in Saturday and Melara and the justices were dismissed soon afterward.

Biden administration officials, the Organization of American States, business groups and Human Rights Watch were quick to criticize the move.

A State Department spokesman said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had expressed concern to Bukele over the removal of Melara, “who’s fighting corruption and impunity, and is an effective partner of efforts to combat crime in both the United States and El Salvador.”

Bukele said Tuesday that the U.S. special envoy to Central America, Ricardo Zuniga, had met with 10 civil society groups during his visit to the country last month, but that all those organizations were critical of the government, giving Zuniga a one-sided view of the nation.

“If you talk to 10 anti-government organizations, you didn’t meet civil society. You met the opposition,” Bukele said. “It worries me because when you only get information from one side you will likely be wrong in your conclusion.”

Bukele contended that in the U.S., presidents get to name their own attorneys general. American presidents do nominate attorneys general, but the nominations must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

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