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President Nayib Bukele Buckles Before Trump at UN

Bukele and Trump

During his visit to the United Nations this week, Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele, held a bilateral meeting with Donald Trump. They were there to discuss what is effectively a “safe third country” program, extending protections for recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and emphasize good relations between the two nations.

“We’re hoping that this meeting will only strengthen our relationship even more, and I think it will because, you know, President Trump is very nice and cool, and I’m nice and cool, too. We both use Twitter a lot, so, you know, we’ll get along.”

Nayib Bukele

According to Reuters, Mr. Bukele has insisted that El Salvador is capable of taking in asylum seekers, even as critics have rightfully pointed out that while the homicide rates have dipped slightly, El Salvador is still among the world’s deadliest. It is also plagued by gang violence and corruption. The Salvadoran president also stressed that aligning with the Trump administration was the best path forward for both parties, and asked that the U.S. promote investment in the struggling country. El Salvador, has recently become the third country, after Guatemala and Honduras, to sign an agreement with the U.S. for the reassigning of asylum seekers, and Bukele’s recent trip to New York seems to be a highly choreographed political maneuver.

Reuters also noted that Bukele requested protection for the over 200,000 TPS holders residing in the U.S. The Salvadoran president said the country could handle receiving all recipients of the program back to their homeland, but that Trump shouldn’t cancel the program because they are law abiding, successful, and that removing them would break up families.

There was no mention, however, of the hundreds upon hundreds of Salvadoran nationals currently held in detention centers, denied asylum, or families split and not reunified at the U.S. border. Nor any mention of the death count of Salvadorans, or Central Americans for that matter, at the hands of Border Patrol. These omissions are glaring and made painfully obvious during Nayib Bukele’s opportunity to address the General Assembly at the UN. He opted to take a selfie and deliver a tone-deaf speech about social media instead.

It’s puzzling to reconcile the above with the harsh reality. It’s also difficult to make sense of Bukele’s meeting with Trump where he specifically speaks in defense of TPS holders, because when Bukele was approached by TPS holders on the street he seemed unfamiliar with the particular nuances of the very program shielding them from deportation:

Many TPS holders do not travel abroad for fear of being barred re-entry, thus losing their protections or worse, being detained and deported. The above exchange, coupled with the messaging Bukele has adhered to since being elected has left Salvadorans utterly confused. Still, for those who closely followed the 2019 elections in El Salvador, Bukele’s actions aren’t a total surprise. The president has repeatedly claimed to be the post-war candidate the country was yearning for, and yet throughout the election cycle he hopped from one political party to the next, eventually landing on the right-wing “Gana” party and banked on it in order to get elected. As the AJ Plus video, produced by Daniel Alvarenga, details below, El Salvador’s youngest president (he’s my age, 37) is not the millennial progressive with new ideas he insisted he was.

With the Trump administration criminalizing CENTAM migrants and refugees fleeing the epidemic of violence, corruption and poverty in their homelands, one is left to wonder what it means for the U.S. and Salvadoran presidents to be working together. And what it means for Salvis at home and in diaspora. The fractured economic drivers back home, and stifled upward mobility in the U.S. keeps us in holding patters designed to discourage our progress. Many of us are warily watching the relationship between Bukele and Trump unfold. The future of our people are in their hands.

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