NBC News published a piece earlier this month titled “A project in El Salvador shows how China is exerting growing power in America’s backyard”. It fearmongers about how Chinese-Salvadoran cooperation supposedly poses a threat to the US. Head of US Southern Command Admiral Craig Faller is quoted speculating that the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) investments in regional port projects might be a front for the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) to set up bases in Latin America.
The core of contention in this case is China’s interest in establishing a free trade zone in the port of La Union, the details of which NBC claims to have obtained via a power point presentation about this project. The outlet then goes on repeat the State Department’s accusation from earlier this year that the city’s former mayor “engaged in significant corruption by abusing his authority as mayor in the sale of Perico Island to agents of the People’s Republic of China in exchange for personal benefit.”
Other officials, including those associated with President Nayib Bukele, are also included on the US’ list of allegedly corrupt individuals. Upon reflecting on the purpose of NBC’s report, it appears as though the outlet is commencing a newly intensified pressure campaign against the Salvadoran leader at the behest of the Joe Biden Administration. The new American leader doesn’t share the close ties with President Bukele that his predecessor Donald Trump did. In fact, relations have worsened since Biden entered office.
The Biden Administration believes that fighting local corruption is key to stemming illegal immigration from the Northern Triangle countries that include El Salvador. To this end, it’s supporting NGOs that investigate alleged wrongdoing in those states. The problem is that the Biden Administration has also criticized President Bukele’s own anti-corruption policies. His independent New Ideas party won a landslide during this year’s legislative elections and then voted to remove all five judges from the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court.
Just last week, this newly constituted constitutional chamber ruled that President Bukele can seek a second consecutive term in office despite prior legal interpretations previously prohibiting this. Over the weekend, President Bukele then proposed firing all judges age 60 and over, which also prompted US criticism. Nevertheless, he remains immensely popular for breaking El Salvador’s decades-long stalemate between the country’s entrenched left-wing and right-wing parties, stabilizing the economy, and cracking down on gangs.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Presidents Bukele and Biden have completely different leadership styles and visions for El Salvador. The Central American country’s comparatively younger 40-year-old leader is ambitious, hands-on, pursues a balanced foreign policy, and sincerely believes in democracy while the US’ much older and less charismatic leader prefers to delegate responsibilities, is obsessed with containing China, and appears uncomfortable with the idea of the Salvadoran people potentially re-electing their popular leader.
This political background on the contemporary state of Salvadoran-US relations helps put NBC’s anti-Chinese article into context. Considering the US’ efforts to support purportedly anti-corruption NGOs in El Salvador, Washington’s growing criticisms of President Bukele’s popular leadership style, and its history of provoking Color Revolutions against leaders who don’t fully submit to its will, the scenario is emerging where the US might try to destabilize President Bukele’s government on the pretext of it clinching corrupt deals with China.
This disturbing possibility would be consistent with the US’ historical zero-sum policies against perceived rivals in the region that it condescendingly considers to be its “backyard”, its potential strategic refocusing back to the Western Hemisphere after its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan last month, and the pattern of political behavior that’s preceded previous pressure campaigns against other independent governments. Biden might therefore be planning to punish President Bukele for his pragmatic economic cooperation with China.
This would be morally wrong and strategically counterproductive if he decides to do so. President Bukele’s visionary policies have succeeded in stabilizing El Salvador so any US-provoked political unrest there under any pretexts could reverse those gains by emboldening drug gangs to fight back more forcefully against the government and thus prompt more illegal immigration to the US. Chinese-Salvadoran cooperation is improving the Central American country’s living standards while a new US pressure campaign would only worsen them.
The Biden Administration should therefore think long and hard about whether it’s worth destabilizing El Salvador just because some members of his government have fearmongered about its ties with China and dislike President Bukele’s popular leadership style. The US should finally treat El Salvador with the respect that it deserves just like China does. President Bukele wants equally excellent relations with both major countries but Biden’s antagonistic policies risk creating a crisis in Salvadoran-US relations if he doesn’t soon change them.
By Andrew Korybko Via http://oneworld.press/?module=articles&action=view&id=2224