Most leaders in Central and South America generally evoke one of two stereotypes: either the right wing military man or the socialist firebrand. However, El Salvador recently elected neither. Instead, the small Central American country elected a 37-year-old millennial who accepted the presidency wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket, per The Brookings Institute.
The election of Nayib Bukele means a new potential future for the region. For starters, it is yet another victory for the waves of populism that have been sweeping the globe. In his campaign, Bukele often declared that “quality goods” such as education, healthcare, and public parks should be available for the entire population, and not just the wealthy. In a country that is wracked with corruption, such amenities are often reserved for those who can pay.
For example, in one emotional campaign speech, Bukele demanded that with “all due decorum, that you bastards return what’s been stolen!”
His election also means the success of new media in the region. Bukele was a grassroots candidate, who was the first victor in 30 years not to be of one of the two main political parties in El Salvador. The former mayor refused to engage in classic debates, instead relying on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to engage with voters and get his message across.
Finally, many are interested in Bukele in terms of what it would mean for immigration and the United States. Many El Salvadorans have fled the country for the U.S. due to the corruption and gang violence that has plagued the country.
Bukele has pledged to attack both the violence epidemic, as well as corruption. For the violence, he has campaigned on retiring no-mercy measures and instead turning to the private sector to address the root causes of gang membership, such as poverty and lack of opportunity for his country’s people.
As mayor of San Salvador, he often employed big-data and other entrepreneurial ideas for such issues, though Brookings acknowledges the tactic earned “mixed results.”
For corruption, Bukele is turning to the global community, and establishing an international anti-corruption mission. A similar program, established in Guatemala with the United Nations, has found huge success in weeding out corruption in the country. The combination will likely stem the tide of those wishing to flee.
Moreover, politicos believe that the new leader will be more amenable to President Trump than his predecessor, ex-guerrilla commander President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. Bukele is eager for private investment, and is generally conservative. And with President Trump looking for an immigration win as the 2020 election comes up, El Salvador might just get the deal it wants.