In a menacing protest, heavily armed soldiers and police dressed in fatigues and tactical gear briefly occupied parliament in El Salvador Sunday after legislators failed to approve a bill that would have provided the country’s security personnel with additional funding to combat spiraling gang violence. The worrisome show of force as protest was ordered by El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele after he was unable to advance a $109 million equipment loan through the legislature.
Bukele, who was elected in June, was pushing the loan as part of a Territorial Control Plan to combat the influence of gangs. Stymied in parliament by the opposition party that controls the body, the 38-year-old president called on supporters to swarm the parliament and for troops to stage what amounted to an armed show of force as Bukele prepared to address lawmakers. The BBC reports as many as 50,000 pro-government protesters responded to Bukele’s call. Legislators condemned the presence of armed soldiers as an act of intimidation and authoritarianism. Speaking to supporters outside the parliament building, NPR reports, Bukele “threatened to have opposition lawmakers forcibly removed from the chamber.”
“Lawmakers had previously failed to reach an agreement on Bukele’s proposal because of concerns about the size of the loan and the president’s justification of some of the expenses that he had included in the application for the loan,” CNN reports. “After storming the parliament, Bukele said a prayer from a seat normally occupied by the president of the parliament… Before leaving the building, Bukele gave lawmakers one week to approve his loan proposal.”