DOHA, Qatar – The first time I noticed the Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele's Twitter account when a colleague referred me to his avatar: a pretty, lined face with silver hair combed back and a silver beard that looked like a picture of a latin american politician of a certain age.
He did it with FaceApp – the software for artificial aging that was mega-viral this week.
Personally, Bukele is 38 and looks a bit younger. He is one of the youngest leaders in the world and perhaps the one with the highest polls outside of North Korea. In an era of ethnic nationalists, he has a mixed Christian and Muslim heritage – his brother is an imam – and his wife has Jewish roots. And at a moment when the political conversation is full of warnings about the demons triggered by social media, Bukele is a kind of old millennial follower who brags that he hasn't used his phone for a year to make an actual call to do. He is the most optimistic populist of the new generation of smash-the-system populists powered by social media. He is an outsider who looks to the future rather than the past and positions himself more as Andrew Yang than Donald Trump.
"People don't understand that social media is not like a cell phone game or something, or a fad or something that young people like," he told BuzzFeed News in an interview at the Doha forum in Qatar , "It wasn't Instagram that created nationalism. It was in people's brains. It was at the kitchen tables. … And now everyone is more exposed," said Bukele. "This is an opportunity to change society in reality. Because we didn't seem to be as civilized as we thought. “
Bukele, who was elected in February, is living an experiment with the social, mobile presidency on the street and testing the limits of what it means to be a politician who lives brazenly through his phone – though it does must be said, he is doing this in a country where internet penetration hovers almost 60% of the population. Indeed, he spent three weeks on his young presidency's longest trip abroad, trying to work remotely. A skeptical television reporter earlier in the day asked him, "You were outside your country for three weeks. Who governed?"
"Well, yesterday we approved the budget for next year and we have no seats in Congress." said Bukele. "And we have just approved the budget for next year by a large majority. This is because we put pressure on social media, people put pressure on the streets and social media." And here it is 4 a.m. – but we are all connected. I was practically in El Salvador. There was no difference. “
Bukele has also shown some of the darker features of the new generation of social media leaders who are unsure whether they really need independent media. Although he holds press conferences, he prefers to make announcements on Twitter – and occasionally places orders – which a columnist from Factum, a digital company that Bukele is critical of, calls an expression of an "authoritarian style". Like Trump, he also likes to use Twitter to embarrass or attack his critics. When Factum released a detailed investigation into his finances, he declined to comment and excluded the branch reporters from his press conferences.
Regarding the criticism, Bukele said that he had his share of his responses on Twitter. what he reads religiously.
"I read answers – more than confirmed mentions," he said. "I try to read answers because it gives you a taste of whether what you said was right or not. It helps you correct yourself. “
According to Bloomberg, Bukele's approval rate was 6.5 million El Salvadors last week, at 88%. and a reported decrease in crime – the main problem at the southern end of the problematic Northern Triangle in Central America.
Bukele also managed to build a warm relationship with US President Donald Trump, whose regional power easily made him the country's most important relations.
At a press conference in September, Trump praised Bukele for his "incredible work with MS-13". The US released cash and extended the temporary protection status of approximately 200,000 Salvadorans to the United States, a transactional representation of American power that Bukele had no choice but to merit partnership, an alliance, "he said. "It is more important than the choice."
To the satisfaction of the Trump administration, Bukele has agreed to make El Salvador a destination for refugees awaiting processing by the US authorities.
"We're not ready today," he conceded. Indeed, the country lacks the health, education and life infrastructure for many of its own citizens, let alone returnees or desperate people fleeing other countries in crisis.
But “we won't buy 1,000 tents and put them in a building piece of land. These are all people who have rights. “He promised to build humane facilities with the help of the United States. "We have signed an agreement with the United States and we will keep it."
These refugees, when they come, will come to a country with great challenges. Although the murder rate has declined in recent years, it remains one of the highest in the region and El Salvador is one of the poorest countries in Central America. Corruption and impunity are common in law enforcement and the judiciary. And it can be a particularly hostile place for women, especially those born into poverty. The state systematically locks up women who have miscarried or are losing their newborns. In one of the most outrageous cases, which our reporter Karla Zabludovsky reported extensively, prosecutors Evelyn Hernández, whose newborn boy died after a complicated birth at home, plan to jail a second time after a judge released her earlier this year.
Bukele controls neither the prosecutor's office nor the judiciary in the country, but criticized the charges sharply. "However, I have a voice and I find it very unfair that we only criminalize poor women. They would never see a wealthy or middle-class woman charged with miscarriage," said Bukele, who has a very modest set of exceptions to the abortion ban suggested – if the life of the pregnant person is in danger or if it is about rape or incest. "It is part of the classicism that has governed El Salvador since the feudal times."
Bukele has the dream of such a Moment that even more prominent global leaders dream of, delivering the closing remarks after a parade of world leaders in Doha on Sunday and appearing a few hours later in a 60-minute conversation on immigration policy.
The real coup of The weekend however came on Twitter on Saturday night when Bukele and other dignitaries attended a big dinner with Qatar's Emir and Ivan ka Trump, the guest of honor that night, fresh from her absurd softball interview with her own spokeswoman.
Bukele enchanted the gathering with the kind of movement where you see more informal dinner parties than diplomatic receptions: he and his wife Gabriela brought their little daughter to the ceremonial event.
The Presidency tweeted a series of photos of the older president's daughter, who beamed at the younger one.