The Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approved a law this week allowing Salvadorans abroad to bring in goods worth up to $70,000 without paying taxes when returning to the country. In cases where the customs value exceeds the specified amount, only the excess taxes need to be paid.
In September, President Nayib Bukele highlighted in his speech at the UN that El Salvador is on the path to experiencing “reverse migration” because many migrants wish to return due to the improved security climate resulting from his campaign against gangs.
Around three million Salvadorans reside abroad, and in 2022, they sent $7.471 billion in family remittances, a 3.16% increase compared to 2021.
Campaigning by the ruling party
Ruling party deputy Raul Chamagua stated that the new law aims to “reunite families” who fled during the civil war (1980-1992) or later due to violence unleashed by gangs, which were contained by an offensive launched by Bukele in March 2022.
“We have created the conditions for Salvadorans to have a safe place to live. The current climate allows those who want to return to the country to do so with this legal backing,” emphasized Chamagua.
The purpose of this legislative act is to facilitate the repatriation of nationals currently living outside the country and to “embrace our own people,” explained the president of the Foreign Relations Committee, Ana Figueroa.
Bukele’s candidacy in question
It is worth noting that the Central American country has scheduled presidential elections for next February. In these elections, President Bukele aims to be re-elected, which poses a challenge to the Constitution since the constitution prohibits presidential re-election.
However, two weeks ago, Bukele registered his candidacy. The act was a demonstration of propaganda and pressure on the judiciary, as the current president was accompanied by many of his followers who chanted and demanded his re-election.
The opposition party Nuestro Tiempo (NT) and two lawyers have filed a petition with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to annul Nayib Bukele’s candidacy for immediate re-election, which is unconstitutional in El Salvador. They have also requested the recusal of the magistrates who voted for the registration of the presidential formula of the ruling party Nuevas Ideas (NI).
Judicial power in Bukele’s hands
In 2021, the Salvadoran president dismissed judges from the Constitutional Chamber, who were replaced by former government advisers and lawyers for senior officials without following the legal process after the installation of the largely ruling party-controlled Congress.
This act was criticized by the international community. The reality is that today, the Salvadoran judicial power is in Bukele’s hands, meaning that the president effectively controls all three branches of the country’s government.
Judges, accused by the United States of being “loyal” to the executive, pointed out that the prohibition of immediate re-election is “for a ruler who has been in power for 10 years,” a criterion contrary to what a previous chamber established, indicating that a president should wait two terms before running for office again.
Thus, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal ultimately agreed to register Bukele’s presidential candidacy for immediate re-election in February 2024, despite allegations of unconstitutionality and several requests for its rejection.