Eulalia Garcia was shocked to discover an invitation from Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador. It promised that a bus would transport her family to Christmas the next day.
Garcia was one of four survivors of a mudslide, which claimed the lives and property of her extended family. Ramon Sanchez, Garcia’s husband, said that it would be a great way to end the year.
Ines Flamenco (a neighbor in Los Angeles) was so grateful for her invitation, she spent three days earning money on a gift for President Obama — a bouquet with red, white, and pink roses that would be a wonderful photo opportunity for Bukele.
She recalled, “I wanted him to know how happy I was.”
The Christmas joy would not last. Flamenco, like many of the other president’s guests, would soon find out that their gifts were very expensive.
2020’s Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most devastating for Central America. It destroyed homes and crops, and left more than half amillion people homeless. Back-to-back hurricanes in Honduras and Guatemala left the most severe damage. The failure of their governments to respond led to soaring migration to America.
Even though one government was able to act, it did so with politics and disrespect for the rule law. It also had a tendency towards simple solutions to complex problems.
A populist president in El Salvador saw the opportunity when tragedy struck. Bukele quickly responded to the October tropical storm by demonstrating that he was able to deliver hundreds of families in Los Angeles and Nueva Israel with a program that would be greatly appreciated by his fellow countrymen.
But there was a problem. Bukele didn’t ask people what they needed to recover. Some people appreciated his assistance, while others felt left out. Still others criticised his program saying that it was typical of how the president governs: using public money for political propaganda.
He acts quickly. Francisco Altschul, an ex-ambassador of El Salvador to America, said that he doesn’t consult, plans, or listen to anyone.
Ramon Sanchez fell asleep in a hypnotic, “sleep-of-death” state on Oct. 29 as it rained so hard on their house’s tin roof.
Through the torrent, a dam was built high above the volcano by piles of trees and rocky soil. Due to the accumulation of groundwater over the winter and days of heavy rain, the dam broke and led to the landslide that decimated Los Angeles.
Sanchez was awakened that night by what felt like an explosion at 10:40. “A rock had struck a tree behind my home, and the walls shaken. Water started to come in everywhere.”