For more than two years since Bukele took office, protests critical of the administration barely garnered dozens of attendees, or at the most hundreds. But on September 15, the bicentennial anniversary of Central American independence, thousands marched to the Historic Center of San Salvador to protest the government’s dismantling of democracy, marking the largest protests against the Bukele administration. Estimates of attendance range from a conservative 5,000 to an upper bound of over 15,000.

The opposition to Bukele drew crowds on Wednesday morning larger than those which Bukele convened in his signature events, such as when he called for a protest outside the Legislative Assembly in February of 2019 while he entered the legislature flanked by armed soldiers. Some 5,000 people answered his call.

The protest converged at Morazán Plaza. Among the diverse groups that made up the march were feminist groups, the medical profession, judges, former combatants, members of FMLN and Arena parties, and outraged citizens. In the more than three hours the protest lasted, there were a few incidents of violence, where mainly hooded individuals burned a motorcycle and graffitied signs and walls. A group of organized women cut off this group from the protest, claiming that they were sent by the government to create a bad image of the protest. 

Most of the masked individuals fled in the face of questions from the media and some even threatened the journalists that filmed them. In the central Gerardo Barrios Plaza, a group of protesters and some masked individuals burned one of the Bitcoin ATMs installed by the government. Throughout the demonstration, the police presence was sparse, and possibly non-existent. In the streets, this has been the biggest setback for Bukele, who still maintains a popularity rating above 80 percent.

 

Thousands of people marched from the Cuscatlán Park, and other meeting points in San Salvador, toward Morazán Plaza in the historic city center, to protest against the Bukele government and the recent laws approved by the Legislative Assembly controlled by his party, like the Bitcoin Law and a law that purges 30 percent of the judges in the country.
 
Thousands of people marched from the Cuscatlán Park, and other meeting points in San Salvador, toward Morazán Plaza in the historic city center, to protest against the Bukele government and the recent laws approved by the Legislative Assembly controlled by his party, like the Bitcoin Law and a law that purges 30 percent of the judges in the country.

 

 

Marta Martínez and her son Josué showed up at the meeting point at Cuscatlán Park to march against the “dictatorship” imposed by President Bukele. “It can’t be possible that he has the go-ahead for reelection. This is something that has never been seen before. Instead of bringing new ideas, this president brought bad ideas,” she said in reference to the president's possible reelection enabled by the Nuevas Ideas-appointed Constitutional Court.
 
Marta Martínez and her son Josué showed up at the meeting point at Cuscatlán Park to march against the “dictatorship” imposed by President Bukele. “It can’t be possible that he has the go-ahead for reelection. This is something that has never been seen before. Instead of bringing new ideas, this president brought bad ideas,” she said in reference to the president's possible reelection enabled by the Nuevas Ideas-appointed Constitutional Court.

 

 

Hooded individuals, accused by other protesters of being infiltrators sent by the government, burned a motorcycle near the Tutunichapa community. The rest of the organized groups distanced themselves from the act during the walk to Morazán Plaza and barred the group of about 30 men, whose faces were covered and carried bats from joining them.
 
Hooded individuals, accused by other protesters of being infiltrators sent by the government, burned a motorcycle near the Tutunichapa community. The rest of the organized groups distanced themselves from the act during the walk to Morazán Plaza and barred the group of about 30 men, whose faces were covered and carried bats from joining them.

 

 

Feminist organizations that marched called for transparency in the case of the mass grave at Chalchuapa, where dozens of victims were found at a former police officer’s house earlier this year. The case has become emblematic of the country’s ongoing security problems — and the high rates of gender violence — that the government has minimized by pointing to its security plan. They carried an enormous black banner with white letters where only the name of the municipality where this emblematic case occurred in May 2021.
 
Feminist organizations that marched called for transparency in the case of the mass grave at Chalchuapa, where dozens of victims were found at a former police officer’s house earlier this year. The case has become emblematic of the country’s ongoing security problems — and the high rates of gender violence — that the government has minimized by pointing to its security plan. They carried an enormous black banner with white letters where only the name of the municipality where this emblematic case occurred in May 2021.

 

 

“Bitcoin is a law that benefits only wealthy businesspeople,” said Jorge Magaña (in the red handkerchief) in the minutes before the march on Roosevelt Alameda in front of Cuscatlán Park.
 
“Bitcoin is a law that benefits only wealthy businesspeople,” said Jorge Magaña (in the red handkerchief) in the minutes before the march on Roosevelt Alameda in front of Cuscatlán Park.

 

 

One of the slogans that circulated on social media to convene the march was “We're looking for 20,000 people who want to build peace,” in reference to the government campaign that seeks to recruit 20,000 youth to double the Armed Forces of El Salvador. In this image, one of these posters was torn by one of the hooded protesters.
 
One of the slogans that circulated on social media to convene the march was “We're looking for 20,000 people who want to build peace,” in reference to the government campaign that seeks to recruit 20,000 youth to double the Armed Forces of El Salvador. In this image, one of these posters was torn by one of the hooded protesters.

 

 

Juan Soledad carried a cross that said: “Human rights were born in 1992 and they were killed in 2021.” The first year referred to the Peace Accords that ended the 12-year-armed conflict in El Salvador.
 
Juan Soledad carried a cross that said: “Human rights were born in 1992 and they were killed in 2021.” The first year referred to the Peace Accords that ended the 12-year-armed conflict in El Salvador.

 

 

During the protest, there was a mix of different sectors of Salvadoran society. Some feminist organizations arrived in coordinated fashion, while other spontaneous groups of families and friends displayed outfits thought up for the occasion, in smaller coordination efforts.
 
During the protest, there was a mix of different sectors of Salvadoran society. Some feminist organizations arrived in coordinated fashion, while other spontaneous groups of families and friends displayed outfits thought up for the occasion, in smaller coordination efforts.

 

 

After walking from Cuscatlán Park, groups of war veterans and labor rights activists stationed themselves at Plaza Morazán and shouted slogans against the Bitcoin Law and the Constitutional Chamber's ruling permitting immediate presidential reelection.
 
After walking from Cuscatlán Park, groups of war veterans and labor rights activists stationed themselves at Plaza Morazán and shouted slogans against the Bitcoin Law and the Constitutional Chamber's ruling permitting immediate presidential reelection.

 

 

Alexánder Velázquez has lived in Dallas, Texas for 20 years and traveled to be able to go out and protest: “A big part of the diaspora is blind. They don’t see the reality of the country. Unfortunately it’s because many don’t come, but I tell them: ‘There's no train or airport in the east. Security is poor. You can only be where they know you, but if you go to other places, you're at risk,’” he said.
 
Alexánder Velázquez has lived in Dallas, Texas for 20 years and traveled to be able to go out and protest: “A big part of the diaspora is blind. They don’t see the reality of the country. Unfortunately it’s because many don’t come, but I tell them: ‘There's no train or airport in the east. Security is poor. You can only be where they know you, but if you go to other places, you're at risk,’” he said.

 

 

A small group of protesters tried to destroy the Bitcoin ATM booth in Plaza Gerardo Barrios. They did it with little help and encouraged by a small group of people around them. The rest were curious people and journalists who tried to get the best shot of the action.
 
A small group of protesters tried to destroy the Bitcoin ATM booth in Plaza Gerardo Barrios. They did it with little help and encouraged by a small group of people around them. The rest were curious people and journalists who tried to get the best shot of the action.

 

 

El cajero Chivo de la céntrica plaza Gerardo Barrios, frente a Catedral, fue incendidado por unos pocos manifestantes de la multitudinaria marcha del 15 de septiembre en contra del Gobierno y del bitcoin. Foto de El Faro: Carlos Barrera.
 
El cajero Chivo de la céntrica plaza Gerardo Barrios, frente a Catedral, fue incendidado por unos pocos manifestantes de la multitudinaria marcha del 15 de septiembre en contra del Gobierno y del bitcoin. Foto de El Faro: Carlos Barrera.

 

 

*Translated by Anna-Catherine Brigida