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United States

El Salvador’s president gets rock-star welcome at conservative gathering outside Washington

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (AP) — El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele received a rock-star welcome Thursday at a conservative gathering outside Washington as he urged people to “unapologetically fight” against what he called “dark forces.”

At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Bukele told people to use El Salvador as a warning. He said gangs took control of his country and society decades ago and said a fight was needed to arrest criminals and remove corrupt judges.

“The next president of the United States must not only win an election, he must have the vision, the will and the courage to do whatever it takes, and above all, he must be able to identify the underlying forces that will conspire against him,” Bukele said in fluent English at the gathering in National Harbor, Maryland, south of Washington. “These dark forces are already taking over your country.”

The four-day conference will also host the new president of Argentina, right-wing populist Javier Milei. He is scheduled to speak Saturday, the same day former President Donald Trump will give the headlining address.

Nearly two years ago, Bukele declared a war on gangs. He has so far detained more than 76,000 Salvadorans as he attempts to break the chain of violence that has ravaged the country for decades. His policies have broad support and earlier this month, he won reelection to a second five-year term. Many of the arrests are conducted with little evidence or access to due process, and human rights groups have documented widespread abuses not experienced since the country’s 1980-92 civil war.

At one point in his remarks, Bukele said it took 50 years, two wars, 250,000 deaths, a third of the population displaced “and a near miracle to get our country back.” Someone in the crowd shouted, “And you!”

As he exited the ballroom, people cheered, shouted his name, blew horns in support and paraded a calendar with his photograph as conservatives chased him down the halls to snap pictures and get a few words with the leader.

“To have a smart man as president really makes a difference,” said Nallely Gutiérrez Gijón, who managed to get a picture with the Salvadoran leader. “He is determined as an authoritarian to end corruption but governs with an iron fist.”

Adriana Gomez Licon, The Associated Press


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