“They Are Fumigating the Coronavirus.” Conspiracy Rumors on Social Networks and Their Political Uses in Mexico

Receipt: January 10, 2023

Acceptance: February 1, 2023


This essay seeks to respond to the discussion presented by Rossana Reguillo on the politics of visuality, violence, and technopolitics. For this, I review the state of Central America, the unique politics of visuality that Bukelismo has established. Then I review some of the methodological comments on how Reguillo has built a detailed theoretical-political analysis and point out that the methodological learning that emerges from her efforts is even more important. Finally, I examine some forms of daily resistance that we have begun to build in a country whose institutionalities are becoming more fragile by the day.

Keywords: , , ,

echoes from the abyss: a view from the central american techno-utopia

This essay seeks to respond to the discussion presented by Rossana Reguillo on the politics of visuality, violence, and technopolitics. For this, I review the state of Central America, the unique politics of visuality that Bukelismo has established. Then I review some of the methodological comments on how Reguillo has built a detailed theoretical-political analysis and point out that the methodological learning that emerges from her efforts is even more important. Finally, I examine some forms of daily resistance that we have begun to build in a country whose institutionalities are becoming more fragile by the day.

Keywords: Central America, methodologies, political communication, Bukele.

1. Introducation: from the place of the abyss and the establishment of the techno-utopia

Like the eyes of the bat with respect to the light of day, so behaves the understanding of our soul with respect to those things which, by nature, are the most evident of all.
Aristotle, Metaphysics II 1, 993b 9-11.
Trad. Calvo Martínez

To what extent are we the authors, the creators of our own experiences? To what extent are these predetermined by the brain or senses we are born with, and to what extent do we shape our brains through experience? The effects of profound perceptual perception such as blindness can shed unexpected light on these questions. Becoming blind poses an enormous and potentially insurmountable challenge: finding a new way of living, of ordering your own world, when the old one has been destroyed.
Oliver Sacks. Los ojos de la mente (2011: 224)

Central America is a region-abyss. For many years it has been the place of violence, of the dead killed in bulk (Martínez, 2018). The nation on the run, with very long caravans of travelers who dare to dream of other futures while walking, almost without fear, along the same paths used by organized crime cartels (Pradilla, 2019). It is now, moreover, the least transparent region. That of the dictator's apprentices, of the authoritarian temptations, of the new exiles (Chamorro, March 10, 2022).

From this abyss, the question of methodological imagination posed by Rossana Reguillo (2023) has an almost denouncing sense. As happens in many spaces with deep authoritarian roots, Central America is a region where it becomes difficult for us to look at what is most evident. What is in the light dazzles and blinds us, as Aristotle pointed out. In another sense, Oliver Sacks (2011), the British neurologist and writer, pointed out that blindness also implies finding ways to order one's own world at that moment when "the old one has been destroyed". While Reguillo wonders about regimes and disputes over visibility, I want to rehearse the inverse question as a possibility for dialogue. What is happening in this Central America, and in particular, in El Salvador, which drives and sustains regimes and blindness policies? What are the operations that power establishes to ensure that even the obvious is not seen and that a narrative that questions truth and veracity is not banished from daily life?

In the Central American region, many political leaders have successfully attempted to establish regimes of blindness. From military dictatorships, to the iron fist and zero tolerance projects that inaugurated the 21th century communication in one hand and violence in the other, have functioned as devices for ordering social practices that can be synthesized in the famous phrase used by Central American gangs: "see, hear, shut up".1 However, in the last ten years, one politician has stood out for his ability to become a communicational leader to install a unique narrative from and for Central America: Nayib Bukele Ortez (1981).

Twice mayor (starting in 2012) and later, in 2019, president of the Republic of El Salvador, Bukele has shaped the eyes of many inhabitants of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala. His popularity is not bounded by borders. With different political maneuvers he has managed, in his country, to maintain a level of popularity close to 80% and maintain large numbers of followers in the Central American region.2

In her work "Essays on the abyss" discussed in this essay, Rossana Reguillo has named three dimensions that mark her work: the regimes of visibility, violence and data analysis. If anyone has been able to make use of these three areas, it has been this millennial politician. Through a process of brand building and the establishment of a melodramatic script (Marroquín, Chévez, Vásquez, 2022), Bukele has constructed his own regime of visibility/blindness. A central element of this regime has been the way he uses and shows the violence administered by the State, especially since the establishment of a regime of exception that has given special prerogatives to the army and the police and has intervened in the public agendas of the region guided by the analysis of networks through large volumes of data. I will return to these points later.

But there is one feature of the Bukelismo project that is noteworthy for the present essay. The president and his communications team, of course, are pioneers in the installation of the technoutopia in El Salvador.

During 2021 and 2022, I have been a part of the Research program on the processes of polarization and conflict in Latin America.3 From this space, qualitative research was carried out to review the narratives on political polarization and democracy in the Salvadoran case. In order to understand these processes, nine discussion groups were organized with people in favor of the ruling party and with people opposed to this proposal. From this work it was possible to understand that beyond the traditional polarization that exists in almost all Latin American societies, i.e., the opposition between the approach of progressive politicians and the claims of conservative leaders, Bukelismo has managed to place a new division in the analysis of politics. The focus groups showed that, in the perception of many people, Salvadoran society today is not divided between left and right, or between progressives and conservatives, but rather a new polarization has been installed that divides the old politicians -left or right, progressive or conservative- identified as a stale and corrupt class that took advantage of the country in so many ways, from the innovators, the young, those who want to change the old ways, those who are part of the new social movement of bukelismo. These people are identified as the hope, they dream and want to move into the future.

According to the narrative that has been installed by the president, these old people are identified as "the same as always" (Bukele, 2019), a heterogeneous group that represents the worst of the country. The presidential narrative insists that it is made up of people who live anchored in the past. They are old, they sympathize with power groups of previous governments, they benefited from different perks and now what they seek is to return to the past. They emphasize that our country seems to have regressed in democratic processes. In fact, they long for that past. In the face of this vision, the president's proposal has embodied the values of the new generations. But, above all, he promises a technological future, of great illuminated highways, beaches that welcome tourists, an army that delivers justice, a huge jail that punishes any threat, and cryptocurrencies that make everyone richer.4 This is the Central American techno-utopia. This technoutopia has made Bukele one of the most popular characters in the Central American political spectrum. He has also built a particular look. I will call it a kaleidoscopic look.

This essay seeks to respond to the discussion raised by Rossana Reguillo about the politics of the gaze, violence and technopolitics. To this end, I review, from an abysmal place such as Central America, the politics of the viewpoint that has been established by Bokelism. Subsequently, I review some methodological notes on the way in which Reguillo has constructed a fine theoretical-political analysis and I point out that even more important is the methodological learning that emerges from his bets. Finally, I will rehearse some forms of daily resistance that we have begun to build in a country with an increasingly fragile institutional framework.

2. The kaleidoscopic gaze: an attempt at a manifesto

A new ghost is haunting the world, the ghost of the successive cover-ups. It's not just about false information circulating or heroic, overblown political propaganda. It is about installing an emotional climate that converts into truth everything that is closer to my own preferences. To achieve this, communication processes stopped being network and community builders a long time ago. Now, to communicate is to train the other. Blanco and Pereyra (2022) have pointed out the major problems that exist when universities in Latin America launch graduates into the market whose training does not meet the demands of the market. In El Salvador, one of the most important labor markets for journalists, communicators and social network administrators is in government institutions. It is these young people who are shaping the new policies of the look.

In El Salvador it is possible to point out that communication processes are built with the visibility of a kaleidoscope. This device is made through a set of mirrors, with small glass beads that produce dazzling images thanks to the light. Images that are always fragmented, always mobile, always new. In El Salvador and Central America, truth is a kaleidoscope. The most recent investigations being carried out in El Salvador show that the Bukelismo communication apparatus puts into practice the traditional manual of populist political communication: it uses disinformation devices that are coherent and credible (Carballo and Marroquín, 2022; Cristancho and Rivera, 2021; Luna, 2019), it constantly poses false dilemmas, which go beyond political correctness, and which scandalize and divide society and, above all, it constantly uses social networks as the great space for dissemination and magnification of its strategy (Navas, 2020; Kinosian, 2022). But the truth that is offered, falsified and full of filters, is an extremely utopian and positive vision.

The most recent investigations that have been carried out in El Salvador based on digital eavesdropping show that the ruling party has a structure capable of manipulating, creating or installing a digital narrative in twelve hours. The opposition and civil society organizations do it in at least 501 hours. The communicational difference is abysmal, and of course, at no time is a possible telecommunications law that allows a more equitable access to the way the visibility and the word is placed is discussed.

How is a kaleidoscopic gaze constructed? I return to what I have already pointed out. It is a fragmentary, dazzling and always mobile gaze. This gaze is installed in Central America through at least five strategies.

The first, messianism, which has been used constantly since the launch of his personal brand in 2012. The Nayib Bukele that is known in social networks has referred to himself as a David who constantly confronts a powerful Goliath, that is, the established powers, it is not possible to understand Bukele's messianism without understanding the fundamental role of religious discourse in his political bid (Menjívar, Ramírez and Marroquín, 2020; Roque, 2021; Siles et al., 2023). Throughout his ten-year career, the now president has insisted on successive occasions that he has been sent to a chosen people for whom he feels a particular affection and commitment.

Its second strategy involves the reinforcement and construction of a single enemy. This strategy is anchored in a long-term cultural matrix for the Salvadoran case. During the last century, Salvadoran society has systematically constructed a subject that transmutes over time and is to blame for all its ills. Some of its traits remain the same: male, violent, poor, dark, young. That is to say, a subject whose enclassification is constituted from the economic sphere, but also by his race and his gestures of violence. At the beginning of the last century, this guilty subject was the indigenous, considered also communist and rebellious (Marroquín, 1975); later, as the 21st century progressed, he was considered to be a "rebel" and a "communist" (Marroquín, 1975). In the 1970s, that culprit became a young student, rebel and communist who, by the 1970s, was already a subversive, and later a terrorist, a guerrilla fighter. With the signing of the peace accords, a new version of the character was established: the "guerrilla". mareroThe gang member, once again a terrorist and deserving of all evils (Martel, 2006). The marero has also become an export fear. Central America as a whole has understood that fears are now transnational (Marroquín, 2007). This otherness, sedimented in the social discourse, has a fundamental counterpart: the helper. The character that undoubtedly defends Salvadoran society: the Salvadoran army. Since his arrival to the presidency, Nayib Bukele managed not only to strengthen the discourse condemning the gangs, but, above all, through the hashtag #NaciónDeHéroes and a campaign that positioned the Armed Forces as his new and fundamental ally.

This is the second communicational strategy: reinforcing the otherness and extolling the helper. It is important to note that in 2022 this strategy left the realm of pure communication to take to the streets. On Saturday, March 26, 2022, El Salvador closed the most violent day since the signing of the peace accords with 62 murders in one day. From that moment on, the government decreed a regime of exception that put several constitutional guarantees on hold and allowed massive arrests and prolonged imprisonment. More than 60,000 Salvadorans were captured. Beyond the condemnations of cooperation agencies, human rights defenders and some politicians, the daily perception of Salvadoran society and many other countries is that President Bukele and his allies have led the only successful bid to stop the wave of homicides that kept the country among the most violent in the world. During 2022, in fact, the institution best evaluated by Salvadorans with 89.9% approval has been the Armed Forces (Segura, 2022). Bukele's policy of visibility and blindness has not only bet on showing the horror, but, above all, the heroism of the armed elements, in a gesture of erasure of its history of constant violations of human rights committed in previous decades.

But these are not his only strategies. The kaleidoscope moves and changes to a much more traditional figure: the myth of romantic love. President Bukele has managed to embody the prince charming that many women in the region dream of. Social networks have insisted over and over again in showing that love that was public since the engagement, later the wedding, and finally their realization as "parents of a family". This kaleidoscopic image directed towards the most conservative thinking maintains a good number of allies.

The fourth image of the kaleidoscope has to do with the image of the celebrité that the president and his team have built so well. He is not just another politician. His image has become a brand. He does not address citizens, but fans. The relationship with him does not need to be through proposals, but through a consumption that, as with any entertainer, allows a close relationship with this character. There are a series of carefully placed elements for the construction of the brand. The W who accompanied him in the campaign for his first mayoralty (in Nuevo Cuscatlán) and who was later the W of its movement (New Ideas) and the W of Nayib. His cap so carefully placed backwards. His leather jackets. His jeans. His selfies. The Twitter temple that democratizes aesthetics, allows disciple-fans to carry Bukele's word to other spaces.

Finally, I move the kaleidoscope and highlight the last image of the moment. The technoutopia as a regime of blindness. The country of the 60,000 captured, of the more than two thousand habeas corpus in less than a year, the country of the new emergency regime and the suspension of constitutional guarantees is, in reality, a wonderland. On September 7, 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt bitcoin as a legal currency. Beyond the failure of the use of such cryptocurrency, the symbolic value of the gesture should not be despised. To be the first country in the world to become the vanguard, playing with the image of the young man millionaire who knows how to make money. The gain was not economic, but rather it was the finishing touch of a regime that dazzles, that manages to make us have the eyes of the bat. That is, blind to the light, we celebrate, with thunderous applause, the weakening of democratic processes in the region and the arrival of a totalitarian regime and its particular policies of atrocity.

El Salvador is barely 21,000 square kilometers. The state of Chihuahua alone is eleven times larger. The possibility of control in such a small territory and with a culture that is ancestrally authoritarian is much greater. The establishment of a single truth that is achieved thanks to successive cover-ups, this phantom that haunts the continent, is presented as something impossible to combat. However, from Central America, we have spent a long time trying to transform the world and it seems, Reguillo points out, that what we are trying to do is to interpret it, to understand it. That is why this manifesto bets on methodology as the only path capable of giving us back our gaze.

3. Rossana Reguillo and her methodoscopy

We cannot approach the world with a kaleidoscope in our gaze. We have to find ways in which the regimes of visibility can be affected by cognitive dissonances. How can we understand that in Central America horror is not only normal, but celebrated and demanded? For this it is necessary to see beyond the obvious. It is not a flattened, flat, two-dimensional look. It is about making the gaze stereoscopic. It is a matter, if we want to be more precise, of establishing then a methodoscopy, a path that will divert our gaze from the glare.

In Rossana Reguillo's work we find several contributions that are fundamental to think the city and its symbolic territories (Reguillo, 1996, 2001; Reguillo, Monsiváis and Martín Barbero, 2001), young people (1991, 2000, 2010a, 2012) or the new labyrinths of violence and social networks (2010b, 2017, 2021), but this essay finds in her methodological bets (2002, 2017; Rodríguez, 2008; Marroquín, 2020) a cartography that allows us to leave the regime of blindness towards a territory inhabited by uncertainty and complexity. It is a matter of remembering the following: the dazzled gaze will have to stop, linger in everyday life, exercise reflexivity and, from there, return to the territory.

The first thing we must think about, in order to get out of the abyss, is the territory and its possibilities. Reguillo's experience brings us back to the question of the intervened territory, inhabited by violence, but also by these new ways of constructing the territory based on algorithms. The place of doing politics must be thought in different spheres: the physical, the media, the digital. One of these dimensions cannot be renounced.

The second element of the work that this researcher proposes is a epistemological discomfort which is, in fact, an extraordinary capacity for wonder and indignation. As Schutz pointed out to us (1999), we must walk as outsiders and question that the established horror is part of the system. How else is it possible to map the "grammars of the atrocious" and understand "the multiple grammars of violences".

The third element that Reguillo shows in his essay is the much-discussed need in the 1980s to shed the academic biases, the intellectuals' evil eye (Martín-Barbero and Rey, 1999) and revisit the contradictory and ambiguous narratives that are constructed from popular cultures. These cultures are not built now from radio or television, they go through Twitch and Youtube. They invent noises and counter-narratives from the speed of TikTok and fight their new social movements on Twitter. We cannot, Reguillo points out, forget the algorithmic dimension of everyday cultures. It is these elements that allow us to forget the traditional and binary divisions of modernity and face the complexity and uncertainty of today's problems.

And the closing question, what then allows this in Central America, in a territory like El Salvador?

4. Conclusions or very brief essays to resist the abyss

The abyss of Central America is once again facing its usual ghost. The temptation of dictatorial totalitarianisms. With Daniel Ortega, Nayib Bukele, Xiomara Castro, Rodrigo Chaves and Alejandro Giamattei, the question that arises is where to start. There is no single answer, however, from these reflections I note three strategies to build a politics of resistance. A politics of a gaze that takes charge of living a dignified life. The three strategies take their name from mass popular culture, the proposal is named from one of the most representative products of the generation that is currently taking charge of the region: they are policies that come from Harry Potter (1997-2007).5

The first strategy comes from enchantment Ridíkulus, the is the proposal that Professor Lupin makes to the students when they are in front of a Boggart, a being capable of becoming our worst fear. The summary of this incantation is that, in the face of fear, we must bet on laughter. Laughter has been a strategy of resistance since colonial times (Marroquín, 2010); satire, mockery, comedy have become formulas of symbolic resistance for many collectives: "laughter frees the villager from the fear of the devil, because in the feast of fools the devil also appears poor and foolish, and therefore controllable" (Eco, 1982: 574). Political strategies of citizen communication need to consider laughter as a fundamental stake. Laughter that disarms and at the same time constructs another politics of the gaze. In a recent interview with a Netcenter entrepreneur (personal communication, January 30, 2023), he commented that there is nothing that gets more organic responses than memes, as devices of laughter, but also, as possibilities to trigger critical thinking.

The second strategy is the one proposed when we encounter a dark being that seeks to dominate us, that wants us to remove our life forceThe Dementors are the guardians of the prison in the universe created by J.K. Rowling. In this case, the enchantment used is the Expecto Patronus. It consists of summoning our most powerful memory (not the happiest, but the deepest) and from there find protection in an extraordinary positive force. Therefore, the annotation tells us that in the face of the darkness of power, memory, history, remembrance is a powerful strategy. No citizen strategy can work without policies of individual and collective memory. In Bukele's El Salvador, a thinker capable of disputing the president's viralization of a message is the academic Héctor Lindo, a renowned historian and professor emeritus at Fordham University. Lindo began working on 40-minute informative videos in which he explained his historical research. Gradually he reduced them to the possibilities of social networks; his experience is that a video of his on the history of presidents and political power of the last hundred years can be a space to reflect on current power. Lindo is able to explain in 136 seconds6 the difference between the U.S. Constitution and that of El Salvador in terms of presidential reelections. Lindo has managed, without intending to do so, to get some of his videos on the top 5 of the most consumed by Salvadoran audiences (Monitoreo Digital Insights, personal communication, January 4, 2023) and this reality shows the reach that a work like yours can have.

Finally, one of the great temptations of social movements when confronting power is to devote their discourse to confronting the most recognized leader. In the digital metaverse of social networks this makes no sense. Talking about the leader is always advertising the leader, even if we talk against him. This is what also discovered Harry Potter himself. At the moment when the protagonists of the boy wizard's story did not know how to continue, they discovered that the thing to do was not to confront directly who is not to be named, what had to be done was to destroy the horcruxes, that enchantment which allows the character to live in other objects. The lesson is apparently simple: it is not a matter of directly confronting characters created from the kaleidoscope, but of attacking from elsewhere (see Figure 1). Figure 1 recalls that first April 2018 uprising in Nicaragua. Young people, many of them students, lashed out at metal, illuminated sculptures known as "the trees of life" and which had been highly publicized by Rosario Murillo, the vice president and wife of Daniel Ortega.

Figure 1. Tweet retrieved from the first April 2018 uprising against the government li- dered by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo.

The strategy of the horcruxes implies listening to what are the other issues that resonate in the population and then launching into those issues. It implies making a detour and not continuing the conversation that power has started, because we know that what they are doing is to train our gaze and we must seek to look at what they do not want us to see. And this does not mean that the strategy will be definitive, quick, easy. We cannot fall into the trap of linear thinking in time. We are increasingly discovering, along with Walter Benjamin, that progress and time unfolding in a linear fashion was an old longing of modernity, but that our times are cyclical. Those rights we took for granted will be challenged and we will have to defend them again. Perhaps the most interesting contribution that Rossana Reguillo makes to the Central American region with her work is to remind us that a true intellectual is not limited to overthrowing old regimes of the gaze. It is about, as Edward Said would say, to discomfort, to be a sniper, a fanatic of the complex and deep look. It is, to say it with Rossana Reguillo, to prevent expressive violence from showing its full power.


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Amparo Marroquin is a professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (uca) since 1997. She has specialized in cultural studies (narratives of memory, migration and violence in El Salvador) and in communication studies from Latin America (political communication narratives and media literacy). She has been a visiting professor at various universities in the region. She is currently the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the University of El Salvador. uca.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: encartesantropologicos@ciesas.edu.mx. Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at https://encartes.mx. Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.