By Wilfredo Pineda and Nelson Renteria
SAN SALVADOR, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Promoting bitcoin as he consolidates power, El Salvador's popular President Nayib Bukele has mostly swatted away his traditional political opponents with ease. But a new critic in colorful wigs and platform heels has proven harder to ignore.
Lady Drag, the alter ego of actor Marvin Pleitez, since September has emerged as an unconventional Bukele adversary, drawing media attention with eye-catching opposition to what her creator sees as the 40-year-old leader's autocratic tendencies.
When Bukele's signature bitcoin experiment kicked off on Sept. 7, making the cryptocurrency legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar, Lady Drag took to the streets with other protesters -- but dressed as a drag super hero, with a cape, mesh leggings and black boots.
Painted on her chest was a large "B" for bitcoin with a thick black line through it, reflecting skepticism about the cryptocurrency, although Bukele's personal approval ratings are among the highest in the Americas.
"Bitcoin is an issue for the country because it also affects all of us," Pleitez told Reuters, saying there were "lots" of issues the public needed to be aware of.
Bukele's office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
A 39-year-old openly gay university drama instructor, Pleitez said he voted for Bukele in 2019, when the former San Salvador mayor ended a longstanding two-party duopoly.
But Pleitez's doubts about the media-savvy Bukele began taking shape when he shut down a government sexual diversity office. And they grew when the president early last year ordered soldiers into Congress to pressure stunned lawmakers on a vote.
Though Pleitez had taken part in protests before, it was only once he began appearing in drag that "opportunistic" media began to focus on the striking figure cut by Lady Drag, he said.
The roots of Pleitez's alternate persona go back to his youth when, while working as a waiter at a gay bar, he was exposed to the art of drag during nights at dance clubs.
In 2007, his first drag persona won a local contest under the name Lady Evance Versace Garuch. But Pleitez hung up his heels for more than a decade before a friend last year encouraged him to revive his drag performances for local clubs.
The pandemic soon curtailed access to clubs, and Pleitez channeled his drag persona into activism, driven by his distaste for the drift of Salvadoran politics.
Growing up in a poor neighborhood in San Salvador, the capital, Pleitez recalled sifting through trash looking for toys and knocking on the doors of homes in wealthier neighborhoods to beg for food.
Discovering a passion for theater after accompanying a friend to a workshop, Pleitez later studied performing arts in Cuba.
"Simply put, I'm going to keep taking to the streets and keep doing what I can do from my own artistic angle," said Pleitez. "No one is helping me, no one gives me any money."
(Reporting by Wilfredo Pineda and Nelson Renteria; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Leslie Adler)