El Salvador Steps Up Its Fight Against Gangs

With mass arrests, closures of communities with gang presence and house-to-house raids, El Salvador’s combined security forces on Tuesday intensified their fight against these criminal groups that in four days perpetrated at least 89 homicides.

To combat the wave of violence, Congress approved the state of emergency, which limits freedom of association, suspends the right of a person to be duly informed of their rights and reasons for arrest, as well as the assistance of a lawyer. In addition, it extends the administrative detention period from 72 hours to 15 days and allows the authorities to seize the correspondence and cell phones of those they consider suspicious.

The opposition and non-governmental organizations argued that the security forces are exceeding the application of the state of emergency. The measure will last 30 days, although it could be extended for another month.


The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, expressed concern about the increase in violence and murders over the weekend and, according to a statement attributed to his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, trusts that the measures adopted in response are in consistent with international human rights standards.

For its part, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the Salvadoran State to reverse all measures that put the integrity of persons deprived of liberty at risk, including permanent confinement, reduction of food and hygiene implements.

At night, Bukele said via Twitter that he asked Congress to meet to give him more legal tools to effectively combat gangs and rejected the IACHR’s statements.

Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado reported early in an interview with state television that “without firing a shot” in the last two days they have captured 1,476 members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, including some of its leaders.

“I have been a victim of the gangs, I have paid them rent. Put them all in jail,” Esteban Maravilla, who works in collective transportation, told The Associated Press.

President Nayib Bukele warned the gangs that if they don’t stop killing, their fellow prisoners will pay the consequences. According to official information, 16,000 gang members are being held in Salvadoran prisons, in addition to those recently captured.

The repressive actions of the government seem to have begun to bear fruit, since after registering 62 homicides on Saturday, only two murders were confirmed on Monday and the National Civil Police said they correspond to MS-13 gang members. He did not clarify who killed those gang members.

Soldiers in camouflage uniforms, hooded and with rifles in hand, were deployed on Tuesday in front of spiked barricades at the checkpoint to enter the San José El Pino community, in Santa Tecla, east of the capital. Everyone who wants to leave or enter must show their identification and verify where they work. They are then subjected to a thorough inspection.

“I have my work card and my DUI (Unique Identity Document) and I haven’t had any problems, but they record everything, everything,” Héctor Flores told the AP a few meters from the barricade.

“The soldiers and policemen entered on Sunday night and went from house to house. I think they took all of them (the gang members), but they are still looking,” said the man, who lives in one of the areas “controlled” by the Mara Salvatrucha.

The controls of the security forces in these communities have provoked criticism from opposition politicians and organizations that defend human rights.

The emergency regime did not contain mobility restrictions “and the government has already besieged, it has taken over some communities where the armed forces have control of who enters and who leaves,” said lawyer Eduardo Escobar, of the non-governmental organization Acción Ciudadana. .

For her part, deputy Claudia Ortiz, from the conservative party Vamos, affirmed that there is a disconnection between what was legislated and what is being done with the exception regime. “Freedom of transit was not limited and there are already citizens who are denouncing these fences in neighborhoods.”

The Washington Office on Latin American Affairs (WOLA) said in a press release that the state of emergency decreed in response to the alarming wave of violence in El Salvador does not adhere to international human rights standards. that the country has agreed to respect.

“These freeloaders from the international NGOs claim to watch over human rights, but they are not interested in the victims, they only defend murderers as if they enjoyed watching the bloodbaths. Tell me how many thousands of gang members are going to be taken away, so that they can be treated like kings there,” Bukele complained.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the reason for the wave of violence continues.

For Escobar, the government does not have control of the territories and experts assure that the alleged negotiation between the gangs has broken down.

But deputy William Soriano, of the ruling Nuevas Ideas party, attributed the increase in violence to the suspension of permits for almost 300 collective transport units that the government began to operate and in which people do not pay fares.

“Coincidentally, after certain public transport routes that function as money launderers for the gangs are intervened, as a source of income for the gangs, a fairly strong source of income, these spikes occur. It means that it is directly touching the pockets of the gangs”, affirmed the legislator.

The gangs are involved in drug trafficking and organized crime, but they also extort money from merchants and public transportation companies and kill those who refuse to pay, according to authorities.

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