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El Salvador rounds up another 2,000 gang members as country’s president ramps up war against gangs

By Elizabeth Delaney
|
March 16, 2023

President Nayib Bukele was elected by a country full of people who were fed up with rampant crime. Since he has taken office, he had a new prison built that houses more than 40,000 prisoners.

Cleaning up organized crime

The prisoners this particular prison holds are not the type that are simply guilty of some petty crime. These are men who are part of organized crime rings and organized gangs. In fact, the law enforcement in El Salvador has referred to them as terrorists. A second round of 2000 have been transported to the new prison, according to the Daily Mail.

There was apparently an attempt to cut some sort of deal between the organized crime leaders and the El Salvador government back in March of 2022, according to International Crisis Group.

But a breakdown in the negotiations caused a sudden increase in violence. That crime spree resulted in law enforcement going on a campaign in which mass arrests were made to get the violence under control.

Thet violence was so bad that President Nayib Bukele declared a "war on crime." A state of emergency was declared in El Salvador in March of 2022. A new prison was constructed and is now being used to accommodate all of the arrests that have been made, and are still going on, according to Atlas News.

Life under a state of emergency

The state of emergency in El Salvador allows police to arrest people without getting a warrant to do so. Approximately 62,000 people have been arrested so far in connection to gang activity. And though the new prison is the largest in Latin America, it's already overcrowded. according to Atlas News.

The state of emergency allows the government to lengthen the time that a convicted criminal is held to an indefinite time period, and the age of prosecution has been lowered to twelve, according to International Crisis Group.

In addition, law enforcement have placed checkpoints in various areas around the country, primarily in the poor districts that have been over taken by gangs. There are also frequent police raids.

Reaction of citizens of El Salvador

Because the gangs have been tormenting the law abiding citizens of El Salvador for approximately 2 decades, the citizens are supportive of what some outside the country are calling draconian measures by the government. Nevertheless, the measures are showing to be quite effective for getting crime more under control by law enforcement.

That being said, the conditions in the prison are causing alarm among some humanitarian groups.

For every 100 prisoners, there are only 80 metal bunks, none of which have mattresses. Each cell has two sinks, two toilets, and the 4-story metal bunks that serve as beds, according to the Daily Mail.

"There will be no mattresses in the cells," a prison warden told journalists.

The only time prisoners leave the cell is for legal hearings, or because they are the cause of some issue with the inmates in their cell. Then they are punished with being moved to an isolation cell, which doesn't have any windows.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas, is one of the people who has been outspoken about the prison conditions and actions being taken by the El Salvador government.

"We have the duty to make sure that El Salvador doesn't become another dictatorship," he told Reuters.

"The only way to stop this is to have a strong reaction by the international community," he added.

President Nayib Bukele has been enjoying favorable poll ratings among the 6.5 million citizens of El Salvador.

Bukele claims he feels he has a duty to make sure the law abiding citizens of El Salvador are safe, and has described those who were in power before him as being corrupt.