On the verge of completing a year of validity, the Salvadoran Congress approved on Wednesday a new extension of the emergency regime, while President Nayib Bukele announced the transfer of another 2,000 gang members to what he described as “the most criticized prison in the world.”
The president said on Twitter that after the new transfer operation “there are already 4,000 gang members who inhabit” the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT).
It was confirmed that they took 57 gang leaders to the mega prison, including one of the historical leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), identified as Alex Alfredo Abrego, also gunmen and 1,868 homeboys (gang members).
The prison, 74 kilometers east of the Salvadoran capital, in the municipality of Tecoluca, department of San Vicente, has 33 blocks of construction isolated from the city.
It is made up of confinement pavilions with metal cabins and punishment cells, virtual courtrooms and two modules for factories against prison leisure.
It has the capacity to house 40,000 inmates. It has been criticized by human rights groups for not adhering to international social rehabilitation standards, which discourage large prisons with a capacity for thousands of inmates.
When the first 2,000 prisoners were transferred less than a month ago, Juan Pappier, deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the AP that the United Nations minimum standards for the treatment of inmates, known as the Nelson Rules Mandela, suggest that closed prisons do not have such a large number of inmates, because this may be an “obstacle for the individualization of treatment” of the detainees.
Despite international criticism, Bukele, after three years and nine months in government, maintains a high popularity as confirmed by the most recent survey of LPG Data from the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica. According to the survey, 91% of Salvadorans approve of his work, while 92.5% approve of his security policy, and only 2.3% say it is bad or very bad.
According to official figures, more than 65,000 alleged gang members or collaborators have been captured in this time, of which more than 90% have provisional detention ordered by a judge, the majority for the crime of illegal groups.
But also more than 3,700 people have been released because a true link to these criminal structures could never be established.
Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro lashed out at national and international organizations that have denounced the capture of innocent people, as well as human rights violations.
He attacked countries that he did not identify, “that are called friends of El Salvador and are the ones that are financing this entire campaign against this operation to free six million Salvadorans who were at the mercy of terrorist groups.”
The new extension was approved with the votes of 67 of the 84 deputies of the unicameral Congress. Eight opposition deputies abstained, seven voted against, and two did not attend the session.
March 27 will mark one year since El Salvador entered a state of emergency, which was approved by Congress at the request of the government in 2022, shortly after 62 murders attributed to criminal gangs were recorded in a single day.
Since then, freedom of association, the right of a person to be duly informed of their rights and the reasons for their arrest, and the right to have the assistance of a lawyer have been suspended.
The state of emergency also extended the period of preventive detention from 72 hours to 15 days and allows the authorities to intervene the correspondence and cell phones of those they consider suspicious.
According to the Constitution, the emergency regime must be approved for 30 days and can be extended, as has happened in the last 12 months, as long as the causes that originated it exist.
The authorities hold the gangs responsible for most of the crimes registered in recent years in El Salvador and attribute an improvement in the figures on levels of violence to their security policy.
When presenting the request, the director of the National Police, Commissioner Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, affirmed that, after almost a year of the implementation of the measure, the results are compelling and “based on this diagnosis, we consider that it is necessary to extend it.” .
“These legal tools allow us and the armed forces the certainty that the procedures are legitimate,” defended the police command.
According to official figures, 2022 closed with a record of 495 homicides, the lowest figure in recent decades. But the report does not include at least 120 deaths of gang members who perished in alleged clashes with authorities.
In 2015, El Salvador, at the time considered one of the most violent countries in the world, registered 6,656 homicides, a rate of 106 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.
So far in 2023, El Salvador has registered 36 homicides, including those of seven suspected gang members who died in an exchange of fire with the authorities and that of a police officer who was shot to death by two of his colleagues while on leave and under The effects of alcohol.
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