El Salvador’s government on Friday transferred thousands of suspected members of criminal gangs to a newly opened mega-prison that can hold 40,000 people. The president of the Central American country has been engaged in a controversial fight against organized crime for some time after the country’s murder rate rose sharply in recent years.
President Nayib Bukele wrote on Twitter: “This will be their new home, where they can no longer harm the people.” He also posted a video showing the transportation of about 2,000 shaven-headed men, mostly recently arrested suspects. Most of the men have tattoos that show they belong to one of the country’s notorious street gangs. Whether they have all committed criminal offenses is the question.
Bukele passed a bill last year through El Salvador’s parliament to approve a state of emergency for the fight against organized crime. It has since been extended several times. The emergency law gives the army and police the power to set aside fundamental rights. As a result, many innocent people have also been arrested, according to human rights organizations in the country. Dozens of arrested men would also have died in the police cell.
Bukele’s campaign against gangs earns him gains in the polls. Bukele, who is prominent on social media, tries more often to gear policy to spearheads that he thinks are popular with Salvadorans. This leads to remarkable initiatives and publicity stunts. For example, since 2021, bitcoin has been legal tender in the country alongside the dollar. However, the poverty-stricken country continues to be plagued by gigantic international debts.
The government has said strict crackdowns on crime will continue “until all criminals in the country are apprehended.”