El Salvador’s government has relocated thousands of suspected gang members to a recently opened “mega prison” as part of the administration’s controversial crime crackdown, which has resulted in a significant increase in the country’s prison population.
Early Friday morning, roughly 2,000 accused gang members were moved to the 40,000-person-capacity prison, which is thought to be the largest in the Americas.
President Nayib Bukele announced on Twitter that the prison would be the new residence for the alleged gang members, where they would be unable to cause further harm to the population.
Hoy en la madrugada, en un solo operativo, trasladamos a los primeros 2,000 pandilleros al Centro de Confinamiento del Terrorismo (CECOT).
Esta será su nueva casa, donde vivirán por décadas, mezclados, sin poder hacerle más daño a la población.
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) February 24, 2023
A video posted on social media by President Nayib Bukele shows accused gang members stripped down to white shorts and with their heads shaved, running through the new prison’s corridors and into their cells.
El Salvador’s Congress passed a state of emergency
In response to a recent surge in gang-related homicides, El Salvador’s Congress granted emergency powers on March 27, 2022 (Sunday). The temporary measures include the suspension of certain constitutional protections and have raised concerns among human rights advocates.
Police reports indicate that on the preceding Saturday (March 26, 2022), the country of 6.5 million people saw a record 62 homicides, the highest daily toll of homicides so far this century.
These killings have been attributed to criminal gangs, which have long been a major contributor to El Salvador’s high murder rate.
The emergency powers were approved by Congress after President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency in response to the escalating violence.
64000 arrests since the approval of emergency powers
El Salvador’s anti-crime dragnet has resulted in over 64,000 arrests since its implementation.
However, this policy has also raised concerns over its impact on human rights, with arrests being made without warrants, government access to private communications, and detainees being denied the right to a lawyer.
On Friday, El Salvador took the first inmates into its new mega prison, perhaps the biggest in world, or certainly one of them.
"This will be their new home, where they will live for decades…unable to harm the population," tweeted President Nayib Bukele. pic.twitter.com/q5zU9StqEL
— Ioan Grillo (@ioangrillo) February 26, 2023
Human rights organizations have criticized the policy, claiming that innocent people have been caught up in the crackdown, with dozens even dying while in police custody.
Despite these concerns, President Nayib Bukele’s anti-gang efforts remain popular with the Salvadoran population. The country’s security minister has confirmed that the government will continue the policy until all criminals are captured.
The homicide rate in El Salvador for the past 2 years
According to El Salvador INFO, El Salvador witnessed a significant decrease in its homicide rate in 2022, with a daily average of 1.4 homicides or 7.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Salvadoran government announced that the year ended with 495 murders, a sharp decline of 56.84% compared to the previous year. This marked 2022 as the safest year in Salvadoran history since the end of the civil war.
Moving into 2023, the Salvadoran National Police recorded only 23 homicides between January 1 and February 26, leading to a daily rate of 0.4. This figure indicates a considerable drop of 84.7% compared to the same period last year, which saw 150 homicides.
If this trend continues, El Salvador could end the year with just 147 homicides, resulting in a homicide rate of 2.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, the country has already achieved a remarkable 42 days without any homicides this year, reflecting its progress in tackling crime.