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Weeping mothers and other relatives of gang members gather en masse outside of El Salvador prisons as gang crackdown continues

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Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2022. 2:57 pm CST.

Photo credit: New York Times

By Benjamin Flowers: Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and girlfriends of gang members detained during El Salvador’s crackdown on criminal gangs have been gathering outside prisons hoping to get word on what will happen to their loved ones.

The New York Times reports that many women continuously gather in front of a prison called “El Penalito,” or “little prison,” where many of those detained are taken and held before later being transferred to a maximum-security facility. Many of the women reportedly bring documents with them such as work identification cards, school records, and work badges, in hopes of proving that their loved one is not a member of any criminal gang.

The crackdown, instituted in March after the number of gang killings reached a record high, is being called the most aggressive move against gangs in El Salvador’s history. President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency and suspended many constitutional liberties that would make such mass incarcerations difficult. Over 25,000 men have been detained since the crackdown began in March and funneled into a prison system that is said to be already overcrowded.

The grieving families also find themselves as a minority, as reports are that more than 80 percent of Salvadorans support President Bukele’s crackdown. Public opinion is said to be in favor of getting rid of gang members by any means necessary, leaving little, if any sympathy for those who may have been unduly detained.

The crackdown has also raised concerns about gang members fleeing El Salvador and seeking refuge in other countries. For the month of May, the Belize Police Department has confirmed that at least four members of the Marva Salvachuca (MS13) gang have been arrested in Belize.

Police Commissioner Chester Willimas in a recent media interview, said that authorities are coordinating increased presence along border entry points, particularly in western Belize, in an attempt to mitigate the flow of gang members coming into the country.

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