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El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele justifies gang crackdown at UN amid international criticism

Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2023. 6:08 pm CST.

By Horace Palacio: El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele ardently defended his government’s crackdown on gangs during his address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Bukele, who has faced increasing international disapproval for his hardline stance against gangs, emphasized that the decisions taken by his administration were right for the country. This statement comes in light of recent coverage by Latin Post.

The youthful Central American leader responded to criticisms, stating that if El Salvador heeded its detractors, it would revert to being the “murder capital of the world.” Bukele asserted, “Today, we are a model of security and no one can doubt it. There are the results. They are irrefutable.”

However, critiques from various sources, including the Associated Press, highlight concerns about the lack of due process for suspected gang members under the State of Emergency declared by Bukele. Thousands have reportedly been arrested based on mere suspicion of gang affiliations, primarily with notorious gangs like MS-13 and Barrio-18.

The UN Human Rights Office has also weighed in, pointing out the “widespread human rights violations, thousands of unsubstantiated arrests, and dozens of in-custody deaths” across El Salvador.

Despite the international backlash, Nayib Bukele’s popularity remains high domestically. As he gears up for re-election, the gang crackdowns are anticipated to be the focal point of his campaign strategy.

Residents of some of El Salvador’s historically gang-ridden areas, such as Lourdes, have voiced approval of Bukele’s tactics, noting significant improvements in safety and a reduction in gang-related crimes. Yet, on the flip side, the country’s ranking on the Freedom in the World index has dropped from “free” to “partly free” due to these very crackdowns and the widespread issues of corruption and rule of law.

In an unprecedented move last July, El Salvador greenlit mass trials for thousands of detained individuals suspected of gang affiliations. As reported by The Guardian, these trials can accommodate up to 900 people simultaneously if they originate from the same region and are affiliated with the same gang group. These actions are a part of Bukele’s intensified year-long campaign against criminal gangs.

Furthermore, as a testament to the scale of these operations, the country has incarcerated approximately 2% of its entire adult population due to the crackdowns. A new mega-prison, touted to be the largest in the Americas, is under operation and has the capacity to house up to 70,000 inmates.


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