El Salvador announced new anti-gang measures

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — El Salvador’s president announced Wednesday that he would close parts of the city in search of street gang members, the latest phase of an increasingly tough nine-month crackdown on crime.

President Nayib Bukele told a meeting attended by 14,000 army soldiers that certain sectors of cities in El Salvador will be cordoned off by police and soldiers, and everyone entering or leaving will be checked. Bukele said such tactics worked in Comasagua in October.

Bukele called it the “Fifth Phase” of a crackdown that has led to the arrest of more than 58,000 people since a state of emergency was declared following a wave of killings in late March.

“Now comes the fifth phase, which is rooting out the criminals who are still in the communities,” Bukele said.

In October, more than 2,000 soldiers and police cordoned off Comasagua to search for street gang members accused of murder. Drones flew over the city and anyone entering or leaving the city was questioned or searched. About 50 suspects were detained in two days.

“It worked,” Bukele said. According to government estimates, homicides in the first 10 months of the year decreased by 38% compared to the same period in 2021.

Bukele asked Congress for emergency powers on March 26 after gangs were blamed for 62 killings, and the emergency decree has been renewed every month since then. It suspends some Constitutional rights and gives police more powers to arrest and detain suspects.

According to the decree, the right to association, the right to receive information about the reason for the arrest and contact with a lawyer are preserved. The government can also intercept the calls and mail of anyone it deems suspicious. The period of detention of a person without charge is increased from three days to 15 days.

Advocates say young men are often arrested because of their age, appearance or whether they live in a gang-infested slum.

El Salvador’s gangs, estimated to number around 70,000, have long controlled territory and extorted and killed with impunity.

But Bukele’s crackdown earlier this month destroyed the graves of gang members when government inmates sent detainees to cemeteries, a time of year when families visit the graves of their loved ones.

Non-governmental organizations noted the violation of the rights of several thousand people arrested during the repressions and the death of at least 80 people in prison.

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