El Salvador declares emergency over increase in gang killings
The state of emergency increases police authority and restricts civil liberties amid the country's rising gang-related violence that left dozens dead within the last 48 hours.
El Salvadoran legislature announced a state of emergency on Sunday at the request of President Nayib Bukele, boosting police powers and restricting civil freedoms as the nation faces escalating gang-related violence that has killed dozens in just two days.
The small Central American country has been hit by a new wave of gang violence, with 62 people slain on Saturday alone, and another 14 on Friday, according to authorities.
Armed with assault rifles and bulletproof vests, police and soldiers patrolled the streets on Sunday, following the announcement by the security cabinet of the capture of "more than 400 gang members" from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, which are accused of unleashing a "wave of violence" in the country.
The National Civil Police in the country tweeted, "We will not back down in this war against gangs, we will not rest until the criminals responsible for these acts are captured and brought to justice."
In reaction to the increase in violence, Bukele requested the legislature, which is controlled by his governing party, to declare a one-month state of emergency, limiting some liberties.
The move restricts free association and assembly, and without a court warrant, correspondences, phone conversations, and emails can be examined or intercepted.
It also limits the right to be notified of the basis for arrest and to consult with a lawyer while held, as well as allowing for administrative detention for more than 72 hours.
After the request was approved, Bukele tweeted that life will continue "as normal", for the majority of people. He detailed that "religious services, sporting events, commerce, studies, etc., may continue as normal," he added, "unless you are a gang member or are considered suspicious by the authorities."
Maximum emergency was also declared in all prisons, which detain over 17,000 of the 70,000 members of MS-13, Barrio 18, and other gangs incarcerated for murder, extortion, and drug offenses.
"All cells are closed 24/7, no one goes to the outdoor area," the President tweeted. "It's a message to the gangs: Because of your actions, your 'homeboys' won't see a ray of sunshine."
The President warned judges that "favor criminals" that he would keep a close eye on them and requested the prosecutor's office be effective in handling gang-related cases.
Last November, a similar spike in gang violence resulted in the death of 45 people within 3 days.
According to official figures, the country had 1,140 murders in 2021, an average of 18 fatalities per 100,000 residents, a decrease from the previous year's 1,341 and the lowest rate since the country's civil war ended in 1992.
In October last year, thousands took to the streets in El Salvador on Sunday in protest of President Nayib Bukele who has stoked concern that he is steadily concentrating power.
He responded by changing his Twitter profile later in the day to "Emperor of El Salvador".
Local media reported that at least 4,000 people marched through the capital San Salvador. Banners were lifted decrying Bukele's ouster of Supreme Court judges, the potential for the president to renew a second consecutive term, and the adoption of bitcoin as legal tender.