Following a record-setting weekend of gang killings in March, the Salvadoran government declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties guaranteed in the constitution.
El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, has conceded that innocents are being swept up in the crackdown, but insists they’re a small share of arrests. And the vast majority of Salvadorans — more than 80 percent, surveys show — support Mr. Bukele and approve of the government’s extreme measures.
Hatred of the gangs runs so deep in El Salvador that many want them subdued by any means necessary.
The government says it is arresting “terrorists” and gang members to take control of the streets after a spike in homicides from March 25 to 27 left more than 80 people dead.
But despite the criticism, members of President Nayib Bukele‘s Nuevas Ideas Party said they would continue the arrests during the state of exception until all the country’s gang members, estimated at 70,000 people, are detained.
Mr. Bukele, 40, campaigned on the promise of bringing law and order to El Salvador’s streets, some of the world’s most violent, and since taking office nearly three years ago he had seemed to be making good on that pledge.
However, the reduction in violence may not have been the fruit of Mr. Bukele’s security policies, but of a clandestine deal
Under these secret negotiations, according to the Treasury Department, the government provided financial incentives to the gangs and preferential treatment for gang leaders in prison, such as access to mobile phones and prostitutes. In exchange, the gangs apparently promised to cut down on gang violence and homicides.
The [March] violence was random, not the result of spats between gang members or intimidation of vendors who refused to pay extortion fees, as is often the case. It ensnared anyone caught on the streets.