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El Salvador and the War Against its Violent Gangs

The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, assured that he is about to win the war against the violent gangs that controlled 80% of the territory of this Central American country.

“Today we are about to win the most difficult battle of all, we are very close to winning the war against gangs,” Bukele said in a message to Congress and broadcast on radio and television on the occasion of his third year in office.

The president affirmed that since the end of the civil war (1980-1992) the gangs or maras have been responsible for the death of at least 120,000 people.”In these 30 years (after the end of the war) 70% of Salvadorans were affected by the violence” of these criminal groups, Bukele remarked.

The president acknowledged that the gangs “controlled 80% of the country’s territory,” including areas where police officers and soldiers lived, and “to top it off, the gangs had complicit judges and prosecutors who let them go free” one day after their arrest.

“Today, El Salvador is very close to living a new reality that for decades was denied to us: to have a country without gangs,” he emphasized.El Salvador, with some 70,000 gang members, is struggling to escape from the list of the world’s most homicidal countries. 

Following the murder of 87 people in the country from March 25-27, the Congress, controlled by government allies and at Bukele’s request, decreed a state of emergency which has been extended.

Bukele’s “war” put thousands of soldiers to patrol the streets and in the last two months has taken more than 36,000 presumed members of the “maras” to jail without judicial order, in addition to 16,000 more already in prison.

The governor considered that with the actions taken by his government in the face of violence, the country will go from being the “most insecure in the world to the safest country in Latin America”, and gave as an example that in May only 17 homicides were registered in the country.

Sovereign El Salvador

Bukele used his speech to lash out at his critics, including international organizations, who question him for signs of authoritarianism and alleged human rights violations.

“El Salvador is a sovereign country, here we are going to make the decisions we consider right for us and our future. All those who want to support us are welcome and build this dream with us, and those who don’t, stay away,” he said.

We are not going to allow them to come to our house to tell us what to do or to give us orders”, said the president when referring to countries that have criticized him for his actions.

He insisted “we want to have good relations with other countries, we want to be allies, friends, partners; but not a colony, nor a backyard, nor a front yard, as they want to call it now”.

But Bukele also lashed out against international organizations that have criticized him and accused him of violating human rights in the fight against gangs and said that they “don’t even know El Salvador”.

“Suddenly we are their priority, they spend all day commenting, sanctioning, condemning and operating in El Salvador, but before they did not even know where it (the country) was,” added the president.

Criticism from his opponents has continued since May 2021 when, with the help of his allies in Congress, he dismissed magistrates from a chamber of the Supreme Court and removed the attorney general, which was considered “anti-democratic” by the United States.

 Leadership not dictatorship

The president lashed out at the opposition from the left and right of the traditional parties he defeated in the 2019 elections and who accuse him of establishing a dictatorship in the country.

“They say there is a dictatorship here because now there is leadership, there is courage, there is firmness and there is vision to do what the Salvadoran people need (…) that is not called dictatorship, it is called leadership and democratic”.

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