El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, announced on Tuesday that he will step up the “war” against gangs after the murder of three policemen during an ambush, presumably perpetrated by these organizations.
“This will not remain like this and they will pay dearly for the murder of these three heroes”, declared the president during a press conference in which he blamed the Barrio 18 gang, of the so-called Sureños faction, for the crime.
Among the officers gunned down were the head of the 911 emergency system section and two police officers (a man and a woman) who were attacked in the La Realidad neighborhood in Santa Ana, the country’s second largest city, some 60 km west of San Salvador.
“The gang members are fools, because we are not going to back down. We are going to step up this war against the gangs. Now they are really going to see what it means to unleash this security force,” the president promised.
In response to an escalation of 87 murders committed between March 25 and 27, Congress accepted a request by Bukele to decree an emergency regime, which has led to the arrest of 43,086 suspected gang members.
This exceptional regime, extended until the end of July, allows arrests without a warrant. It has been considered “unsustainable” by the chargé d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in San Salvador, Patrick Ventrell.
“It is an unsustainable policy, which has already left tens of thousands of detainees and numerous reports of human rights violations, arbitrary arrests and deaths of detainees as well,” Ventrell said.
For Bukele, “to say that the exception regime is unsustainable was probably an unfortunate opinion.” “If he means that it cannot remain forever, we agree, it cannot be chemotherapy forever”, he considered.
But “if it refers to stopping chemotherapy before eliminating the cancer, then it is totally absurd because the only thing we are going to achieve is that the cancer will kill us all.”
Organizations such as Amnesty International and the NGO Human Rights Watch have called on the Salvadoran government to respect human rights.
El Salvador is primarily home to the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs. Before the government’s onslaught, some 16,000 of their members were incarcerated. But with the arrests of the last three months, 59,086 members are now behind bars, 84% of the 70,000 members officially considered to exist in the country.