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HomeCentral AmericaEl SalvadorTroops deployed in San Salvador amid massive gang crackdown

Troops deployed in San Salvador amid massive gang crackdown

More than 2,000 soldiers and police surrounded two districts in El Salvador’s capital on Saturday as part of President Nayib Bukele’s war on gangs, the second such operation this month in the Central American country.

“As of this morning, the Tutunichapa district in San Salvador is totally surrounded,” Bukele posted on Twitter.  

“More than 1,000 soldiers and 130 police officers will extract the criminals who still remain,” he added.

Bukele later tweeted that 1,000 more soldiers and 100 police officers had been dispatched to La Granjita, another neighborhood in the capital.

“After encircling Tutunichapa, a famous drug distribution center, we knew that many drug traffickers would take refuge in the neighborhood of La Granjita, another famous distribution center”, Bukele tweeted.

Images released Saturday by the office of the president showed heavily armed soldiers entering Tutunichapa, a populous district where small houses mostly constructed of concrete blocks stand alongside one of the many polluted streams that run through San Salvador.

Justice Minister Gustavo Villatoro posted photos of members of an anti-narcotics police unit with drug-sniffing dogs.

“We are going to extract every criminal from our communities,” Villatoro said in a Twitter post.

Bastion on crime

Defense Minister Rene Merino said 23 people had been arrested in Tutunichapa, without specifying whether they were accused of being gang members or drug traffickers.

“All terrorists, drug traffickers and gang members will be removed” from the area, Bukele said in another tweet, adding that until recently it was a “bastion of crime.”

“Honest citizens have nothing to fear and can continue to live their lives normally,” he wrote.

Local resident Edwin Diaz, 51, cheered the law enforcement action, saying the area has long been considered a dangerous place due to gang activity and drug sales.

“All our lives we have suffered the stigma that here there is drug dealing, gang members, bad things, and today with this security they have set up, there is nothing to fear,” said Diaz by phone on Saturday.

Echoing Bukele’s remark, Diaz added: “He who owes nothing, fears nothing.”

Almost 60,000 arrests

Earlier this month, Bukele, who has declared a state of emergency to quash gang violence, sent 8,500 soldiers and 1,500 police officers to surround Soyapango, the country’s third-largest city, with a population of nearly a quarter million.

The president had announced last month a plan to use troops to surround cities while house-by-house searches are conducted for gang members. Soyapango was first on the list.

The siege there has seen armored military vehicles, some with artillery, carrying out constant patrols while heavily armed police search houses and people as they leave their neighborhoods, as well as random sweeps of public transport.

As of Saturday, some 650 suspected gang members had been arrested in Soyapango, Merino said. 

“We continue working in the rest of the territory looking for terrorist criminals,” the defense minister added.

Almost 60,000 suspected gang members have been arrested since the launch of the state of emergency in March, which has prompted humanitarian groups to question what they see as heavy-handed tactics.

Despite that criticism, El Salvador’s Congress on Thursday once again extended the state of emergency for another month.

Over 75 percent of Salvadorans approve of the emergency declaration, and nine out of 10 Salvadorans say that crime “has decreased” with Bukele’s policies, according to a Central American University (UCA) poll published in October.

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