Under a scorching sun, hundreds of Salvadorans marched this Friday to reject the intention of President Nayib Bukele to be re-elected and to denounce the detention of “innocents” in the relentless fight against criminal groups.
“No to re-election”, “not one more day!” read banners held high by the protesters, who marched from Rosales Hospital to Gerardo Barrios Square in San Salvador, on the day that Central American countries’ Independence is commemorated.
Mothers with photos of their incarcerated children demanded their release, asserting their innocence and claiming there’s no evidence they belonged to criminal gangs.
“Today we march unitedly saying no to re-election,” Sonia Urrutia, a leader of the Front of Resistance and Popular Rebellion, told the press.
Judge Juan Antonio Durán declared during the march that “re-election is absolutely prohibited” by the Constitution.
Enabled by the Supreme Court, even though the Constitution prohibits re-election, Bukele announced a year ago that he will seek a second term in the elections on February 4, 2024, backed by his popularity from his “war” against gangs.
I don’t know if he’s alive
Polls indicate that nine out of ten Salvadorans approve of Bukele’s management, who has restored safety to the streets with his crusade, launched in March 2022 against gangs that exerted territorial control and were financed by extortion, assassination contracts, and drug trafficking.
With the emergency regime, which allows detentions without a judicial order, the government has imprisoned about 72,600 alleged gang members. According to authorities, around 7,000 innocents have been released.
The Catholic Church and human rights groups criticize Bukele’s methods against the gangs.
“I ask for freedom for my son because they unjustly detained him since December 2, 2022,” Patricia Santamaría told AFP, showing a photo of her 34-year-old son, Alex Ernesto Santamaría. “They don’t want to release him; he has a clean record,” she added.
A truck displayed a picture with the message “Free Duval Mata Alvarado. He has two judicial resolutions and remains unlawfully imprisoned.”
His mother, Marcela Alvarado, said that her 27-year-old son was a tractor operator at an agricultural cooperative when he was arrested on April 18, 2022. Despite having “two letters of release” (judicial resolutions), he remains imprisoned.
“I don’t know if he’s alive or dead,” added the 50-year-old housewife, who recounted her unsuccessful attempts to claim her son from the “mega-prison”, inaugurated in February and built by Bukele for gang members.
In a message to the nation on radio and television, Bukele assured on Friday night that El Salvador is now “the safest country in Latin America.”
The ruler announced the start of phase 6 of the Territorial Control Plan (PCT) which includes the creation of the National Integration Directorate, which will be led by the Argentine, Alejandro Gutman.
The initial phases of the PCT were focused on containing the gangs. Hence, phase 6 will be oriented, according to Bukele, towards “fighting poverty, which has multiple causes.”