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HomeCentral AmericaEl SalvadorEl Salvador's Military Siege Restores Security in the North

El Salvador’s Military Siege Restores Security in the North

A military siege imposed almost two months ago to combat gangs in Chalatenango, a region in northern El Salvador, has brought security back to the streets of the area, residents said on Wednesday.

“For me, what has been seen is a success, for me it is good, we feel confident, and we can sleep on the porch (of the house), there is no fear,” said María Portillo, a 56-year-old vendor in the community of Guarjila, Chalatenango.

The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, as part of his anti-gang “war,” ordered the deployment of 6,000 soldiers and police on March 24 to dismantle gang remnants after two homicides in Chalatenango, about 90 km north of San Salvador.

The authorities captured the two suspects of the double murder, who are allegedly members of the Sureños faction of the Barrio 18 gang.

On the streets, residents said that an atmosphere of tranquility now prevails in Chalatenango, a predominantly agricultural and livestock region. Armed with M-16 rifles, vests, and helmets, soldiers in uniforms move through streets and forests.

“Now we go out freely, and before I was even afraid to go out here,” said María Hernández, a 63-year-old housewife, in the town of San Isidro Labrador. Bukele declared “war” on gangs on March 27, 2022, after an escalation of 87 homicides in one weekend, under a questioned state of emergency that allows arrests without a warrant.

The maras or gangs financed themselves by charging extortion to thousands of Salvadorans, mainly merchants and transporters. Bukele’s crusade brought tranquility back to the streets and raised his popularity, which allowed him to be re-elected in February for a second five-year term.

In the framework of the prevailing military siege, on Tuesday an alleged member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) died after troops from the Fourth Infantry Brigade of Chalatenango “repelled” a group of gang members in the town of La Palma, the Armed Forces reported on the social network X.

Since the “war” began, a little more than 80,000 alleged gang members have been arrested, according to the authorities. However, human rights groups maintain that among those detained are many innocent people and that the human rights “crisis” may “perpetuate” in the country.

“Those who are paying the consequences are the population unjustly detained,” said Miguel Montenegro, coordinator of the Human Rights Commission.

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