El Salvador extends special powers in fight against gangs

Feb 14, 2023, 8:45 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2023, 10:48 am

File - Men who were detained under a state of exception, are transported in a livestock trailer to ...

File - Men who were detained under a state of exception, are transported in a livestock trailer to a detention center in Soyapango, El Salvador, on Oct. 7, 2022. The government of President Nayib Bukele asked on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, for a new extension on the ongoing state of exception that suspends the country´s constitutional rights, as he continues his fights against gangs. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — El Salvador’s congress has approved President Nayib Bukele’s request to extend the period of special powers for another month, meaning the country will go at least a full year with some fundamental rights suspended in fight against gangs.

Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro said the state of exception would continue until the last gang member is captured.

“The historic results achieved in security confirm for us that we’re on the right path, transforming the country,” Villatoro told lawmakers.

The Legislative Assembly voted 67 in favor to six opposed late Tuesday night. Eight lawmakers abstained and three did not attend.

After a surge in gang violence in March 2022, in which 62 people were killed in a single day across the country, Bukele requested the special powers to pursue the gangs.

Street gangs had long plagued El Salvador, stifling the economy with oppressive extortion rackets and displacing thousands within the country and abroad through violence.

Under the special powers, the right to association is suspended, police don’t have to tell someone being arrested the reason or inform them of their rights. Someone arrested does not have a right to a lawyer and can be held for 15 days without seeing a judge rather than the previous 72 hours.

Villatoro said more than 64,000 people had been arrested so far and more than 57,000 of them were in jail awaiting pending formal charges or trial.

Civil and human rights organizations have criticized the situation, citing widespread abuses, including deaths of dozens in detention.

Bukele has rejected such criticism, noting that the measures have broad support in El Salvador, violence has dropped precipitously and people are returning to neighborhoods that were long controlled by the gangs.

Last year, El Salvador reported 495 homicides, the lowest figure in recent decades. The official number did not include at least 120 suspected gang members killed in confrontations with authorities.

The government recently unveiled a massive new prison they could eventually hold 40,000 gang membrs.

Villatoro said the gang members incarcerated there “are never going to return to our communities, it is President Nayib Bukele’s promise.”

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