El Salvador declares state of emergency after gang killings

The measures come after 62 homicides were reported on Saturday, making it the most violent day in nearly 30 years.

El Salvador’s parliament has approved the state of emergency that temporarily suspended some constitutional protections in the Central American country following a wave of killings attributed to criminal gangs.

Police reported a total of 62 homicides on Saturday, making it the most violent day in nearly three decades.

“We approve the exceptional regime, which will allow our government to protect the lives of Salvadorans and confront criminality head-on,” said Ernesto Castro, the congress’s president, said after an extraordinary session early on Sunday.

The country registered 1,140 murders in 2021 – an average of 18 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, but still considerably lower since the end of the civil war in 1992.

In 2015, El Salvador, home to some 6.5 million people, recorded a rate of 103 homicides for every 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world.

The emergency measures will lead to restrictions on free assembly. It will also curtail the right to be informed of the reason for arrest and access to a lawyer upon being detained, in addition to allowing for administrative detention of more than 72 hours.

President Nayib Bukele, who asked parliament to approve the emergency measures, praised the move after the vote.

“The measures to be taken will be implemented by the relevant institutions and announced only when necessary. For the vast majority of people, life continues normal. God bless us all,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

He also said he was ordering the head of the country’s prisons to carry out an immediate 24/7 lockdown of gang inmates in their cells.

Translation: Director @OsirisLunaMeza, decree maximum emergency … in all security and maximum security prisons, all cells are closed 24/7, no one goes out to the outdoor area. It’s a message to the gangs: because of your actions, now your “homeboys” won’t be able to see a ray of sunshine.

The president also said food would be rationalised saying that he will “not take budget away from schools to feed these terrorists”.

Justice Minister and General Director of Penal Centres Osiris Luna confirmed the order adding on Twitter that: “They will have 2 meal times per day and the menu will be revised so that it is less expensive in the Maximum and Security prisons.”

Figures show that the rate of homicide has fallen steadily since President Bukele took office in 2019.

But critics say Bukele’s administration has been marked by democratic backsliding, as he has sought to consolidate his control over the legislative and judicial branches.

His government has also been accused of brokering a pact with the two main gangs, offering gang members better prison conditions, money and other benefits in exchange for them reducing homicide rates and giving electoral support to Bukele’s party at legislative elections. He has repeatedly denied those accusations.

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