Last Friday, the government of El Salvador transferred thousands of alleged gang members to a recently opened “mega prison”, in the latest step in a controversial war on crime that has seen the number of inmates in the Central American country skyrocket.
“This will be their new home, where they will not be able to cause more suffering to the population”, wrote President Nayib Bukele on Twitter, referring to the so-called Terrorism Confinement Center, opened less than a month ago, on 31 January. , in San Vicente.
Around 2000 gang members were transferred to this 166-hectare prison complex, which, with a total capacity of 40,000 people, makes it the largest in the world.
In a video released by Bukele, inmates dressed only in white shorts, with their heads shaved, appear running in handcuffs to their new cells. Many have tattoos that identify the gang they belong to.
Last year, the head of state approved a state of exception, already extended several times, which allows for the suspension of some constitutional rights, following a dramatic increase in homicides committed by violent gangs, considered terrorist organizations by the Government. From 25 to 27 March 2022, 87 people were murdered.
Since then, more than 64,000 suspects have been arrested in an operation to combat crime, of which at least 1600 are teenagers under 17 years old. Arrests can be made without a warrant, the government has access to private communications and prisoners are no longer entitled to a lawyer.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and opposition parties argue that innocent citizens have been victims of these measures, including a few dozen who have already died in police custody.
However, Bukele’s anti-gang policies remain popular with the Salvadoran population, and Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro has already assured that this effort will continue until all criminals are apprehended.
While the number of homicides has dropped significantly since Bukele took over as head of state, in 2019, El Salvador became the country with the highest number of prisoners in the world, with 605 people detained per 100,000 inhabitants.