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El Salvador, the smallest country  in Central America, once came to be the most violent in  the world without being in an open war


San Salvador.  El Salvador, the smallest country  in Central America, once came to be the most violent in  the world without being in an open war, but as a  consequence of an internal social phenomenon.

The highest peak of murders, including several police officers, occurred in mid-2017: 20 daily.  There were even horrible massacres,  such as the  one that occurred in the city of Mejicanos, where  17 people  were  burned alive inside a bus.

The perpetrators of these crimes were the gangs known  as “maras”, especially the “Salvatrucha M13” and  the “18 Revolucionarios” gangs, composed mostly of young people and even minors.

These groups, inaddition  to committing homicides, also made it a widespread practice   to charge “rent” to business owners in exchange for guaranteeing theirlives.  All this power allowed  to enrich many of its leaders and even attack with heavy caliber  weapons  to state installations.

With the arrival of a new government in June 2019, the situation of insecurity began to change. Three years after the relay,  Salvadorans walked,  with increasing confidence, through the four cardinal points of  this country of only 20 thousand Km2 and 6.3 million inhabitants.

Now, President Nayib Bukele presents public security  as  his most precious jewel. The young president, who has announced  that he will seek  re-election in  office in 2024, repeats in  each of his speeches that “El Salvador went from being the most violent  in the world to being the safest  in Latin America.”


To carry out  the  security project, “Plan de control territorial”, the government suspended constitutional guarantees through the decree  called “Regime of Exception”, which leaves     the police and the army free rein to detain without Court order to gang members.

“Policeare judges on the street,”  National Civil Police Director Mauricio ArritoldzaChicas.

The aforementioned decree has been in force for a year and a half.  As a result, according to official data, nearly 70,000 gang members have been arrested and taken  to a prison  built especially for them, which according to President Bukele is the “largest prison in Latin America.”

However, the government is accused of committing serious human rights violations. According to a report released last June by   the NGO, CRISTOSAL, during the validity of the decree 153  deaths have been   registered in prisons  , of which more than half show signs of  systematic torture.

According to the agency, 94% of the deceased would not have links to Maras.

Previously, at the end  of March, one year after  the  Exception Regime, six local humanitarian organizations, including IDHUCA, attachedto  the  José SimeónCañas Catholic University, reported that, after homologating the data, they obtained a record   of 4,723 cases of human rights violations, 2% of themchildren  and adolescents.

Despite these figures, the   humanitarian situation is not fully known, since most  state institutions, including the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman    , are under government control and are therefore aligned with its narrative.

In the same way, the press and social networks, affections of the government are ready to divert attention from the issue or to disqualify any criticism. The most common discourse  is  that anyone who questions what is related to the Territorial Control Plan is an  accomplice of the maras.

However,  a  chorus of  critical voices has emerged. These include  national and foreign humanitarian organizations, sectors of the international press, and even presidents such as Colombia’s Gustavo Petro.  Petro has compared the  “mega” Salvadoran prison to a concentration camp.

Complaints about human rights violations, however, do  not appear to be a problem for the government. Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro says   the  government is doing its job within the framework of  the law and that effort has turned El Salvador into a different country.   (end).

(*) Carlos Ramirez was Chief of Police Communications from 2017 to 2019

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