More than 58,000 suspected gang members have been arrested in El Salvador since President Nayib Bukele declared “war” on criminal groups seven months ago and that number is about to increase. On Tuesday, the national legislature authorized more money and “all force necessary” to continue rounding up suspected gang members.
Among other measures, the legislature authorized the use of 2,000 additional military troops in the law enforcement campaign. More than 3,000 army personnel are already committed to the anti-gang campaign.
“We have made a good start but there are many criminals still on the streets and we are going after them,” Bukele said. “We will build fences around our cities so they cannot escape and then the police and the army will go in and extract them. We are committed to ending the terrorism the gangs have inflicted on the Salvadorian people.”
Justice Minister Gustavo Villatoro backed up Bukele’s new operation. “Emergency powers give us the tools to get the job done and to clean the trash off our streets,” he said, noting that suspected criminals can be detained without arrest warrants. Under the state of emergency, civil liberties have been curtailed and police power expanded, triggering complaints from rights groups and families of those arrested.
The new effort to increase arrests follows a series of recent murders in San Salvador and other cities.
“The gang war does not stop, this is a decisive step to gain the peace of mind that was stolen from the people for years and to build El Salvador that we all deserve. We are living true democracy, doing what good Salvadorans demand,” Villatoro said on Twitter following the legislative vote.
Human rights groups are condemning the round-up of those suspected of gang involvement. “There have been few trials and little evidence has been presented to prove that these individuals are criminals,” a spokeswoman for Human Right Watch said Monday. “What is happening in El Salvador is outrageous and it is important for the world to know about it.”