San Salvador, Dec 27 (EFE).- Around 200 children of the more than 60,000 people detained since the end of March under El Salvador’s state of emergency received toys and holiday fare Tuesday at a Christmas event organized by human rights activists.
“We wanted to celebrate the children, because this year the children who have their papas and their mommas detained could not hug them because they are prisoners, unjustly victimized,” Samuel Ramirez of the Movement of Victims of the Regime told EFE.
The activists are “defending the innocence of the victims, we are not defending criminals,” he said.
El Salvador is in the ninth month of a state of emergency imposed with the stated aim of battling gangs.
It was in the wake of an eruption of violence in late March with 87 homicides in three days that right-wing President Nayib Bukele persuaded congress to grant him special powers to battle Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS13, and other gangs.
“Bukele himself accepts that 1 percent of all the detainees are innocent,” Ramirez said. “We believe there are many more than that.”
He said that impetus and funding for the Christmas party came from Salvadorans living abroad.
Andrea de Garcia said that she and the couple’s nearly 3-year-old daughter have not seen her husband since he was arrested March 28.
“We don’t know exactly where he is, they won’t let us see him, they won’t let us talk to him. The completely overbearing attorney (a public defender) doesn’t know how to handle my husband’s case,” she told EFE.
Mother of four Wendy Vigil said that her husband was detained while on his way to work.
“My husband has not extorted anybody, he has not done wrong things. They took him because of an anonymous call, it has already been six months,” she said, asking EFE not to photograph her face.
Vigil said that she collects and sells scrap metal and plastic bottles to put food on the table.
The state of emergency entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and allows police to detain people without warrants and in the absence of grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.
More than 60,000 people with gang connections have been arrested, according to the government, but families of many detainees say that their loved ones were law-abiding citizens.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Salvadoran Episcopal Church-linked organization Cristosal have urged the Bukele administration to end the state of emergency.
El Salvador’s prison population ballooned from 39,000 in March to 95,000 in November, HRW and Cristosal said in a recent report that also pointed to 90 unexplained deaths in custody.
A succession of governments has struggled to subdue MS-13 and the other gangs, which originated in Southern California among the children of Salvadorans fleeing the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.
Convicted gang members deported back to their homeland from the United States established the gangs on Salvadoran soil, where the number of members is currently estimated at around 70,000.