Crime & Justice

El Salvador transfers 2,000 inmates to new high-security prison

San Salvador, Feb 24 (EFE).- Salvadoran authorities moved 2,000 accused gang members to a recently completed maximum-security prison, President Nayib Bukele said Friday.

“Today before dawn, in a single operation, we transferred the first 2,000 gang members to the Center for Terrorism Confinement (CECOT),” he wrote on Twitter. “This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, mixed together, without being able to do more damage to the population.”

Though the government gave no advance notice of the transfer, around 150 relatives of inmates gathered early Friday outside La Esperanza prison in San Salvador and EFE witnessed the departure of several busloads of prisoners.

During a tour of CECOT at the end of last month with EFE and other media present, Public Works Minister Romeo Rodriguez described it as the largest prison in the Western Hemisphere – with room for 40,000 inmates – and assured Bukele that the facility was escape-proof.

Built on a parcel of 165.2 hectares (407,901 acres) in a rural area more than 75 km (47 mi) from San Salvador, the prison itself occupies 23.1 hectares in the center of that expanse, whose perimeter is secured by a large contingent of soldiers and police.

The opposition has been critical of the project, pointing to a lack of transparency about the costs. The pro-Bukele majority in the Legislative Assembly passed a bill exempting the prison from the usual oversight requirements.

The opening of the prison comes nearly a year into a state of emergency imposed in March 2022 with the ostensible purpose of battling Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS13, and other gangs.

Bukele said that the government needed special powers to deal with the gangs and since then, his right-wing allies in the assembly have voted every month to renew the state of exception.

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 64,000 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 organizations and the office of the national ombud have received nearly 8,000 complaints about arbitrary arrest and dozens of detainees have died.

Three weeks ago, Amnesty International said that the new prison would mean “continuity and escalation of the abuses” committed under the state of emergency.

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.

EFE hs/dr

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