Crime & Justice

Kin of Salvadoran detainees vow to hold gov’t responsible

San Salvador, Jul 19 (EFE).- Around 200 family members of some of the tens of thousands of people taken into custody under a state of emergency now in its fourth month vowed here Tuesday to hold the Salvadoran government responsible for the fates of their loved ones.

The protesters, displaying photos of their detained relatives, gathered at San Salvador’s famous Monument to the Divine Savior of the World and tried to march to the presidential palace to deliver letters to President Nayib Bukele.

But riot police intervened and allowed only four demonstrators to pass with the missives.

It was in the wake of an eruption of violence in late March that saw 87 homicides in three days that Bukele persuaded congress to grant him special powers to battle the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS13.

The state of emergency, since extended three times, entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and thousands of people have been detained without any requirement for warrants or grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

More than 46,000 people have been arrested, according to the latest bulletin from the Security Ministry.

Aside from the number of arrests and claims by the right-wing president that the “war against the gangs” is nearly won, the government has shared little information, refusing to say how many detainees have died in custody.

A woman taking part in Tuesday’s demonstration told Efe that five of her loved ones have been detained.

Identifying herself only as Alberta, she said that police showed up at the family’s fruit and vegetable stand in the western province of Ahuachapan and took away her partners, her daughter, both her sons and the wife of one of the young men.

“I beg the president to get in touch with his conscience, because I know he is a father,” Alberta said. “If he experienced it himself, it would hurt him a lot to see his son in one of those places (prisons).

Yenny Mendez said that her brother Oscar, 30, was picked up May 21 while on his way to work in San Marcos, just outside the capital.

Oscar is the sole support for three children, including one who suffers from microcephaly, she said, holding a poster with photographs of her brother.

“So far we have heard nothing about him, they have merely told us we must wait for an investigation,” Mendez said. “We fear for his life and I hold the state responsible if he doesn’t leave there alive.”

Another protester, Reynaldo Mejia, said that police came to the home of his brother Oscar, 32, in the wee hours of June 7 and arrested him without explanation.

“It’s not fair that innocent people pay for things that others have done,” Reynaldo said.

NGOs and the national ombud’s office have received more than 3,000 complaints about human rights violations in connection with the state of emergency, most of them for arbitrary arrest.

Human rights advocates and Salvadorian media say that more than 52 detainees have died in custody, but the government refuses to confirm or deny those fatalities.

A succession of governments has struggled to subdue MS-13 and the other gangs, which actually originated in Los Angeles 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 in a nation of 6.48 million inhabitants.

Prior to the state of emergency, according to Bukele, some 16,000 gang members were behind bars. EFE sa/dr

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