San Salvador, Sep 15 (EFE).- Hundreds of people were on the streets of this capital Thursday as El Salvador celebrated the 201st anniversary of independence from Spain, but while some lined the route of the official parade, others came out to protest against right-wing President Nayib Bukele.
The fifth anti-Bukele march in San Salvador in just over a year comes in the sixth month of a state of emergency enacted with the stated aim of battling gangs that has seen 52,500 arrests, according to the latest figures from the government.
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.
“There is nothing to celebrate,” a protester who identified herself only as Patricia told Efe. “We are supposed to be celebrating the independence of a democratic country, but we are not really living in a democracy.”
“Everything Nayib Bukele does is no more than give people a tablespoon of honey yet afterward you continue to swallow bitter, bitter, bitter,” she said, going on to criticize a September 2021 court ruling that allows an incumbent president to seek a second consecutive term.
Prior to that decision, a sitting president was required to spend 10 years out of office before running for a second five-year mandate.
While Bukele has yet to indicate his plans, members of the administration have signaled that he will seek immediate re-election.
Julia Bermudez said that she joined Thursday’s demonstration to ask for the release of her son, detained in May under the state of emergency.
It was in the wake of an eruption of violence in late March with 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 Legislative Assembly, dominated by Bukele’s supporters, has since voted on six occasions to renew the emergency for an additional 30 days.
NGOs and the national ombud’s office have received more than 6,500 complaints about human rights violations in connection with the state of emergency, most of them for arbitrary arrest, and Salvadoran media report that more than 50 detainees have died in custody.
“I am here so they will release all the innocent people they have arrested and my son is one of them,” Bermudez told Efe. “A hard-working and professional person.”
The official independence parade, including police, soldiers and public school students, took place Thursday for the first time since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Bukele’s office called on Salvadorans to “celebrate the decisions made to transform violence into peace and defend our sovereignty.”
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.
Prior to the state of emergency, according to Bukele, some 16,000 gang members were behind bars. EFE