Crime & Justice

Score of Colombians held arbitrarily in El Salvador

San Salvador, Jun 20 (EFE).- Some 20 Colombian nationals are behind bars in El Salvador with no access to due process after being arrested under the “state of exception” that has prevailed in the Central American nation since Match 2022, a human rights NGO said Tuesday.

“We have around 20 reports of Colombians arrested,” Ingrid Escobar of Socorro Juridico Humanitario (Humanitarian Judicial Aid), said at a press conference in San Salvador.

She identified one of those prisoners as Andres Castañeda, 31, who was detained in December 2022 “without any justified cause” after traveling to the country to benefit from the ostensible increase in employment created by the Salvadoran government’s embrace of bitcoin.

“He came to try his luck in El Salvador and the only thing he has found is prison, torture, and violation of fundamental rights,” Escobar said.

Castañeda’s wife, Alejandra Muñoz, took part in the press conference by video-link from Colombia.

“There are many families who are in the same situation,” she said. “We never thought that this could happen to us, because my spouse came to El Salvador seeking better opportunities and only a few days passed and we have not heard anything of him since.”

The situation “has been very hard” for her and the couple’s two children, Muñoz said.

Castañeda, who worked as a messenger in Colombia, “has never had problems with the courts, with the police,” his wife said. “We have always been very respectful of the law.”

Escobar also called on authorities to provide information about Salvadoran citizens Salvador Alfaro, Carlos Alfaro, Marvin Alfaro, Denis Valladares, and Kevin Ramirez, whose families have gone months without any news of their loved ones.

Authorities have arrested more than 70,000 people under the state of exception, which 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.

The government of right-wing President Nayib Bukele insists that all of those detained are gang members, but El Salvador’s national ombud has received more than 7,900 complaints of human rights violations committed against those detainees.

And a United Nations official said in March that nearly 100 suspects have died in custody.

A succession of governments has struggled to subdue Mara Salvatrucha (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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