Crime & Justice

Security forces besiege slum in Salvadoran capital

San Salvador, Dec 24 (EFE).- Nearly 1,200 Salvadoran police and soldiers surrounded a slum in this capital on Saturday as a prelude to carrying out arrests, President Nayib Bukele said.

Troops and police taking part in the operation in San Salvador’s Tutunichapa neighborhood “will extract the criminals who still remain in this community famous for drug trafficking,” the rightist head of state said.

The security minister, Gustavo Villatoro, later told reporters that at least 23 people had been arrested on charges of drug possession “with intent to sell” and criminal conspiracy.

“This community has been stigmatized for more than 40 years by criminals who distribute and sell drugs,” Villatoro said, adding that gangs “have embedded themselves” in Tutunichapa.

Authorities want to “inflict a blow” on the gang with the largest presence in the neighborhood, the Barrio 18 Revolucionarios, Defense Minister Rene Merino said.

Three weeks ago, 10,000 cops and soldiers surrounded Soyapango, the country’s third-largest city in the latest phase of the “war against gangs.”

Bukele, who informed the nation last month of the plan to encircle major cities to carry out arrests, insisted that “ordinary citizens have nothing to fear and can continue going about their lives normally.”

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 Bukele persuaded congress to grant him special powers to battle the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS13.

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 deaths in custody. EFE

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.

hs/dr

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