Record-Breaking Salvadorian Gang Violence Causing Unfavored Government Response

4/14/2022 7:30 AM

“And If the ‘International Community’ is worried about their little angels, come and bring them food, because I will not take funding away from schools to feed these terrorists…” Twitter has apparently become a new source of declarations from leaders across the globe. Innovative declaration making aside, this tweet came from the current President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele shortly after the arrest of more than 1,000 Salvadorian Citizens. It is in reference to the decision to not increase the amount of food at prisons but instead ration the small amount there in order to feed these “suspects.” You may be wondering what prompted the large detainment of people, but the truth is hardly as apparent as it seems. 

What the government of El Salvador initially seemed to be reciprocating against was what is now dubbed as the bloodiest day the country of El Salvador has ever seen since their civil war era more than 30 years ago:  March 26, 2022. On March 26, gang violence on some of the deadliest streets in the world rose to an all-time, record-breaking high of at least 62 homicides just that day alone. This sparked immense shock and suspicion of underlying incidents that took place leading up to this disaster. One citizen of a gang ran neighborhood told news outlets that the last three years (since the election of President Bukele) had been the most peaceful Salvadorians had seen for a while. That all changed on Saturday when anyone walking on the street from bus riders to street vendors was at risk of being murdered by gang violence. It was said to be a random flare of gang activity. The immediate follow-up to this disaster was the El Salvadorian government announcing a state of emergency. 

Early Sunday morning, the emergency rule was approved by their Parliament to last at least 30 days- to which the President has stated since then can be increased whenever he wants it to. This ruling suspends some civil liberties that have been guaranteed by the Salvadorian Constitution along with loosening restrictions on the conditions for arrest, limiting and restricting free assembly, blocking off residential neighborhoods primarily filled with gang activity, and the interception of citizen communications. The use of the military to enforce legislature has always been something harshly criticized by speculators and bystanders to the Salvadorian government. However, when blocking off residential neighborhoods, they restricted who could leave and enter the neighborhoods and went through enormous efforts to “catch” those at fault for the killings of at least 62 people- according to government officials. 

          News outlets later surfaced interviews of a few relatives of some of those detainees. One was a mother of a young boy who had no idea why he had been detained by police. It is eventually brought to light that a lot of those arrested after Saturday was old, inactive gang members and almost a random crowd of citizens who “[looked] like thugs”- a harsh response was made to all of these detained citizens- whom the government is calling terrorists and gang members or advocates. While some very well may be contributors a majority are not, and, according to some skeptics, this violent day is threatening to harm the “clean” record of young President Bukele whose campaign revolved around the promise of bringing law and order to the streets. This has held true since he took office three years ago.

 September 2020 led to the media outlet “El Faro” making the first revelation that this reduction in violence may not have been due to Bukele’s security policies but more in line with an immoral and illegal set of deals and communications between El Salvador’s current standing administration and the big gang leaders in El Salvador- including the notorious multinational street gang MS-13. While Bukele has not been the first president to be accused of this happening, the problematic results of some of these deals and unfair actions caused the U.S. Treasury Department to issue sanctions on many of the top Salvadorian officials for their roles in the “secret truce” with gang leadership and negotiations. Bukele has denied accusations and used the proof of his hard work and policies to the decline of gang-related homicides. This has added to the Salvadorian’s current disdain towards the Biden Administration and the United States and is making tensions worse between these countries, causing issues elsewhere. 

According to the surfacing documents and sources that came to light, the government had not only been providing financial incentives to the gangs but also preferential treatment to gang leaders in prison-like access to mobile phones, other outside world communication, prostitutes and so much more. There are even lists of proof with names and meeting dates as well as summaries and documents that had purposely had some information omitted. There were also “secret meetings” where men in “black capes” would enter the prison for private meetings with gang leaders. Some were apparently top officials in the government according to the surfacing information. In exchange for the financial and other means of incentive, gang leaders would send messages to their affiliates notifying them of changes in atmosphere and plans and ordering them not to commit certain acts and crimes. The number of crimes started to decrease. 

It is easy to wonder how a large death day like the bloody disaster on Saturday came to occur if Salvadorian government has such a tight, underground relationship with the Salvadorian gang lords. While this of course is one big “false allegation”, one could infer from the surfaced documents and sources provided that this day may have been meant to serve as a message, as sad and unethical as that may be. American analysts truly believe that this was in response to declining relations between the government and organized crime affiliates. This is from the history of recording documents and intel (ranging back to 2018) that show some instances where there would be a disagreement between the two parties, or the government would not completely give the leaders what they were asking for, and as a result, there would be the higher activity of crime and homicide than other days or months. 

Detaining all of these citizens were said to be a result of what occurred on Saturday, and it was mentioned that all of these detainees were thought to have a hand in what the country experienced that day. Most were arrested without any evidence and some almost seemed to be random. However, these detainees are not exactly being treated fairly and are even being held for no reason with minimal food and space. President Bukele is ignoring the distaste on the matter and does not plan on feeding them the proper amount- according to his tweet above where he also calls them both “terrorists” and the international community’s “little angels.” With the state of emergency ruling decreasing the intensity of conditions for arrest, some think a lot of people may have been arrested improperly and without much thought on the matter. 

Whether the bloodiest day in El Salvador’s current history was merited by actions of a declining relationship between the government and organized crime leaders or just out of the blue, it is still a crisis that needs to be addressed. The citizens of El Salvador should definitely not have had to live through this day and have evergrowing fear of their safety whether random or not. This does not include only gang activity and violence but also the restricted civil liberties and the government crackdown on normal citizens that is hurting their freedoms.