El Salvador’s legislature approved a state of emergency law early on Sunday to tackle soaring homicide rates – driven by the Barrio 18 and MS-13 gangs – after security forces Police nationwide reported 62 homicides on Saturday.
Constitutional rights, including freedom of association and the right to state-sponsored defense in court, will be suspended for 30 days to better target criminal groups, according to the executive order. Security forces will also be allowed to intercept phone calls and hold suspects in pre-trial detention for longer periods under the new emergency decree.
“We have done things right for the Salvadoran people,” tweeted Ernesto Castro, president of the Legislative Assembly, after the announcement of the government decree. “We approved the state of emergency to allow the government to protect the lives of the Salvadoran people and tackle crime head-on. »
El Salvador has a long history of organized crime groups battling security forces and each other to control territory and drug routes across Central America. The small Central American country – roughly the size of Massachusetts – led the world in the number of homicides related to the size of its population for several consecutive years in the 2010s.
President Nayib Bukele took office in June 2019 with broad support, after promising to stand firm against gang violence, which has ravaged El Salvador for decades.
In 2020 he authorized the use of lethal force by police and military against gang members he said were taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, after a weekend of violence left at least 50 dead across the country.
In December, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Salvadoran government officials, accusing them of negotiating with MS-13 and Barrio 18 in an effort to achieve a ‘truce’ and build political support .
During negotiations, according to the US government, the gang leaders agreed to provide political support to the ruling Nuevas Ideas party in the upcoming elections. The United States pointed out that Nuevas Ideas won a two-thirds super majority in the 2021 legislative elections.
The United States also accused Bukele’s administration in 2020 of offering financial incentives to gangs to “ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remain low” and of offering cellphones and from prostitutes to incarcerated gang leaders.
Bukele at the time denied that his administration was negotiating with gangs. He wrote on Twitter that allegations that the government was supplying cellphones, prostitutes and money to gangs were an “obvious lie”.
Critics, meanwhile, have accused the 40-year-old of authoritarian tendencies.
In February 2020, Bukele sent armed troops to Congress as he demanded lawmakers approve his plan to secure a $109 million loan to combat gang violence.
And last September, El Salvador’s highest court ruled that the president could serve two consecutive terms, paving the way for Bukele’s re-election in 2024.
The High Court judges were appointed in May 2021 by the country’s newly elected Congress – which is dominated by Bukele’s party – after lawmakers dismissed the Supreme Court Constitutional Chamber magistrates and the attorney general.
Although homicides have declined since Bukele took power, killings have increased in recent weeks.
Bukele said on Sunday that the measures “will only be implemented by the relevant institutions when necessary”.
“Life will go on as normal for the vast majority of people,” he said in a tweet.
The law was approved with 67 votes in favour, according to a tweet from the Legislature’s official account. Seventeen members abstained or voted against.
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El Salvador declares state of emergency as homicides soar – Reuters News in France and abroad