El Salvador is extending its state of emergency to another month until May 27. The government announced the measure a day after the country recorded 62 homicides in 24 hours on March 26. This was the deadliest day in El Salvador in three decades when the country’s civil war came to an end, said the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international journalistic investigation organization that specializes in organize crime.
According to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, the country’s criminal gangs have 70,000 members at large and 16,000 in prison, Salvadoran news site El Faro reported.
In the first month under the state of emergency, police and military authorities captured more than 13,000 suspects — an average of 568 people per day — Salvadoran newspaper El Mundo reported, based on information from the National Civil Police (PNC). The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted nearly 7,000 people among those captured, who are accused of murder, illegal firearm carrying, and drug trafficking. The operations were carried out nationwide.
The violent episodes of late March are mainly blamed on the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS13) and their rival Barrio 18, who killed people indiscriminately, including vendors, bus passengers, and market goers, said the investigative organization InSight Crime. The first gang is heavily active in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to InSight Crime, the United States charged dozen of its leaders with terrorism in late 2020. The second gang, on the other hand, dates back to the late 1950s, InSight Crime said, and operates throughout Central America and North America.
New laws and increased security forces
In addition to the state of emergency, the government took other initiatives to combat the most recent wave of violence in El Salvador. The national Legislative Assembly has approved reforms in the criminal law. The gradual increase in the sentences for criminal group members and the abolition of alternative measures to provisional arrest in cases of homicide and other crimes are among the changes. The legislature also approved earmarking $80 million for security and defense actions and authorized the government to partner with private companies to facilitate the construction of prisons.
“We now see a frontal fight, because this is what Salvadorans have also been waiting for many, many years,” said Congresswoman Alexia Rivas to El Mundo.
On April 4, 205 new PNC agents and 1,450 Salvadoran Armed Forces (FAES) soldiers graduated. “They will work directly in the Territorial Control Plan and in the fight against gangs,” said President Bukele, according to German news site DW. Currently, the FAES has about 17,000 service members, but Bukele’s goal is to bring that number up to 40,000. “We will continue to beef up the Armed Forces. New graduations are coming,” the president said, according to DW.