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Crackdown: El Salvador deploys 8,000 troops to search for gang members

Around 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 police officers were sent to establish a siege in the central province of Cabañas

Military members
Military members | Shutterstock

August 2, 2023 8:26am

Updated: August 2, 2023 8:26am

El Salvador’s government on Tuesday mobilized around 8,000 soldiers and police officers to a rural province to search for gang members, as the country continues to crackdown on crime. 

Around 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 police officers were sent to establish a siege in the central province of Cabañas, where several gang members have fled to after President Nayib Bukele launched his crackdown against gangs in March 2022. Soldiers and police officers surrounded the area to prevent gang members from leaving and cut off their supply lines. 

“In recent weeks and as a result of our war against gangs, Cabañas has become the place with the highest number of terrorist cells, which have arrived there looking for its rural areas to hide,” Bukele said in a tweet.

“This massive operation will guarantee greater security for the area, and we will not end it until we find all the criminals,” he added.

En las últimas semanas y producto de nuestra guerra contra pandillas, Cabañas se ha convertido en el lugar con mayor número de células terroristas, que han llegado ahí buscando sus áreas rurales para ocultarse.

— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) August 1, 2023

Cabañas is one of the smallest provinces of El Salvador, with 150,000 inhabitants. Located about 70 kilometers west of El Salvador, it is an agricultural region, famous for coffee, sugar cane, and cattle ranching. 

On March 27, 2022, Bukele requested special powers to crack down on gangs after there was a surge in homicides in which 62 people were killed in 48 hours.

The measures, which were initially only meant to last a month, have been extended to more than a year. So far, around 71,976 people have been arrested for alleged ties to gangs.

Last month, El Salvador’s Congress approved holding mass trials for the thousands of individuals arrested during the crackdown. The measure would allow prosecutors to try up to 900 individuals at the same time, as long as they belong to the same criminal group or are from the same region. 

Critics, however, claim that the mass trials are denying individuals their right to due process. Only about 30% of those detained have clear ties to organized crimes, according to the local human rights group Cristosal.