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Drug trafficking

50,000 arrested as part of El Salvador's ongoing ‘war against gangs’

Most of those arrested belong to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), one of the largest criminal organizations on the continent

August 17, 2022 6:31pm

Updated: August 18, 2022 6:54am

Almost 50,000 people have been arrested by El Salvador's police in the course of the "war" against gangs declared by President Nayib Bukele five months ago along with a state of emergency, authorities said on Tuesday. 

"We inform the Salvadoran population that we have already reached 50,000 records of people detained during the period of the emergency regime," said the director of the National Civil Police (PNC), Mauricio Arriaza. 

The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly also extended for the fifth time the state of emergency that allows for these captures and limits rights in the country. In less than five months, the war against gang violence is filling the jails of the Central American country.

The state of emergency, which allows arrests without warrants, was put in place in response to an escalation of homicides that claimed the lives of 87 people between March 25 and 27. 

The Presidential House stated in a tweet that they have managed to remove from the streets "thousands of terrorists who no longer terrorize Salvadorans."

To house a portion of the detainees, Bukele ordered the construction of a giant prison for 40,000 gang members in a rural area of the city of Tecoluca, in the center of the country, which should be ready before the end of the year. 

In the 142 days of the emergency regime, there have been "77 days with zero homicides," representing "an average of 0.77 homicides (per day) during the application of the security measure," according to Defense Minister René Merino.

Among those arrested, 68.9 percent belonged to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), one of the largest criminal organizations on the continent, followed by the southern faction of the Barrio 18 gang (17.7 percent) and the Revolutionaries faction of the same group (12.7 percent). 

Salvadoran and international humanitarian organizations have compiled reports of possible human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, as well as numerous deaths in prisons. Local press and civil society reports indicate that at least 69 people have died in state custody.