U.S. State Dept. seeks release of Americans imprisoned amid El Salvador's gang crackdown
The State Department said that the arrests of American citizens in El Salvador happened in an “arbitrary manner.” As a result, it is urging American citizens from traveling to the country
June 28, 2023 8:55am
Updated: June 28, 2023 8:55am
Several foreign nationals have been arrested in El Salvador as part of the Central American government’s widespread crackdown on gang members, including several American citizens.
"The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas," a State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital. "We are aware of U.S. citizens detained in El Salvador under El Salvador's declared state of exception."
"We take our role in assisting U.S. citizens abroad seriously and are engaged with the government of El Salvador directly on this issue," the spokesperson said, adding that "due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time."
The State Department said that the arrests of American citizens in El Salvador happened in an “arbitrary manner.” As a result, it is urging American citizens from traveling to the country.
"Though there has been a significant reduction in gang-related activity, violent crime remains a concern throughout significant portions of the country," the State Department said in a travel advisory published in March 2023.
El Salvador’s Minister of Justice and Public Security, Hector Gustavo Villatoro, responded to the State Department’s comments by saying that “detentions in El Salvador are not arbitrary” and are “carried forth as required by law.
"There are a handful of U.S. citizens detained," Villatoro told Fox News Digital. "Keep in mind that citizenship does not equal immunity from prosecution."
On March 27, 2022, President Nayib 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 special powers temporarily suspend constitutional protections and freedom of association in the Central American country. One year after the measures were implemented, more than 66,417 alleged gang members have been arrested—about 2 percent of the Central American country’s entire adult population, according to government statistics.
Critics of the Bukele administration's efforts claim that several of the arrests appeared to have been based on questionable evidence, such as whether an individual has tattoos or is related to a gang member. Other arrests have reportedly been made to meet a daily quota imposed on police officers.
In addition to several Americans imprisoned as part of the crackdown, El Salvador has also arrested Panamanians, Guatemalans, and Colombians, according to The World. However, it is unclear how many foreign nationals have been arrested.