The State of Exception continues

The State of Exception in El Salvador, which suspends a set of set of constitutional guarantees is now concluding its 8th week.  A CID-Gallup poll in mid-April found that 91% of Salvadorans support the current gang crackdown.    

The government says that more than 32,500 suspected gang members have been arrested. Meanwhile some legislative deputies from Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party have suggested that the State of Exception will need to be extended for 30 more days after it expires next week, despite the fact that homicides in the country have been at record low levels for almost the entire past seven weeks.  In other words, it is not clear that the country faces an ongoing crisis situation of the type that justifies suspending important constitutional rights.  

The human rights organization Cristosal states that it has recorded 555 cases of violations of human rights in the 8 weeks that the State of Exception has been in force in El Salvador.  There are reports of torture and cruel conditions within the prisons, and at least 16 prisoner deaths.

Those 32,500 arrests have produced crowds of mothers around the overcrowded prisons and jails where those detained are being held.  The New York Times offers a portrait of the families searching, but often not finding, any news of their loved ones in an piece titled Outside the Walls of a Salvadoran Prison, ‘We’re All Crying Mothers’.

What was the underlying cause of the wave of more than 80 murders at the end of March and the subsequent gang crackdown and State of Exception?  The answer may have been revealed in secret recordings from conversations between a top Bukele government officials and leaders of MS-13, published by El Faro in an article by Carlos Martinez titled Collapsed Government Talks with MS-13 Sparked Record Homicides in El Salvador, Audios Reveal.  The article reveals much about the bloody weekend of murders at the end of March resulting from a breakdown in dialogue between the government and MS, the release of a top gang leader, and a split among high government officials on response to the March murders.

Carlos Marroquin, has the title in the Bukele government of Director for Reconstruction of Social Fabric.  In the El Faro article, as well as published reports going back to 2020, Marroquin has been identified, along with Osiris Luna Meza, the national prisons director, as heading the dialogue with gang leaders. In December 2021, Marroquin and Luna Meza were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department for corruption in connection with their deal-making with imprisoned MS-13 chieftains.      

The El Faro audios are not the only confirmation of the roles played by Marroquin and Luna Meza..   Journalist Roberto Valencia published an  interview with representatives of Barrio 18-Sureños ("18-S") in the Spanish language edition of BBC World News.  In response to written questions submitted to the gang by Valencia, the gang leadership sent audio-recorded responses to the reporter.   

Among other things, 18-S representatives acknowledge that the gang has been in ongoing dialogue with Marroquin and Luna Meza since the Bukele government came into power in 2019.  In self-serving statements which can't be verified, 18-S denies that it had any role or knowledge of the March 26 weekend tidal wave of homicides, and announced that 18-S would continue to reduce violence in its territories.

When the so-called "tregua" or truce of 2012 broke down in 2014, the country rapidly spiraled into bloody violence with some of the highest homicide rates in the world during 2015-2106.  One hallmark of that period were gang killings of police and soldiers.  If the March 26 homicides and the State of Exception mark the collapse of understandings existing in the first two plus years of the Bukele presidency, that breakdown has not yet produced a similar escalation of violence directed at security forces.   

Has Bukele broken the cycle of gang violence as he claims?  Have the gangs unilaterally decided to lay low until the heat is off?   Is a new agreement between Bukele and the gangs in place?  There is little clarity.  Insight Crime looks at some of these issues in an article titled New Revelations Herald Grim Future for El Salvador's Security.  



Greg said…

Bukele & Company -

"Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”."