Fourth month under the State of Exception
Today is the National Day of the Journalist in El Salvador and so I salute all those Salvadoran journalists who are doing their work to hold the powerful accountable despite being disparaged, threatened, spied on, and denied access to information. Today’s post is made possible by their journalistic work.Since March 27, El Salvador has lived under a "State of Exception" declared by the Legislative Assembly at the request of president Nayib Bukele. The emergency decrees suspend various due process protections for those arrested as part of a declared "War on Gangs" in the country. For months the government has been locking up persons alleged to be gang members, a crime which now carries a penalty of 20-30 years in prison.
The number of persons detained under allegations that they are gang members has risen to 48,207, with more than 43,000 already having been ordered imprisoned for the duration of their criminal cases. This includes gang members who had been in prison and completing sentences for crimes like robbery and extortion, and who were rearrested as they were leaving prison and charged with the separate crime of being a gang member.
Family members of persons continue to protest including a protest today, alleging widespread detentions of persons without any links to the gangs. These protests are regularly disparaged by the government and its allies as being families fed by gang activity, and giving no credence to the possibility of mistaken or illegal detentions. Josselyn Palacios, a young woman who was a visible face organizing protests, has been forced to flee the country.
The government says that the number of homicides was zero on 20 days during July. Those calculations, however, reflect changes in the way homicides are counted to eliminate police shootings of suspects, civilians killing robbers, and persons being killed/dying within the country’s prisons.
The death toll among detained persons in the prisons has risen to 62 during the State of Exception. There have been 1090 habeas corpus petitions for illegal detention filed with the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Judicial Court, but the magistrates put into place by Bukele and Nuevas Ideas on May 1, 2021 have not admitted for review a single one of those cases. (A few have been admitted by lower court judges).
Twelve human rights organizations sent a letter to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights detailing concerns over reports of thousands of arbitrary detentions realized during the course of the State of Exception.
We learned more this month about the secret release from Salvadoran prisons, in spite of the #WarOnGangs, of top leaders of MS-13 sought by the US. The gang chieftain “Crook” traveled from maximum security prison in El Salvador to Mexico, via luxury apartment in San Salvador, via vehicle driven to Guatemala by Bukele government official, much of which was documented by girlfriend on social media. Another MS-13 leader, whom US sought to extradite from El Salvador where he was supposed to be in prison, was captured in April in Guatemala. Like Crook, “Viejo Santos” appears to have been quietly let loose by Salvadoran authorities before slipping over the border into Guatemala. The US now seeks to have Guatemala extradite him.
And as the August vacations begin in El Salvador, Bukele proclaimed this would be the most secure week ever enjoyed in the country as he tweeted images of heavily armed soldiers patrolling beaches and tourist sites.
The Legislative Assembly voted on July 19 to extend the State of Exception for another 30 days and gave no sign that there will not be additional extensions.