News from El Salvador
Intense rains cause localized flooding
Flooding rains passed through El Salvador this weekend as Hurricane Bonnie passed off the Pacific coast. At least two people were killed and 90 left in shelters, with school classes suspended nationwide on Monday. Videos circulated on social media of water flooding public hospitals including the country’s largest public hospital, Rosales. Although the government has had the funds on hand to replace or modernize Rosales since the beginning of the Bukele administration in 2019, no work has commenced on that project. Sinkholes appeared in streets throughout the metropolitan area of San Salvador illustrating the ongoing infrastructure needs and the impact of urban development which has paid little attention to risk management.
The State of Exception continues
The State of Exception, which suspends constitutional due process guarantees and gives the government the right to eavesdrop on communications without a warrant, was extended by the Legislative Assembly at Bukele’s request for another month until at least July 24. Bukele's "war on gangs" continues. According to the government it has arrested more than 43,000 suspected gang members and collaborators since March 27.
Of 37,710 suspects who have so far been brought before courts for initial hearings through June 28, only 506 persons have been released. El Salvador is approaching having almost 2% of its adult population in prison. Reports of arbitrary detentions of persons with no apparent links to gangs continue to mount.
Bukele tweeted images of the early phases of a new mega-prison outside of San Vicente which is planned to hold 20,000 prisoners accused of gang crimes.
54 persons have died after being detained during the State of Exception according to data compiled by the human rights organization Cristosal. Outside of the prison walls, homicides during the three months of the State of Exception have been at historically low levels.
The government of El Salvador decided not to show up at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to answer questions about human rights abuses during the State of Exception.
Three police agents were ambushed and killed by alleged gang members in Santa Ana. There have been relatively few assassinations of security forces during the gang round-up, especially compared to 2017 when 44 police and soldiers were murdered in the first nine months.
Nayib Bukele held a press conference following the police killings which he used to attack Salvadoran and international human rights groups. Bukele alleges that the groups do not care for the victims of violence or for the police who are killed protecting Salvadorans in their neighborhoods, but care only for the rights of gang members.
Human Rights Watch responded, noting that it recognizes and condemns the horrors inflicted on the Salvadoran population by gangs, but also emphasizing that the government must honor its human rights obligations in eliminating gang criminality.
Bukele also stated that the State of Exception will not last forever, but he gave no indication that he will stop asking for extensions any time soon.
The Bitcoin country
El Faro reported that El Salvador has obtained loans from the World Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration to help the government cover short term spending needs and reimburse pandemic purchases. The loans may help the government have maneuvering room to refinance $800 million in eurobonds which come due in 2023.
El Salvador is in the midst of a seasonal outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue disease, with the country seeing the most infections since 2015. At the same time, El Salvador faces a fifth COVID-19 wave spurred by Omicron variants. Although cases are rapidly climbing, the government has not been timely releasing data on cases and hospitalizations.
For further reading:
El Salvador’s $425 million bitcoin experiment isn’t saving the country’s finances (CNBC, June 25, 2022)El Salvador’s Bitcoin Paradise Is a Mirage (Nelson Rauda in New York Times, July 2, 2022)
‘It’s a war on the people’: El Salvador’s mass arrests send thousands into despair (The Guardian, June 8, 2022)
Bukele Fiddles while the Crypto Market Burns (El Faro English, June 21, 2022)