One year and counting under El Salvador's State of Exception

March 27 marks one year since El Salvador's Legislative Assembly passed an emergency State of Exception at the behest of president Nayib Bukele.

As this one year anniversary is reached, much is being published about the State of Exception: 

War on Gangs Forges New El Salvador. But the Price is Steep, Megan Janetsky and Fernanda Pesce, writing for the Associated Press offer a detailed look at the reality on the streets of El Salvador today, and the harsh measures implemented over the past year.  Their reporting and the photos which accompany the story illustrate the opening up happening in communities formerly controlled by gangs, but also describe the price paid, and continuing to be paid under the current regime.

Countering El Salvador’s Democratic Backsliding. Tamara Taraciuk Broner of Human Rights Watch and Noah Bullock of Cristosal, writing in Americas Quarterly, call on regional leaders to counteract the decline of the rule of law in El Salvador.  They note: 

 Leaders in the region may have been hesitant to speak up for several reasons. One is Bukele’s popularity. Another is that many leaders are struggling to effectively address violence and organized crime in their countries. Criticizing someone for policies that appear to provide a popular and seemingly easy “fix” to one of Latin America’s key concerns, and proposing an alternative that addresses complex root causes of violence, may seem politically unattractive.” But if leaders don’t speak out, it may well be impossible to curb the dangerous democratic backsliding in the region, of which Bukele is a blunt example. 

Inside El Salvador’s mega-prison: the jail giving inmates less space than livestock. While the images circulated on social media by Nayib Bukele and his government of half-naked, tattooed, shackled inmates in positions of submission got all the international headlines, the Financial Times takes the public information about the mega-prison and calculates the inhumane conditions which will prevail if the prison is filled to its 40.000 inmate capacity.

 El Salvador's false dilemma. Rafael Romo writing at CNN, asks “the question is at what cost? How long will Salvadorans allow the suspension of their basic constitutional rights in the name of security? Are they willing to live under a state of emergency indefinitely?”

El Salvador: 2,000 more to prison, vows will ‘never return’, the AP reports on the transfer of a second group of 2000 prisoners to the mega-prison and quotes the Minister of Justice and Security, Gustavo Villatoro, “They are never going to return to the communities, the neighborhoods, the barrios, the cities of our beloved El Salvador,”

The rampant abuse in El Salvador’s prisons: ‘They beat him to death in the cell and dragged him out like an animal’.  Two former inmates talk to EL PAÍS about the terrors they saw while imprisoned in the country’s jails, which are at breaking point due to Bukele’s controversial crackdown on gangs

The toxic power of Nayib Bukele, Carlos Maldonado in El Pais writes “Difficult years are ahead for El Salvador, with a leader who sold himself as the world’s coolest president and then turned into a military-supported autocrat who has proclaimed himself an “instrument of God.””

El Salvador extends emergency powers in year-long gang crackdown, AlJazeera, notes that the Legislative Assembly extended the State of Exception for a 12th time, as it has done with little discussion on a monthly basis for the past year with no sign of stopping.

El Salvador’s massive new prison and the strongman behind it, explained. Vox provides another summary of the opening of the new prison under 12 months of the State of Exception.

A Family with Nothing to Hide Flees from the State of Exception. El Faro English, Julia Gavarrete describes another category of victims of a regime which suspended and ignores all norms of due process.   Knowing you are innocent does not provide a feeling of safety.  Gavarrete’s story, originally published in Spanish at El Faro in 2022 was awarded this year’s prestigious Ortega y Gasset journalism award for best feature story. Her acceptance speech is here.

The State of Exception will be extended as many times as necessary (Sp). So said Cristian Guevara, head of the Nuevas Ideas party in the Legislative Assembly, in an interview.  The State of Exception could last until the national elections in 2024 or beyond, according to the lead legislator of Nayib Bukele’s party.

Un año de régimen de excepción: se consolida un estado militar y policial. El Faro published its comprehensive overview of one year under the State of Exception, detailing the constitutional and human rights which have been suspended or ignored, including the deaths and torture within prisons.  The article includes the suggestion that only 30% of those detained have actually been gang mmbers.