SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s congress granted President Nayib Bukele request to declare a state of emergency early Sunday amid a wave of gang-related killings over the weekend.
On Friday, 14 were killed and Saturday saw 62 deaths. This is a level of violence not seen in years. Comparatively, the February month saw only 79 murders.
Bukele posted the request on Saturday to his social media platforms. The congress approved it Monday morning. This decree would temporarily suspend constitutional guarantees for freedom of assembly, and relax arrest rules up to thirty days. However, the possibility exists that it can be extended.
The homicides appeared linked to the country’s notorious street gangs, who effectively control many neighborhoods in the the capital. National Police claimed that they had captured five Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) leaders, who were alleged to have ordered the killings on weekend.
Bukele announced the request in his social media accounts, and taunted those who opposed the measure, saying: “Is the opposition coming out to defend the gang members?”
While Bukele has tried to project a tough attitude on crime, the country’s enormously powerful street gangs have proved a double-edged sword for him.
“We must remind the people of El Salvador that what is happening now is due to the negligence of those who protected criminals,” the conservative Arena party said in a statement.
That was an apparent reference to a December report by the U.S. Treasury Department that said Bukele’s government secretly negotiated a truce with leaders of the gangs. That contradicted Bukele’s denials and raised tensions between the two nations.
The U.S government alleges Bukele’s government bought the gangs’ support with financial benefits and privileges for their imprisoned leaders including prostitutes and cellphones.
The explosive accusations cuts to the heart of one of Bukele’s most highly touted successes in office: a plunge in the country’s homicide rate.
On Twitter, the president mockedly responded to these accusations. “Cell phones and prostitutes in the prisons? What about money for gangs? What was the date? Didn’t they even check the date? How can they put out a such an obvious lie without anyone questioning them?”
Bukele denied this accusation, when El Faro reported it in August 2020.
In 2020, Bukele’s administration ‘’provided financial incentives to Salvadoran gangs MS-13 and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18) to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remained low,” the Treasury statement said. “Over the course of these negotiations with Luna and Marroquin, gang leadership also agreed to provide political support to the Nuevas Ideas political party in upcoming elections.”
Bukele’s New Ideas party has a majority in El Salvador’s congress.
These revelations caused tension between Bukele administration and Biden administration. In May, after the U.S. Congress removed the attorney general of the Supreme Court and two justices of its constitutional chamber, it expressed concern about America’s future direction.
U.S. Agency for International Development declared that aid would be transferred from El Salvador government agencies to non-governmental organizations.
El Salvador’s new attorney general in June announced the government was cancelling the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption mission in the Central American country.
Bukele is extremely popular. He has stepped into the political vacuum that was left behind by discredited traditional party leaders from both the right and left.
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