El Salvador strikes gang members to mega jail amid crime crackdown


Thousands of detainees have been transferred to El Salvador’s new mega jail Friday, drawing suspicion from some human rights advocates who famous that the theatrical opening of what could turn out to be the world’s largest penitentiary got here shortly after U.S. federal attorneys accused authorities officers of slicing offers with gang leaders.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele spent the weekend sharing photographs of inmates being moved into the mega jail, working whereas bent over, sporting white shorts, their toes and chests naked. The video incorporates ominous music and the inmate’s clinking chains.

“They’re not scary anymore, are they?” mentioned Bukele through Twitter on Saturday. Criminals, he added, cease inflicting concern as soon as they lose the safety of “the corrupt politicians and international organizations that finance and defend them.”

The mega jail can home as much as 40,000 prisoners, Bukele said final 12 months. It’s formally referred to as the “Center for the Confinement of Terrorism” and was unveiled earlier this month. El Salvador’s crackdown on crime has been met with allegations of indiscriminate arrests and police abuses.

“This new mega prison is a symbol of Bukele’s mad security policies,” Juan Pappier, the appearing deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, advised The Washington Post on Sunday.

Pappier mentioned Bukele’s timing to switch the detainees to the mega jail was suspect. It comes after the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment on Thursday in opposition to alleged MS-13 gang leaders that accuses senior Salvadoran officers of negotiating with felony teams to curb violence.

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“There’s every reason to suspect the timing of the prison transfer was all about controlling the narrative and presenting an ‘iron fist’ interpretation of Bukele that fails to encapsulate the whole picture,” Pappier mentioned.

After Bukele gained the presidency in February 2019, gangs made agreements with the federal government to cut back the variety of public murders, “which politically benefited the government of El Salvador,” the U.S. Justice Department mentioned within the indictment. It appeared as if the homicide charge was dropping, “when in fact, MS-13 leaders continued to authorize murders where the victims’ bodies were buried or otherwise hidden.”

In alternate, the gangs have been promised much less restrictive jail situations, early launch of some leaders and refusals to extradite prisoners to the United States, the indictment added.

The United States has accused Bukele’s authorities of negotiating with the nation’s gangs earlier than, a tactic different Salvadoran presidents even have pursued. Bukele has denied the allegations and as a substitute promised “a war on gangs.”

After a spike in homicides final 12 months when at the least 92 individuals have been killed over 4 days, in accordance with Human Rights Watch, Bukele declared a state of emergency throughout the nation. This was adopted by mass arrests of suspected gang members. Even earlier than the arrests started, El Salvador had one of many highest charges of incarceration.

At least 60,000 alleged gang members have been arrested previously 12 months. The quantity contains tons of of youngsters who have been positioned in youth detention amenities, in accordance with Amnesty International. Human rights advocates have mentioned El Salvador has skilled widespread human rights violations for the reason that state of emergency started.

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“Security forces have detained hundreds of Salvadorans with no connection to gangs, held them incommunicado, tortured some of them in prison, and subjected detainees to Kafkian legal proceedings that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to defend themselves,” Pappier mentioned.

Osiris Luna Meza, director of El Salvador’s penitentiary system, mentioned throughout a video tour of the mega jail earlier this month that there are factories inside the place the inmates shall be made to work.

The mega jail is a “key piece in the war against the gangs,” mentioned Meza through the tour, which confirmed pitch-dark isolation cells that have been described as certainly one of its most important components by the jail official.

“This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, mixed up, unable to do any more harm to the population,” Bukele mentioned Friday.

The mega jail has greater than twice the capability of Rikers Island. However, regardless of being constructed throughout 165 hectares in an remoted a part of the nation, the jail’s proposed inmate density is sort of 3 times as excessive as Rikers Island, in accordance with knowledge gathered by The Post.

“While the prison is likely to help maintain the president’s very high popularity, packing tens of thousands of detainees is unlikely to bring security for Salvadorans in a sustainable manner,” Pappier mentioned.

Less than a month in the past, a leaked database from El Salvador’s Ministry of Public Safety uncovered widespread due course of violations, extreme jail overcrowding and deaths in police custody, reported Human Rights Watch and the human rights group Cristosal.

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Grounds for what Human Rights Watch referred to as “indiscriminate arrests” included having tattoos, residing in neighborhoods which have gangs and looking out like criminals, the group mentioned in report launched in December.

Despite the mass arrests and deaths, Bukele stays in style within the nation. Human Rights Watch argues that it’s tough to independently confirm how a lot crime within the nation has really decreased.

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