El Salvador declares state of emergency over rising homicide rate

According to the decree, constitutional rights, including freedom of association and the right to state protection in court, will be suspended for 30 days in order to better deal with criminal gangs. Security forces will also be allowed to intercept phone calls and detain suspects on remand for longer periods of time under the new state of emergency decree.

“We did the right thing for the people of El Salvador,” Legislative Assembly President Ernesto Castro tweeted after the government decree was announced. “We have declared a state of emergency to allow the government to protect the lives of the people of El Salvador and fight crime.”

El Salvador has a long history of organized crime groups fighting against security forces and among themselves for control of territory and drug routes through Central America. The small Central American country, roughly the size of Massachusetts, led the world in population-related homicides for several consecutive years in the 2010s.

President Naib Bukele took office in June 2019 with widespread support, promising to take a hard line against the gang violence that has rocked El Salvador for decades.

In 2020, he authorized the use of deadly force by police and the army against gang members who he said were taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic after at least 50 people died in violence across the country over the weekend.
In December, the US Treasury Department sanctioned two El Salvadoran government officials, accusing them of negotiating with MS-13 and Barrio 18 in an attempt to reach a “truce” and garner political support.

During the negotiations, according to the US government, gang leaders agreed to provide political support to the ruling New Ideas party in the upcoming elections. The U.S. indicated that Nuevas Ideas received an overwhelming two-thirds majority in the 2021 legislative election.

The U.S. also accused the Bukele administration in 2020 of providing gangs with financial incentives to “ensure a low incidence of gang violence and confirmed homicides” and of offering mobile phones and prostitutes to imprisoned gang leaders.

Bukele denied at the time that his administration was negotiating with the gangs. He tweeted that claims that the government was supplying cell phones, prostitutes and money to gangs were “blatant lies”.

Meanwhile, critics accuse the 40-year-old man of authoritarian tendencies.

In February 2020, Bukele sent armed troops to Congress, demanding that lawmakers approve his plan to secure a $109 million loan to fight gang violence.

And last September, El Salvador’s highest court ruled that the president could serve two consecutive terms, paving the way for Bukele to be re-elected in 2024.

The high court judges were appointed in May 2021 by the country’s newly elected Congress, dominated by Bukele’s party, after lawmakers fired magistrates in the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber and the attorney general.

Although the number of murders has decreased since Bukele came to power, the number of murders has increased in recent weeks.

Bukele on Sunday said the measures “will be implemented by the relevant institutions only when necessary.”

“Life will go on as usual for the vast majority of people,” he wrote on Twitter.

According to the official account of the legislature, the law was approved by 67 votes in favor. Seventeen deputies either abstained or voted against.

CNN’s Merlyn Delseed, Eliza McIntosh, Sheena McKenzie, Flora Charner, Tatiana Arias, and Holly Silverman contributed to this report.

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