Nayib Bukele doubles down on his anti-gang offensive after an officer was murdered in El Salvador

The president ordered the mobilization of more than 5,000 military and 500 police officers in a new show of force. ‘They will pay dearly for the assassination of our hero,’ he warned

Nayib Bukele
Nayib Bukele in San Salvador, on May 6.Kellys Portillo (Getty Images)

President Nayib Bukele has doubled down on his offensive against gangs in El Salvador. The controversial leader has ordered the mobilization of more than 5,000 military officers and 500 police to track down those responsible for the murder of an officer on Tuesday while on patrol in Chalatenango, in the north of the country. This new show of force against the gangs comes at a time when the National Assembly has approved a new extension of the state of emergency, which means that the suspension of legal guarantees remains in force for another 30 days. “They will pay dearly for the murder of our hero,” Bukele warned.

The officer’s murder was reported by the National Police in a brief message published on social media. According to the report, the policeman was attacked by gang members while on patrol with other officers in the community of Nueva Concepción, in the northern province of Chalatenango. “One terrorist was captured at the scene. We have launched an operation to find the other responsible individuals,” the police reported. Bukele reacted furiously to the attack and in a series of messages on his social networks lashed out at human rights organizations, journalists and media outlets that criticize his controversial security strategy. “The gang members that are still left in our country just murdered one of our heroes. But the ‘human rights’ NGOs will say nothing, they only watch over the rights of criminals,” the president said.

The video of the armed forces of El Salvador that Bukele has spread on social networks after the murder of an officer.Photo: Marvin RECINOS (AFP) | Video: RR SS

Bukele has taken advantage of this new attack to ask for the extension of the state of emergency imposed a year ago by his government as a strategy to eliminate the gangs that for decades have sown terror in the Central American country. The president has asked for a new extension “until this pest is completely eliminated”, he said. The Salvadoran Parliament, controlled by Bukele, extended the measure at the request of the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Gustavo Villatoro. The request was approved with a total of 67 votes from legislators. “This is an innovative strategy, decisive and for the good of all majorities, that is the democracy that President Nayib Bukele wants to have, where governments, state bodies listen to the demands of the population and solve them,” said Villatoro after making the request to the legislators.

With the latest extension of the state of emergency under his arm, Bukele felt emboldened and announced the mobilization of thousands of officers of the armed forces to find those responsible for the murder of the policeman. “In view of yesterday’s murder of an agent of our Police by gang members who are still hiding in some areas of our country, fleeing from the Exception Regime, since early this morning we have established a security siege around the municipality of Nueva Concepción, Chalatenango, with more than 5,000 elements of the Armed Forces and 500 of the Police in search of those responsible for the murder and the entire structure of gang members and collaborators who are still hiding in that place. They will pay dearly for the murder of our hero,” he warned. The video that came with the announcement shows the mobilization of thousands of soldiers in a new show of force by the president.

Since the Salvadoran president’s war on the maras — as the gangs in the country are usually called — began, authorities have captured more than 68,000 people accused of being part of these groups. To date, at least 5,000 people have been released who, following investigations by the prosecutor’s office, have no links to the gangs. Bukele’s security strategy has been criticized by human rights organizations that have warned of violations of the detainees’ rights. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has denounced “large-scale abuses” in the Central American country’s prisons under the emergency regime decreed since March 2022, which includes extreme overcrowding, violations of due process, lack of guarantees, mass detentions and deaths in custody.

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