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Dozens of MS-13 Gang-Related Weekend Killings Prompts El Salvador to Declare a State of Emergency

Published: March 28, 2022
National civilian police prepare to go out on patrol in conjunction with the armed forces following the government's declaration of state of emergency, in San Salvador, on March 27, 2022. - Salvadoran lawmakers declared a state of emergency at President Nayib Bukele's request, curtailing civil liberties and expanding police power for as much as 30 days, as the country faces a wave of gang-related bloodshed that has left dozens dead in just two days. The declaration -- approved by a large majority -- restricts free assembly, the inviolability of correspondence and communications, and allows for arrests without a warrant. (Image: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)

El Salvador’s congress has granted a request by President Nayib Bukele, to declare a state of emergency “throughout the national territory” following dozens of gang-related killings over the weekend. 

On Friday, 14 people were killed and 62 were killed on Saturday, a level of violence that has not been seen in the country for years. For comparison, 79 homicides were reported in El Salvador for the entire month of February. 

Bukele took to social media to make his request on Saturday and congress approved it on Sunday. The request was approved by a large majority; 67 of 84 lawmakers voted to approve the emergency declaration.  

The Legislative Assembly president, Ernesto Castro, said in a tweet, “We approve the #emergencyregime that will allow our government to protect the lives of Salvadorans and confront criminality head on.”

The decree suspends constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly and loosens arrest rules for 30 days. Under the emergency declaration, the state now wields the power to open any correspondence and to intercept telephone calls and emails without a court order and detainees no longer have the right to be informed of the reason for their arrest nor do they have the right to have access to a lawyer. The state of emergency could extend past 30 days with approval from congress.

Following the approval of the state of emergency on Sunday, Bukele tweeted, “For the vast majority of people, life continues as normal. Religious services, sporting events, commerce, studies, etc., may continue as normal, unless you are a gang member or are considered suspicious by the authorities.”

MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs to blame

The killings are purportedly linked to the country’s street gangs who effectively control many districts in the country’s capital. 

El Salvador’s National Police reported that they detained five leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang who they say ordered the weekend’s bloodshed. El Salvadore’s security cabinet also announced on Sunday that they captured more than 400 gang members belonging to MS-13 and Barrio 18.

In a tweet, the country’s National Civil Police wrote, “We will not back down in this war against gangs, we will not rest until the criminals responsible for these acts are captured and brought to justice.”

“While we fight criminals in the streets, we must try to figure out what is happening and who is financing this,” Bukele said in a statement posted to Twitter. 

Bukele, 40, enjoys broad support in the country and was elected in 2019 on a platform that promised to fight organized crime and improve security in the violence plagued country.  

In addition, Bukele, via his social media accounts, ordered the head of the country’s prisons to implement an immediate 24/7 lockdown of all gang affiliated inmates calling it a “maximum emergency.”

“They are not to go out even to the patio,” Bukele wrote, adding, “a message to the gangs: because of your actions, now your homeboys will not see even one ray of sunlight.”

El Salvador recorded 1,140 murders in 2021, an average of 18 deaths per 100,000 citizens which was a decline from 1,341 recorded in 2020, the lowest figure since the country’s civil war ended in 1992, according to official data.