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Massive Gang Crackdown in El Salvador; 10,000 Soldiers Form Perimeter Around City

Darren Maung
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: December 6, 2022
Soldiers patrol shop sites looking for gang members during an operation against criminal gangs, in Soyapango, El Salvador, on December 5, 2022. The huge security operation that began on December 3 --which includes house-by-house searches-- is part of a state of emergency declared by President Nayib Bukele this spring following a surge in gang violence. (Image: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)

On Dec. 4, thousands of troops marched around the city of Soyapango in El Salvador, bent on suppressing gang members, President Nayib Bukele declared.

Being a country plagued by gang violence, this movement of troops has become one of the largest in Bukele’s crackdown on street gangs.

Embroiled in an urban lockdown

Around 10,000 soldiers and police surrounded the outskirts of Soyapango to strike against gang members. They were stationed at the roads, ensuring that no one went in or out of the city without documentation. Meanwhile, special forces entered the city to hunt down street gang members, AP News reported.

One of the largest cities in El Salvador, Soyapango sits just 13 kilometers west of San Salvador. It has been considered a center for gang activity.

Photos released by the government show troops, suited in body armor and armed with rifles, waiting outside the city.

“As of this moment, the municipality of Soyapango is totally surrounded,” Bukele posted on Twitter. “Extraction teams from the police and the army are tasked with extricating all the gang members still there one by one.”

Bukele also assured that the people “have nothing to fear,” claiming that he was initiating “an operation against criminals, not against honest citizens.”

According to the BBC, the Justice Minister of El Salvador reported that 12 people were arrested as of Saturday.

Bukele’s crackdown on street gangs began in late March, following 62 cases of homicide committed at the time. At the time he declared a state of emergency, with the emergency decree being renewed every month since then.

In October, around 2,000 soldiers and police surrounded the town of Comasagua after gang members were suspected of perpetrating a killing. 50 suspects were arrested in just two days.

The recent move on Soyapango is what the president called “Phase Five” of the crackdown.

Despite Bukele’s confidence in suppressing gang violence, rights groups have criticized him for his handling of the matter, calling out authorities for targeting young males based on their age,  appearance and proximity with gang-filled areas.

He has not responded to any of the criticisms by these groups and other governments across the world.

Non-governmental organizations also reported that several thousand human rights violations were allegedly committed, with at least 80 lives lost while in custody.


While murder rates have fallen significantly, the high rate of arrests is reported to have caused the prison population in El Salvador to surge, flooding facilities and forcing the government to set up a new penitentiary.

Worse still, there are reports of normal citizens being stormed by the police.

“We don’t make trouble for anyone,” Zoyla Torres argued. “My husband has nothing to do with the gangs. He works in a factory making sacks for transporting crops.”

Police captured Zoyla’s husband Manuel and her brother-in-law, while her children were having breakfast. Her brother was also apprehended by police, joining the other two men in prison, where she claimed they were beaten regularly. While the three men were freed thanks to their employer, others may not have been so lucky.

Resident Oscar said that his daughter Marta was captured by police after she was unable to identify any gang members, members she didn’t know in the first place.

“In late December she’ll have been in prison for six months. They arrested her for illicit association. But they provided no proof, no evidence at all,” Oscar said.

Elsewhere, Honduras is also undergoing a “state of exception” to combat street gangs after a decree was made on Dec. 5.