Brutal Repression in El Salvador

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryWhile the U.S. news media has been concentrating on Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s draconian lock-downs of Shanghai and Shenzhen, no real attention is being drawn on the situation in El Salvador. In many ways it is beginning to resemble the war the country had gone through in the 1980’s. For too many years, El Salvador has been suffering from gang violence and terror. Thousands of Salvadorans have died, and tens of thousands have fled their country because of it. In fact, Salvadorans are among the refugees who lately tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum in the United States. But there is a far darker episode now taking place in that country.

Current Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has declared a state of emergency throughout the country (i.e. martial law). He has asked the Salvadoran Congress to pass legislation to give virtually unlimited power to the police in fighting the gangs. This announcement came after 89 Salvadorans were killed in a two day period. While the number of Salvadorans murdered by gangs is distressing, President Bukele is doing more than just fighting the gangs. He has had 17,000 Salvadorans imprisoned without warrant, without trial, and without any constitutional protections. Worse, the police have not informed the families of those arrested what has happened to them, why they were imprisoned in the first place, where they are incarcerated, and they could be held there indefinitely since they have no lawyers to protect them and they have been deprived of due judicial process (i.e. no court date). Because Bukele is waging war against the gangs, it seems to have become an almost non-stop war between the state and the gangs.

It is as if President Bukele has torn up the constitution, and is ruling by decree. To make things worse, those journalists who have tried to find out about the stories of those who have been imprisoned have been threatened. As a result, a growing number of journalists have fled the country. Just as equally disquieting are the number of political opponents who have also been silenced by the virtual suspension of the Salvadoran Constitution. Yet, despite all of this, Bukele remains popular among 90 percent of all Salvadorans. This is because he is being “tough on the gangs” that have wreaked havoc in El Salvador for so many years. Too many Salvadorans had been victims of the gangs, and the gangs’ influence has eroded the political and civic institutions of the country so much that most Salvadorans are ready to sacrifice their constitutional rights and protections to get rid of the gangs. But in doing so they are putting the destiny of their country into the hands of a would-be dictator who could prove to be no better an answer than the gangs they fear.

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