El Salvador’s congress granted President Nayib Bukele’s request to declare a state of emergency early Sunday after dozens of gang-related killings over the weekend.
Fourteen people were killed on Friday and 62 people died on Saturday, a scale of violence not seen in years. By comparison, there were 79 homicides for the entire month of February.
Bukele announced the request Saturday on his social media accounts, and Congress approved it early Sunday. The executive order would suspend constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly and relax arrest rules for up to 30 days, but could be extended.
The homicides appeared to be linked to the country’s notorious street gangs, which effectively control many areas of the capital. National police reported capturing five Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 leaders, who they believe ordered the weekend killings.
Bukele mocked those who opposed the measure on his social media accounts, saying, “Are the opposition coming out to defend the gang members?”
While Bukele tried to project a tough attitude on crime, the country’s extremely powerful street gangs proved a double-edged sword for him.
“We must remind the Salvadoran people that what is happening now is due to the negligence of those who protected the criminals,” the conservative Arena party said in a statement.
It was an apparent reference to a December US Treasury Department report that said Bukele’s government had secretly brokered a truce with gang leaders. This contradicted Bukele’s denials and increased tensions between the two nations.
The US government alleges that Bukele’s government bought gang support with financial benefits and privileges for their imprisoned leaders, including prostitutes and cellphones.
The explosive charges go to the heart of one of Bukele’s most vaunted successes in power: a drop in the country’s homicide rate.
The president responded sarcastically via Twitter to the accusations. “Cell phones and prostitutes in prisons? Gang money? When did it happen ? Didn’t they even check the date?
Bukele denies gang corruption charges
Bukele vehemently denied the accusation when it was reported in August 2020 by local news site El Faro.
In 2020, Bukele’s administration “provided financial incentives to the Salvadoran MS-13 and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18) gangs to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remain low,” the report says. Treasury release. “During these negotiations with Luna and Marroquin, the gang leaders also agreed to provide political support to the political party Nuevas Ideas in the upcoming elections.”
Bukele’s New Ideas party has the majority in the Salvadoran congress.
The revelations raised tensions between Bukele and the Biden administration. After the new Congress removed the attorney general and the justices of the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber in May, the US government expressed concern about the direction the country is headed.
The United States Agency for International Development announced that it would transfer aid from Salvadoran government agencies to nongovernmental organizations.
El Salvador’s new attorney general announced in June that the government was canceling the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption mission in the Central American country.
Bukele enjoys extremely high popularity. He entered a political vacuum left by discredited mainstream parties of left and right.