El Salvador has begun filling its mega-prison with transfers for 2,000 people. Gang members and criminalsincluding members of MS-13 and Barrio-18.
“Today at dawn, in one operation, we handed over the first 2,000 gang members to the Terrorist Detention Center (CECOT).” President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele tweeted. “This will be their new home, where they can no longer harm the population.”
Bukele also tweeted a video of prisoners shackled at the ankles and with their hands behind their backs running to the new facility. The prisoners wore white shorts and shaved heads, and many of the men wore gang tattoos.
You can see how the prisoners sit tightly pressed against each other on the floor of the institution, with their hands behind their heads, and look at their feet.
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new facility for 40,000 people opened last month after an accelerated construction schedule, doubling the capacity of El Salvador’s prisons in less than a year. The prison is one of the largest in Latin America, with 37 watchtowers and eight “impossible to escape” cell blocks.
Bukele declared a “state of emergency” in March 2022 as he empowered his government to crack down on gang members by relaxing the country’s arrest laws, such as no longer requiring an arrest warrant and giving the government access to citizens’ communications.
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He pushed through the new measure after three days of violence that left 87 people dead. Bukele accused MS-13 of violence, and the authorities said they captured MS-13 leaders who ordered the killings during a nationwide sweep.
The US Attorney’s Office has linked MS-13 to dozens of murders in the New York metro area and Long Island over the past decade, and in 2021 14 gang leaders were charged with terrorism. It is reported by The New York Times..
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The Salvadoran Congress extended the state of emergency several times, resulting in the arrest of more than 46,000 alleged gang members. By the end of the year, that number had risen to over 62,000, including alleged collaborators.
A Sid Gallup poll last year found that 91% of those polled supported more aggressive crackdowns, Bloomberg reports.
But human rights groups say the policy has affected innocent people, including at least dozens of people who died in police custody.
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One woman told The Guardian that her husband, brother and nephew were arrested a week ago while unloading a truck for their needs, and police have not yet explained why they were taken into custody.
Reuters contributed to this report.