El Salvador’s popular government is shaping 2023 as the safest year in more than 200 years of history after removing from the streets the criminals and gang members that tormented the country for decades.
If we look at the domestic policy of Latin American leaders, the impeccable management of El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele in terms of security undoubtedly stands out.
After receiving in 2019 a country cataloged as the world’s crime capital and entrenched with a political caste servile to the mafias, today El Salvador begins the year with the safest month in its contemporary history.
Following implementing the Territorial Control Plan and the Exception Regime in March 2022, the Salvadoran government has arrested more than 64,000 criminals and gang members, sinking the country’s homicide and crime rate and getting rid of the highest-profile criminals that were terrorizing the streets.
In the last 4 years, many Salvadoran caste referents and international human rights organizations called Bukele a tyrant and anti-democratic for these security measures.
It is curious how, thanks to this, El Salvador has peace today, and Bukele has a 94% approval rating, even in opposition polls.
Thanks to the right-leaning president’s security reforms, El Salvador registered 496 homicides in all of 2022, the lowest value in decades and approximately 57% less than those counted in 2021.
The statistics improved even further in the first month of 2023, with the safest January in the country’s 201-year history, registering just 11 homicides.
If this level of homicides is maintained throughout the twelve months of the year, it will accumulate only 132 murders, numbers that El Salvador has never seen in its entire history.
A few days ago, Bukele celebrated on social networks the 300 days (non-consecutive) without homicides since the beginning of his administration.
In fact, throughout the 15 years of the last ARENA and FMLN governments, there were only 2 days without homicides.
These impressive achievements are mainly attributed to the implementation of 2 measures: the Territorial Control Plan and the Emergency Regime, in which the Legislative Branch empowered the president to militarize the streets of the main cities, impose curfews when needed, and intervene in telecommunications.
The Territorial Control Plan consists of seven phases.
The first phase was aimed at the “recovery of territories” through the militarization of the streets; the second phase focused on the “recovery of the social fabric” through the creation of opportunities, which included a reform of social plans, the deregulation of the economy, and the introduction of new technologies, such as Bitcoin.
Phase three aimed “to strengthen the security forces with equipment and means”, which involved massive spending on improving the police budget.
The fourth phase was an “incursion” and seizure of gang territories granted by previous governments, in which entire neighborhoods where the State had withdrawn in recent years were recovered by force.
The fifth phase, currently in force, is the so-called “extraction” phase, which seeks to remove the criminals that remain in the communities and lurking in the streets of any part of the country.
The process that began on March 27, 2022, mediated by Bukele as the War against Gangs, allowed the arrest of 64,111 criminals, alleged members of the maras, or other gangs.
Of these, 3,475 were released because no crime was proven against them, less than 6% of the total, “a security success,” according to the Minister of Justice and Security, Gustavo Villatoro.
One of the main criticisms of the Salvadoran president is that he skipped due process when capturing criminals and changed the definition of homicide to exclude people killed in prison, in police custody, and in confrontations with the police.
What is not considered is that El Salvador had become a failed state before Bukele’s inauguration, and the security forces are doing everything they can to take back a country controlled by gangs and organized crime.
The measures installed in March last year were not a whim of the Salvadoran president either but were a response to a wave of killings carried out by gang members on the weekend of March 25, when they murdered 87 civilians on the country’s streets “in protest” of Bukele’s measures.
Since then, the Constitutional Court has given the go-ahead to the State of Exception, where people are allowed to be detained despite not being caught in the act, according to a set of parameters established by Parliament.
The main cause of detention is currently the wearing of tattoos alluding to the gangs, a symbol of the impunity of gang members who, for decades, marked their bodies knowing that the police could not do anything to them.
As part of this public policy against insecurity, a mega-prison was recently inaugurated in Tecoluca to house 40,000 detainees. It was baptized the “Center for the Confinement of Terrorism” and will be guarded by 600 soldiers and 250 police officers.
In addition, the government of Nayib Bukele now charges prisoners for food, clothing, and hygiene products in the prisons.
They demand US$170 monthly to provide the detainees with food and basic products.
With his measures, Bukele adds an extensive list of Latin American admirers.
On the one hand, he is accused of being a “ruthless strongman and human rights violator,” according to some international leftist organizations that make more fuss about his measures than about the thousands of homicides committed by gangs in the past.
But there are also prominent politicians and many people across the continent who profess admiration for his policies and have expressed the desire for their countries to look up to him.
Bukele has been celebrated by Zury Ríos, a right-wing candidate in Guatemala, who recently said that for her, “El Salvador is a reference model for security”; Minister Ramón Sabillón of Honduras, who assured that “there are things to learn from what is being done in El Salvador”.
Also, Rafael López Aliaga, mayor of Lima and main leader of the Peruvian right-wing, recently said that “Bukele has achieved a miracle in El Salvador,”; and Jorge Torres, Minister of Security of Costa Rica, who admitted that “a security policy like Bukele’s would be great to lower the homicide rate”.
With information from Derecha Diario