- Dec 12, 2018
El Salvador’s government launched a crackdown on jailed gang members after 60 people were killed over the weekend, ending months of remarkable calm in the Central American country.
Photos released by the office of President Nayib Bukele showed hundreds of inmates stripped to their shorts and jammed together on prison floors as their cells were searched. Some wore face masks, but most had little protection against the possible spread of the coronavirus.
Authorities said jailed gang members had ordered the killings. Bukele authorized police and soldiers to “use lethal force” against gangs if they or other Salvadorans were under threat.Authorities ordered 24-hour lockdowns in several prisons and said gang leaders would be sent to solitary confinement.
“Not a single ray of sunlight is going to enter any cell,” prisons director Osiris Luna Meza threatened on Twitter on Monday. He said the measures were “necessary to detain the wave of homicides.”
Human rights organizations have warned about the coronavirus spreading with deadly consequences through Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded detention facilities. Bukele ordered an early and aggressive quarantine in El Salvador, before the country had reported any cases. It has now reported 323 cases and eight deaths.
El Salvador was until recently one of the world’s deadliest countries. Homicide rates soared to 105 per 100,000 people in 2015, according to the World Bank. They fell below 62 per 100,000 two years later.
The photographs released by Bukele’s office drew criticism on social media.
“What cruelty,” former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya tweeted. “It combines a pandemic and brutal and atrocious times that we believed were overcome in history.”