El Salvador has arrested about 50,000 suspected gang members since President Nayib Bukele launched a “war” against criminal groups terrorizing the country in March, the country’s police chief announced on Tuesday.
“We can inform the Salvadoran people that during the state of emergency we have already reached 50,000 registered arrests,” said Mauricio Arriaza, director of the National Civil Police.
Arriaza, along with Justice Minister Gustavo Villatoro and Defense Minister Rene Merino, appeared in Parliament on Tuesday to seek an extension of emergency powers that have eliminated the need for warrants.
They first came into force in March and have been extended from month to month.
The small Central American country has also increased penalties for gang membership fivefold to up to 45 years.
To house some of the inmates, Bukele ordered the construction of a massive prison for 40,000 gang members in a rural area of the central city of Tecoluca, to be completed before the end of the year.
“The results of the emergency regime were overwhelming, we had a strong impact on these terrorist structures,” Villatoro said Tuesday in his report on the gang raids.
Almost 69 percent of those arrested are accused of belonging to the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang – also known as MS-13 – followed by the Surenos faction of the Barrio 18 gang (17.7 percent) and the Revolucionarios faction of the same group (12.7 percent).
Human rights groups have denounced the arbitrary detention of many people, including minors, without gang connections.
In various operations, the police and army seized more than a million dollars in addition to 1,283 weapons.
In addition, more than 1,500 vehicles as well as drugs and mobile phones were confiscated.
The wave of arrests is unprecedented in the country of 6.5 million people suffering from decades of violent crime fueled by powerful gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18.
According to the authorities, these gangs have around 70,000 members, most of whom are now behind bars.
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