On Saturday March 26, El Salvador recorded 62 homicides, the most recorded in a single day since the end of the country’s bloody civil war in 1992. The killings were attributed to an uptick in violence presided over by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS -13). ) and the Barrio 18 gangs.
Later that night, President Nayib Bukele took to Twitter, his preferred platform for presidential communications, to pressure Salvadoran lawmakers to approve a “state of exception,” which they did it obediently in the early hours of Sunday March 27.
Currently in place for 30 days but eligible for extension, the state of emergency basically involves a formal suspension of any residual hint of civil liberties in a nation where the president calls himself the “coolest dictator” in the world and sports a baseball cap reverse. . The emergency agreement removes the right to association and legal defense while increasing the allowable period of detention without charge from 72 hours to 15 days and authorizes the state to spy on private correspondence without a warrant. not that state never seemed to require a court order for such activities in the first place.
In a downright terrifying turn of events on Tuesday, April 5, the Salvadoran parliament enacted a law to “punish anyone who shares gang information with up to 15 years in prison,” The New York Times writes. The new measure is “so vague, critics say, that virtually anyone can be arrested for speaking or writing about it.” [gangs]putting journalists in the crosshairs.”
Bukele presents this latest rampant trampling of rights as a necessary and noble component of the “#GuerraContraGandillas,” the war against gangs, an ever-useful distraction from the other emergencies Salvadorans face, like, you know, the rampant trampling of rights. In his ongoing crusade on Twitter, Bukele has criticized international human rights organizations for their criticism of Salvadoran shortcomings and has insinuated that the “international community” is indeed complicit in “terrorism” due to intermittently expressed concerns about the treatment of Salvadorans. of suspected gang members.
On Thursday, March 31, Bukele tweeted that as of Sunday, food rations in Salvadoran prisons were reduced and that 16,000 prisoners “had not left their cells or seen the sun.” In addition, another three thousand alleged gang members had been arrested, “and we will continue,” Bukele boasted, which meant that “there will be less and less space and we will have to ration more and more.” How is that cool?
Never mind that the Bukele administration itself has collaborated extensively with, ahem, “terrorists,” as has been revealed by entities ranging from the Salvadoran investigative news outlet El Faro to the US Treasury Department. The New York Times notes that, according to the Treasury Department, the Salvadoran government “provided financial incentives to gangs and preferential treatment for imprisoned gang leaders, such as access to mobile phones and prostitution.” In exchange, the government reportedly got the gangs to commit to keeping the national homicide rate low throw their electoral weight behind Bukele’s New Ideas party, as if the megalomaniacally hypocritical machinations of the right were some remote “new idea” in El Salvador or anywhere else.
To be sure, such a call by the US is no small matter, as it comes from the superpower that ruthlessly backed the right-wing massacre during the 12-year Salvadoran civil war, in which more than 75,000 people were killed. . killed and countless Salvadorans fled north to Los Angeles, a hostile environment of a different kind, prompting the formation of Salvadoran gangs as a means of communal self-defense.
Once the war was officially over, the US began mass deportations of hardened prison gang members back to El Salvador, where a subsequent proliferation of gang members reflected the reality of a devastated society now at the mercy of neoliberal looting and a succession of governments more concerned with exaggerating the gang threat than with addressing the basic needs of the average impoverished citizen. In other words, it was a state of emergency from the get-go.
Fast-forward three decades to the end of the war, and the war is going strong in El Salvador, as Bukele continues to perpetrate gross socio-economic injustice as he strives to turn the nation into a corrupt, investor-friendly country. bitcoin dystopia. According to Bukelian’s narrative, the relatively low homicide rate that his reign, which began in 2019, had had so far was not due to negotiations with MS-13 and Barrio 18 but to his unilaterally glorified “Territorial Control Plan,” the details of which are conveniently shrouded in secrecy but that has served as a militarized pillar of the #GangWar.
Lucid observers of the Salvadoran panorama estimate that the sudden increase in murders at the end of March has to do with some technical problem in the negotiations between the government and the gangs, which caused the gangs to reassert their power once again in a country that during It has long been a regular suspect on lists of the world’s homicide capitals. Speaking of asserting power, it is worth mentioning that Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan arose through presidential antics such as deploying heavily armed soldiers and police inside the Salvadoran parliament building and threatening to dissolve the legislative body if parliamentarians did not cooperate in approval of the loan required for said plan.
This was in February 2020, a month before the coronavirus pandemic gave Bukele the chance to enact his first state of emergency: one of the world’s most manic lockdowns, forcing many already barely surviving Salvadorans to face face-to-face hunger (current prison “rations” come to mind). Then, a spike in homicides in April produced a presidential decree on Twitter authorizing the military and police to use deadly force against suspected gang members and “in defense of the lives of Salvadorans” in general, no doubt strange instructions coming from a person involved in the forced murder. hunger and general punishment of Salvadorans.
Regardless, the response to the pandemic was a huge success in El Salvador, as a May Bloomberg op-ed noted: “Police were given sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants and arrest those who you think they are violating the quarantine; Security forces mistook a young woman who had gone shopping for a Mother’s Day gift for a member of a criminal gang and shot her dead.”
A year later, in May 2021, Bukele supervised the spontaneous dismissal of five Supreme Court justices and the attorney general of El Salvador. In short, he really isn’t kidding about the whole “dictatorship” thing.
Now, judging by Bukele’s activity on Twitter, it appears that Salvadoran security forces have once again been given a “green light” to go after gang members as they see fit, as if they really needed to. In 2018, CNN reported on Salvadoran “elite paramilitary police” who were accused of extrajudicial killings, all with the strong backing, surprise surprise, of the US.
On March 27, the day this year’s “state of exception” went into effect, Bukele tweeted that while some aspects of daily life in certain Salvadoran neighborhoods would suffer temporary closures, in most areas related activities with religious services, sporting events, shopping, education, and other things would continue as normal: “unless you are a member of a gang or the authorities consider you suspicious”. Consider this a warning to all Mother’s Day shoppers.
And while Bukele has complained on Twitter that no other country “has decided to help us in the war against the gangs” – so much for US support of lethal operations – he has received strong backing from the likes of Mexican billionaire businessman Ricardo Salinas, Bitcoin fanatic. and one of the richest people on the planet, who tweeted his applause for the Bukelian state of emergency: “That’s what it means to have balls.”
Meanwhile, the Salvadoran head of state took it upon himself, after the Oscars, to tweet: “Salvadoran soldier > Will Smith,” an apparent reference to the superior ratings of El Salvador’s best when it comes to sanctimonious displays of violence. and the illusion of “having balls”.
In the end, this is life in the coolest dictatorship in the world: a state of emergency if ever there was one.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.