LatinNews Daily - 29 March 2023

EL SALVADOR: Protests as state of emergency passes one-year mark

 On 28 March dozens of relatives of prisoners detained under the state of emergency implemented by El Salvador’s government led by President Nayib Bukele to tackle gang violence, staged protests in the capital, San Salvador.


The protests take place the day after the one-year anniversary of the state of emergency, which suspends constitutional rights and has seen 65,000 suspected gang members arrested. With 2% of the country’s population now incarcerated – the highest rate in the world - the measure remains popular domestically and even Bukele critics have acknowledged its impact in dismantling gangs. However, the strategy, since rolled out in neighbouring Honduras, continues to draw major concerns from institutions like the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) amid reports of massive human rights violations taking place, particularly following the opening of a new mega-prison earlier this year.

  • According to local press reports, protesters carried banners and signs demanding the release of their relatives and reportedly heading in the direction of the national assembly, where they were reportedly blocked by a police anti-riot unit (UMO).
  • Yesterday OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado signalled concerns regarding the number of arrests under the state of emergency, as well as conditions in overcrowded prisons, highlighting reports of 90 deaths in custody since it was first enacted.
  • Also yesterday local civil-society group Cristosal, along with other human rights groups, released a report which registered 4,723 cases of human rights violations since the state of emergency began, with arbitrary arrests accounting for 95% of violations documented. It also tallied 111 deaths in custody.
  • However, the state of emergency remains popular domestically and the latest Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública (Iudop) survey of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) published yesterday found 85.7% of the 1,271 respondents said they felt safer with the measure in place, up from 75.9% registered in Iudop’s previous survey, six months earlier. Nonetheless 43% of respondents cited the arrest of innocent people as the main failing of the state of emergency.

Looking Ahead: International rights organisations like US-based Washington Office on Latin America (Wola) are warning of the implications for democracy resulting from the state of emergency ahead of February 2024 general elections in which Bukele is seeking re-election despite a constitutional requirement that former presidents must wait ten years before seeking another term.

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