El Salvador continues to fill its mega-prison, adding another 2,000 inmates as the government vows they will “never” return to the streets.
“They will never return to the communities, the neighborhoods, the barrios, the cities of our beloved El Salvador,” Justice and Peace Minister Gustavo Villatoro said of the transportation plans.
The government has arrested around 65,000 suspected gang members since it approved Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s emergency powers in March 2022, which also approved and built the mega-prison.
The country’s Terrorism Confinement Center has 40,000–capacity and has already taken over 4,000 prisoners as the government continues to crack down on a widespread gang problem. Just one month after opening, it has already reached 10% of its maximum capacity.
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Another 3,500 of those arrested have been released while the remaining approximately 57,000 suspects are awaiting trial.
The government has publicized the prison widely, publishing videos of prisoner transfers and providing an impressive inside look at the facilities. The prison is one of the largest in Latin America, with 37 guard towers and eight cell blocks from which it will be “impossible to escape”.
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Bukele has asked for an extension of the emergency powers – known as a state of emergency – that have enabled him to take such sweeping action over the past year. He enforced the new measure after three days of violence claimed the lives of 87 people, which he attributed to the infamous MS-13 gang.
Congress has yet to approve the extension of the anti-gang measures, but lawmakers are expected to do so, as they have done a dozen times before.
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Under the special powers, the right to organize is suspended and the police are not required to give a reason or inform anyone who is arrested of their rights. Someone who has been arrested has no right to legal counsel and can be held without seeing a judge for 15 days instead of the previous 72 hours.
About 2% of the country’s adult population has ended up behind bars as a result of the operations in El Salvador.
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NGOs have counted several thousand human rights violations and at least 80 deaths in custody by people detained during the state of emergency. Human rights activists say young men are often arrested simply because of their age or appearance, or whether they live in a gang-dominated slum.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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