El Salvador continues to fill its mega prison, adding another 2,000 inmates as the government vows they will “never” take to the streets again.
“They will never return to the communities, the neighborhoods, the neighborhoods, the cities of our beloved El Salvador,” Justice and Peace Minister Gustavo Villatoro said of the transportation plans.
The government has rounded up about 65,000 suspected gang members since approving Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s emergency powers in March 2022, which also allowed it to approve and build the mega-prison.
The country’s “Terrorism Confinement Center” has 40,000–capacity of one person and has already taken more than 4,000 prisoners as the government continues to crack down on a massive gang problem. Just one month after opening, it is already at 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.
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The government has given the prison a lot of publicity, posting videos of the transfer of prisoners and an impressive behind-the-scenes look at the facilities. The prison is one of the largest in Latin America, with 37 watchtowers and eight cell blocks that “will be impossible to escape”.
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Bukele has asked for the extension of the emergency powers – known as the state of emergency – that have allowed him to take such drastic measures over the past year. He pushed through the new measure after three days of violence that left 87 people dead, which he blamed on the infamous MS-13 gang.
Congress has yet to approve the renewal of the anti-gang measures, but lawmakers are expected to do so, as they have done dozens of times before.
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Under the special powers, the right of association is suspended and the police are not required to tell someone who is arrested the reason or advise them of their rights. An arrested person has no right to an attorney and can be held for 15 days without seeing a judge, instead of the previous 72 hours.
About 2% of the country’s adult population has been imprisoned as a result of El Salvador’s operations.
Non-governmental organizations have counted thousands of human rights violations and at least 80 deaths in custody of people arrested during the state of emergency. Rights activists say young men are often arrested based solely on their age or appearance or because they live in a gang-dominated slum.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.