Detainees in El Salvador’s gang crackdown cite abuse during months in jail

December 2, 2023 | by b1og.net


In El Salvador’s aggressive crackdown on street gangs, detainees are now speaking out about the abuse they endured during their time in jail. Thousands of individuals, like Luis and Pedro, who were caught up in the sweep have been released from pre-trial detention, but their stories shed light on the grim reality faced by many. From arbitrary arrests to overcrowded cells, beatings by guards, and lack of access to basic necessities, their accounts reveal a system plagued with violence and human rights violations. The government’s extraordinary powers, which suspend fundamental rights like access to a lawyer or knowledge of the charges, have remained in effect for over a year and a half, contributing to a climate of fear and injustice. While President Nayib Bukele’s gang crackdown may have garnered popular support, detainees like Luis and Pedro bear the scars of an unjust system that they hope to escape.

Detainees in El Salvador’s gang crackdown cite abuse during months in jail

Thousands of detainees in El Salvador have been subjected to abuse and ill-treatment during their months in jail as part of the country’s gang crackdown. The crackdown, which began in April 2022, saw President Nayib Bukele receive special powers that suspended fundamental rights such as access to a lawyer or being informed of the reason for arrest. Since then, more than 72,000 people have been arrested, many without evidence or due process. This article delves into the background of the gang crackdown, the ill-treatment and violence in Salvadoran prisons, the lack of evidence and accountability for detainees, the conditions in the prisons, the health issues faced by detainees, the impact on their lives after release, the controversy surrounding President Nayib Bukele’s actions, the loss of jobs and immigration rights for detainees, the future for detainees in El Salvador, and concludes with an overview of the situation.

Detainees in El Salvadors gang crackdown cite abuse during months in jail

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Background on El Salvador’s gang crackdown

In April 2022, President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador initiated a full-scale war against the country’s powerful street gangs. Through special powers granted to him, he suspended fundamental rights and targeted those suspected of gang association. This crackdown has resulted in an alarming number of arrests, with little to no evidence provided for the charges levied against individuals. The gangs in El Salvador are notorious for their violence and control over various parts of the country, but the methods employed during this crackdown raise concerns about human rights violations.

Ill-treatment and violence in El Salvador’s prisons

Detainees, upon their arrival at El Salvador’s largest prison, La Esperanza, also known as Mariona, have reported instances of ill-treatment and violence by prison guards. During the intake process, detainees were subjected to beatings and abuse, both physically and mentally. The conditions within the prisons, overcrowding, and lack of proper facilities have exacerbated the situation. Many detainees have suffered injuries, some of which have been life-threatening. Reports of deaths in custody have also raised questions about the treatment of prisoners and the lack of accountability for these incidents.

Lack of evidence and accountability for detainees

One of the major concerns raised during El Salvador’s gang crackdown is the lack of evidence and due process for the detainees. Many individuals have been arrested based on mere suspicion or association, without any concrete evidence provided to support the charges against them. This lack of evidence and accountability raises serious questions about the fairness of the judicial system and the potential for miscarriages of justice. The government’s decision to make mass arrests without proper investigation and oversight has led to the arbitrary detention of innocent individuals and the violation of their rights.

Conditions in El Salvador’s prisons

The conditions in Salvadoran prisons, such as overcrowding, lack of basic amenities, and sanitation issues, have been widely reported. Inmates are often packed into cells that are unfit for human habitation, with inadequate access to food, water, and healthcare. The prison system, ill-equipped to handle the influx of detainees, has failed to provide a safe and humane environment for those imprisoned. These conditions not only violate the basic human rights of the detainees but also contribute to a cycle of violence and further marginalization.

Health issues faced by detainees

The inadequate conditions in El Salvador’s prisons have led to a myriad of health issues for detainees. With overcrowding and poor sanitation, contagious diseases can easily spread among inmates. Many detainees report contracting illnesses such as fungus, rashes, scabies, and boils due to unsanitary conditions. The lack of proper medical care exacerbates these issues, leading to further suffering and potential long-term health consequences for the detainees.

Impact on detainees’ lives after release

While some detainees have been released from pre-trial detention, the impact of their time in jail lingers long after their release. The psychological toll of the abuse, violence, and mistreatment experienced during incarceration can be severe. Many individuals struggle with reintegrating into society, finding employment, and rebuilding their lives. The stigma attached to being part of the criminal justice system creates significant barriers for these individuals, limiting their opportunities for a fresh start.


Controversy surrounding President Nayib Bukele’s gang crackdown

President Nayib Bukele’s gang crackdown has sparked controversy both domestically and internationally. While the government claims that the crackdown has made communities safer and reduced gang violence, human rights organizations and critics argue that it has come at the expense of basic human rights and due process. The suspension of fundamental rights, the lack of evidence provided for arrests, and the reports of abuse and ill-treatment raise concerns about the erosion of democracy and the potential for authoritarianism.

Loss of jobs and immigration rights for detainees

Detainees who have been released from pre-trial detention still face the consequences of their incarceration. Many have lost their jobs as a result of their arrest and the stigma associated with being involved in the criminal justice system. Additionally, detainees who were living in other countries, such as Mexico, have had their immigration rights violated. The loss of their Mexican residency documents and the refusal of El Salvador to allow them to return to Mexico has left these individuals trapped and without options for their future.

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The future for detainees in El Salvador

The future for detainees in El Salvador remains uncertain and filled with challenges. Many individuals who have been released continue to face obstacles in rebuilding their lives and reintegrating into society. The lack of support and resources for these individuals hinders their ability to move forward and contributes to a cycle of poverty and marginalization. Addressing the systemic issues within the criminal justice system, including the lack of accountability and due process, is crucial for creating a more just and equitable society for all citizens of El Salvador.


The crackdown on gangs in El Salvador has resulted in thousands of individuals being detained, often without evidence or due process. The ill-treatment, violence, and lack of accountability within the prison system have raised concerns about human rights violations. The conditions in Salvadoran prisons, coupled with the health issues faced by detainees, further compound the challenges they face. The impact on detainees’ lives after release, including the loss of jobs and immigration rights, highlights the long-lasting consequences of the gang crackdown. The controversy surrounding President Bukele’s actions and the uncertain future for detainees in El Salvador underscore the need for systemic change and the protection of basic human rights.

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