Things That Matter

Videos Of Jail Conditions Of Pandilleros In El Salvador Show How Far President Bukele Will Go

People all over the world are following the latest advancements of the massive gang crackdown in El Salvador, pioneered by President Nayib Bukele. While the country has a documented history with gang violence, particularly the Mara Salvatrucha gang or MS-13, new reactionary measures are a growing cause for concern for some.

El Salvador is now officially under a state of emergency, declared on March 27 after 87 people died due to presumed gang violence in just three days. In the time since, more than 6,800 people have been arrested in connection with gangs, with President Bukele writing on Twitter, “Do you know how many countries have decided to help us in the war against gangs? Exactly: NONE. Do not come later and try to tell us what we should have done or not.”

Still, new videos of the jail conditions show just how far Bukele’s administration is willing to go to make current gang members an example for others: 

Videos show the pandilleros being beaten, and their mattresses being taken away. Prison director Osiris Luna explains, “they’re going to experience the same suffering that they made the population go through.”

More information on the jail conditions has also come to light on social media, with Salvadoran journalist Miguel Vaquerano sharing, “[the inmates] will only receive 2 meals a day. They will sleep on the floor, with sheets or mattresses. They won’t have personal hygiene [products].” Meanwhile, President Bukele added, “if homicides go up, we’ll eliminate food in the pandilleros’ jails.” He also said every pandillero inmate will serve the same 30-year sentence.

While Bukele has assured that every single one of the new inmates are in fact pandilleros, some evidence shows that some people have been unfairly arrested — particularly in gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Carmen Rodriguez spoke to The Guardian about how her husband, brother, and nephew were all taken away last week: “when we asked the police why they were taking them, they just insulted us… they are taking the righteous for sinners.”

Bukele’s state of emergency allows the President to go against standard human rights policies, including detaining people for up to 15 days without a defense attorney, increasing jail terms for juveniles, allowing for pre-trial detention for an indefinite amount of time, and yes, even calling for the rationing of food. 

The administration’s “mano dura” policy is proving to be deeply divisive, with one citizen telling Telemundo “El Savador needed this many years ago.”

Still, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called Bukele’s policies an “unnecessary and excessive use of force,” denouncing how prisoners are “subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Meanwhile, several Twitter users have also spoken out, with one writing, “El Salvador is losing yet another generation of its youth. I’m heartbroken,” and another sharing, “Not the president of El Salvador saying he won’t feed prisoners and people praising him for it.”

Even then, Bukele wrote on Twitter that “99% of the population is happy” with his new policies, and that everywhere from restaurants to bars are full. While the crackdown has made the President more popular with some of the population, the true effects of the state of emergency will only be seen with time.

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