El Salvador deployed over 4,000 security forces to three communities located on the outskirts of the capital city, with the aim of eliminating gang members. This action was taken as President Nayib Bukele was preparing to seek another extension of emergency powers to address the issue of crime.
Bukele announced the pre-dawn operation in a slickly produced video posted to the platform X. Soldiers and police were sent to surround the densely populated communities of Popotlan, Valle Verde and La Campanera outside San Salvador, the president said.
“We are not going to stop until we capture the last terrorist that remains,” Bukele wrote, using a phrase that typically refers to members of gangs who have been accused of drug trafficking, protection rackets and extortion. “We won’t allow small remnants to regroup and take away the peace that has cost so much.”
Bukele has used emergency powers granted after a surge in gang violence i n March 2022 to wage an all-out offensive against the country’s powerful street gangs. More than 72,000 alleged gang members or affiliates have been jailed.
The crackdown has allowed a renewal of everyday life in the public spaces of Salvadoran communities once cowed by the gangs, but critics say the arrests have been made without due process and that thousands of innocents have been swept up in the effort.
The emergency powers suspend some constitutional rights, such as being told why you’re being arrested and access to an attorney.
The security measures remain highly popular with Salvadorans, but international human rights organizations and some foreign governments are highly critical.
Security forces have executed similar operations over the past year and a half. They typically set up checkpoints at the entrances to communities, stopping and questioning drivers and searching their vehicles, while other forces search door to door for gang members.
La Campanera has been known as one of the country’s most violent areas. Some 10,000 people live there and for years were controlled by the Barrio 18 gang.
In December 2022, more than 10,000 members of the security forces entered La Campanera and other communities of the Soyapango municipality rounding up gang members.