The president of the Republic of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has declared victory in the war against Salvadoran gangs.
During his annual speech in Congress, he announced how gang violence will end and homicide rates will drop. The same speech he used to mark his third year in power. He emphasized that he is on the verge of winning the war against the violent gangs that had managed to control around 80% of the Central American country.
“We are very close to winning the war against gangs,” Bukele said in his third-year-in-office speech to Congress, which was broadcast on radio and television networks.
According to his words, since the end of the civil war (1980 to 1992), the gangs or “maras” had been responsible for the deaths of around 120,000 people. Bukele remarked that “in these 30 years, 70% of Salvadorans were affected by the violence” of these criminal groups.
The president recalled that within the 80% of the country’s territory controlled by the gangs, there were areas where police officers and soldiers lived, and “to top it off, the gangs had complicit judges and prosecutors who let them go free one day after their arrest.”
“Today, El Salvador is very close to living a new reality that for decades was denied to us: to having a country without gangs,” he said.
The government’s fight against the gangs, which have an estimated 70,000 gang members, is an effort to escape from the list of countries with the most homicides in the world.
With Bukeles rise to power, the tension between government and criminal gangs increased and eventually peaked as “the initial fractures in the negotiated pact between the El Salvadoran government and the country’s top gangs led to the security upheaval that has beset El Salvador since the end of March.”
Congress, controlled by allies of the government and at Bukele’s request, decreed a state of emergency, which has been extended. This followed the murder of 87 people in the country in March alone.
This put thousands of soldiers on patrol in the streets and has led in the last two months to the imprisonment (without prior judicial order) of more than 36,000 alleged “mara” members, in addition to the 16,000 already in prison.
This speech was an opportunity to speak out against his critics, mainly international organizations, who have questioned him about his authoritarian behavior and alleged human rights violations.
“El Salvador is a sovereign country.” Here we are going to make the decisions we consider correct for us and our future. All those who want to support us are welcome to build this dream with us, and those who don’t, stay away, ” said Bukele.
Bukele considered that with the actions taken during his government, the country could go from being considered “the most insecure in the world” to being “the safest country in Latin America.” And he used as an example that during the month of May, only 17 homicides were registered in the country.
He said of the countries that criticized him: “We are not going to allow them to come to our house to tell us what to do or give us orders.” “We want to have good relations with other countries; we want to be allies, friends, partners, but not a colony, not a backyard, not a front yard, as they want to call it now.”
Regarding the international organizations that pointed him out for violating human rights, he only pointed out that they “do not even know El Salvador.”
“Suddenly, we are their priority. They spend all day commenting, sanctioning, condemning, and operating in El Salvador, but before that they did not even know where it (the country) was.” As for his opponents within the government, criticism has existed since May 2021, when, with the help of his allies in Congress, he dismissed magistrates from a chamber of the Supreme Court and removed the attorney general.
This act was condemned as “anti-democratic” by the United States.
Leadership is not dictatorship.
The President of El Salvador also took the opportunity to attack opposition parties that accuse him of establishing a dictatorship in the country.
“They say that there is a dictatorship here because now there is leadership, there is courage, there is firmness and there is a vision to do what the Salvadoran people need (…). That is not called dictatorship; it is called leadership and democracy.”
The young president and his disruptive agenda didn’t earn respect from everyone. In particular international organizations such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) have issued harsh warnings. But Bukele is not impressed by the naysayers and continues on his mission to modernize the country by bringing deep reforms.