El Salvador’s shock gang crackdown: 2 percent of population in prison

Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, February 26, 2023

Enough is allegedly enough.

El Salvador decided to build a mega prison to hold those still wreaking havoc at home rather than at increasingly crime-friendly points North.

Gang members wait to be taken to their cells after 2000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center. / Salvadoran Presidency

In the newest phase of President Nayib Bukele’s “war” on crime, El Salvador opened the doors of the new prison to its first 2,000 gang members. The facility is designed to house 40,000 thugs.

Bukele’s war on crime has resulted in the recent arrest of 63,000 individuals. El Salvador has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 2 percent of its population currently in jail.

Built on Bukele’s orders last March, the Terrorism Confinement Center (CECOT) in Tecoluca, 74 kilometers (46 miles) southeast of the capital San Salvador, consists of eight buildings made of reinforced concrete.

El Salvador’s security minister warned inmates they “will never walk out of here.”

The new prison will hold the most dangerous criminals from MS (Mara Salvatrucha) and Barrio 18, the main criminal organizations in the Central American country.

Bukele’s office posted a video showing barefoot, tattooed men wearing only white boxers, bent over and with their hands behind their shaven heads.

“They were stacked closely together, each sitting with his legs on either side of the man in front of them as armed guards in balaclavas look on,” the Daily Mail reported. “The men were stacked up before being led in large groups into their cells, where they are left sitting on the floor before stacked metal beds with no mattresses visible.”

“We are eliminating this cancer from society,” Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro tweeted. “Know that you will never walk out of CECOT, you will pay for what you are… cowardly terrorists.”

Each of the prison’s eight buildings has 32 cells of about 100 square meters (1,075 square feet), designed to hold “more than 100” inmates, according to Public Works Minister Romeo Rodriguez. Each cell has only two sinks and two toilets.

While the prison is equipped with dining halls, exercise rooms and table tennis tables, they are exclusively for guards’ use.

Prisoners will leave the cell only for legal hearings by video conference, or to be punished in a windowless and unlit isolation cell.

Some 63,000 presumed gang members have been rounded up since Bukele declared a state of emergency months ago, allowing arrests without warrants.

Vice Minister of Justice Osiris Luna Meza said in an interview with SEMANA magazine that “the terrorists … will have no other company than this cement slab and the bathroom. They will not see the light of day, they will be completely isolated.”

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