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Gang Violence in El Salvador Post-Election of Nayib Bukele

El Salvador is no stranger to violence. It endured a brutal civil war in the 1980s, which lasted for more than a decade. In many ways, this history has underpinned the evolution of a terrifying gang culture where extortion and murder have become the norm. In the aftermath of the civil war, US immigration policies hardened. The net result was Salvadorian migrants convicted of crimes were deported back to El Salvador, renewing the cycle of gang culture and undermining the foundations of a fragile and struggling state. Since the Civil war in 1922, El Salvador has been piled upon with debts and suffering from a serious economic crisis and thus leaving the nation fragile enough to not endure additional losses due to Gang wars and violence. To seek and visualize success in their nation, Salvadorians voted the 37-year-old, Nayib Bukele as their President and thus making him one of the youngest leaders in the world.

Effects of the Gangs on El Salvador

Children between ages 9-17 are often threatened and manipulated to join gangs, such as in 2017, when 46 girls and 311 boys were found murdered. Poverty makes it harder for these young minds to say no as well as escape these gangs. Adolescents are often manoeuvred to work against their morals and ethics under the threats of seeing their family members being slaughtered. Most gang members have no other option than to join these gangs to avoid getting killed.

It is difficult for one sitting on their couches comfortably, reading this article to understand how many social norms have disintegrated due to Gang wars and violence. In many cities such as San Salvador and Apopa, it is impossible to cross the street due to differing gang territory control, entirely cordoning off neighborhoods and streets. When entering a new neighborhood, visitors often have to flashlights or roll windows down to indicate allegiance to the gang that controls it, or fear violence.

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Nayib Bukele’s measures to save the Nation

Before Nayib Bukele’s presidential rule, El Salvador faced frequent corruption from government officials, police officers, and even business owners. Bukele assured to tackle gang violence and strengthen the Salvadorian economy for the better. He created a multi-phase plan which he says will eradicate gangs in El Salvador in three to four years. In June, he launched the $31m (£24m) territorial control plan to heighten police and military presence to drive out gangs and weaken their control over the territories. Two months in, the Salvadoran police reported more than 5,000 arrests nationally and created an anti-corruption body know as Plan Cuscatlan.

In 2015, one of the darkest years dawned upon El Salvador when 6425 homicides occurred in the entire year, meaning 17.6 homicides per day. The year before Nayib Bukele came into power, the national homicide count was at 3,340 homicides, about 9 a day; but when he came into power, the homicide rates rapidly fell to the lowest it had ever been in decades with an average of 3.6 homicides per day

To reduce gang violence in El Salvador, Bukele has been deploying more police officers, military and authorized forces to use lethal force if need be in public places to stop gangs from extorting businesses. The police are always on high-alert and officers wear balaclavas to protect their identities. Extortion supplies 80% of income for El Salvador’s gangs and on August 16, 2019, 72 Mara Salvatrucha members were arrested and sentenced to 260-year prison terms.

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Imprisoned gang members had been ordering killings from inside prisons, to which Bukele put an end by keeping cellmates under 24 Hours observation by saying and boarding up windows by proudly saying, “You have stolen sunlight from many and now you shall have none.” He also made a few amendments to the country’s law and constitution and prevented rights to phone calls to gang leaders and members. As part of the new, more restrictive prison regime, inmates’ communication was cut off, with wifi signals being scrambled and cell phones seized. The latest measures by President Bukele go one step further with members of rival gangs now locked up in the same cells. By doing so, Bukele has reduced the percentage of homicides, from 51% into a shocking 15.2% in early 2020.

Nayib Bukele has rewritten history for his country and is succeeding in tackling gang violence, by whatsoever ways possible such as lethal charges by authorized force, implementing Plan Cascutlan, and putting prisons on lockdown by prohibiting visitors, confining inmates to cells, attempting to block all communication networks within the prison and with the outside world through a near-blackout of mobile phone signals, and transferring prisoners to more secure facilities. As young as he is, Nayib Bukele’s work and actions are taken to reduce gang violence in El Salvador looks very promising and indicates days of brighter future for the country.

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