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El Salvador’s current radical experiment in crime-fighting has gotten the world’s attention. One year ago, the country’s youthful President Nayib Bukele, who previously was noticed abroad for his enthusiasm for bitcoin, declared war on the narco-gangs which had destroyed normal life – and many thousands of lives – in El Salvador.
Nobody could deny that El Salvador, statistically the most homicidal country on earth, had a catastrophic crime problem on its hands, which had developed over decades due to drug cartels killing whomever they pleased. The country’s murder rate was on a par with Baltimore* with large parts of El Salvador living beyond any state or legal control. Authorities had no idea how to respond.
Bukele took decisive action when he got the congress to grant him emergency powers to crush the narco-gangs. In effect, Bukele did a reverse BLM: the problem, he maintained, was that too few criminals were behind bars, and he aimed to change that as rapidly as possible. So, he did. Over the last year, more than 65,000 suspected gang members have been locked up, sometimes in gigantic, overcrowded prisons. Relative to population, this would be like the United States rounding up 3.6 million gang members and imprisoning them.
Human rights activists cried foul and Western media coverage has been mostly negative but polling indicates that Bukele’s radical anti-crime measures are wildly popular with the El Salvadorean public, which was terrified of the narco-gangs. Moreover, the country’s crime rate has dropped dramatically over the past 12 months, since so many criminals are behind bars. It’s no wonder that the country’s congress just approved another extension of Bukele’s emergency powers to defeat crime.
El Salvador’s anti-gang sweep has brought in battalions of ugly characters, tattoo-covered hardened killers. Many are members of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, a hyper-violent criminal syndicate that traces its origins to El Salvador’s brutal 1980s civil war, via Los Angeles. MS-13 has affiliates all over the Western Hemisphere, including across the U.S., since wherever El Salvadorean immigrants go, MS-13 is seldom far behind.
Last week, the country’s justice and public security minister trolled human rights activists on Twitter with a short thread showing photos of one of the sinister MS-13 killers that his government had recently taken off the streets. As Gustavo Villatoro explained, “The ‘defenders’ of these criminals think it's good that guys like this are on the streets ... This terrorist has a record for robbery and aggravated homicide, what he deserves and what awaits him are decades in prison.” The criminal on display was indeed covered in tattoos extolling his MS-13 affiliation.