El Salvador’s president authorises lethal force against gangs
Jude Webber in Mexico City
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has responded to an upswing in violence during the coronavirus crisis by authorising the use of lethal force against gangs.
“The gangs are taking advantage of the fact that almost all of our security forces are controlling the pandemic,” Mr Bukele said on Twitter, adding that the police and armed forces “must prioritise protecting their lives, those of their colleagues and of honourable citizens”.
“The use of lethal force is authorised for self-defence or the defence of the lives of Salvadorans,” he added.
Almost a month ago, Mr Bukele said that Central America’s smallest country — and one of the most violent in the world — had registered an entire day without murders.
But after 24 homicides on Friday — the worst single day’s toll since Mr Bukele took office last June, notwithstanding the strict lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus — he ordered prisons where gang members were incarcerated to tighten restrictions.
El Salvador has nearly 13,000 jailed gang members.
Under the new measures, members of rival gangs will be put in mixed cells in a bid to disrupt communications, and gang leaders have been isolated. Jail activities have been halted and gang prisoners put under full lockdown.
Violence continued to climb over the weekend and by Sunday night, 52 murders had been reported since Friday. El Salvador has been wracked for years by violence between the two main MS 13 and Barrio 18 gangs, and their offshoots.
The health ministry has confirmed 298 Covid-19 cases, of whom 84 have recovered, and eight deaths.