In response to growing gang violence and murders in El Salvador, president Nayib Bukele deployed the army into the streets to try to contain and prevent homicides. The troops will patrol populated areas of the capital city of San Salvador. However, his harsh and repressive orders have received criticism for violating human rights. There are growing fears of Bukele viewing himself and acting like a dictator.
According to Al Jazeera, Bukele tweeted that the homicides were actions from “dark forces” who wanted to return El Salvador to the past. The president also shared pictures of gang members who had been put into prison yards and forced into cramped spaces, saying that those responsible for the killings would “regret it.” Bukele was assertive in his stance that his administration would not stand for the homicides. According to Tiziano Breda, an International Crisis Group analyst for Central America, the deployment was probably a political stunt and will expose the fragility and limits of security in El Salvador. Those opposed to his administration have criticized his measures, calling his actions authoritarian, according to a Reuters report.
Since the end of the civil war in El Salvador in 1992, the country has been terrorized by street gangs. In the 2010s, El Salvador faced extremely high homicide rates, from 15 to 20 killings each day. That number has decreased over the years, but it seems to be on the rise once again. Bukele called for the patrols after over 30 homicides occurred in the span of two days. These measures are not new for Bukele, who, during his time as president, has occupied Congress with military and police. He has also announced plans to double the military. Bukele’s critics called these measures intimidation tactics, and while the increase in military presence is threatening, homicide rates are admittedly lower than they were in the 2010s. It should be noted that an alleged truce between gang members and officials, consisting of reduced violence for better prison conditions, has been reported by the newspaper El Faro, although Bukele claims the story is false.
President Bukele deployed military troops to the streets of San Salvador after increased homicide rates occurred as a result of gang violence. However, his willingness to exploit violence has raised concerns from critics of his administration who fear his growing military power is leading to authoritarian tendencies. Homicide, in any case, is a human rights violation. Taking the life of another person is an abhorrent act, and governments must take action to protect their citizens accordingly. However, Bukele’s draconian measures and self-proclaimed dictatorship present the potential for even more human rights violations in El Salvador. His “eye-for-an-eye” response against gang members is not ethically permissible. Bukele’s administration should be prioritizing the safety of El Salvador by creating stricter security measures to prevent homicides, not by targeting gang members in a way that strips them of their human rights. There are more peaceful responses to increased homicide rates, which include increasing patrol units, but those military deployments should not counter violence with violence.
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