Over 10,000 elements of the armed forces and other security forces were deployed to surround the municipality of Soyapango, in an operation designed to crack down on gang members, blocking roads and carrying out stops to all those attempting to leave. Authorities consider Soyapango to be one of the most dangerous municipalities due to the high rate of gang activity. Weeks later, security forces including a heavy military presence also surrounded two districts of San Salvador.
These acts are part of the government’s strategy against gang violence, which includes the implementation of a state of emergency since March 2022. It enables authorities to carry out detentions without judicial orders and has been criticised by human rights groups for the lack of due process and prolonged pre-trial detention. They have also highlighted that many young men have been targeted by arbitrary detentions and criminalized for living in areas where gangs have a greater presence.
Polls suggest Bukele’s strategy is supported overall by the population, as he maintains high degrees of acceptance.
On 15 September President Bukele announced that he will be running for re-election, despite a constitutional ban on consecutive re-election, and the fact that his current five-year term will not end until 2024. Nevertheless, a recent ruling of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber whose members were replaced by Bukele, considered that re-election is permitted, paving the way for Bukele’s bid to run for a second term in office. President Bukele’s approval is currently high, as polls suggest his measures to crackdown on gang violence are supported by a majority of the population. In March, a State of Emergency was decreed to combat high levels of gang killings and has been renewed every month since. Six months later, the State of Emergency has led to the arrest of nearly 53,000 people, in a context of weakened due process guarantees.