SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s congress has granted President Nayib Bukele another 30-day extension of the state of exception that has suspended fundamental rights since a surge in gang killings in late March.
“The results that we are producing as Security Cabinet can be seen,” Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro told lawmakers. “We are going to maintain firm the strategies.”
After gangs were blamed for 62 killings on March 26, Bukele sought extraordinary powers.
Under the state of exception, the right of association, the right to be informed of the reason for an arrest and access to a lawyer are suspended. The government also can intervene in the calls and mail of anyone they consider a suspect. The time someone can be held without charges is extended from three days to 15 days.
Without the new extension, the state of exception would have expired Saturday.
Authorities have made waves of arrests often with very little evidence. Generally, those arrested are accused of belonging or associating with one of the country’s powerful street gangs.
Civil and human rights groups say that arbitrary arrests are common and that when detainees finally see a judge they are almost automatically jailed for six months pending trial. Some people have died while incarcerated.
Villatoro said the arrests are making El Salvador safer, noting there have been days without any homicides nationwide.
“We have destroyed the transnational, criminal and terrorist structure, the drug business that the terrorists led, and we are going to completely erradicate them,” he said.
Villatoro said that many gang members fled into more rural areas to escape arrest, but that authroities had dismantled more than 100 of their rural camps.
While Villatoro requested the extension, hundreds of people marched to demad the release of their relatives and the repeal of the state of exception. Riot police erected barriers to stop their advance.
The gangs, which have been estimated to count some 70,000 members in their ranks, have long terrorized El Salvador. They controlled swaths of territory and extorted and killed with impunity.
Critics of the state of exception say a crackdown on the gangs could have been carried out without suspending fundamental rights.