MS-13 members sent to world’s largest prison in El Salvador amid crackdown on brutal gang
MS-13 members sent to world’s largest prison in El Salvador amid crackdown on brutal gangAnna Giaritelli
February 27, 02:23 PM February 27, 02:23 PM
The government of El Salvador has opened the world’s largest prison as part of the country’s major crackdown on the MS-13 gang, a move that the country’s president said was the opposite response to how the United States was “protecting criminals.”
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced over the weekend that the Terrorism Confinement Center, a megaprison located in Tecoluca, El Salvador, had opened its doors after construction of the new facility wrapped up in January.
The megaprison meant for criminals convicted of terrorism offenses can hold 40,000 inmates and received its first set of several thousand MS-13 gang members late last week.
“The official [press outlet] for the United States government says that these murderers, justly convicted for killing thousands of Salvadorans, are ‘presumed gangmembers,'” Bukele wrote in a post to Twitter on Saturday, referring to a Voice of America tweet. “Why are they publicly defending gang members? What is their interest in protecting criminals?”
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Over the past year, Bukele has led a nationwide war against Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13, as violent crime has escalated and the government’s military and federal police have struggled to maintain control.
In March 2022, Bukele declared a state of emergency that temporarily suspended some of the protections guaranteed in its constitution following a spike in homicides. In one Saturday alone, 65 homicides among the country’s 6.5 million citizens were reported.
On Feb. 25, Bukele announced the government had arrested 64,000 suspected gang members in less than a year. The government did not disclose how many had been convicted versus the number of inmates awaiting trial.
The arrests and prosecutions of criminals involved in corruption, human and drug smuggling, and organized crime necessitated the need for a far larger prison system, which triggered the creation of the Terrorism Confinement Center.
More than 2,000 MS-13 inmates were transferred to the megaprison in an early morning operation last week.
“Today at dawn, in a single operation, we transferred the first 2,000 gang members to the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT). This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, mixed up, unable to do any more harm to the population. We continue,” Bukele tweeted on Friday.
Bukele said the arrival of the several thousand tattooed, shirtless prisoners dressed only in white shorts were the “first” of the inmates to arrive at the new facility.
The prison has yet to reach capacity. The previous largest prison was the Silivri Penitentiaries Campus in Turkey, which has a 22,000-inmate capacity.
MS-13 is one of the most violent criminal organizations in the world and originated in Los Angeles before gaining its largest foothold in El Salvador.
Rooting out crime has been Bukele’s primary goal since taking office. On Monday, he touted the country’s past week of zero known homicides, a major feat for a country that had seen up to two dozen reported per day in recent years.
“Another full week without homicides. Thank God,” Bukele wrote on Twitter, adding a hashtag for “War Against Gangs.”