Authorities arrest 1,400 gang members after weekend of violence in El Salvador

Authorities in El Salvador said they have arrested more than 1,400 alleged gang members. Photo courtesy of National Police/Twitter
Authorities in El Salvador said they have arrested more than 1,400 alleged gang members. Photo courtesy of National Police/Twitter

March 29 (UPI) -- Authorities in El Salvador said late Monday that police have arrested more than 1,400 accused gang members after dozens of people were killed over the weekend.

The arrests were being executed under Operation Guerra Contra Pandillas as lawmakers on Sunday approved President Nayib Bukele's request to for a month-long suspension of some constitutional rights to combat surging gang violence.


Among the rights suspended include the right to freedom of assembly and association as well as allows for authorities to eavesdrop on private communications without a court order.

The vote, which was passed by 67 of 87 lawmakers, was held as authorities said more than 80 people were killed in gun violence over the weekend, including at least 11 on Sunday, 62 on Saturday and 14 on Friday.

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On Monday, there were only two, authorities said.

"These criminal structures have to understand that the life of a Salvadoran cannot be touched and the state will continue to protect the Salvadoran people," National Police Director Mauricio Antonio Arriaza Chicas said in a statement.

The police force added that the arrests will continue.

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"We are not going to go backwards in this Guerra Contra Padnillas [operation], we are going to continue capturing and putting behind bars all these criminals so that they pay for their crimes," it said.


On Twitter, National Police has been flooding its account with images of shirtless, tattooed men in various states of arrest as well as images of weapons and narcotics seized amid the operation, which is being conducted nationwide.

The director added that his officers are adhering to human rights laws.

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Early on Tuesday, the police said they were "concentrating more agents" and would announce further arrests within the next few hours.

The Supreme Court of Justice late Monday also issued a statement announcing it was reinforcing its regular specialized judges and magistrates due to "foreseeing a considerable increase in the ordinary workload in specialized courts of instruction and the specialized criminal chambers."

The mass arrests have attracted concern and condemnation from some human rights organizations, including WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, which said the state of emergency does not adhere to the international human rights standards El Salvador has committed to uphold.

"States of exception serve the primary purpose of, in emergency situations, that maintenance and preservation of constitutional order," it said Monday in a statement. "They should not, instead, undermine it or permit security forces and other agents and officials of the state to act arbitrarily and at their discretion."


Bukele responded to the criticism from international organizations saying El Salvador still has 70,000 gang members on its streets, whom these organizations are able to take to their home countries.

"You can help these little angels," he said. "Do not allow us to continue 'violating their rights.'"

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