Cuffed prisoners wearing only boxer shorts are packed in rows in prisons in El Salvador. The social distancing is far away, as can be seen in photographs released by the Salvadoran government itself. Only a mouth mask protects them from a Covid-19 infection.
The Central American country has been struggling for several days now with a murder wave in which at least 53 people lost their lives scattered over the territory.
President Nayib Bukele Ortez has authorized the military and police to use “deadly force” against armed gangs. The quarantine measures in force in El Salvador since March 22 are among the strictest in the region.
Police forces have their hands full with supervising compliance. Violators regularly end up under lock and key, a far-reaching measure where the Supreme Court also raises questions.
According to the government, drug gangs take advantage of the situation and are given more free rein to settle accounts with rival ‘maras’. The murders are often ‘ordered’ from prisons, according to government circles.
It led to 24 murders in a day on Friday, the highest figure since Bukele took office in June 2019. Police reported an additional 29 killings on Sunday afternoon.
The head of state then gave the go-ahead for stricter measures. “Police and our armed forces must give priority to protecting their own lives, those of their colleagues and those of honest citizens. The use of lethal force is permitted in self-defense or defense of the lives of Salvadorans.”
In five prisons, riot police searched the cells of rival gang members looking for weapons, drugs, and smuggled phones.
Agents gathered the prisoners in the courtyard. Dressed only in boxer shorts and with a mouth mask on, they had to sit handcuffed in rows.
Detainees must now also share group cells with members of other gangs. In this way, the government wants to disrupt the hierarchy and communication between prisoners.
According to prison authorities, some 12,862 gang members are being held in Salvadoran prisons.
The Central American country, with a population of 6.4 million, has long been considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The number of corona infections is 298 cases. Eight people have died as a result of Covid-19.