Following the ascendancy of tough-on-crime President Nayib Bukele, who was elected on a promise to end gang violence, the country of El Salvador has seen a precipitous drop in murder rates after arresting just one percent of its population.

According to statistics released by the Central American nation’s government, the number of homicides in the nation dropped from 495 murders in 2022 to 154 murders in 2023, a 70 percent decrease. That leaves El Salvador with a rate of 2.4 homicides per 100,000 people, the second lowest in the Americas (the first being Canada). Over 2,000 homicides occurred in 2019 and more than 1,000 in both 2020 and 2021.

Under Bukele’s regime, which launched a prolonged state of emergency to clamp down on gang activity—particularly targeting the violent members of MS-13—the nation’s security forces have arrested 75,000 suspected gang members–approximately 1 percent of El Salvador’s 6,600,000 people.

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Under President Nayib Bukele, who was elected to end gang violence, El Salvador has seen a drop in murder rates after arresting one percent of its population
Incarcerated gang members prepare for transfer to El Salvador’s Terrorism Confinement Center. (El Salvador presidential press office via AP, File)

Bukele’s emergency decree, which took effect in early 2022, permits the country’s police to easily pursue, arrest, and jail suspected gang members without trial. The suspects’ usual rights to a lawyer and court approval of detention have been suspended.

Salvadorans have welcomed the harsh rule with open arms. After years of drug-related violence, the citizens elected Bukele with 53 percent of the vote. Bukele faces no significant challenges in the upcoming presidential election in February, as polls currently reflect that he has a 70 percent lead over his rivals, who are all from the nation’s political old guard.

However, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like human rights groups are not happy with the new regime. They claim there have been over 5,000 abuses related to the crackdown. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a subsidiary of the Organization of American States (OAS), called on Bukele and Salvadoran Congress members to restore rights and rescind the emergency declaration. The Central American University’s (UCA) Observatory of Human Rights claims the government’s data is “not truthful” and violent deaths are “highly underreported.” The government does not include gang members killed by security forces or those who die in prison in its data.

Shane Devine is a writer covering politics, economics, and culture for Valuetainment. Follow Shane on X (Twitter).

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