El Salvador: President Thanks Trump for Support, Says Biden Is ‘Supporting the Gangs’

President Donald Trump meets with President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador at the InterContin
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele slammed the Biden State Department on Monday, saying his government only received American assistance to fight crime under the administration of President Donald Trump, while President Joe Biden has chosen to side with gangsters.

Bukele was responding to a statement from Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who expressed concerns about El Salvador’s crackdown on gang activity.

In particular, Blinken said a new Salvadoran law that criminalizes “reporting on certain gang activities” could lead to “attempts to censor the media, prevent reporting on corruption and other matters of public interest, and silence critics of the Salvadoran government.”

Blinken said the Biden administration is also “deeply concerned by the spike in violence and homicides committed by the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 gangs.”

Members of the MS-13 and 18 gangs remain inside their cells during a visit by the Director of the General Directorate of Penal Centers, Osiris Luna (out of frame), at the maximum security prison in Izalco, Sonsonate, El Salvador, on September 4, 2020. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

“We continue to support El Salvador in its efforts to reduce the proliferation of gangs,” Blinken said. “Since 2008, we have invested $411 million to improve citizen security and help the Salvadoran government combat gang violence. Examples include the construction of a state-of-the-art forensics lab in Nuevo Cuscatlan, and assistance to reclaim and renovate public spaces such as Parque Cuscatlan.”

Bukele pushed back against Blinken’s claims, insisting most of the meaningful assistance against gang violence received by the Salvadoran government came during the Trump administration, while Biden has been diverting money to “civil society groups” instead of gang-busting.

“I have the receipts,” Bukele said, linking to a May 2021 post from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The USAID bulletin said funding would be taken from the Salvadoran National Civilian Police and other law enforcement agencies and used instead for “promoting transparency, combating corruption, and monitoring human rights in partnership with local civil society and human rights organizations.”

USAID said it did this because of “deep concerns regarding the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly’s May 1st vote to remove the Attorney General and all five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court, and larger concerns about transparency and accountability.”

The Biden administration criticized the legislature’s vote to remove the Attorney General and Supreme Court justices as a power grab by Bukele that would damage the democratic institutions of El Salvador. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations also criticized the move.

Bukele and his supporters viewed the removals as a necessary bit of housecleaning to reduce corruption. They said the correct procedure for removing the AG and Supreme Court justices, laid out in the Salvadoran constitution, was followed.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele delivers a speech during the commemoration of the Day of the Salvadoran Soldier and the 197th anniversary of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, at the Captain General Gerardo Barrios Military School, in Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador, on May 7, 2021. (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS / AFP) (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele delivers a speech in Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador, on May 7, 2021. (MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)

El Salvador’s security forces arrested over 9,000 people over the past two weeks, using emergency powers granted by the legislature to control organized crime following a wave of gang killings. Critics of the crackdown claim many of the arrests were arbitrary and targeted impoverished young people. They also criticized the harsh conditions imposed on the detainees.

Bukele insisted the arrests were appropriate – describing the 9,000 taken into custody so far as merely a good start – and said the rough detentions were a necessary deterrent. He argued gang members are far too accustomed to skipping out of prison quickly, so they view arrest as a minor inconvenience.

“We have confiscated everything, even the sleeping mats. We are rationing food and they will no longer see the sun. Stop the killings now,” he said.

On Tuesday, Bukele said the total number of arrests was up to 10,094.

“We continue,” he declared.


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