The World Today for July 07, 2023


Community Policing


The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has earned plaudits from many of his people – and brickbats from human rights activists – for his crackdown on the gangs that have long run rampant in the Central American country.

Now El Salvador’s neighbor to the northeast, Honduras, is getting in on the act.

Honduran police recently “frog-marched” tattooed inmates around a prison in a video that was clearly inspired by Bukele’s conflicts with convicts who orchestrate drugs trafficking, rackets, violence, and other criminal schemes from behind bars, the Associated Press reported.

Critics said the police were treating the criminals unfairly, citing images of half-naked men sitting in cramped groups on the ground. Honduran military police commander Ramiro Muñoz dismissed that criticism out of hand. “These criminals violate people’s human rights, they kill, kidnap and extort money, who is defending those rights?” he said.

Recent prison violence included gangs fighting in a women’s prison near the capital of Tegucigalpa that resulted in the deaths of 46 women, wrote National Public Radio. Honduran President Xiomara Castro said gang leaders organized the bloodshed, but prison officials were also involved. Muñoz ordered his troops into the prison in order to bring it back under control. They retrieved a massive cache of weapons, drugs, and other contraband.

Muñoz urged his soldiers not to allow gang members to bribe them, reported the Tico Times, an English-language newspaper based in Costa Rica. “No more corruption and collusion with prisoners,” he told them.

A few days later, a gunman fired shots in a pool hall in the northern city of Choloma, killing 13 people.

Castro responded by mandating a curfew and other curtailments of liberty in order to preserve public safety, wrote Reuters. It’s not the first time she’s taken such action.

Late last year, Castro suspended constitutional rights to empower law enforcement to arrest or kill gangsters who extort law-abiding citizens, explained Agence France-Presse. Gangs, for example, would force bus drivers to collect protection fees, known as a “war tax” because the fees paid for inter-gang conflicts, added InSight Crime. Experts told Deutsche Welle that extortion generated almost $750 million for criminals in the country, or three percent of its gross domestic product.

Gang violence has worsened however, prompting the latest draconian crackdown that mirrors Bukele’s no-holds-barred approach to bringing peace to Salvadoran communities.

Observers at Gzero Media wondered whether Castro, a leftist, was becoming an authoritarian. But they also concluded she might simply be a good politician. Bukele’s approval rating is around 90 percent. He hasn’t allowed democratic norms to prevent him from bringing law and order to his country.

Nobody knows if he’s ever going to bring the democratic norms back, however.

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