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Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s autocratic president, takes on criminal gangs


In El Salvador, a state of emergency declared in March over widespread gang violence is still in place. The country's president, Nayib Bukele, has declared total war on ultra-violent criminal gangs, suspending constitutional rights in the process. Almost 60,000 people have been arrested since March, some as a result of arbitrary detentions. Thousands are now in prison. Although this crackdown is supported by most of the population, it has been strongly criticised by human rights groups. FRANCE 24's Laurence Cuvillier and Matthieu Comin report.

Several foreign governments and the United Nations have also criticised the authoritarian excesses of Bukele, who since March has control of all the political and legal bodies in the nation of 6.5 million inhabitants. In response, many Salvadorans retort: "If he is a dictator, he is certainly the best dictator in the world."

Before Bukele took power in 2019, El Salvador had lived for more than 20 years in fear of the Maras, the ultra-violent criminal gangs that placed the country among the three most dangerous nations in the world during most of the 2010s.

On September 15, Bukele announced that he would run for re-election in the 2024 general elections: in addition to electing the president, Salvadorans will vote for a new Legislative Assembly and 262 mayors. The country's constitution prohibits two consecutive presidential terms, but Bukele can count in particular on the support of the Supreme Court in order to run again. In May 2021, he changed its composition to his liking by dismissing five judges and the attorney general.