El Salvador Unveils New “Mega Prison” for MS-13 and 18th Street Gang Members

by J Pelkey
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On Friday, a 40,000-person prison, known as the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT) officially opened, and 2,000 gang members became its first residents. These include members of the most violent gangs in the world, such as MS-13 and 18th Street.

The mega prison has more than doubled El Salvador’s incarceration capacity, making it now one of the largest prison facilities in Latin America.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele made the announcement via Twitter, accompanied by a video.

The move to the mega prison follows President Nayib Bukele’s “war” on crime.

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Tweet translated via Google Translate:

Today at dawn, in a single operation, we transferred the first 2,000 gang members to the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT).

This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, mixed up, unable to do any more harm to the population.

We continue…

This is how it’s done.

Another tweet from Bukele read (Translated via Google Translate):

We have reached 300 days without homicides!

To put it in context, the previous government did not have a single day without homicides, and the one before that, only had 1.

1 day without homicides in 10 years.

But thank God, we now live in a different country.

FOX News reported:

El Salvador has started to fill its mega-prison with a transfer of 2,000 gang members and criminals, including members of MS-13 and Barrio-18. 

“Today at dawn, in a single operation, we transferred the first 2,000 gang members to the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT),” El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele wrote on Twitter. “This will be their new home, where they won’t be able to do any more harm to the population.” 

Bukele also posted a video on Twitter that showed prisoners, bound by shackles at their ankles and with hands behind their backs, running into the new facility. The prisoners wore white shorts and had shaved heads, with many men bearing gang tattoos. 

The prisoners can be seen sitting tightly packed together on the floor of the facility with their hands behind their heads while they stare down at their feet.

The new 40,000-person facility opened last month after an accelerated building schedule, doubling El Salvador’s prison capacity in less than a year. The prison is one of Latin America’s largest, with 37 guard towers and eight cellblocks that will be “impossible to escape.”

Bukele declared a “state of exception” in March 2022 as he empowered his government to crack down on gang members by loosening the country’s arrest laws, such as no longer requiring a warrant for an arrest and granting the government access to citizens’ communications.

He pushed through the new measure following three days of violence left 87 people dead. Bukele blamed MS-13 for the violence, and authorities claimed that they had captured the MS-13 leaders who had ordered the killings, during the statewide sweep.

U.S. prosecutors have connected MS-13 to dozens of murders in the New York metro area and Long Island over the past decade, with terrorism charges announced against 14 of the gangs’ leaders in 2021, The New York Times reported.

A poll by Cid Gallup last year found that 91% of those surveyed supported the more aggressive crackdown, Bloomberg reported.

But human rights organizations argue that innocent people have been caught up in the policy, including at least dozens who have died in police custody.

One woman told The Guardian that her husband, brother and nephew were arrested a week ago while unloading a truck for their business, and police have not yet explained why they were taken into custody. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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