HILDAGO, TX (NewsNation) — As U.S. officials continue their battle with Mexican cartels smuggling fentanyl across the southern border, Mexico is considering following El Salvador’s plan to crack down on gangs.
In February, 2,000 suspected gang members have been moved to a new megaprison in El Salvador, built as part of President Nayib Bukele’s self-proclaimed “war on crime.”
The megaprison, officially called the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT), was built to hold 40,000 prisoners. Bukele unveiled the center in January, saying it is “a fundamental piece to completely win the war against gangs.”
The crackdown has resulted in over 65,000 arrests and thousands of alleged rights abuses, but remains popular in a country where gangs once demanded protection payments with impunity.
People in El Salvador told NewsNation that a few years ago it was dangerous to walk the streets, but now it’s much more livable and safe.
Some are applauding the move and said the tough-on-crime approach could work. Opinion polls suggest that about 9 out of 10 Salvadorans approve of the government’s anti-crime strategy, the Associated Press reported.
“It’s about time that a leader in Central America has taken a position that the good is going to overcome the evil, and they’re going to take these bad guys off the streets and let them sit in prison where they belong,” said Dereck Maltz, a retired DEA special agent. “We have a protective law enforcement approach now in El Salvador which is long overdue.”
Yet, some question whether this violates civil and human rights.
Human rights organizations are arguing that Salvadoran forces have committed “widespread human rights violations” since a state of emergency was announced last year in March. They also said that there have been many instances where innocent people have been swept up in police raids.
The local rights group Cristosal documented 3,344 cases of human rights abuses in the first 11 months of the state of emergency. Most of the abuses involved arbitrary arrest; relatives claim young men are rounded up based on their appearance, or because they live in low-income neighborhoods.
There have also been complaints about inadequate medical treatment in prisons.
Others believe it will just make things worse in El Salvador in the long run.
“This will backfire because a lot of people is being in prison without any reason and putting these innocent people in the same places with some gang members and criminals only will produce more criminals in the medium and long run,” said Jose Miguel Cruz, a Latin America expert at the Florida International University.
Officials NewsNation spoke with on the matter of whether it would work or not in Mexico said it is a moot point as they don’t see the current Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, going for it anytime soon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.