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Detainees in El Salvador's gang crackdown cite abuse during months in jail

El Salvador Gang Crackdown
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thousands of detainees swept up in El Salvador's gang crackdown over the past 1 1/2 years have been released from pre-trial detention

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The day he was arrested, Luis was in a government office trying to get a document attesting to his clean criminal history so he could apply for a call center job.

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“What I wanted at that time was something better for my life,” said the 23-year-old, who was working as a baker.

When his turn came, he was told an agent from the National Civil Police would be involved because there was an offense on his record, an allegation that he had been associated with gang members. Luis was floored. Denying it repeatedly was useless, he recalled, because “at that time people didn’t have rights.”

That was April 2022, the month after El Salvador President Nayib Bukele received special powers suspending fundamental rights like access to a lawyer or being informed of why you were arrested. Bukele launched a full-scale war against the country’s powerful street gangs. The exceptional powers remain in effect more than 1 ½ years and some 72,000 arrests later.