The efforts by El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele to crack down on gang violence has led to a sharp decline in murders and a high approval rating among the public. However, the successful effort against gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, has led to concern about spillover effects in the United States, such as gang members coming north.
The crackdown against gangs in El Salvador appears to have been very successful. The murder rate declined in the country by almost 60%.
Bukele led an effort starting in March 2022 against gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang, which were responsible for the largest share of the homicides. The president used the nation’s police and military to arrest tens of thousands of gang members.
The nation’s supreme court previously declared the gangs as terrorist organizations.
Last month the president unveiled the largest prison complex in Latin America, capable of holding 40,000 inmates.
Another 2,000 suspected gang members land in El Salvador’s mega-prison https://t.co/xsPVUlFqKj pic.twitter.com/LsVNWn8b8U
— New York Post (@nypost) March 16, 2023
Bukele’s ability to break up gang networks may lead to a rise in the number of gang members in the United States, according to one policy expert.
Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, warned that many gang members may come to the United States.
Many gang members have escaped El Salvador to Mexico following the crackdown. A 2017 estimate placed the number of MS-13 members in the United States at above 10,000.
Vaughan believes that reduced “border and interior enforcement than in prior years” could lead to gang members entering the U.S.
Until recently, the small Latin American nation had the highest homicide rate in the world. The country registered about one-third of the total number of murders as in the United States, despite having just 2% of the population.
Bukele has cut a unique figure in global politics. When he took office in June 2019, the president was just 37 years old. He previously served as the mayor of the nation’s largest city and capital, San Salvador. He made international headlines in September 2021 after approving bitcoin as legal tender in the country.
A March 2023 poll showed the president had a 91% approval rating.