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News > Latin America

El Salvador Hardens Fight Against Salvatrucha and Other Gangs

  • Image of gang members arrested, El Salvador, March 30, 2022.

    Image of gang members arrested, El Salvador, March 30, 2022. | Photo: Twitter/ @GRobert1963

Published 31 March 2022

Belonging to a gang will be judged as "illicit association" and will carry prison sentences ranging from 20 to 30 years. Gang leaders could face up to 45 years in prison.

On Wednesday, the Salvadoran congress approved legal reforms of immediate application that increase prison sentences against those who participate or lead gangs.


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Currently, this Central American country is under an exception regime after a wave of violence that left at least 80 people dead over the weekend. In response to this circumstance, and without parliamentary debate, the lawmakers reformed the Criminal Code, the Juvenile Criminal Law, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Anti-terrorism Law.

As a result of these changes, belonging to a gang will be judged as a crime of illicit association and will carry prison sentences that may range from 20 to 30 years. The legislators established sentences of between 40 and 45 years in prison for those who create, organize, lead or finance gangs.

Until before this reform, gang members faced sentences of between 3 and 5 years in prison for the charge of illicit groups, and their leaders faced sentences of between 6 and 9 years.

Besides eliminating parole for crimes such as homicide, the Salvadoran lawmakers passed reforms to protect the identities of judges and other officials who take part in gang-related criminal proceedings.

Minors who participate in gangs could be tried as adults, and gang members who participate in drug trafficking and extortion will be punished with sentences of between 20 and 30 years. It was also approved the delivery of US$80 million to rearm security forces and finance rewards for those who denounce or turn over gang members.

President Nayib Bukele's administration has increased military and police operations in crowded neighborhoods, where the Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs operate. As of Wednesday night, authorities had arrested 3,000 people involved with these gangs. There have been reports of police abuse.


Nayib Bukele
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