SANTA TECLA, El Salvador — The Salvadoran government has taken its efforts against the country’s powerful street gangs to another level by sending inmates to cemeteries to destroy the graves of gang members at a time of year when families typically visit the graves of their relatives.
Armed with sledgehammers and levers, inmates destroyed graves marked “MS” of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the suburbs of San Salvador on Tuesday.
Santa Tecla Mayor Henry Flores said crews destroyed nearly 80 headstones in the municipal cemetery and removed gang-related graffiti. “Our plan is for there to be no graffiti so people feel safe,” Flores said.
El Salvador has been under a state of exception since the end of March. President Nayib Bukele requested and obtained the special powers, which suspend certain constitutional rights, after gangs killed 62 people across the country in one day.
Since then, authorities have arrested more than 56,000 people for suspected gang ties. Non-governmental organizations have documented several thousand human rights violations and at least 80 deaths in custody of people arrested during the state of emergency.
Authorities had already painted over or removed gang graffiti that was visible in neighborhoods in El Salvador, but the destruction of gang members’ graves was a new step. This happened as some Salvadorans were visiting cemeteries for Day of the Dead.
Santa Tecla sits next to the capital San Salvador and has long been a stronghold of the Mara Salvatrucha gang.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gatherings in cemeteries were limited until this year. This week, more people came to visit the graves as police and soldiers patrolled the cemeteries.
“There is a lot of happiness in being able to visit deceased loved ones,” said Juan Escamilla, who brought flowers to a loved one’s grave on Wednesday. “Before, it was normal to see gang members inside the cemetery, but today there is no danger.”
Osiris Luna, the head of prisons in El Salvador, said via Twitter that prisoners and police had destroyed the tombstones of various gangs in the cemeteries of Santa Tecla and Colón, about 24 kilometers west of the city. capital city.
Luna, who called the gang members “terrorists,” said they deserved “no recognition, that’s why we destroyed all traces of these groups. In this country, gangs no longer have a place.
Later, the national police said on social platforms that residents of Candelaria de la Frontera, in the department of Santa Ana, in western El Salvador, reported that a grave in this city had a tombstone referring to the MS-13 gang, so the police immediately went there and destroyed it. .