President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador on Thursday morning tweeted
The tweet was written in English, suggesting that its intended audience was unlikely to be his own countrymen; Spanish is the official and most commonly spoken language in El Salvador.
Bukele posted undated video of tombstones being broken up with sledgehammers in a cemetary, describing the scene: “We sent prisoners to destroy all tombstones with gang symbolisms.”
We sent prisoners to destroy all tombstones with gang symbolisms…pic.twitter.com/u5WXTxmsov
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) March 2, 2023
An ABC News report from November told of inmates being sent into cemeteries with a similar mission in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. At time, inmates demolished nearly 80 tombstones and also erased gang-related graffiti in the city-run facility.
“Our plan is that there is no graffiti so the people feel safe,” Santa Tecla Mayor Henry Flores told ABC News.
It was not immediately clear whether the video shared by Bukele this week was from that event or another, more recent, repetition of the same tactic.
Either way, Bukele has repeatedly shown that he isn’t playing around since he requested “special powers” a year ago and suspended some of the nation’s constitutional rights in the name of quelling gang violence.
On Feb. 24, Bukele showcased a new prison intended for hardened gang members in a video shared on his official Twitter account.
The video detailed a law enforcement operation in which 2,000 detainees were transferred from other jails and prisons to El Salvador’s Center for the Confinement of Terrorism, a new facility intended to house gang members.
The prisoners — many tattooed with gang imagery — were made to shuffle in handcuffs as they were led to their new residence.
“Today at dawn, in a single operation, we transferred the first 2,000 gang members to the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT),” the translated tweet read. (The tweet was published in Spanish.)
“This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, mixed up, unable to do any more harm to the population.”
Hoy en la madrugada, en un solo operativo, trasladamos a los primeros 2,000 pandilleros al Centro de Confinamiento del Terrorismo (CECOT).
Esta será su nueva casa, donde vivirán por décadas, mezclados, sin poder hacerle más daño a la población.
— Nayib Bukele (@nayibbukele) February 24, 2023
The prison is slated for an eventual capacity of 40,000 inmates, according to Insider, which, at full capacity, would make it the most populous penal facility in the world, dwarfing the current record-holder of Silivri Penitentiaries Campus in Turkey.
Some inmates in the video bear tattoos marking their affiliation with MS-13, one of the most bloodthirsty and dangerous drug smuggling organizations in the Americas.
What prison is like for gang members in El Salvador pic.twitter.com/0VSEPSgOXr
— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) February 25, 2023
The Central American nation has long struggled with the scourge of organized crime and gun violence. Bukele’s extra-constitutional approach has caused the nation’s homicide rate to drop by 56.8 percent in 2022, according to Reuters.
The Center for the Confinement of Terrorism opened earlier this year in connection with Bukele’s stated intention to crack down on the country’s crime epidemic, according to the Los Angeles Times.