After a spike in killings led the government of El Salvador to declare a state of emergency, more than 18,000 people have been imprisoned and key civil liberties have been suspended. While human rights advocates decry the actions, most Salvadorans seem to welcome the crackdown in a country weary of endless gang violence, the New York Times reports. President Nayib Bukele, a 40-year-old with an authoritarian bent, has become one of the world's most popular leaders, credited by his supporters for a swift decline in gang violence since he took office in 2019. That violence is one of the causes of mass migration from Central America to the U.S.
Critics have grown alarmed at the president’s systematic efforts to subvert the country’s brittle institutions and consolidate ever more power into his own hands. His party summarily removed five Supreme Court judges and dismissed an attorney general who was investigating the administration. Satisfaction with democracy in El Salvador is at its highest level in more than a decade, an August survey by Vanderbilt University showed. And a CID-Gallup poll released last week showed that 91 percent of those surveyed approved of the government’s security measures. “For many people in El Salvador, democracy is basically the ability of the political system to respond to their plight,” said José Miguel Cruz, an expert on El Salvador at Florida International University. “By that standard, they see this as the best option they have.” In many of El Salvador’s poorest towns, gangs are the ultimate authority. “In these communities, people have already been under a state of emergency,” said Edwin Segura, the head of an investigative unit at La Prensa Gráfica, a prominent Salvadoran newspaper. “People say, ‘well, if I am going from being in the authoritarian and homicidal hands of the gang to being in the authoritarian hands of the state, I’ll take it.’”