El Salvador hosts Miss Universe amid protests denouncing mass arrests

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By LatAm Reports Editor

El Salvador, hosting the Miss Universe pageant for the first time in nearly five decades, witnessed significant protests in its capital, San Salvador, on Saturday. The protests, involving at least 300 people, were aimed at denouncing the government’s rigorous anti-gang measures, which critics claim have resulted in the unjust imprisonment of innocent individuals. The event unfolded just hours before the commencement of the prestigious Miss Universe competition.

Since March 2022, President Nayib Bukele’s administration has enforced a state of exception, suspending certain constitutional rights to intensify the battle against gang-related activities. This policy has led to the arrest of over 70,000 suspected gang members, a move receiving widespread support within the country for its perceived effectiveness in reducing crime and homicide rates. The government’s approach has been credited with enhancing El Salvador’s international appeal, evidenced by its ability to host major events like Miss Universe, with an investment reported to be around $60 million.

However, this crackdown has not been without its detractors. Human rights organizations have raised concerns about the potential for arbitrary arrests, instances of torture, and deaths of detainees under these stringent measures.

The protesters, converging from the city’s Monument to the Constitution to a hotel housing Miss Universe delegates, sought to draw attention to their plight. Among them was Guadalupe Avila, 67, whose son Carlos, 27, an artist with a clean criminal record, was arrested 19 months ago. Avila, like others, expressed a desire for the international community, particularly the Miss Universe participants, to recognize the hardships faced by Salvadorans under the current regime.

Some demonstrators made their point by donning sashes with inscriptions such as “Miss Political Prisoners,” “Miss Persecution,” and “Miss Mass Trials,” symbolically protesting the group trials planned for thousands arrested in the crackdown. The protest, marked by a significant police and military presence, including patrols with armored vehicles, highlighted the stark contrast between the glamour of the international pageant and the deep-rooted societal issues confronting El Salvador.