El Salvador’s Mega-Prison, built to house over 40,000 gang members turns one year old

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The Salvadoran mega prison to house 40,000 convicted gang members or detained in the context of the controversial emergency regime, implemented by President Nayib Bukele’s government to fight these gangs, is on Wednesday a year of operation, the Presidency reported.

This 31 January 2024 marks one year since the operation of the Centre for Confining Terrorism (Cecot), where criminals are paying for the sentences committed, the Presidency Press Secretariat published in a message on social network X.

In this prison he is being held – the most dangerous criminals, he stressed in another message, a prison classified by President Bukele’s government as the largest in Latin America.

Now, he continued, the gang members held, who are paying sentences for the crimes committed, can no longer attack the population.

The Cecot was presented by Bukele, who toured the site, during a broadcast on a national radio and television network on the night of February 1, 2023, and on the same month they transferred from other prisons the first group of 2,000 gang members.

The prison operates at 30 per cent of its capacity and does not record deaths inside, according to information provided by the prison authorities in October 2023.

The prison director, whose name was not revealed for security, told a group of journalists at the time that the centre then housed 12,000 inmates, representing a 30 per cent occupation of its capacity, which according to the Government is 40,000.

To date, the total number of gang members in prison is unknown.

Cecot is located in the central town of Tecoluca, more than 75 kilometres from the capital San Salvador, and is a concrete, iron, asphalt and steel maze that guards and soldiers guard from towers more than 15 meters high.

To get there you need to cross two vehicle safety checks and the visit is not allowed.

Amnesty International (AI) expressed its concern a few days after the inauguration of the prison, and warned of the continued human rights violations.

Amnesty International expresses its deep concern about the inauguration of the Center for Confinement of Terrorism in El Salvador, the largest prison in the Americas, according to government officials, the organization posted on social networks.

He pointed out that the construction of the new prison is a clear sign that the authorities of El Salvador plan to continue to implement a public security policy of mass incarceration, and assured that this does not address the causes and root of violence, and will not serve to overcome the problem in the long term.

The construction of the prison, which drew criticism from the opposition and national and international human rights bodies, takes place in the context of the emergency regime, which suspends constitutional guarantees and has become the main action of the Bukele Government against the maras. 

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in El Mundo