Humanitarian demand, between obsessions and freak shows

Since the civil war that bled Salvadoran society between 1979 and 1992, the Central American country has no longer been in the spotlight of the media and political scientists.

This expectation arose during the last few months, when the regime of exceptions was approved. The said strategy was developed by President Naib Bukele with the aim of rooting out the gangster organizations – led by Mara Salvatrucha – that have created a burdensome balance between violence and insecurity for the civilian population.

Among the actions taken by the Bukele government to change this situation of insecurity is the project of the Center for Combating Terrorism (Cecot), the fate and implementation of which has not remained without controversy in various sectors of public opinion.

After the approval of the Special Law for the Construction of Penitentiary Centers, which was supported by the Bukelo Majority Congress, the Cecot project was advanced, the execution of which was entrusted to the Ministry of Public Works. Located in the countryside of Tecoluca, 75 km from El Salvador’s capital, the prison has a capacity of around 40,000 inmates. The penitentiary center covers an area of ​​166 hectares, making it the largest of its kind in the hemisphere.

The principle of maximum security in modern prisons violates the individual guarantees of prisoners. Photo: AFP

The desire to eradicate social violence and empower gangs has been the leitmotif of recent Salvadoran governments. The Supreme Court had already labeled the gangs as terrorists in 2015 as part of a crusade that the Department of Public Safety was using to try to reverse the steady rate of murders and kidnappings.

After Bukele’s inauguration, the Code of Criminal Procedure was adopted, providing for more than 20 years’ imprisonment for defendants accused of having any connection with Central American gangs.

The fallout from the state of emergency arrests—more than 60,000 as of March 2022—drastically increased the number of Tom Tamba incarcerated in America. Since the imposition of a state of emergency in the Central American country, there has been a significant decrease in the murder rate – by 57 percent compared to the previous year – in what is considered a resounding victory for the Bukele government. However, in the process of capturing the alleged gang members, there were many cases of physical violence, violations of due process and deaths during preliminary arrest.

Renowned in the region for its spatial and architectural dimensions, Cecot is equipped with the infrastructure to implement the well-known “control and punish” formula. Concrete walls, security cameras, body scanners, watchtowers, punishment cells, electrified perimeter barriers and assault rifles are the elements available to hundreds of police and military personnel working in this complex.

There is a striking absence – noticeable even in penitentiaries – of recreational facilities, libraries, conference rooms and visitation pavilions intended for family, matrimonial and judicial use. The only permitted external contact for prisoners will be with their lawyers via videoconferencing.

The surveillance systems of the Tekolukah mega-prison allow permanent monitoring of the inmates. Photo: AP

The punitive concept with which the Tekoluk mega-prison was conceived is notoriously detrimental to the beneficent current of criminal law dating back to the mid-18th century. During this pre-Enlightenment period, jurists such as the Italian Cesare Beccaria and the British John Howard advocated the humanization of detention centers and the social reintegration of the accused.

These philosophical concepts have been largely incorporated into the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, whose guidelines are also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, which define the practical and moral standards of prison administration.

It is likely that El Salvador’s Minister of Public Works, Romero Rodriguez, and Deputy Minister of Justice and Detention Centers, Osiris Luna, did not consider the relevance of the Mandela Rules when planning Sekot.

Had this proposal been considered by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the human rights violations reported by most of the media during the state of emergency would not have been reported.

Regardless of the legal, geographical and socio-economic conditions of each country, there are basic principles that every penitentiary system must guarantee: respect for dignity; the safety of prisoners and prison staff; provision of forensic hygiene services; addressing the special needs of prisoners in vulnerable settings; employment, education and training opportunities.

While the punitive nature of criminal justice is not exclusive to the Salvadoran nation, it would be necessary to wonder how much would have been invested in educational and medical infrastructure with the costs incurred to build and maintain Cecot.

Once governments prioritize social investment at the appropriate levels, these nations can move towards sustainable development and civil peace.

Although the crime rate has decreased in El Salvador, police procedures are a concern. Photo: Amnesty International

Source: Juventud Rebelde


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