BARRIO – El Salvador’s government has sent inmates into cemeteries to destroy the tombs of gang members at a time of year when families typically visit their loved ones’ graves.
Armed with sledgehammers and pry bars, inmates broke up nearly 80 tombs marked with “MS,” of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, in a San Salvador suburb Tuesday.
El Salvador has been under a state of exception since late March. President Nayib Bukele requested and received the special powers, which suspend some constitutional rights, after gangs killed 62 people across the country in one day.
Since then, authorities have arrested more than 56,000 people for alleged gang ties. Nongovernmental organizations have tallied several thousand human rights violations and at least 80 in-custody deaths of people arrested during the state of exception.
Authorities had already painted over or removed gang graffiti that used to be visible in neighbourhoods throughout El Salvador, but destroying gang members’ tombs was a new step. It came as some Salvadorans visited cemeteries for the Day of the Dead.
“There’s a lot of happiness being able to visit relatives who have died,” said Juan Escamilla, who brought flowers to a relative’s grave Wednesday. “Before it was normal to see gang members inside the cemetery, but today there’s no danger.”
Luna, who referred to gang members as “terrorists,” said they didn’t deserve “any recognition, that’s why we destroyed every trace of these groups. In this country, the gangs no longer have a place.”