Bukele’s “war against gangs” turns prisoners into servants of the State

???????? | ÚLTIMA HORA: Nayib Bukele pone a TRABAJAR como obreros a miles de presos en El Salvador para restaurar el daño que le han hecho a la sociedad, con el Plan Cero Ocio. ¿Apoyas la idea del Presidente Bukele de El Salvador? pic.twitter.com/8bd0KUPalc— Eduardo Menoni (@eduardomenoni) March 12, 2023

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele has intensified punishment against inmates in the country’s prisons, part of the so-called Plan Cero Ocio, the flagship measure of his mandate that he began to apply in mid-2021.

Within the framework of his famous  “war against gangs”, one of the key issues on his political agenda, Bukele inaugurated the Terrorism Confinement Center in February, a prison with a capacity for 40,000 inmates that is already the largest penitentiary center in the American continent.

Now, prisoners in the “trust phase”—those with convictions for minor crimes—have been assigned the task of cleaning Salvadoran streets and beaches, along with other weighty tasks such as repairing schools and hospitals, building homes for low-income families’ income, or improving police infrastructure.

Within this plan, the government promises to use the labor of the inmates to carry out restoration or maintenance works in eight national hospitals, 122 lifeguard posts, 91 schools, nine tourist centers and 89 police stations, in addition to providing support to other institutions.

The underlying idea is that these tasks help to rectify the damage that the prisoners have caused in the country’s society. “[The inmates] will have human rights, but the human rights of honest people are more important,” says Bukele in a video that circulates on TikTok.

Nayib Bukele came to power on June 1, 2019 after winning the presidential elections by an absolute majority. His drastic measures have caused reactions, but the influence they are having in neighboring countries is increasingly notable.

On December 6, Honduran President Xiomara Castro declared a state of emergency in more than half of her territory in the Central American country, with the intention of combating crime. This measure was approved seven months after Bukele approved a similar exception regime in El Salvador with the same objective.

In Colombia, however, the Salvadoran administration has found a great retractor. Gustavo Petro reacted to the images of the Terrorism Confinement Center as “a concentration camp full of young people, thousands and thousands, imprisoned that gives one the chills.”