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Escape from New York may be a work of fiction no longer. In El Salvador, the government plans to crush crime by opening a new prison that is quite literally the size of a city.

Two thousand suspected gang members have been moved to a new mega-prison in El Salvador, built as part of President Nayib Bukele’s self-proclaimed “war on crime.” …

The mega-prison, officially called the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT), was built to hold 40,000 prisoners. Bukele unveiled the center in January, saying it is “a fundamental piece to completely win the war against gangs.”

The prisoners transferred to the CECOT are reportedly members of the MS-13 and 18th street gangs, who gained strongholds in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras after getting deported from Los Angeles. [NewsNation]

If predictions about CECOT holding forty thousand prisoners come to pass, then it will be literally double the size of what is currently the world’s most populous prison, Turkey’s Marmara Prison.

The new ultra-prison is the climax of perhaps the most dramatic campaign against crime in modern world history. In the span of little more than a year, one in every fifty Salvadorans has been arrested by the police or the military.

This offensive is the work of one of the most unlikely presidents in the world. Nayib Bukele is only 41 years old and was elected in his 30s. He is ethnically Palestinian in a mestizo land. He is the son of an imam in a Christian country. But above all, he is one of the world’s only leaders possessed with authentic vision, willing to try anything, however unconventional, to improve his country.

In his quest to crush gangs, Bukele is quite literally leaving no stone unturned.

The best thing about it? It’s working. From 2019 to the present, America’s murder rate has surged by more than 35%, costing thousands of innocent lives. Meanwhile, in El Salvador during the same span, the murder rate has fallen by eighty percent. Just from 2021 to 2022, the rate halved, and 2023 is poised to carry rates even lower.

And oh man, is the left ever mad about it.

Under the current state of emergency, the Salvadoran authorities have committed massive human rights violations, including thousands of arbitrary detentions and violations of due process, as well as torture and ill-treatment, and at least 18 people have died in state custody, Amnesty International said today, following its research into the crisis in the country. President Bukele’s government declared a state of emergency on 27 March, following a spike in homicides allegedly committed by gangs, which has since been extended twice.

“Three years ago we met with President Nayib Bukele and he pledged to respect human rights. Since then, however, he has repeatedly failed to keep his word”, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. [Amnesty International]

Oh no! Human right violations!

We don’t want to make light of due process, but it’s important to recognize the stakes here. El Salvador’s problem isn’t the occasional car break-in. Its problem is a hyperviolent street gang that, in large swaths of the country, governs more than the actual government supposed does. And just like America expects different rules of engagement for its police and for its soldiers in combat zones, so it is that due process rules are different for a country trying to bring down the world’s more formidable and violent gang.

Perhaps the most treacherous attack on Bukele from the global establishment is the allegation that Bukele conducted negotiations with El Salvador’s gangs. Though Bukele always denied it, there is evidence the president granted early release to imprisoned gangsters and made other concessions in return for a reduction in violence. If this policy was real, then it was working for a while, as El Salvador’s murder rate plummeted virtually from the moment Bukele took over. But importantly, if Bukele really was making those deals, it wasn’t all he was doing. His government launched a project called the Territorial Control Plan, which spent half a billion dollars on upgrading the country’s security forces and using them to take control of more of the country’s territory.

Then, importantly, when El Salvador’s gangs got rambunctious again, Bukele didn’t hesitate to respond. In fact, Bukele’s entire negotiation strategy appears as though it might have been a calculated plan to lull the gangs into a sense of complacency as Bukele prepared to crush them. In the words of the progressive Crisis Group:

There were reasons to doubt the government’s commitment to a negotiated demobilisation of gangs. The president has always denied that talks with gangs were happening, suggesting that negotiation was unlikely to be a pathway to a permanent settlement. As soon as his party won an absolute majority of seats in the legislature in 2021 elections, he worked with deputies to bury any evidence of talks by replacing the attorney general and shelving his predecessor’s investigation into the reported negotiations. … One factor that has shaped the current environment is that the gangs did not seem to expect such a ruthless crackdown, which has caused them to discontinue some of their operations and hindered their capacity to communicate. “What’s happening caught everyone by surprise”, said a former gang member. [Crisis Group]

Whatever Bukele’s initial plan was, his strategy since the crackdown began has been stunning in its sustained commitment and intensity.

Bukele’s government cracked down with a harshness that caught much of the nation by surprise and sustained the effort past the point when public shock at March’s events had worn off. It immediately imposed a 30-day state of exception – already renewed six times [Note: It’s now up to 11 times] – that increases the permissible detention period without charge from 72 hours to fifteen days, and restricts freedom of assembly and the right to a legal defence in court. At the same time, security forces began rounding up alleged gang members, including by placing checkpoints outside gang-controlled neighbourhoods, branding the campaign on social media with the hashtag #WarOnGangs. As of 20 September, the government claimed to have detained over 53,000 gang members and collaborators, including at least 7,500 women.

In parallel, the Legislative Assembly has passed at least ten bills ratcheting up jail sentences for gang-related crimes, including mere membership, to up to 45 years; deeming that teenagers as young as twelve be tried as adults; creating rewards for those who provide information used to detain gang members; and introducing a sort of “gag” law that threatens ten to fifteen years in jail for those within media outlets who spread messages from gangs that could create public “anxiety”. [Crisis Group]

Already the moaning is practically off the charts. Not in El Salvador, of course, where Bukele is ridiculously popular, but in the American and global media, obsessed with tearing down one of the world’s few leaders with a transcendent accomplishment to brag about.

Complaints of that sort might fly better in a country with a history and situation different from El Salvador’s. But the raw truth is this: Eight years ago, El Salvador peaked at 6656 murders, in a country with just over six million people. In 2018, the last year before Bukele took office, El Salvador had 3346 murders. Last year, it was down to 495. Just by lowering his country’s murder rate and keeping it down, Bukele has effectively saved close to ten thousand lives. Given the disparity in size between El Salvador and the U.S., a similar level of success in this country would involve saving around half a million lives. 

Simply by dropping his country’s murder rate, and keeping it low, Bukele has spared it a bloodbath on par with America’s casualty rate fighting and winning the Second World War.

Are you starting to understand why he has a 90 percent approval rating?

Does Bukele violate due process rights of El Salvador’s criminal class? Beyond doubt. Have police made dubious arrests and engaged in abuses of power? That is practically inevitable. But at the same time, who cares? When the stakes are saving one’s country from a bloodbath comparable to fighting in a world war, concerns like this become trivial by comparison. Even if they disagree with it, nobody thinks that FDR interning the Japanese outweighs winning the Second World War, and only the most diehard Confederate apologists think Abraham Lincoln suspending habeas corpus outweighs his efforts to win the American Civil War. So it is with Bukele, a man who is showing a willingness to salvage his country by means the squeamish would consider unthinkable. If Bukele succeeds in breaking El Salvador’s gangs and making his country peaceful and safe, he will directly save tens of thousands of lives and immeasurably improve millions more. He will be the savior of his country, and every abuse will be forgotten.

Reading criticisms of Bukele’s crackdown is a dark look at progressive priorities, which essentially maintain that El Salvador must permanently be a horrible deathtrap of a country.

By indiscriminately jailing former gang members, the government is in effect discouraging the social reintegration of thousands of Salvadorans who, after paying for their crimes in jail, are desperate to build new law-abiding lives. They may also be driving them back into the gangs. According to a former gang member who is in hiding during the state of exception, gangs are offering a “pardon” to those who left should they rejoin their ranks. Other former members agreed that, if left with no alternative, some would renounce their quest to abandon crime since “it’s like we’re slaves of the past”.

At the same time, religious leaders and security experts argue that some of the drivers of gang recruitment, such as broken families and poverty, not only persist but may worsen as a result of both coercive law enforcement and economic turmoil. Through the mass roundups and police harassment, “the cycle of violence and culture of hatred is sinking ever deeper roots”, according to a priest. [Crisis Group]

Oh no! Bukele isn’t doing enough to go after the “root causes of crime.” Of course, the raw truth is this: The root cause of crime is criminals. Brigandage, predation, and exploitation are as old as history, and have only been stamped in certain corners of this earth through centuries of effort and investing enormous powers in the hands of centralized government.

President Bukele first started to pick up major attention when he became an enthusiastic proponent of Bitcoin during its 2020-21 bull market. Bukele’s government made Bitcoin legal tender in the country, and the country’s treasury amassed almost 2,400 coins by the fall of 2022, and amount as of this writing worth more than $50 million. That would be a pittance for the U.S. government, but for a country with a GDP of just $28 billion, it was a significant investment. As prices fell sharply in 2022, Bukele remained a firm backer, and even joked about buying up more coins for the government while naked or on the toilet.

Will Bukele’s crypto gamble work out? Crypto is so unpredictable we won’t deign to make a prediction, but the effort is inspiring for a simple reason: Having taken power over an immensely troubled, near-collapsing country, Bukele took a wild gamble to try and reverse her fortunes. In that sense, his crypto play and his aggressive anti-crime policies come from the same roots.

But Revolver isn’t just here to praise El Salvador’s salvador. 

El Salvador’s radical reduction of its murder rate is a dramatic indictment of America’s own ruling regime, which intentionally lets its own people live in fear, misery, and filth rather than fulfill the simple obligation of preventing crime and decay. 

There is a running gag at The Onion where, any time America has a mass shooting event, the website publishes the headline “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

Mass shootings do in fact happen in other countries, but we’ll let that point go for now. But almost the exact same story could be written from the perspective of America’s current failing ruling class. Looking out over their revolting urban cores and record big city murder rates, they lie and say there is “no way to prevent this.”

But there is, and for a country with America’s resources and technology, it’s easy: Make tough laws, and enforce them.

America could pull off Bukele’s crackdown far more easily than Bukele himself can. U.S. cities are not literally ruled by gangs. Police and judges do not have to seriously consider the danger of being assassinated simply for doing their jobs. America has the resources to outfit as many police as it wants and to easily provide fair due process even in a major crime crackdown.

And still, it doesn’t happen. Instead, America trends in the opposite direction, of ever-greater anarchy for seemingly no reason at all.


Think of the cause that most motivates you in the world. It might be providing the best life you can for your children. It might be practicing and spreading your religion. It might be opposing vaccine mandates, or supporting the pro-life movement. Whatever it is, think about how that cause compels you to action, how upset you feel when your goals are thwarted.

That is how the American left feels about keeping violent criminals out of prison.

The story quoted at the very top of this article was actually wrong on one key point: El Salvador’s new CECOT facility isn’t the world’s largest prison. Because right now, this country’s own leaders are turning America into a prison of its own.

Avoiding this fate required no effort at all — all the regime had to do was not stop enforcing the law in response to the wretched pro-crime, pro-anarchy voices of the Black Lives Matter movement. Even now, turning things around would be a straightforward process: Just take the most parasitic and predatory members of society, and remove them from society.

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

And yet, America’s rulers won’t do that. Won’t even consider it, in fact. That is, with one notable exception: