State of emergency declared in El Salvador following day of brutal gang violence

Police stand at alert in San Salvador.
(Image credit: Alex Pena/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

At least 62 people were killed in El Salvador on Saturday during a spree of gang violence, leading the government to declare a state of emergency on Sunday.

Saturday was the deadliest day on record in the country since the end of its civil war 30 years ago, The New York Times reports. The gang members shot and killed people at random on the streets of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. The victims included street vendors, people shopping for food, and bus passengers. A man named Marvin told the Times his neighbor was killed while buying bread, and he knows that once the police officers now in the area leave in about two weeks, "everything will return to normal," with gangs once again controlling the streets.

The state of emergency will last for 30 days, and suspends some civil liberties, including free assembly. The military is also restricting who can go in and leave neighborhoods that are under the control of the MS-13 street gang.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Prior to his election in 2019, President Nayib Bukele vowed to make the streets safer, and the homicide rate did drop. Late last year, the U.S. Treasury Department alleged that Bukele's government made a secret deal with gangs, and in exchange for a reduction in violence and murders, the gangs would receive financial incentives and their imprisoned leaders would have access to prostitutes and cell phones. Bukele has denied the accusations.

Some security analysts believe Saturday's violence may have been a message from the gangs to the government, indicating it's time to renegotiate the deal. "The terms of the previous pact with Bukele's government may have been untenable and the gangs may be trying to change the terms of that pact," Paul J. Angelo, a fellow of Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times. "Bukele is not letting a good crisis go to waste and this happened as he was already pushing the legislature to help him consolidate power."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.