Recently, thousands of detainees were transferred to El Salvador's new mega prison, which has the potential to be the world's largest. However, this has raised concerns among human rights advocates who noted that the opening of the prison came shortly after US federal attorneys accused government officials of cutting deals with gang leaders. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele shared images on social media of inmates being moved into the prison, and the video featured ominous music and the inmates in chains.
The mega prison, officially called the "Center for the Confinement of Terrorism," can house up to 40,000 prisoners. However, some are criticizing the prison's opening, as El Salvador's crackdown on crime has been met with allegations of indiscriminate arrests and police abuses.
Juan Pappier, the acting deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, called the prison a symbol of Bukele's "mad security policies." He noted that the timing of the prison transfer was suspect, as it followed the unsealing of an indictment by the US Justice Department against alleged MS-13 gang leaders, accusing senior Salvadoran officials of negotiating with criminal groups to curb violence.
The US Justice Department said that after Bukele won the presidency in 2019, gangs made agreements with the government to reduce the number of public murders, which politically benefited the government of El Salvador. However, in exchange, the gangs were promised less restrictive prison conditions, early release of some leaders, and refusals to extradite prisoners to the United States.
Despite the mass arrests and allegations of human rights violations, Bukele remains popular in the country. The new mega prison is seen as a "key piece in the war against the gangs" by Osiris Luna Meza, director of El Salvador's penitentiary system. However, some are concerned that packing tens of thousands of detainees in a high-density prison is unlikely to bring security to Salvadorans in a sustainable manner.