News 13 June 2024

Police set fire to over £50m worth of cocaine

13 June 2024

El Salvadoran police have released images and video footage of a significant drug burn following the seizure of narcotics from seven men in boats, approximately 1,630 kilometres off the country’s coast.

The cocaine, weighing 2.7 tons and valued at over £50million, was seized on May 10 as part of El Salvador’s ongoing crackdown on gangs and drug traffickers. The suspects, including two Ecuadorian, two Colombian, and three Mexican nationals, were apprehended. The confiscated drugs were incinerated in Ilopango, near the capital, San Salvador, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The specific charges and potential penalties for the seven suspects remain undisclosed. This operation is part of a broader effort by President Nayib Bukele, who declared war on street gangs two years ago. His administration claims significant progress, asserting that El Salvador is now the “safest” country on the continent. The government reported the arrest of 78,000 suspected gang members and the disruption of gang operations, which had previously been fuelled by extortion, contract killings and drug trafficking.

InSight Crime estimated in August 2023 that nearly 120,000 gang members were active, with Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 being the largest groups. The government declared a state of emergency in March 2022, leading to what Amnesty International described as a human rights crisis. Despite criticism, authorities confiscated nearly 4,000 weapons and introduced harsher legal penalties.

President Bukele’s campaign has reportedly reduced the homicide rate from 106 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 to 2.4 in 2023. This has improved public safety, allowing residents to enjoy activities like dining out and playing in parks without fear.

Additionally, tourism income rose to $2.8 billion in 2023, marking a 48% increase from the previous year. However, economic challenges persist, with 30% of Salvadorans living in poverty and 10% in extreme poverty. Informal employment remains high, and many families rely on remittances, which totalled $8.2 billion in 2023, accounting for 26% of the country’s economic output.