Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador, has a ‘tough-on-crime’ approach which continues to attract supporters in Latin America. The pre-candidates for the Democratic Center party for the mayoral positions in Bogotá and Cali, Colombia have publicly announced their projects, arguing for their implementation due to the high crime rates, following the trend of Bukele’s approach towards criminal gangs.
Diego Molano, the candidate for mayor of Bogotá, and Jaime Arizabaleta, who is running for Cali, have proposed the construction of mega-prisons similar to those built by President Bukele in El Salvador as a solution to combat insecurity.
A State Competence
Despite this being a competence of the State, the aspiring mayors have ignored the repeated complaints from human rights organizations regarding the abuses committed by El Salvador in its “fight against criminality.”
According to these sources, only one-third of the detainees in the Central American country have proven links to gangs. Nevertheless, Bukele’s direct and combative style seems to expand his circle of support, particularly among right-wing representatives in the region.
However, only detainees and suspects held in police stations or immediate response units fall under the competence of the mayoral offices. Once a conviction is handed down, and the inmate is transferred to a prison, the responsibility becomes exclusively that of the State.
Jaime Arizabaleta expressed in a video posted on his social media platforms that “we must seek advice from those who know. That’s why I approached the Bukele government: to see what we can adapt from their security model and make sure that criminals, thieves, and hitmen get what they deserve.”
This message aims to garner votes for his future candidacy, as Cali currently ranks 32nd among the world’s most dangerous cities. Insecurity in Colombia’s third-largest city is one of the citizens’ greatest concerns.
Molano, more discreet
On the other hand, Bogotá candidate and former Minister Diego Molano, while following the same path, does so without mentioning the Salvadoran president. The former Defense Minister under Iván Duque announced on Blu Radio his project to build “a high-tech mega-prison that respects human rights.” Molano emphasized that “they won’t be in their underwear (…), but they will be working for the city in overalls.”
Molano’s idea is to construct a prison that primarily controls repeat offenders. Although he has not specified the timeline for completing the megaproject, he has clarified that modular prisons would be used as a transitional process until the mega-center is completed.
National government does not endorse these proposals
Meanwhile, the national government has already stated that it does not share this approach. On the contrary, it advocates for restorative justice and a “humanization of the prison system” that prioritizes rehabilitation. In this regard, government sources have acknowledged the Constitutional Court’s declaration that the current prison system is in an unconstitutional state of affairs.