Due to threats yesterday, public bus service and a large percentage of businesses ceased all activities today. Threats were largely rumored, and the police captured six young men who were passing out flyers that expressed the threat on behalf of the M-18.
Buses that operated despite the threats in the morning were further threatened over the phone and by mid-day there was virtually no bus service nationwide. Informal commercial sectors appeared abandoned, especially in the center of San Salvador, Soyapango, Ilopango, and San Miguel.
In a press conference this afternoon the PNC reported incidents of buses being taken hostage and burnt in Ahuachapan and in Chalchuapa. Only the drivers and fare collectors were aboard and no one was killed. A police vehicle was also attacked with a M-67 grenade, and PNC agents captured two suspects immediately after the incident. A school in San Martin was also closed upon the discovery of a decapitated head in the surrounding area. Carlos Ascencio, the National Police Chief, reminded the public that these events are not unlike what they see on any other day.
The PNC and Armed Forces mobilized 3,500 agents initially, and reported an increase of another 1,000 agents. Helicopters were also observed circling through out the day.
Bus owners claim that the strike is indefinite. The government plans to activate a contingency plan to provide public transportation if the buses do not resume service tomorrow, with military and police agents on every unit of transportation. They are urging the population to continue their routines as normal.
Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Public Security, reported that they consider these threats to be related to the recent capture of over 10 million dollars in cash un-earthed in barrels in Zacatecoluca. Others have also attributed the threats to the passage of the new Anti-Gang law.
September 8th Update:
While the partial bus strike continues for the second day, the government continues to increase police and military presence. The Minister of Public Security, Manuel Melgar, reported 3,500 PNC agents on patrol and the Minister of Defense, David Munguía Payés reported that another 2,000 army personnel have also been mobilized. Many civilians are relying upon transportation provided by the military and PNC.
Yesterday, the legislative assembly approved the modification of article 347-A of the Penal Code, to increase jail time for persons caught providing arms to gang members.
The prison sub-director, Nelson Rauda, also confirmed ‘rebellions’ by inmates in six different jails.
September 9th Update
As discussed by the bus associations yesterday, today is the third and final day of the bus strikes. The representative of FECOATRANS, Catalino Miranda, expected to see about 70% of the buses operating as normal by the end of the day. The police and military trucks are also providing transportation.
The PNC also reported a drop in homicides over the past 3 days. Nationally, nine homicides were reported on Tuesday (the same as the daily average so far this year), yesterday there were four, and so far today none have been reported. Yesterday afternoon another M-67 grenade was thrown at a PNC check point in Mejicanos. No one was injured. The PNC and the press are highly publicizing the 50 arrests that have been made in the past three days, mostly for young men passing out flyers that threatened informal vendors and bus drivers. The largest sweep captured 17 young men in Guacotecti, Cabañas for ‘illicit association, possession, and unlicensed weapons’.
Meanwhile, Douglas Moreno, the General Prison Director, has declared emergencies in five prison facilities. Inmates have declared themselves in ‘rebellion’ and have increased inter-inmate violence and also towards guards. 30 people have been injured. Moreno has called for the intervention of the UMO (the Order Maintenance Unit) and five days of cell confinement for the prisoners.
Supposed representatives of the MS-13 and M-18 gangs sent out a press release via e-mail yesterday afternoon. The release apologized for the inconvenience, but that they are seeking a way to be heard by the current administration. They demand a space for dialogue, a presidential veto of the new anti-gang law, and better conditions for the incarcerated. Government officials either reserved comment or emphasized the importance of following through on the new legislation. PNC director Carlos Ascencio said the law would specifically target gang leadership.