Forced mothers: the silent impact of the emergency regime in El Salvador de Bukele | International

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After raising her two children for more than two decades, Vilma Mancía, a 65-year-old Salvadoran woman, had completely abandoned the idea of ​​becoming a mother again. But on the afternoon of April 4, 2022, she told him were born six children at once.

That afternoon, Mancía, a thin woman with brown skin, was selling vegetables in her small store in the market in the municipality of San Martín, in the metropolitan area of ​​San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. When, suddenly, another vendor came running to tell her that, a few blocks from the market, under a walkway, the Police had just captured her daughter. Just a few minutes later, a call alerted her that her son had also been captured while she was having lunch at her house.

Although at that moment and for a long time after, Mancía could not think of anything other than how to get his children out of prison, from that day on he was in charge of his six grandchildren, five boys and one girl aged eight. months and six years. And from then until almost fifteen months later, she continues to care for them as if she were her mother.

“I feed them, bathe them, change them, take them to school, give them care and my love as if they were my children,” says Mancía almost a year after that afternoon.

At that time, the emergency regime, the repressive measure promoted by the government of President Nayib Bukele in its so-called "war against gangs" had only been in force for a few days and the Police and the Army carried out massive raids, arresting almost anyone who stood in front of them. The raids that more than a year later have led to more than 68,000 captures took thousands of innocent people along, according to two reports from organizations that defend human rights and according to the 5,000 released prisoners who to date have been found innocent.

The emergency regime established by the Bukele government has achieved the dismantling of the gangs, but at the same time a cadre of serious human rights violations that range from arbitrary detentions to deaths from torture and suffocation inside Salvadoran prisons. And although most of the detainees are men, women have also suffered consequences that affect them in a more silent way.

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A woman is detained during a police operation in Soyapango, El Salvador, in 2022.
Camilo Freedman (Getty Images)

A report by the human rights organization Cristosal published last Monday indicated that the emergency regime has provoked particular forms of State violence against women, forcing them to assume the role of looking after imprisoned relatives and turning them into nannies. of girls, boys, adolescents or older adults from your home or even from other people's homes. Like the case of Vilma Mancía.

Being a mother by force is not a new form of slavery in El Salvador. In 2018, the Magazine factum revealed how the Barrio 18 gang forced women from a community in the capital to be mothers of children of gang members who were imprisoned. The dynamic is now repeated, but pushed by the State.

There is no official figure for how many women have been detained during the emergency regime. In fact, there is no official figure for the number of detainees. The only thing that is known is that there are more than 68,000 and it is only known from sporadic statements by officials in television interviews or from some tweet that the police or the president put in their accounts. All information in this regard has been declared secret by formal means. However, a report published last August by Human Right Watch noted that by then, 15.8% of the people detained during the regime were women.

The Salvadoran Police have published on social networks images of women saying that they are gang members and some of them can even be seen with tattoos alluding to gangs. However, in El Salvador, for almost two decades, the role of women in gangs has been relegated. At least since 2005, the structures of the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18 prohibited women from continuing to become active members or “homegirls”, as they could before. Since then, their role has been limited to being girlfriends or collaborators of the gang and their criminal activities have been reduced to keeping weapons, drugs, money from extortion or collecting these charges, among others.

However, the new Cristosal report reveals new information: of the more than 5,000 complaints for possible human rights violations received from the population in the almost 15 months of the emergency regime, 80% have been filed by women. Which means, according to the organization, that it is the women who have assumed the role of those in charge of the judicial processes of their detainees and of bringing them food and clothing to the prisons.

Outside the prisons, it has become normal to see hundreds of women bringing hygiene and food packages to their relatives, which has even led to the establishment of small informal markets around the prisons. These packages have costs that oscillate between 35 and 170 dollars, a price that is assumed by the women who were left in charge of their detainees.

Salvadoran women bring food to their relatives at the La Esperanza prison.
Salvadoran women bring food to their relatives at the La Esperanza prison.Kellys Portillo (Getty Images)

Since the day her two sons were captured, almost 15 months ago, Vilma Mancía has not only had the burden of supporting six more mouths. She must also take care of the judicial process of her two children, of whom she has barely managed to find out something like that he is in the Mariona prison and she is in Apanteos. The time she invests in bringing food to the two of them and caring for six others takes away her strength to work and also money.

Two months ago, Vilma had a sudden pain in her stomach. At first she thought that some food had gone bad, then she thought that she was stress. But when she went to the doctor she was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“I would like someone to help me at least with all these children who have left me. I can't anymore with all of them. They have told me to hand them over to the government, but I don't want to,” said Vilma.

Abortions inside and outside prisons

Cristosal also documented cases of girls and adolescents who have been victims of sexual harassment and abuse by police officers and soldiers who take advantage of the almost absolute power that the measure grants them. "In some cases, this situation has forced families to move or send the girls and adolescents to other places to avoid being abused or detained for not giving in to the harassment of law enforcement officers," says the report.

Likewise, many women who were pregnant at the time of their detention have given birth inside the prisons without their relatives finding out about the state of health of the mother or the child. Likewise, some who gave birth just before being detained were separated from their children.

In her report, Cristosal documented accounts of women who lived in inhumane conditions. “In some galleys downstairs there were thousands of women sleeping on the floors, without mattresses, without a blanket, and since it was winter time they got wet at night... Since there was no medical assistance, I saw women die an old woman of 50 or maybe 56 years old”, says one of the women interviewed.

A woman walks through a military checkpoint in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador.
A woman walks through a military checkpoint in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador. Camilo Freedman (Getty Images)

The document also indicates that some women witnessed spontaneous abortions inside the prisons caused by mistreatment by the authorities. “There was a woman who had to walk out every day to heal and when she had surgery they did not realize that she was four months pregnant. After the operation, the girl got worse again, they took her to the hospital and they did a curettage ”, says her story.

Also outside of prisons, the emergency regime has had an impact on the lives of women who were going to be mothers. The document attests to a case of a 24-year-old fisherman who died as a result of torture in prisons under an emergency regime. "The shock of the death caused his wife who was five months pregnant to lose her child," the document says.

But the effects of the regime do not stop there. There are also babies dying from being incarcerated. This Friday, a local newspaper published that Genesis, a six-month-old baby died after spending the same time with her mother in a prison. Until the publication of the note, her mother did not know about the death of her baby since she, despite having a release order issued by a judge, remained in prison.

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