close Sen. Cotton gets an inside look at El Salvador's mega prison, becomes first U.S. official to enter Video

Sen. Cotton gets an inside look at El Salvador’s mega prison, becomes first U.S. official to enter

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., joined ‘Fox & Friends’ to discuss how El Salvador’s policies have led to a decrease in crime and how the country has become an example for other crime-ridden areas in the world. 

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MEXICO CITY – El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele started his second-term as the country’s leader, having captured 85% of the vote. The outspoken leader has gained global attention for his tough stance and actions against the country’s notorious gangs, and slashing murder rates.

While Bukele’s war on the gangs has drawn criticism from U.N., NGOs and the Biden administration over alleged human rights abuses and also criticism over political interference in the judiciary, his out-of-the-box thinking has produced some highly impressive results, taking his country from being the world’s murder capital into one of the safest in the Americas, with only Canada having a lower rate, according to Salvadoran officials, Reuters previously reported.

According to the country’s National Civil Police, 2023 was the safest year in the history of El Salvador, noting the total  number of homicides at 154, a homicide rate per thousand inhabitants of 2:24 while noting that 94.8% of homicides were solved. 


Nayib Bukele

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele and first lady Gabriela Roberta Rodríguez wave from a balcony after he was sworn in for a second term, in San Salvador, El Salvador, Saturday, June 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez) (P Photo/Salvador Melendez)

His war on gangs, including the building of a 40,000 capacity high-security prison, and the arrest of over 70,000 members of gangs, has helped push down the crime rate, but human rights groups have condemned his policies, claiming that many of those arrested were innocent and not gang members.

Before the election, Bukele drew the ire of ‘Squad’ member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who called into question the U.S. relationship with El Salvador and urged the U.S. State Department to review its relationship with the Central American country, alleging that Bukele presented “threats to democracy.” Bukele responded on X, telling Omar that he felt “honored” to “receive your attacks,” saying that he would be very worried if she had backed him in the election. 

Since his time as mayor, the 42-year-old Bukele’s pragmatic programs have had a great impact on Salvadorans. He held free health clinics and greatly improved the security of his municipality. As a publicist, he was very good at communicating all of his actions and milestones.

He has consistently positioned himself as an “anti-establishment” politician and, with his very disruptive style of speech, has connected with many people because they recognized that he does things differently. 

El Salvador Gangs Mass Trial

In this photo provided by El Salvador’s presidential press office, inmates identified by authorities as gang members are moved at the prison, Terrorism Confinement Center, in Tecoluca, El Salvador, on March 15, 2023. (El Salvador presidential press office via AP, File)

“If there’s one country that exemplifies how to transform a society lost in violence into a beacon of hope, it is El Salvador,” says Yossi Abadi, a renowned Israeli entrepreneur and investor, deeply involved in the region who talked to Fox News Digital.

“El Salvador was once the most violent country in the world, with nearly 110 homicides per 100,000 people, catastrophic numbers that stifled educational and economic development. But under President Bukele’s administration, the country has made an unprecedented leap to become the safest in the Western Hemisphere. From 110, the rate plummeted to just 2.3 homicides per 100,000 people, making it safer than the United States and Canada,” Abadi claimed. Abadi also serves as the Honorary Consul of El Salvador in Israel.


El Salvador Gangs

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – MAY 20: An MS-13 gang member gestures the Devil’s Head insignia inside one of the three ‘gang cages’ in the Quezaltepeque police station May 20, 2013, in San Salvador, El Salvador. These overcrowded, 12×15 cages were designed to be 72-hour holding cells for common criminals and the two rival gangs, but many of the individuals have been imprisoned for over a year.  (Giles Clarke/Getty Images)

Johnny Wright Sol, former opposition congressman in El Salvador talked to Fox News Digital: “With the ongoing “war on gangs,” the Salvadoran government led by Nayib Bukele has made the country safer, which is perhaps the main source of his popularity. Tied to a highly sophisticated, state-financed communications apparatus with a focus on social media, Bukele’s propaganda overwhelmingly dominates the political narrative.”

“However, this apparent safety comes at a significant cost to our democracy. El Salvador may still look like a democratic republic on the surface, but we have a congress that exclusively serves the interests of the presidency, and a Supreme Court with magistrates who readily overturn jurisprudence and reinterpret our constitutional text to allow for presidential re-election, for example. The executive branch is inhabited by a leader and his family who effectively administer power above our laws. This is not a new experiment, even with Bitcoin as legal tender. It is simply a return to our tragic, authoritarian past,” Wright Sol charged.

While the Biden administration had initially distanced itself from Bukele, reportedly turning down a White House meeting with him in 2021, relations seem to be improving. A high-level delegation attended his inauguration led by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week.

El Salvador inauguration

Supporters of El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele line up outside the National Palace prior to his inauguration for a second term in San Salvador, El Salvador. Saturday, June 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez) (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

With migration from the Central American nation down by 60% to the U.S., and with illegal immigration being such a big issue for November’s presidential election, the Associated Press reported that “Bukele’s strong-armed governing style have been overtaken by more urgent concerns tied to immigration — a key issue in this year’s U.S. presidential election.” 

“They’ve realized what he’s been doing works,” Damian Merlo, an American adviser to Bukele who is registered to lobby on the Salvadoran government’s behalf, told the Associated Press. “If the U.S. is serious about wanting to address the root causes of migration, then Bukele is someone who has actually done it.”


Experts say that President Bukele has been very successful in bringing about security because he attacked the two things that were broken in El Salvador: the territorial control of the police, which was non-existent because territorial control was held by the gangs; and the judiciary. Most businesses had to pay extortion. People did not report crimes and extortions because they were afraid. As president and having control of the National Assembly, he approved the state of emergency, built a prison in record time and sent thousands of gang members to prison.

Bukele voting.

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – MARCH 3: President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele casts his vote in a ballot box during the Municipal and Parliament (PARLACEN) elections on March 3, 2024, in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Photo by APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images) (Photo by APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images)

“Consider this,” said Abadi to Fox News Digital. “During the 15 years before Bukele’s presidency, there was only one day without a murder, only one day in 15 years! During Bukele’s first term, there were over 600 days registered without such violence. In my view, Bukele deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing genuine peace to his people a peace that fosters now economic growth, tourism, innovation, and education. A true peace that allows one to walk the streets of San Salvador at night without fear of being shot, kidnapped, or tortured by the criminals and terrorists”. 

“The newfound security under Bukele’s leadership, has generated a surge of confidence leading to an economic boom. Security brings trust, trust brings opportunities, and opportunities lead to investment and development. President Bukele’s success stems from his willingness to face criticism. While international organizations continue to criticize him, they are the same who for decades failed to deliver hope to a nation drowning in violence. Their “solutions” failed. Today, thanks to Bukele, people in El Salvador can live without fear of death around every corner. Children can dream. Women can walk freely on the streets”, he said.


El Salvador legislator

In this picture taken on February 9, 2020, soldiers guard the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador, as supporters of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele gather outside it to put pressure on deputies to approve a loan to invest in security. El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele gave on Sunday a one-week ultimatum to parliament to approve a loan to equip the country’s security forces and fight against criminal gangs. Soldiers entered and stood guard inside parliament for the first time since the beginning of the 1990s, during the country’s civil war. ((Photo by MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images) (Photo by MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images)

Abadi concluded by noting how Bukele’s actions have impacted the region. “It’s truly astounding to observe how Nayib Bukele’s name, for those outside of El Salvador, has become synonymous of a courageous president, the president of change. Across Latin America, people say, ‘We need a Bukele,’ and what they’re really expressing is a desire for a leader who dares to challenge the status quo, breaks conventional bounds, advances fearlessly, speaks openly and achieves what seems impossible.”

Fox News’ Peter Aitken, Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Armando Regil reports on Mexico and Latin America. You can follow Armando on Twitter @armando_regil

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