El Salvador: Maras, Mega Prisons & ‘The World’s Coolest Dictator’

We gained exclusive access to the world’s biggest and toughest prison in El Salvador. Fifteen thousand prisoners are locked up here, most of whom will never leave alive. The prison is the symbol of a relentless crackdown on gangs by the 42-year-old president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele.

With more than 3,000 homicides per year for a population of six million, El Salvador has long held the record of being the most dangerous country in the world. This insecurity was caused by gang warfare between MS13 and Barrio 18. To combat this violence, El Salvador’s young president, Nayib Bukele, declared a ruthless war on gangs. Over 75,000 people accused of being members of MS 13 and Barrio 18 have been arrested and thrown into prison. An extraordinary penitentiary was built especially for them: the CECOT (Terrorism Containment Center). It’s the biggest prison in the world.

In El Salvador, the policy of repression is bearing fruit. Neighborhoods that were once run by killers are now calm. Buoyed by the support of the population, who are delighted to be living in peace at last, the President continues his merciless manhunt for gang members. The last ones still at large are fleeing abroad. We spoke to one former gang member, now on the run.

But, as documented by Amnesty International, the crackdown has also resulted in systemic human rights abuses. The police are under pressure to meet arrest quotas, innocent people have been arrested and their families struggle to get them released. These “blunders” do not thwart President Bukele’s security policy. To show that his country is now totally secure, last November he organized the Miss Universe election and has embraced his title of ’the world’s coolest dictator’.


  • Year: 2024
  • Duration: 52 mins
  • Production: Pallas TV
  • Director: Marin Fossati & Mario Pécot
  • Available Versions: ENG, FRA
  • Country of production: France

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