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El Salvador’s Bukele releases father of soccer player from prison after son’s plea on social media


SAN SALVADOR (AP) — El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele released the father of a Salvadoran soccer player from prison after the athlete published a plea for his release on social media, authorities confirmed on Wednesday.

Marcelo “El Chiky” Díaz, who plays for El Salvador’s national team, on Tuesday published a letter on X, formerly Twitter, saying his father was wrongfully arrested by police as a suspected gang member on the way to see him play on March 30. Díaz pleaded directly to Bukele, who has a firm clench on power after being reelected in February despite a constitutional ban on reelection.

“On behalf of him, myself and our entire family, we ask you from the bottom of our hearts to amend this mistake and that my father can return home, to his routine, to his work and with his family,” wrote the player, who assured that his father is a man who has never had problems with the law.

The arrest of Díaz’s father is part of a larger gang crackdown in the Central American nation that has gained Bukele a soaring popularity but has also fueled accusations of mass human rights abuses.

Following a wave of gang violence two years ago, Bukele in March 2022 announced a “state of emergency,” suspending many key constitutional rights and locking up nearly 80,000 people — more than 1% of the El Salvador’s population — the government said were suspected as being part of a gang.

People are often arrested with little evidence of gang ties and locked up in prisons likened to torture chambers with little access to due process. In January, Bukele’s vice president Félix Ulloa told the Associated Press that the government had “made mistakes” in arresting people who committed no crimes. He said around 7,000 people arrested under the state of emergency had since been released from prisons.

Relatives often go years without seeing their loved ones, but on Wednesday — one day after the soccer player posted the letter on social media — authorities confirmed his father was set free.

“Thanks to everyone, but mainly to God for being a God of justice,” Díaz wrote Wednesday on X. “My father is home. He is well, he is healthy, he has been well treated. My solidarity with all the families who are going through similar situations.”

While authorities issued no statement on the release, the incident appears to fall in line with Bukele’s larger strategy as he seeks recognition on an international level.

While he has been heavily criticized by human rights groups and other international leaders, the self-described “world’s coolest dictator” has harnessed social media to speak to his base. He has turned to celebrities, sports and entertainment events in what experts and critics say is an attempt to change the narrative about his presidency.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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