President Nayib Bukele Security Plan. “El Salvador Territorial Control Plan”

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on May 31st, 2022
El Salvador Territorial Control Plan
El Salvador Security Plan. Photo by Eduardo Amaya

El Salvador Territorial Control Plan or Nayib Bukele’s security plan has seven phases. Phase one focuses on gaining control of the territory, and two focuses on the social reconstruction of communities. Three and four are the modernizing of the police and the incursion of police and army personnel into gang-controlled areas.

The Bukele administration credit its security plan for the record-setting homicide reduction of 2020 and 2021, which has continued into 2022.

As of February 16th, 2022, El Salvador has had 122 homicides for a 2.6 daily average; it is lower than last year’s low record. If this trend continues, the country could set a new low homicide record in 2022.

Homicides in El Salvador Since 2010
Year Total Homicides Daily Homicide Rate Homicides per 100,000 Inhabitants
“June 19th”
426 2.4 14.4
2021 1140 3.1 17.5
2020 1341 3.7 20
2019 2398 6.6 36
2018 3346 9.2 50
2017 3962 10.9 60
2016 5280 14.5 81
2015 6656 18.2 103
2014 3921 10.7 61
2013 2499 6.8 40
2012 2594 7.1 41
2011 4371 12.0 70
2010 4004 11.0 64
Territorial Control Plan
Historic downtown San Salvador.

History of Homicides in El Salvador

El Salvador has dealt with violent crime since the end of the civil war in 1991. From the early 2000s to 2019, El Salvador has been engulfed in violence.

In 2015, the violence reached such high levels that many news outlets began referring to El Salvador as the capital murder of the world. ABC News wrote, “The world’s murder capital has nearly one homicide an hour.”

2015 is famous for recording two of the most violent months since 1991. In March 2015, El Salvador reported 481 homicides, 15.5 per day. May 2015 broke the homicide record set two months earlier with a total of 635 homicides, which is 20.5 murders per day.

Even though homicides have declined since 2016, they have reached new lows under the Nayib Bukele administration. Bukele began his presidential term in June 2019.

Daily Homicides Under President Bukele
Month 2019 2020 2021 2022
January 9.3 3.9 3.7 2.7
February 7.4 3.9 4.0 2.8
March 7.7 2.1 3.8 5.5
April 10.8 4.8 3.7 1.3
May 9.2 2.1 4.3 1.0
June 7.7 2.3 2.8
July 5.0 3.7 2.9
August 4.2 4.0 1.9
September 4.9 4.4 2.0
October 4.0 5.1 2.6
November 4.6 3.3 4.1
December 4.1 3.7 3.1
** Red is President Salvador Sanchez Ceren Administration FMLN.
Sources: Salvadoran National Police. PNC

Phases of Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan

Nayib Bukele’s territorial control plan consists of seven phases; the first four are called preparation, opportunity, modernization, and incursion.

Phases five to seven are unknown at this time. This security plan aims to dismantle gangs and organized crime in El Salvador. The first three phases have an estimated cost of $575 million.

Phase one of Nayib Bukele Territorial Control Plan began the same month he was sworn in as president. According to Bukele, Phase one is one of the main reasons the country has seen a decline in Homicides.

Phase two and three were scheduled to begin in 2020; however, financing for these phases was not approved by the previous legislature. Therefore, phases two and three began implementation in 2021.

The security plan implemented by the Bukele administration has produced remarkable results. However, many believe the crime reduction is not due to Bukele’s security plan.

Phase One: Preparation

In phase one, the government’s goals were to control the territory and cut off communications from maximum security jails.

The first phase increased military and police presence in municipalities determined to have the highest gang and organized crime presence.

Control territorial plan

Part of phase one includes taking control of Salvadoran jails and cutting off communications between gang leaders in prison and those on the street.

To accomplish this, President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency in all Salvadoran prisons; this allowed him to stop visitations and enact severe measures.

Harder Measures

Towards the end of June 2019, prison officials found gang manuscripts ordering attacks against the police, and soon after, a police officer was murdered.

After this incident, President Nayib Bukele ordered the lockdown of inmates; no inmate was to leave their cells. He also ordered the mixing of rival gang members into the same prison cells.

Mr. Director Osiris Luna decreed maximum emergency at Penal Centers; all cells closed 24/7, no one leaves for any reason. For the gangs: if you want your “hommies” to see a ray of sunshine, stop all homicides immediately. There is no other negotiation.”

El Salvador Territorial Control Plan
Inmates at a Salvadoran Jail.

These harsh measures taken by the Bukele administration towards incarcerated inmates have received international condemnation by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Cutting Off Communications From Jails

Phone companies were against cutting off communications from Jails; this was a lucrative business for them. Each inmate was allowed $100 a month on phone calls.

In the past, phone companies never completely blocked their cellular signal in prisons as they were required to do.

Nayib Bukele gave the phone companies 72 hours to completely block the cellular signal, or they were going to be fined. All companies complied.

Transfer of Inmates. El Salvador Territorial Control Plan

As part of the Territorial Control Plan phase one, high-ranking gang leaders and those suspected of ordering homicides from jail were transferred to maximum-security prisons.

Also, all jails became mixed. El Salvador was no longer going to have exclusive prisons for gang members.

Phase Two. Opportunity, the Social Reconstruction of Communities

Phase two involves the social reconstruction of communities and the training of young people. President Bukele has said on many occasions that he wants to give young people other options other than joining gangs.

Bukele stated that to eliminate gangs, “we have to make it difficult for criminal organizations to recruit new members.” One way of doing this is by giving young people alternatives to become gang members.

This is the phase where we allow our young people to get out of the gangs. That is not going to lead to anything good; here, they will have a range of opportunities.”

During phase two, president Bukele is looking to train individuals in different fields, allowing them to find suitable employment; therefore, staying away from criminal organizations.

Phase two involves creating community centers (Cubes) where young people can spend time on productive activities, keeping them away from gangs.

Phase Three. The Modernization of Security Forces

Phase three focuses on modernizing the equipment security forces use; this includes drones, night vision equipment, and video cameras.

It also involves better equipment such as weapons, anti bullet vests, patrol units, and uniforms.

The president wants to modernize the national police by giving them modern equipment to fight organized crime and be better protected.

Nayib Bukele security plan
Photo by: @SecPrensaSV

Phase Four. Incursion of Police and Military Personal into the Territory

Phase four calls for deploying more police and army personnel into areas with heavy criminal activities.

During this phase, more soldiers will be placed in the function of the territorial control plan; this is something many of Bukele’s opposition are against it.

You, the army, in support of the National Police, are going to enter all the territories, once dominated by gangs:” stated President Bukele.

Phase four will begin to be implemented on July 19, 2021, and will end in five years. It includes doubling the number of soldiers from 20,000 to 40,000.

Phases Five to Seven of the Nayib Bukele Security Plan

These phases are to be implemented once the first four phases take effect. As of right now, phases five to seven have not been made public. Only President Nayib Bukele and some in his administration know what they are.

Security Plan
Photo by: @DefensaSV

El Salvador Territorial Control Plan

Since its implementation, Bukele’s security plan has produced excellent results, particularly lowering the daily murder rate.

Nowadays, El Salvador has the lowest murder rate since the civil war ended. According to President Bukele and other experts, the security plan implemented by his administration is responsible for that.

Different polls show that most Salvadorans agree that the president is doing an excellent job on security.

Furthermore, the surveys reveal that Salvadorans think that the drop in murders is due to Bukele’s security plan.

Opposition to El Salvador Territorial Control Plan

Even with record numbers lowering homicides, some people from the opposition believe that this is a smokescreen from the current administration. Members of Political parties such as the FMLN and ARENA believe the country is not safer than before.

Many organizations, local and international, have questioned why Bukele’s security plan is working. If it didn’t work from previous administrations that had similar security measures.

Nayib Bukele has answered the question by saying that it is one thing to say that you are going to do something and another to actually do it.

The current administration believes that the security measures announced by previous administrations were never enforced.

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