Nayib Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan: Transforming El Salvador’s Security Landscape

El Salvador’s Territorial Control Plan Consists of Seven Phases

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Apr 1st, 2024
Nayib Bukele’s territorial control planNayib Bukele. Image by Gobierno_SV.

Under President Nayib Bukele’s government, El Salvador has witnessed a remarkable transformation in its security landscape. The administration’s severe security measures have effectively bolstered safety and instilled greater confidence among the population. Nayib Bukele’s territorial control plan is one of the strategies!

Nayib Bukele’s territorial control plan consists of seven phases: preparation, opportunity, modernization, incursion, extraction, and integration. Phase seven is unknown at this time.

The Bukele government attributes the historic decline in homicides in 2021, 2022, and 2023 to its security initiatives. In 2023, El Salvador achieved a new milestone by recording the lowest number of homicides and the highest number of days without any homicides.

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 1980s civil war. In 2015 and 2016, the violence reached such high levels that many news outlets began referring to El Salvador as the capital murder of the world.

ABC News published the following article in 2016, “In El Salvador, the Murder Capital of the World, Gang Violence Becomes a Way of Life.

Even though homicides have been declining since 2016, they have reached fast new lows under the Nayib Bukele administration. Bukele began his presidential term on June 1, 2019.

El Salvador Homicide Rate
Year Total Homicides Daily Homicide Rate Homicides per 100,000 Inhabitants
*Jan 1 to Jul 7
62 0.33 1.9
2023 154 0.42 2.4
2022 496 1.36 7.8
2021 1147 3.14 18.1
2020 1341 3.67 21.2
2019 2398 6.57 35.8
2018 3346 9.17 50.4
2017 3962 10.85 60.2
2016 5280 14.47 81.0
2015 6656 18.24 103.0
2014 3921 10.74 61.3
2013 2513 6.88 40.6
2012 2594 7.11 42.1
2011 4371 11.98 71.2
2010 3987 10.92 65.2

The homicide stats for 2022 and 2023 do not include the deaths of alleged gang members who have died in confrontations with Salvadoran security forces: 120 deaths in 2022, 38 in 2023, and two thus far in 2024.

El Salvador Homicide Rate per 100,000 Inhabitants

In 2023, El Salvador established a historic low in homicides, totaling 154. This figure represents a significant 69% decrease compared to 2022, reflecting a reduction of 342 homicides from the previous year.

Since the implementation of the territorial control plan in 2019, El Salvador has witnessed a substantial decrease in its homicide rate. The following outlines the month-by-month changes in the homicide rate since the initiation of the territorial control plan.

Daily Homicide Rate Under President Bukele
Month 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
January 9.29 3.87 3.58 2.65 0.35 0.29
February 7.14 4.36 3.86 2.71 0.50 0.21
March 7.68 2.19 3.61 5.32 0.39 0.32
April 10.87 4.90 3.50 0.77 0.33 0.43
May 9.23 2.13 3.77 0.52 0.55 0.45
June 7.70 2.40 2.93 0.87 0.33 0.20
July 5.00 3.74 2.94 0.55 0.26 0.57
August 4.19 4.10 1.84 0.61 0.52
September 4.93 4.37 2.03 0.63 0.33
October 4.00 5.10 2.61 0.61 0.65
November 4.60 3.30 4.03 0.63 0.30
December 4.19 3.71 3.06 0.45 0.55

SEE ALSO: Living in El Salvador: Top Reasons for Moving to El Salvador

Homicides per Month Under President Bukele
Month 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
January 288 120 111 82 11 9
February 207 122 108 76 14 6
March 238 68 112 165 12 10
April 326 147 105 23 10 13
May 286 66 117 16 17 14
June 231 72 88 26 10 6
July 155 116 91 17 8 4
August 131 126 57 19 16
September 148 131 61 19 10
October 122 158 82 19 20
November 136 100 120 20 9
December 130 115 95 14 17
Total 2398 1341 1147 496 154 62

SEE ALSO: Days Without Homicides in El Salvador

Days Without Homicides in El Salvador
2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
January 0 0 2 3 22 24
February 0 1 0 1 21 24
March 0 4 0 3 20 22
April 0 3 0 15 24 19
May 0 6 3 17 18 21
June 0 4 1 14 21 24
July 1 2 5 19 23 5
August 0 2 8 18 20
September 2 2 5 18 20
October 2 0 3 19 15
November 0 2 2 18 23
December 1 0 3 21 19
Total 6 26 32 166 246 139
** 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: preparation, opportunity, modernization, incursion, extraction, and integration. Phase seven is unknown at this time. This security plan aims to dismantle gangs and organized crime in El Salvador.

Nayib Bukele territorial control plan
Salvadoran Soldiers. Image by DefensaSV.

Phase One: Preparation

The first phase of the Territorial Control plan focused on preventing and suppressing crime by taking control of prisons and increasing police and armed forces’ presence in the territory.

Taking control of Salvadoran prisons was one of the primary goals of phase one. Before the Bukele administration, gangs controlled the penitentiaries and used them as headquarters, where high-ranking gang members lived in luxury, ordered homicides, and directed those gang members out in the territory.

To cut off communications between gang leaders in prison and those on the street, the Salvadoran government implemented harsh measures within prisons. Here are some of them!

To begin with, authorities suspended all visits to maximum-security prisons. This measure remains in effect as of the conclusion of 2023. Inmates in maximum-security facilities have no means of communication with the external world, be it through phone calls or visitations.

Also, as part of the Territorial Control Plan phase one, high-ranking gang leaders and those suspected of ordering homicides housed in minimum-security jails were transferred to maximum-security prisons.

Additionally, President Bukele ordered that members of rival gangs were to be housed together in the same prison cells, something never done before.

Lastly, a particularly stringent measure implemented during the first phase was the lockdown of inmates in all maximum-security prisons. Inmates were not allowed to leave their cells; this measure is still being implemented at the end of 2023.

Mr. Director Osiris Luna Meza: decree maximum emergency in Penal Centers, all cells closed 24/7, and no one leaves for any reason. For the gangs: if you want your “homies” to see a ray of sunshine, stop all homicides immediately. There is no other negotiation. President Nayib Bukele.

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

During phase one, Salvadoran authorities increased military and police presence in municipalities with a high gang and organized crime presence.

El Salvador's Territorial Control Plan
Inmates at a Salvadoran Jail. Image by @OsirisLunaMeza.

Phase Two: Opportunity

Phase two focuses on the social prevention of crime and the reconstruction of the country’s social fabric. Its goal is the generation of opportunities for 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 becoming gang members.

During phase two, the government is looking to train young individuals in different fields, allowing them to find suitable employment and stay away from criminal organizations.

Phase two involves creating community centers called “Urban Wellness and Opportunities Centers” (CUBOS) where young people can spend time on productive activities, keeping them away from gangs.

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.” Nayib Bukele.

Urban Wellbeing and Opportunity Centers (CUBO)
Urban Wellbeing and Opportunity Centers (CUBO).

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 administration wants to modernize the national police by giving them Cutting-edge technology for police operations to fight gangs and be better protected.

Phase Four: The Incursion of Police and Military Personnel 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.

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

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

Salvadoran Armed Forces.
Salvadoran Army Personnel. Image by @DefensaSV

Phase Five: Extraction

Phase five consists of extracting all the gang members still hiding in neighborhoods throughout the country. During this phase, security forces will enclose larger municipalities to remove all the remaining gang members.

We are going to release phase five, but a little modified. It has two elements, one is extraction, and the other is, based on what has been learned during the State of Exception, fencing off large areas while extracting gang members. Nayib Bukele.

Salvadoran Army
Salvadoran Army Personnel. Image by @DefensaSV

Phase Six: Integration

Phase six started with the creation of the National Directorate of National Integration, an entity that, according to the government, would focus on medium and long-term needs.

Among the powers that the new National Directorate of Integration would have is coordinating a comprehensive training system with an employment focus, approving training programs, and generating programs to reduce poverty.

Phases Seven: TBD

As of right now, phase seven has not been made public. Only President Nayib Bukele and some in his administration know what it is.

El Salvador Territorial Control Plan
Security Cabinet and the General Prosecutor. Image by Gobierno_SV.

El Salvador Territorial Control Plan

Since its implementation, Nayib Bukele’s territorial control plan has produced excellent results, particularly in lowering the country’s murder rate. Nowadays, El Salvador has the lowest homicide rate since the civil war ended.

According to President Bukele and other experts, the security plan implemented by the Bukele administration is responsible for the impressive homicide reduction.