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

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Oct 1st, 2023
Nayib Bukele’s territorial control plan
Nayib 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 administration credits its security plan for the record-setting homicide reduction of 2020, 2021, and 2022, which has continued into 2023. Additionally, during this plan, the country has experienced over 460 days with zero 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 slowly declined since 2016, they have reached fast new lows under the Nayib Bukele administration. Bukele began his presidential term on June 1, 2019.

As of today, the 2023 Salvadoran homicide rate is 0.40 per day or 2.3 murders per 100,000 people.

The following 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 and 36 thus far in 2023.

El Salvador Homicide Rate
Year Total Homicides Daily Homicide Rate Homicides per 100,000 Inhabitants
(Jan 1 to Sep 30)
108 0.40 2.3 *Estimated
2022 495 1.4 7.8
2021 1147 3.1 18.1
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

The territorial control plan has steadily lowered the Salvadoran homicide rate. The following is the month-by-month homicide rate under the Bukele administration.

SEE ALSO: Days with zero homicides in El Salvador

Daily Homicides Under President Bukele
Month 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
January 9.26 3.90 3.58 2.65 0.35
February 7.39 4.0 3.72 2.71 0.50
March 7.68 2.29 3.61 5.35 0.39
April 10.87 4.90 3.50 0.77 0.33
May 9.26 2.13 3.94 0.52 0.55
June 7.70 2.40 2.93 0.87 0.33
July 5.00 3.74 2.94 0.55 0.26
August 4.19 4.06 1.84 0.58 0.52
September 4.93 4.37 2.03 0.63 0.33
October 4.0 5.1 2.6 0.58
November 4.6 3.3 4.1 0.43
December 4.1 3.7 3.1 0.45

Phases of Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan

Nayib Bukele’s territorial control plan consists of seven phases; the first six phases are called 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 government’s goals for phase one were to take control of the territory and to cut off gang communications from maximum security jails.

The first phase increased military and police presence in municipalities with a high gang and organized crime presence. The government also took control of Salvadoran jails and cut off communications between gang leaders in prison and those on the street.

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

After this incident, President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency in all Salvadoran prisons; this allowed authorities to stop visits and enact severe measures.

One of the severe measures enacted during phase one was the lockdown of inmates in all maximum security prisons; inmates were not allowed to leave their cells.

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

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.

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

Furthermore, President Bukele ordered Osiris Luna Meza, the General Director of Penal Centers, to cut off all communications from jails.

Lastly, 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.

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.

Phase Two. Opportunity

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 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 (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 modern equipment to fight organized crime 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

Phase Five: Extraction

Phase five of the El Salvador Territorial Control Plan was announced by President Nayib Bukele on November 23, 2022. This phase is called extraction.

The president explained that this new phase consists of extracting all the gang members still hiding in neighborhoods throughout the country. During this phase, security forces will enclose larger municipalities to extract 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.

Phase Six: Integration

In his September 15 speech to the nation, President Nayib Bukele announced the beginning of phase 6 of the Territorial Control Plan, which he called “Integration.”

Phase 6 will be materialized with the upcoming 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.

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