The status of Bukele's big projects at the end of his first term

Hospital Rosales construction site in April

The public relations machine of the government of Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele thrives on touting major development and infrastructure projects. From time to time, we need to check in on how these projects are actually faring. Here is their status as he concludes five years in office.

The Chinese projects.

The major projects which are the farthest along are those which the Salvadoran government has not had to raise the money for because they are donations by the Chinese government. These were gifts announced by Bukele after his 2019 visit to Beijing.

National Library. The new national library in the heart of the historic center of San Salvador was completed at the end of 2023. Read about my tour of the library here.

Water purification and extraction from Ilopango. An announcement was made in November 2022, that the project to purify water from lake Ilopango will take the form of eight deep wells, pumping from underground sources enough water to supply 250,000 persons for a cost of $40 million. In a press event in December 2023 in the runup to national elections in the country, it was announced that construction had started and would take three years to complete.

Puerto La Libertad tourism development. The Chinese donation here was to supply mechanical rides for a small amusement park along the waterfront and to build a new pier. The amusement rides are up and running, now known as "Sunset Park", and the pier is nearly complete but not yet open to the public.

National soccer stadium. After a computer rendering was shared by presidential tweet on December 30, 2021, there has been little additional progress. Like the Ilopango water project, there was an event in December 2023 during election campaign season to announce the "first stone had been placed" for construction of the $100 million modern stadium shown in government tweets.   But I drive by the site on a regular basis and there has been no sign of activity since then.

New Chinese projects.  The Chinese ambassador recently said in a radio interview this month that China would be building a new Institute of Technology in El Salvador and a project to build a new convention center (CIFCO) was being evaluated.   The previous convention center and event grounds were converted into El Salvador's COVID treatment facility -- "Hospital El Salvador."

Projects not funded by China.

Where the Salvadoran government must finance the projects, whether through borrowed money or taxes, progress is much slower. In his September 15, 2021 address to the nation, Bukele asserted that his campaign promises for construction of the new airport in eastern El Salvador, the Train of the Pacific, a new public Hospital Rosales, and a new hospital in Nejapa would commence in 2022. None of that occurred.

An international airport in the east. On July 23, 2022, the Office of the President released a statement that construction of the airport would still start in 2022.  That did not happen obviously.   In March 2024, the president of CEPA stated that the government had completed the purchase of 80% of the lands necessary for the airport.  He also indicated that the government was looking for how to finance the project, which has been estimated to cost $300 million. If and when financing is arranged, the government plans to start construction.  Don't hold your breath on this one.    

The Train of the Pacific. The most recent update for the promised train which I could find was from December 2023, again during the election campaign. Although a year before, the Ministry of Public Works indicated that it has received the design documents for the first phase of the railroad project, the Ministry now indicates that designs were "being finalized" and the government will designate $700 million towards railroad projects. There is still no indication on when the project will start, how it will be financed, or when it will be completed.

Hospital Rosales. Hospital Rosales is the central public hospital for those who cannot afford a private hospital and do not participate in the social security hospital system. Despite the fact that financing for a new public hospital was approved in 2018 before Nayib Bukele took office, work on a new hospital, or even selection of a contractor to build the hospital, only began in 2023. As of April 16, 2024, the head of the Directorate of Municipal Works ("DOM") indicated the project was less than 50% completed and that the DOM was still working on the foundations of what will be a four story structure with two levels of underground parking.  Some have asked why this government could build a prison which it says will hold 40,000 gang members in a matter of months, but years later is still less than 50% complete with one of Bukele's central campaign promises.

A related promise in 2019 by the president was construction of a new public hospital to the north of San Salvador in Nejapa. He did not lay the first stone at the site until June 2023, and a video from two months ago shows a structure of girders with some metal flooring and not much else at the site.

Los Chorros viaduct. This is the major highway project to build an eight lane elevated highway through the area known as Los Chorros. This area is a major chokepoint on the highway leading into San Salvador from the southwest.  The budget for the 14.6 km stretch is currently set at $410 million with loans coming from South Korea and the BCIE for much of the cost, and a South Korean construction company is in charge of the work.  In March, it was announced that cement was beginning to be poured for the pilings for the elevated highway, and that less than 1% of the work had been accomplished.  

The "3rd of February" dam. Formerly known as the El Chaparral dam, this hydro-electric project was renamed 3 February (or "3rd of February")  to commemorate the day Bukele was elected president. The long-delayed project, started back in the Saca administration, has been completed contributing to the nation's electricity supply.

1000 New and Improved Schools Per Year.   In September 2022, Nayib Bukele announced the launch of the "My New School" program which would build 1000 new or remodeled public schools per year.   The reality has been far different.   According to an investigation by EDH, only 32 of the promised 1000 had been upgraded by August 2023.   (Each one with great fanfare and photo ops).  

CECOT.   The Center for Confinement of Terrorists (CECOT) is the mega-prison built by the Bukele regime in record time.  The government says it can hold 40,000 inmates, but there has never been confirmation of more than 12,000-14,000 prisoners being there, leading to doubts about whether the interiors of all the prison buildings shown in aerial footage actually are built out.  Apparently prisons can be built much faster than hospitals or schools.

Monorail and cable car system for greater San Salvador.  This is just a proposal on paper from the development agency of South Korea.  I have no idea if its is being seriously considered.

No Bitcoin City.   No Volcano Bonds to pay for it.

No Satellite -- They were kidding, right?