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America/El Salvador

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America/El Salvador

Republic of El Salvador
República de El Salvador
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Dios, Unión, Libertad" (Spanish)
English: "God, Unity, Freedom"
Anthem: Himno Nacional de El Salvador
English: "National Anthem of El Salvador"
and largest city
San Salvador
Official languages Spanish
Ethnic groups [1]
  • Salvadoran
  • Salvadorian
  • Salvadorean
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic
 -  President Salvador Sánchez Cerén
Legislature Legislative Assembly
 -  from Spain September 15, 1821 
 -  Recognized by Spain June 24, 1865 
 -  from the Greater Republic of Central America November 13, 1898 
 -  Total 21,044.8 km2 (153rd)
8,124 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 1.4
 -  2013 estimate 6,290,420[2] (99th)
 -  2009 census 5,744,113[3]
 -  Density 341.5/km2 (47th)
884.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $44.576 billion[4]
 -  Per capita $7,549[4]
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $22.761 billion[4]
 -  Per capita $3,855[4]
Gini (2002) 52.4
HDI (2013) [5]
medium · 115th
Currency United States dollara (USD)
Time zone CST (UTC−6)
Drives on the right
Calling code +503b
ISO 3166 code SV
Internet TLD .sv
a. The United States dollar is the currency in use. Financial information can be expressed in U.S. dollars and in Salvadoran colón, but the colón is out of circulation.[6]
b. Telephone companies (market share): Tigo (45%), Claro (25%), Movistar (24%), Digicel (5.5%), Red (0.5%).

El Salvador , officially the Republic of El Salvador (Spanish: República de El Salvador, literally "Republic of The Savior"; Pipil: Kūskatan[7]), is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador, with other important cities including Santa Ana and San Miguel. El Salvador borders the Pacific Ocean on the south, and the countries of Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the north and east. Its easternmost region lies on the coast of the Gulf of Fonseca, opposite Nicaragua. As of 2013, El Salvador had a population of approximately 6.29 million, composed predominantly of Mestizos, making it the most densely populated country in the region.[2]

Present-day El Salvador was inhabited by numerous Mesoamerican civilizations prior to European discovery and exploration. By 1525 the Spanish Empire had conquered the territory, incorporating it into the colony of New Spain up until 1821 when it achieved independence as part of the Federal Republic of Central America. Upon the republic's dissolution in 1841, El Salvador became sovereign until forming a short-lived union with Honduras and Nicaragua called the Greater Republic of Central America, which lasted from 1896 to 1898.

From the late 19th to mid 20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979-1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups. The conflict ended with a negotiated settlement that established a multiparty constitutional republic, which remains in place to this day.

El Salvador's economy was historically dominated by agriculture, beginning with the indigo plant (añil in Spanish), the most important crop during the colonial period,[8][9] and followed thereafter by coffee, which by the early 20th century accounted for 90 percent of export earnings.[10][11] El Salvador has since reduced its dependence on coffee[12] and embarked on diversifying the economy by opening up trade and financial links and expanding the manufacturing sector. The colón, the official currency of El Salvador since 1892, was replaced by the U.S. Dollar in 2001.

As of 2010, El Salvador ranks 12th among Latin American countries[13] in terms of the Human Development Index and fourth in Central America (behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize) due in part to ongoing rapid industrialisation, however the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime.


Temazcal in Joya de Ceren


Civilization in El Salvador dates to its settlement by the Native American Pipil people, Nahua speaking groups[14] who migrated from Mexico in the centuries before the European conquest and occupied the central and western regions.[15][15] They called their territory Cuzcatlan, a Pipil word[16] meaning The Place of Precious Jewels, hispanicized as Cuzcatlán.[17][18] The people of El Salvador today are variably referred to as Salvadoran, while the term Cuzcatleco is commonly used to identify someone of Salvadoran heritage.

In pre-Columbian times the country was also inhabited by various other Native American peoples, including the Lenca, a Chilanga Lencan-speaking group[19] who settled in the eastern highlands.[20] Cuzcatlan was the larger domain until the Spanish conquest. Since El Salvador resided on the eastern edge of the Mayan Civilization, the origins of many of El Salvador's ruins are controversial. However, it is widely agreed that Mayans likely occupied the areas around Lago de Guija and Cihuatan. Other ruins such as Tazumal and Joya de Ceren and San Andres may have been created by the Pipil or the Mayan or possibly both.[21]

European contact (1522)

By 1521 the indigenous population of the Mesoamerican area had been drastically reduced by the smallpox epidemic that was spreading throughout the territory, although it had not yet reached pandemic levels in Cuzcatlán.[22][23][24] The Spanish Admiral Andrés Niño led an expedition to Central America and disembarked on Meanguera island, which he named Petronila, in the Gulf of Fonseca, on May 31, 1522. Thereafter he discovered Jiquilisco Bay on the mouth of Lempa River. This was the first known visit by Spaniards to what is now Salvadoran territory.

Conquest of Cuzcatlán

Pedro de Alvarado

In 1524, after participating in the conquest of Mexico, Spanish Conquistadors led by Pedro de Alvarado and his brother Gonzalo crossed the Rio Paz (Peace River) from the area comprising the present Republic of Guatemala into what is now the Republic of El Salvador. The Spaniards were disappointed to discover that the indigenous Pipil people had no gold or jewels like those they had found in Guatemala or Mexico, but recognized the richness of the verdant land's volcanic soil.

Pedro de Alvarado led the first incursion by Spanish forces to extend their dominion to the nation of Cuzcatlán (El Salvador), in June 1524.[25] On June 8, 1524, the conquerors arrived in the neighborhood of Acajutla at a village called Acaxual. There, according to records, a battle ensued between the opposing armies, with the Pipil wearing cotton armor (of three fingers' thickness, according to Alvarado) and carrying long lances. This circumstance would be crucial in the progression of the battle. Alvarado approached the Pipil lines with his archers' showers of crossbow arrows, but the natives did not retreat. The conquistador noticed the proximity of a nearby hill and knew that it could be a convenient hiding place for his opponents. Alvarado pretended that his army had given up the battle and retreated. The Pipil suddenly rushed the invaders, giving Alvarado an opportunity to inflict massive losses. The Pipil warriors who fell to the ground could not get back on their feet, hindered by the weight of their cotton armor, which enabled the Spanish to slaughter them.

In the words of Alvarado: "...the destruction was so great that in just a short time there were none which were left alive...". However, Alvarado's army were not completely unscathed. In the battle Alvarado himself was struck by a sling shot to his thigh which fractured his femur bone. According to local tradition the stone that hit the conquistador was hurled by a Pipil "Tatoni" (a prince) called Atonal. The resultant infection lasted about eight months and left Alvarado partially crippled. In spite of this wound, he continued the conquest campaign with relish.

Tazumal ruins in Santa Ana, El Salvador.

The Spanish efforts were firmly resisted by the indigenous people, including the Pipil and their Mayan-speaking neighbors. Despite Alvarado's initial success in the Battle of Acajutla, the people of Cuzcatlán, who according to tradition were led by a warlord called Atlacatl, defeated the Spaniards and what was left of their Mexican Tlaxcala Indian allies, forcing them to withdraw to Guatemala. There, Pedro de Alvarado was again wounded, this time on his left thigh, which left him handicapped for the rest of his life. He abandoned the war and appointed his brother, Gonzalo de Alvarado, to continue the task. It took two subsequent expeditions (the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528) to bring the Pipil under Spanish control. In 1525, the conquest of Cuzcatlán was completed and the city of San Salvador was established. The Spanish faced much resistance from the Pipil and were not able to reach eastern El Salvador, the area of the Lencas.

Finally, with reinforcements, in 1526 the Spanish established the garrison town of San Miguel, headed by another explorer and conquistador, Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, nephew of Pedro Alvarado. Legend holds that a Maya-Lenca woman, crown Princess Antu Silan Ulap I, daughter of Asisilcan Nachan I and Lady Omomatku, Monarch of the Lencas, organized resistance to the domination of the gold- and profit-hungry Conquistadors. The Lenca kingdom was alarmed by de Moscoso's invasion, and Antu Silan dealt with it by going from village to village, uniting all the Lenca towns in present-day El Salvador and Honduras against the Spaniards. Through surprise attacks and their overwhelming numbers, they were able to drive the Spanish out of San Miguel and destroy the garrison.

For ten years, the Lencas prevented the Spanish from building a permanent settlement. Then the Spanish returned with more soldiers, including about 2,000 forced conscripts from indigenous communities in Guatemala. They pursued the Lenca leaders further up into the mountains of Intibucá. Legend tells that Antu Silan Ulap continued leading the united forces until, late in pregnancy, she slipped out of the conflicted area to a safe haven, Tihuilotal, where she gave birth to twins, a girl and a boy. Their father was Prince Salaiki Kanul from Sesori. The daughter became Atonim Silan I – she and her twin and another brother lived in the mountains near the lake Olomega and Maquigue – in this way they escaped the Spanish and their allies who were hunting them. Tihuilotal is a little southwest of the present city of La Unión, near the source of the sacred Managuara River.

Antu Silan Ulap eventually handed over control of the Lenca resistance to Lempira (also called Empira). Lempira was noteworthy among indigenous leaders in that he mocked the Spanish by wearing their clothes after capturing them and using their weapons captured in battle. Lempira fought in command of thousands of Lenca forces for six more years in El Salvador and Honduras until he was killed in battle. The remaining Lenca forces retreated into the hills. The Spanish were then able to rebuild their garrison town of San Miguel in 1537.

Spanish rule (colonization) and independence

Painting of the First Independence Movement celebration in San Salvador. At the center, José Matías Delgado.
Manuel José Arce joined the movement for independence from Spain, joining in the first Cry for Independence on November 5, 1811 in San Salvador.

In the early 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors ventured into the natural harbors to extend their dominion of the area. They called the land "Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo" ("Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World"), which was subsequently abbreviated to "El Salvador" (The Savior).

During the colonial period, El Salvador was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala (Spanish: Reino de Guatemala), created in 1609 as an administrative division of New Spain. The Salvadoran territory was administered by the Mayor of Sonsonate, with San Salvador being established as an intendancia in 1786.

Towards the end of 1811, a combination of internal and external factors motivated Central American elites to attempt to gain independence from the Spanish Crown. The most important internal factors were the desire of local elites to control the country's affairs free of involvement from Spanish authorities, and the Creoles' long-standing aspiration for independence. The main external factors motivating the independence movement were the success of the French and American revolutions in the 18th century, and the weakening of the Spanish Crown's military power as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, with the resulting inability to control its colonies effectively.

On 5 November 1811, Salvadoran priest José Matías Delgado rang the bells of Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, calling for insurrection and launching the 1811 Independence Movement. This insurrection was suppressed and many of its leaders were arrested and served sentences in jail. Another insurrection was launched in 1814, and again it was suppressed. Finally, on September 15, 1821, in light of unrest in Guatemala, Spanish authorities capitulated and signed the Act of Independence of Central America, which released all of the Captaincy of Guatemala (comprising current territories of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Mexican state of Chiapas) from Spanish rule and declared its independence. In 1821, El Salvador joined Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in a union named the Federal Republic of Central America.

In early 1822, the authorities of the newly independent Central American provinces, meeting in Guatemala City, voted to join the newly constituted First Mexican Empire under Agustín de Iturbide. El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. A Mexican military detachment marched to San Salvador and suppressed dissent, but with the fall of Iturbide on 19 March 1823, the army decamped back to Mexico. Shortly thereafter, the authorities of the provinces revoked the vote for joining Mexico, deciding instead to form a federal union of the five remaining provinces. (Chiapas permanently joined Mexico at this juncture.)

When the Federal Republic of Central America dissolved in 1841, El Salvador maintained its own government until it joined Honduras and Nicaragua in 1896 to form the Greater Republic of Central America, which later dissolved in 1898.

After the mid-19th century, the economy was based on coffee growing. As the world market for indigo withered away, the economy prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. The enormous profits that coffee yielded as a monoculture export served as an impetus for the concentration of land into the hands of an oligarchy of just a few families.[26]

Throughout the last half of the 19th century, a succession of presidents from the ranks of the Salvadoran oligarchy, nominally both conservative and liberal, generally agreed on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, the development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily in support of the coffee trade, the elimination of communal landholdings to facilitate further coffee production, the passage of anti-vagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other rural residents provided sufficient labor for the coffee fincas (plantations), and the suppression of rural discontent. In 1912, the national guard was created as a rural police force.

20th century

Gen. Tomás Regalado

In 1898, Gen. Tomas Regalado gained power by force, deposing Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez and ruling as president until 1903. Once in office he revived the practice of designating presidential successors. After serving his term, he remained active in the Army of El Salvador, and was killed July 11, 1906, at El Jicaro during a war against Guatemala. Until 1913 El Salvador was politically stable, but there were undercurrents of popular discontent. When President Dr. Manuel Enrique Araujo was killed in 1913, there were many hypotheses advanced for the political motive of his murder.

Dios, Union, Libertad (God, Unity, Liberty) El Salvador 1912 Flag.

Araujo's administration was followed by the Melendez-Quinonez dynasty that lasted from 1913 to 1927. Pio Romero Bosque, ex-Minister of the Government and a trusted collaborator of the dynasty, succeeded President Jorge Melendez and in 1930 announced free elections, in which Arturo Araujo came to power on March 1, 1931 in what was considered the country's first freely contested election. His government lasted only nine months before it was overthrown by junior military officers who accused his Labor Party of lacking political and governmental experience and of using its government offices inefficiently. President Araujo faced general popular discontent, as the people expected economic reforms and the redistribution of land. There were demonstrations in front of the National Palace from the first week of his administration. His vice president and Minister of War was Gen. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez and his National Police Director was Rochac—his brother-in-law.

In December 1931 a coup d'état was organized by junior officers and led by Gen. Martínez; the first strike started in the First Regiment of Infantry across from the National Palace in downtown San Salvador. Only the First Regiment of Cavalry and the National Police defended the Presidency (the National Police had been on its payroll), but later that night, after hours of fighting, the badly outnumbered defenders surrendered to the rebel forces.

The Directorate, composed of officers, hid behind a shadowy figure,[27] a rich anti-Communist banker called Rodolfo Duke, and later installed the ardent fascist Gen. Martínez as president. The causes of the revolt were probably due to the army's discontent at not having been paid by President Araujo for some months. Araujo left the National Palace and later unsuccessfully tried to organize forces to defeat the revolt.

The U.S. Minister in El Salvador met with the Directorate and later recognized the government of Martínez, who agreed to hold presidential elections later. He resigned in 1934, six months before the presidential elections, to run for the presidency, which he won—not a difficult achievement, seeing as he was the only candidate. He ruled from 1935 to 1939, then from 1939 to 1943. He began a fourth term in 1944, but resigned in May after a general strike. Martínez had said he was going to respect the Constitution, which stipulated he could not be re-elected, but he refused to keep his promise.

From December 1931, the year of the coup in which Martínez came to power, there was brutal suppression of the rural resistance. The most notable event was the February 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising. Originally led by Farabundo Martí and Abel Cuenca, and university students Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata, these leaders were captured before the planned insurrection. Only Cuenca survived; the other insurgents were killed by the government. After the capture of the movement leaders, the insurrection erupted in a disorganized and mob-controlled fashion, resulting in government repression that was later referred to as La Matanza (The Massacre), because tens of thousands of peasants died in the ensuing chaos on the orders of President Martinez.

In the unstable political climate of the previous few years, the social activist and revolutionary leader Farabundo Martí helped found the Communist Party of Central America, and led a Communist alternative to the Red Cross called International Red Aid, serving as one of its representatives. Their goal was to help poor and underprivileged Salvadorans through the use of Marxist-Leninist ideology (strongly rejecting Stalinism). In December 1930, at the height of the country's economic and social depression, Martí was once again exiled due to his popularity among the nation's poor and rumors of his upcoming nomination for President the following year. Once Arturo Araujo was elected president in 1931, Martí returned to El Salvador, and along with Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata began the movement that was later truncated by the military.

They helped start a guerrilla revolt of indigenous farmers. The government responded by killing over 30,000 people at what was to have been a "peaceful meeting" in 1932; this became known as La Matanza (The Slaughter). The peasant uprising against Martínez was crushed by the Salvadoran military ten days after it had begun. The Communist-led rebellion, fomented by collapsing coffee prices, enjoyed some initial success, but was soon drowned in a bloodbath. President Martínez, who had himself toppled an elected government only weeks earlier, ordered the defeated Martí shot after a perfunctory hearing.

Historically, the high Salvadoran population density has contributed to tensions with neighboring Honduras, as land-poor Salvadorans emigrated to less densely populated Honduras and established themselves as squatters on unused or underused land. This phenomenon was a major cause of the 1969 Football War between the two countries.[28] As many as 130,000 Salvadorans had been forcibly expelled or had fled from Honduras.[29]

The PDC and the PCN parties

José Napoleón Duarte

The Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) were active in Salvadoran politics from 1960 until 2011, when they were disbanded by the Supreme Court because they failed to win enough votes in the 2004 presidential election;[30] Both parties have since reconstituted. They share common ideals, but one represents the middle class and the latter the interests of the Salvadoran military.

PDC leader José Napoleón Duarte was the mayor of San Salvador from 1964 to 1970, winning three elections during the regime of PCN President Julio Adalberto Rivera Carballo (who allowed free elections for mayors and the National Assembly). Duarte later ran for president with a political grouping called the National Opposition Union (UNO) but was defeated in the 1972 presidential elections. He lost to the ex-Minister of Interior, Col. Arturo Armando Molina, in an election that was widely viewed as fraudulent; Molina was declared the winner even though Duarte was said to have received a majority of the votes. Duarte, at some army officers' request, supported a revolt to protest the election fraud, but was captured, tortured and later exiled. Duarte returned to the country in 1979 to enter politics after working on projects in Venezuela as an engineer.

The October 1979 coup d'état

In October 1979 a coup d'état brought the Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador to power. It nationalized many private companies and took over much privately owned land. The purpose of this new junta was to stop the revolutionary movement already underway in response to Duarte's stolen election. Nevertheless, the oligarchy opposed agrarian reform, and a junta formed with young liberal elements from the army such as Gen. Majano and Gen. Gutierrez,[31][32] as well as with progressives such as Ungo and Alvarez.

Owing to pressure from the oligarchy, this junta was soon dissolved because of its inability to control the army in its repression of the people fighting for unionization rights, agrarian reform, better wages, accessible health care and freedom of expression. In the meantime, the guerrilla movement was spreading to all sectors of Salvadoran society. Middle and high school students were organized in MERS (Movimiento Estudiantil Revolucionario de Secundaria, Revolutionary Movement of Secondary Students); college students were involved with AGEUS (Asociacion de Estudiantes Universitarios Salvadorenos; Association of Salvadoran College Students); and workers were organized in BPR (Bloque Popular Revolucionario, Popular Revolutionary Block). In October 1980, several other major guerrilla groups of the Salvadoran left had formed the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, or FMLN. By the end of the 1970s, death squads were killing about 10 people each day, and the FMLN had 6,000 - 8,000 active guerrillas and hundreds of thousands of part-time militia, supporters, and sympathizers.[33]

The U.S. supported and financed the creation of a second junta to change the political environment and stop the spread of a leftist insurrection. Napoleon Duarte was recalled from his exile in Venezuela to head this new junta. However, a revolution was already underway and his new role as head of the junta was seen by the general population as opportunistic. He was unable to influence the outcome of the insurrection. Monsignor Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, denounced injustices and massacres committed against civilians by government forces. He was considered "the voice of the voiceless", but he was assassinated by a death squad while saying Mass on 24 March 1980.[34] Some consider this to be the beginning of the Salvadoran Civil War in full, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.

Archbishop Oscar Romero.
A reconstruction of Radio Venceremos, at the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador

On January 16, 1992, the government of El Salvador, represented by president Alfredo Cristiani, and the FMLN, represented by the commanders of the five guerrilla groups – Shafick Handal, Joaquin Villalobos, Salvador Sánchez Ceren, Francisco Jovel and Eduardo Sancho, all signed the peace agreements brokered by the United Nations which ended the 12-year civil war. This event, held at the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico, was attended by U.N. dignitaries and other representatives of the international community. After signing the armistice, the president stood up and shook hands with all the now ex-guerrilla commanders, an action which was widely admired.

The so-called Chapultepec Peace Accords mandated reductions in the size of the army, and the dissolution of the National Police, the Treasury Police, the National Guard and the Civilian Defense, a paramilitary group. A new Civil Police was to be organized. Judicial immunity for crimes committed by the armed forces ended; the government agreed to submit to the recommendations of a Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (Comisión de la Verdad Para El Salvador), which would "investigate serious acts of violence occurring since 1980, and the nature and effects of the violence, and...recommend methods of promoting national reconciliation." In 1993 the Commission delivered its findings reporting human rights violations on both sides of the conflict.[35] Five days later the El Salvadoran legislature passed an amnesty law for all acts of violence during the period.

End of the 20th century

From 1989 until 2004, Salvadorans favored the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, voting in ARENA presidents in every election (Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores Pérez, Antonio Saca) until 2009, when Mauricio Funes was elected president from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party.

Economic reforms since the early 1990s have brought major benefits in terms of improved social conditions, diversification of its export sector, and access to international financial markets at investment grade level. However, crime remains a major problem for the investment climate.

This all ended in 2001, and support for ARENA weakened. Internal turmoil in ARENA weakened the party, while the FMLN united and broadened its support.[36]

21st century

The unsuccessful attempts of the left-wing party to win presidential elections led to its selection of a journalist rather than a former guerrilla leader as a candidate. On March 15, 2009, Mauricio Funes, a television figure, became the first president from the FMLN party. He was inaugurated on June 1, 2009. One focus of the Funes government has been revealing the alleged corruption from the past government.[37]

ARENA formally expelled Saca from the party in December 2009. With 12 loyalists in the National Assembly, Saca established his own party, GANA (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional or Grand Alliance for National Unity), and entered into a tactical legislative alliance with the FMLN.[38] After three years in office, with Saca's GANA party providing the FMLN with a legislative majority, Funes had not taken action to investigate or to bring corrupt former officials to justice.

Putting environmental issues in the heart of government

Early in the new millennium, El Salvador's government created the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales – the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and began promoting the integration of climate change into national policy. This move was in response to the increase in extreme weather events affecting the country. Initially MARN aimed to fulfil the country’s obligations following its ratification of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto protocol However, since Hurricane Ida in 2009, the government’s stance has shifted towards integrating risk reduction into all areas of policy, including financial.[39]

In a specific effort to increase the resilience of its economy and people to climate-related events, El Salvador commissioned a project in 2011 to develop and implement a National Policy and Strategy for Climate Change, which culminated with the launch of the National Environmental Policy in June 2012 and the National Environmental Strategy in June 2013, both incorporating climate change goals. This work was undertaken with support from the Climate & Development Knowledge Network. The government is now preparing Action Plans for putting the strategy into practice.[39]


The topography of El Salvador.

El Salvador lies in the isthmus of Central America between latitudes 13° and 15°N, and longitudes 87° and 91°W. It stretches 270 km (168 mi) from west-northwest to east-southeast and 142 km (88 mi) north to south, with a total area of 13,073 km (8,123 mi), about the size of Massachusetts or Wales. As the smallest country in continental America, El Salvador is affectionately called Pulgarcito de America (the "Tom Thumb of the Americas"). The highest point in the country is Cerro El Pital, at 2,730 metres (8,957 ft), on the border with Honduras.

El Salvador has a long history of destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854, and it suffered heavy damage in the 1919, 1982, and 1986 tremors. The country has over twenty volcanoes, although only two, San Miguel and Izalco, have been active in recent years. From the early 19th century to the mid-1950s, Izalco erupted with a regularity that earned it the name "Lighthouse of the Pacific." Its brilliant flares were clearly visible for great distances at sea, and at night its glowing lava turned it into a brilliant luminous cone.

El Salvador has over 300 rivers, the most important of which is the Rio Lempa. Originating in Guatemala, the Rio Lempa cuts across the northern range of mountains, flows along much of the central plateau, and finally cuts through the southern volcanic range to empty into the Pacific. It is El Salvador's only navigable river; it and its tributaries drain about half the country. Other rivers are generally short and drain the Pacific lowlands or flow from the central plateau through gaps in the southern mountain range to the Pacific. These include the Goascorán, Jiboa, Torola, Paz and the Río Grande de San Miguel.

There are several lakes enclosed by volcanic craters in the country, the most important of which are Lake Ilopango (70 km²) and Lake Coatepeque (26 km²). Lake Güija is El Salvador's largest natural lake (44 km²). Several artificial lakes were created by the damming of the Lempa, the largest of which is Embalse Cerrón Grande (135 km²). There are a total 320 km2 (123.6 sq mi) of water within El Salvador's borders.

El Salvador shares those borders with Guatemala and Honduras, the total national boundary length is 546 km (339 mi): 126 miles (203 km) with Guatemala and 343 km (213 mi) with Honduras. It is the only Central American country that has no Caribbean coastline; the coastline on the Pacific is 307 km (191 mi) long.

Two parallel mountain ranges cross El Salvador to the west with a central plateau between them and a narrow coastal plain hugging the Pacific. These physical features divide the country into two physiographic regions. The mountain ranges and central plateau, covering 85% of the land, comprise the interior highlands. The remaining coastal plains are referred to as the Pacific lowlands.

Panorama of the capital San Salvador, located in the Boquerón Volcano Valley


Playa La Libertad, Liberty Beach.

El Salvador has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation and show little seasonal change. The Pacific lowlands are uniformly hot; the central plateau and mountain areas are more moderate. The rainy season extends from May to October; this time of year is referred to as invierno or winter. Almost all the annual rainfall occurs during this period; yearly totals, particularly on southern-facing mountain slopes, can be as high as 2170 mm.

The best time to visit El Salvador would be at the beginning or end of the dry season. Protected areas and the central plateau receive less, although still significant, amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pressure systems formed over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunderstorms. Hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific with the notable exception of Hurricane Mitch, which formed in the Atlantic and crossed Central America.

From November through April, the northeast trade winds control weather patterns; this time of year is referred to as verano, or summer. During these months, air flowing from the Caribbean has lost most of its precipitation while passing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy, and the country experiences hot weather, excluding the northern higher mountain ranges, where temperatures will be cool. In the extreme northeastern part of the country near Cerro El Pital, snow is known to fall during summer as well as during winter due to the high elevations (it is the coldest part of the country).

Natural disasters

Extreme weather events

El Salvador's position on the Pacific Ocean also makes it subject to severe weather conditions, including heavy rainstorms and severe droughts, both of which may be made more extreme by the El Niño and La Niña effects. Severe deforestation and soil erosion have made the landscape vulnerable to landslides and forest fires. These characteristics, coupled with severe fiscal constraints, make the nation highly susceptible to the impacts of extreme weather events.[40] In the summer of 2001, a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country's crops, causing famine in the countryside.[41][42] On October 4, 2005, severe rains resulted in dangerous flooding and landslides, which caused a minimum of fifty deaths.[43] And in 2010, losses to agriculture from flooding exceeded USD100 million, while those resulting from drought were USD38 million.[44]

El Salvador's location in Central America also makes it vulnerable to severe storms and hurricanes coming off the Caribbean. Since the 1990s, there has been an increase in the frequency and duration of storms, as well as a marked change in the pattern of their occurrence. Hurricanes used to strike El Salvador infrequently, only came from the Atlantic and were limited to the months of September and October. However, since the mid 1990s, such storms have occurred more frequently, originated in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and have struck in six different months of the year.[39]

Earthquakes and volcanic activity

Cordillera de Apaneca volcanic mountain range in El Salvador.
Usulutan volcano rises above the Pacific coastal plain in El Salvador.
The Izalco Volcano, partially covered by clouds, is a natural draw for tourists.
The Santa Ana Volcano, as seen from a United States Air Force C-130 Hercules flying above El Salvador.

El Salvador lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, and is thus subject to significant tectonic activity, including frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. Recent examples include the earthquake on January 13, 2001 that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and caused a landslide that killed more than 800 people;[43] and another earthquake only a month later, on February 13, 2001, that killed 255 people and damaged about 20% of the nation's housing. Luckily, many families were able to find safety from the landslides caused by the earthquake.

The San Salvador area has been hit by earthquakes in 1576, 1659, 1798, 1839, 1854, 1873, 1880, 1917, 1919, 1965, 1986, 2001 and 2005.[45] The 5.7 Mw-earthquake of 1986 resulted in 1,500 deaths, 10,000 injuries, and 100,000 people left homeless.[46][47]

El Salvador's most recent destructive volcanic eruption took place on October 1, 2005, when the Santa Ana Volcano spewed a cloud of ash, hot mud and rocks that fell on nearby villages and caused two deaths. The most severe volcanic eruption in this area occurred in the 5th century AD when the Ilopango volcano erupted with a VEI strength of 6, producing widespread pyroclastic flows and devastating Mayan cities.[48]

The Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador is active;[49] the most recent eruptions were in 1904 and 2005. Lago de Coatepeque (one of El Salvador's lakes) was created by water filling the caldera that formed after a massive eruption.

The British Imperial College's El Salvador Project aims to build earthquake-proof buildings in remote areas of the country.

Biodiversity and endangered species

The torogoz is El Salvador's national bird.

There are eight species of sea turtles in the world; six of them nest on the coasts of Central America, and four make their home on the Salvadoran coast: the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the Green Sea turtle (Chelonia agasizzii) and the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea).

Of these four species, the most common is the Olive Ridley turtle, followed by the brown (black) turtle. The other two species, Hawksbill and Leatherback, are much more difficult to find as they are critically endangered, while the Olive Ridley and brown (black) turtle are in danger of extinction.

Recent conservation efforts provide hope for the future of the country's biological diversity. In 1997, the government established the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. A general environmental framework law was approved by the National Assembly in 1999. Specific legislation to protect wildlife is still pending.

The ocelot is a native of El Salvador.

In addition, a number of non-governmental organizations are doing important work to safeguard some of the country's most important forested areas. Foremost among these is SalvaNatura, which manages El Impossible, the country's largest national park under an agreement with El Salvador's environmental authorities.

Despite these efforts, much remains to be done.

It is estimated that there are 500 species of birds, 1,000 species of butterflies, 400 species of orchids, 800 species of trees, and 800 species of marine fish in El Salvador.

Government and politics

The 1983 Constitution is the highest legal authority in the country. El Salvador has a democratic and representative government, whose three bodies are:

  1. The Executive Branch, headed by the President of the Republic, who is elected by direct vote and remains in office for five years. He can be elected to only one term. The president has a Cabinet of Ministers whom he appoints, and is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
  2. The Legislative Branch, called El Salvador's Legislative Assembly (unicameral), consisting of 84 deputies.
  3. The Judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, which is composed of 15 judges, one of them being elected as President of the Judiciary.

The Chapultepec Peace Accords (1992) created the new National Civil Police, the Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The Peace Accords re-imagined the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) as a political party and redefined the role of the army to be for the defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Accords also removed some security forces who were in command of the army, such as the National Guard, Treasury Police and special battalions that were formed to fight against the insurgency of the 1980s.

The political framework of El Salvador is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multiform, multi-party system. The President, currently Salvador Sánchez Cerén, is both head of state and head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly. The country also has an independent Judiciary and Supreme Court.

Main political parties

Although El Salvador has six political parties, the ones which receive the most votes are the conservative right (ARENA) and the liberal left (FMLN). GANA, PDC, PCN, and CD have not received as many votes, leading some people to believe the country has a two-party system, although alternative parties still exist. Within Salvadoran political culture, ARENA is considered right or conservative and the FMLN Party is considered left, split between the dominant Marxist-Leninist faction in the legislature, and the liberal wing led by President Funes.

The departments of the Central region, especially the capital and the coastal regions, known as departamentos rojos, or red departments, are relatively liberal. The departamentos azules, or blue departments in the east, western and highland regions are relatively conservative. The winner of the 2009 presidential election, Mauricio Funes belongs to the FMLN party and currently controls the National Assembly.

El Salvador Political Parties (alphabetical order)
Acronym Name
ARENA Alianza Republicana Nacionalista
FMLN Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional
GANA Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional
PCN Partido de Conciliación Nacional
PDC Partido Demócrata Cristiano

Human rights

Amnesty International has drawn attention to several arrests of police officers for unlawful police killings. Other current issues to gain Amnesty International's attention in the past 10 years include missing children, failure of law enforcement to properly investigate and prosecute crimes against women, and rendering organized labor illegal.[50]

In El Salvador if a woman miscarries it is frequently assumed she deliberately induced an abortion or could have saved the baby. Women who did not know they were pregnant or who could not have prevented a miscarriage face long prison terms.[51][52]


El Salvador is divided into 14 departments (departamentos), which in turn are subdivided into 262 municipalities (municipios).

Department names and capitals for the 14 Salvadoran Departments:

Departments of El Salvador
Western El Salvador
Ahuachapán (Ahuachapán)
Santa Ana (Santa Ana)
Sonsonate (Sonsonate)
Central El Salvador
La Libertad (Santa Tecla)
Chalatenango (Chalatenango)
Cuscatlán (Cojutepeque)
San Salvador (San Salvador)
La Paz (Zacatecoluca)
Cabañas (Sensuntepeque)
San Vicente (San Vicente)
Eastern El Salvador
Usulután (Usulután)
San Miguel (San Miguel)
Morazán (San Francisco Gotera)
La Unión (La Unión)
Note: Departmental capitals are in parentheses.


El Salvador's economy has been hampered at times by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, by government policies that mandate large economic subsidies, and by official corruption. Subsidies became such a problem that in April 2012, the International Monetary Fund suspended a $750 million loan to the central government. President Funes' chief of cabinet, Alex Segovia, acknowledged that the economy was at the "point of collapse."[53]

Antiguo Cuscatlán has the highest per capita income of all the cities in the country, and is a center of international investment.

GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2008 was estimated at $25.895 billion USD. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 64.1%, followed by the industrial sector at 24.7% (2008 est.). Agriculture represents only 11.2% of GDP (2010 est.)

The GDP grew after 1996 at an annual rate that averaged 3.2% real growth. The government committed to free market initiatives, and the 2007 GDP's real growth rate was 4.7%.[54]

In December 1999, net international reserves equaled US $1.8 billion or roughly five months of imports. Having this hard currency buffer to work with, the Salvadoran government undertook a monetary integration plan beginning January 1, 2001 by which the U.S. dollar became legal tender alongside the Salvadoran colón, and all formal accounting was done in U.S. dollars. Thus, the government has formally limited the implementing of open market monetary policies to influence short-term variables in the economy. As of September 2007, net international reserves stood at $2.42 billion.[43][55]

It has long been a challenge in El Salvador to develop new growth sectors for a more diversified economy. In the past, the country produced gold and silver,[56] but recent attempts to re-open the mining sector, which were expected to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy, collapsed after President Saca shut down the operations of Pacific Rim Mining Corporation. The U.S.-Canadian company had spent $77 million to discover a gold deposit estimated at 1.4 million troy ounces. President Funes and the FMLN upheld the gold and silver mining ban.

As with other former colonies, El Salvador was considered a mono-export economy (an economy that depended heavily on one type of export) for many years. During colonial times, El Salvador was a thriving exporter of indigo, but after the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, the newly created modern state turned to coffee as the main export.

San Miguel is an important economic center of El Salvador and home to the "Carnival of San Miguel", one of the biggest festivals of entertainment and food in Central America.[57]

The government has sought to improve the collection of its current revenues, with a focus on indirect taxes. A 10% value-added tax (IVA in Spanish), implemented in September 1992, was raised to 13% in July 1995.

Inflation has been steady and among the lowest in the region. Since 1997 inflation has averaged 3%, with recent years increasing to nearly 5%. As a result of the free trade agreements, from 2000 to 2006, total exports have grown 19% from $2.94 billion to $3.51 billion, and total imports have risen 54% from $4.95 billion to $7.63 billion. This has resulted in a 102% increase in the trade deficit, from $2.01 billion to $4.12 billion.[58]

El Chorreron, El Salvador; tourism is the fastest-growing sector of the Salvadoran economy.

El Salvador has promoted an open trade and investment environment, and has embarked on a wave of privatization extending to telecommunications, electricity distribution, banking, and pension funds. In late 2006, the government and the Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a five-year, $461 million compact to stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty in the country's northern region, the primary conflict zone during the civil war, through investments in education, public services, enterprise development, and transportation infrastructure. With the adoption of the US dollar as its currency in 2001, El Salvador lost control over monetary policy. Any counter-cyclical policy response to the downturn must be through fiscal policy, which is constrained by legislative requirements for a two-thirds majority to approve any international financing.

Remittances from abroad

El Salvador leads the region in remittances per capita, with inflows equivalent to nearly all export income; about a third of all households receive these financial inflows. Remittances from Salvadorans living and working in the United States, sent to family members in El Salvador, are a major source of foreign income and offset the substantial trade deficit of $4.12 billion. Remittances have increased steadily in the last decade, and reached an all-time high of $3.32 billion in 2006 (an increase of 17% over the previous year).[59] approximately 16.2% of gross domestic product(GDP).

Remittances have had positive and negative effects on El Salvador. In 2005, the number of people living in extreme poverty in El Salvador was 20%,[60] according to a United Nations Development Program report. Without remittances, the number of Salvadorans living in extreme poverty would rise to 37%. While Salvadoran education levels have gone up, wage expectations have risen faster than either skills or productivity. For example, some Salvadorans are no longer willing to take jobs that pay them less than what they receive monthly from family members abroad. This has led to an influx of Hondurans and Nicaraguans who are willing to work for the prevailing wage. Also, the local propensity for consumption over investment has increased.

Money from remittances has also increased prices for certain commodities such as real estate. With much higher wages, many Salvadorans abroad can afford higher prices for houses in El Salvador than local Salvadorans, and thus push up the prices that all Salvadorans must pay.[61]

Free trade agreements

In 2006, El Salvador was the first country to ratify the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. CAFTA has bolstered exports of processed foods, sugar, and ethanol, and supported investment in the apparel sector, which faced Asian competition with the expiration of the Multi-Fiber Agreement in 2005. In anticipation of the declines in the apparel sector's competitiveness, the previous administration sought to diversify the economy by promoting the country as a regional distribution and logistics hub, and by promoting tourism investment through tax incentives.

There are a total of 15 free trade zones in El Salvador. El Salvador signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) — negotiated by the five countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic — with the United States in 2004. CAFTA requires that the Salvadoran government adopt policies that foster free trade. El Salvador has signed free trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Panama and increased its trade with those countries. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua also are negotiating a free trade agreement with Canada. In October 2007, these four countries and Costa Rica began free trade agreement negotiations with the European Union. Negotiations started in 2006 for a free trade agreement with Colombia.

Official corruption and anti-business practices

In an analysis of ARENA's electoral defeat in 2009, the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador pointed to official corruption under the Saca administration as a significant reason for public rejection of continued ARENA government. According to a secret diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks, "While the Salvadoran public may be inured to self-serving behavior by politicians, many in ARENA believe that the brazen manner in which Saca and his people are widely perceived to have used their positions for personal enrichment went beyond the pale. ARENA deputy Roberto d'Aubuisson told [a U.S. diplomat] that Saca 'deliberately ignored' his Public Works Minister’s government contract kickbacks scheme, even after the case was revealed in the press. Furthermore, considerable evidence exists, including from U.S. business sources, that the Saca administration pushed laws and selectively enforced regulations with the specific intent to benefit Saca family business interests."[62]

Subsequent policies under the Saca and Funes administrations made El Salvador less friendly to foreign investment, and the World Bank sharply lowered its once positive ratings of the country. By 2012, El Salvador slid to 112th place out of 183 countries in the World Bank's annual "Ease of Doing Business" index.[63] The World Economic Forum lowered El Salvador's economic competitiveness rating in 2012 from 43rd to 91st in the world.[64]

El Salvador began 2012 with the lowest level of foreign investment in Central America, with San Salvador being rated 44th out of 48 Central American cities in terms of attractiveness to investors.[65]

Foreign companies increasingly have resorted to arbitration in international trade tribunals after Salvadoran government policies damaged their investments. In 2008, El Salvador sought international arbitration against Italy's Enel Green Power, on behalf of Salvadoran state-owned electric companies for a geothermal project Enel had invested in. Four years later, Enel indicated it would seek arbitration against El Salvador, blaming the government for technical problems that prevent it from completing its investment.[66] The U.S. Embassy warned in 2009 that the Salvadoran government's populist policies of mandating artificially low electricity prices were damaging private sector profitability, including the interests of American investors in the energy sector.[67] The U.S. Embassy noted the corruption of El Salvador's judicial system and quietly urged American businesses to include “arbitration clauses, preferably with a foreign venue,” when doing business in the country.[68]

In May 2012, a tribunal of the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against El Salvador after Pacific Rim Mining Corp. had filed for arbitration to claim $100 million in losses.[69]


Salvadoran people

Christy Turlington is an American model of Salvadoran ancestry, best known for representing Calvin Klein from 1987 to 2007.

The population of El Salvador increased from 1.9 million inhabitants in 1950 to 4.7 million in 1984.[70] El Salvador has lacked authoritative demographic data for many years because no national census was taken between 1992 and 2007. Before the 2007 census, patterns in population growth led many officials (including within the Salvadoran government) to estimate the country's population at between 7.1 and 7.2 million people.[71] Challenges to the 2007 census on a number of grounds are forthcoming.[72][73][74]

The country's population is composed of Mestizos, whites, and indigenous peoples. Eighty-six percent of Salvadorans are of mixed ancestry.

Consuelo de Saint Exupéry was a Salvadoran writer and artist.

El Salvador is the only Central American country that has no visible African population today, which is the result of racial intermixing during colonial times. Africans that were brought to El Salvador completely mixed into the Mestizo population, creating Afro-Mestizo Salvadorans. Africans are also not visible because of El Salvador's isolation from the Atlantic Central American coastline, where the slave trade occurred for centuries. This scarcity of African population is also due to laws imposed by the Spanish and Criollos around the 17th century after a slave revolt in San Salvador, which were sustained by authorities even after independence was won from Spain in 1821, and slavery was abolished.

Ethnic groups in El Salvador[3]
Ethnic Group Percent
Native American

During most of the 20th century, immigration of people of African descent was restricted by law. General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez instituted race laws in 1930 that prohibited four ethnic groups — blacks, Gypsies, and Asians — from entering the country. It was not until the 1980s that this law was rescinded, although it was never implemented forcefully. Regardless of these racial laws, Afro-Salvadorans are present in some areas due to immigrants arriving from neighboring countries like Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua, who eventually mixed in with the local populations. Arabs, mostly Palestinian Christians, are today one of the most notable immigrant groups in El Salvador, despite their relatively small numbers.[75][76] Denying this, the book "Seeing Indians: A Study of Race, Nation, and Power in El Salvador", by Virginia Q. Tilley, states on page 210, " twentieth-century law or regulation ever prohibited the entry, settlement, or patriation of blacks, under the Martinez dictatorship or any other regime." There have been several publications presenting information about Africans in what is now El Salvador during the colonial period.

Salvadoran model Irma Dimas was crowned Miss El Salvador in 2005. She made headlines recently for her entry into Salvadoran politics.

Among the immigrant groups in El Salvador, Palestinian Christians stand out.[77] Though few in number, their descendants have attained great economic and political power in the country, as evidenced by the election of ex-president Antonio Saca — whose opponent in the 2004 election, Schafik Handal, was likewise of Palestinian descent — and the flourishing commercial, industrial, and construction firms owned by this ethnic group.

The capital city of San Salvador has about 2.1 million people; an estimated 42% of El Salvador's population live in rural areas. Urbanization has expanded at a phenomenal rate in El Salvador since the 1960s, driving millions to the cities and creating growth problems for cities around the country.

In the first half of 2007, government statistics provided by La Policía Nacional Civil of El Salvador showed lower numbers in homicide and extortions as well as robbery and theft of vehicles. In 2007, homicides in El Salvador were reduced by 22%, extortions were reduced by 7%, and robbery and theft of vehicles had gone down 18%, in comparison with the same period in 2006.[78] However, in 2009, there has been an increase in homicides and extortions of about 30% more than in 2008, according to some statistics.[79]

As of 2004, there were approximately 3.2 million Salvadorans living outside El Salvador, with the United States traditionally being the destination of choice for Salvadorans looking for greater economic opportunity. By 2012, there were about 2.0 million Salvadoran immigrants and Americans of Salvadoran descent in the U.S.,[80][81] making them the sixth largest immigrant group in the country.[82] Salvadorans also live in nearby Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.[83]

The majority of expatriates emigrated during the civil war of the 1980s for political reasons and later because of adverse economic and social conditions. Other countries with notable Salvadoran communities include Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom (including the Cayman Islands), Sweden, Brazil, Italy, Colombia, and Australia. There is also a large community of Nicaraguans, 100,000 according to some figures, in the United States and Costa Rica,[84] many of them seasonal immigrants.

Largest cities


Spanish is the official language and is spoken by virtually all inhabitants. Some indigenous people still speak their native tongues (such as Nawat and Maya), but indigenous Salvadoreans who do not identify as mestizo constitute only 1% of the country's population. However all of them can speak Spanish. Q'eqchi' is spoken by immigrants of Guatemalan and Belizean indigenous people living in El Salvador. There have also been recent large migrations of Hondurans and Nicaraguans.[86]

The local Spanish vernacular is called Caliche. Salvadoreans use voseo, which is also used in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Argentina. This refers to the use of "vos" as the second person pronoun, instead of "tú". However "caliche" is considered informal and a small number of people choose not to use it. Nawat is an indigenous language that has survived, though it is only used by small communities of some elderly Salvadorans in western El Salvador.


There is diversity of religious beliefs in El Salvador. The majority of the population is Christian. Roman Catholics (47%) and Evangelicals (33%) are the two major denominations in the country.[87] Those not affiliated with any religious group amount to 17% of the population.[87] The remainder of the population (3%) is made up of Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Latter-day Saints, and those adhering to indigenous religious beliefs.[87]

Religious background in El Salvador
Religion Percent
Roman Catholic


For the period 2005–2010, El Salvador had the third lowest birth rate in Central America, with 22.8 births per 1,000. However, during the same period, it has the highest death rate in Central America, 5.9 deaths per 1,000. According to the most recent United Nations survey, life expectancy for men was 68 years and 74 years for women. Healthy life expectancy was 57 for males and 62 for females in 2003.[88]


In the past few years, El Salvador has experienced high crime rates, including gang-related crimes and juvenile delinquency.[89] Some say that this was a result of the deportation of thousands of Salvadorans from the U.S, the majority of whom were members of MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha, or La Mara), in the mid-1990s. The gangs in which Salvadorans had been involved in the United States began to show up in El Salvador.[90]

Today El Salvador experiences some of the highest murder rates in the world;[91] it is also considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras.[92] In response to this, the government has set up countless programs to try to guide the youth away from gang membership; so far its efforts have not produced any quick results. One of the government programs was a gang reform called "Super Mano Dura" (Super Firm Hand). Super Mano Dura had little success and was highly criticized by the UN. It saw temporary success in 2004 but then saw a rise in crime after 2005. In 2004, the rate of intentional homicides per 100,000 citizens was 41, with 60% of the homicides committed being gang-related.[92]

The Salvadoran government reported that the Super Mano Dura gang legislation led to a 14% drop in murders in 2004. However, El Salvador had 66 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, more than triple the rate in Mexico that year.[93][94][95] There are an estimated 25,000 gang members at large in El Salvador with another 9,000 in prison.[93] The most well-known gangs, called "maras" in colloquial Spanish, are Mara Salvatrucha and their rivals Calle 18; maras are, or at least were, hunted by death squads including Sombra Negra. New rivals also include the rising mara, The Rebels 13.[96]

As of March 2012, El Salvador has seen a 40% drop in crime due to what the Salvadoran government called a gang truce, however extortions that affect the small business are not taken into account. In early 2012, there were on average of 16 killings per day but in late March that number dropped to fewer than 5 per day and on April 14, 2012 for the first time in over 3 years there were no killings in the country.[97] Overall, there were 411 killings in January 2012, but in March the number was 188, more than a 40% reduction,[98] while crime in neighboring Honduras has risen to an all-time high.[99]

Presently, the Alto al Crimen or Crime Stoppers program is in operation and provides financial rewards for information leading to the capture of gang leadership. The reward often ranges between $100 and $500 US Dollars per call.[100]


The iconic statue of Christ on the globe sphere of planet earth is part of the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo (Monument to the Divine Savior of the world) on Plaza El Salvador del Mundo (The Savior of the World Plaza), a landmark located in the country's capital, San Salvador.

Mestizo culture dominates the country, heavy in both Native American Indigenous and European Spanish influences. A new composite population was formed as a result of intermarrying between the native Mesoamerican population of Cuzcatlán with the European settlers. The Catholic Church plays an important role in the Salvadoran culture. Archbishop Óscar Romero is a national hero for his role in resisting human rights violations that were occurring in the lead-up to the Salvadoran Civil War.[101] Significant foreign personalities in El Salvador were the Jesuit priests and professors Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baró, and Segundo Montes, who were murdered in 1989 by the Salvadoran Army during the height of the civil war.

Painting, ceramics and textiles are the principal manual artistic mediums. Writers Francisco Gavidia (1863–1955), Salarrué (Salvador Salazar Arrué) (1899–1975), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino, Pedro Geoffroy Rivas, Manlio Argueta, José Roberto Cea, and poet Roque Dalton are among the most important writers from El Salvador. Notable 20th century personages include the late filmmaker Baltasar Polio, female film director Patricia Chica, artist Fernando Llort, and caricaturist Toño Salazar.

Amongst the more renowned representatives of the graphic arts are the painters Augusto Crespin, Noe Canjura, Carlos Cañas, Julia Díaz, Mauricio Mejia, Maria Elena Palomo de Mejia, Camilo Minero, Ricardo Carbonell, Roberto Huezo, Miguel Angel Cerna, (the painter and writer better known as MACLo), Esael Araujo, and many others. For more information on prominent citizens of El Salvador, check the List of Salvadorans.

Public holidays

Celebration of La Fiestas Patrias in Las Chinamas
Date English name Local name Observance
March/April Holy Week/Easter Semana Santa Celebrated with Carnival-like events in different cities by the large Catholic population.
May 1 Labor Day Día del trabajo International Labor Day
May 3 The Day of the Cross Día de la Cruz A celebration with precolonial origins, linked to the advent of the rainy season. People decorate a cross in their yards with fruit and garlands, in the belief that if they do not, the devil will appear and dance at their yard. They then go from house to house to kneel in front of the altar and make the sign of the cross.
May 10 Mothers' Day Día de las Madres A day to celebrate motherhood, similar to many other countries Mother's Day.
June 17 Father's Day Día del Padre A day to celebrate fatherhood, similar to other countries Father's Day.
August 1–7 August Festivals* Fiestas de agosto Week-long festival in celebration of El Salvador del Mundo, patron saint of San Salvador.
September 15 Independence Day Día de la Independencia Celebrates independence from Spain, achieved in 1821.
October 1 Day of the children "Día del niño" Celebration dedicated to the Children of the country, celebrated across the country.
October 12 Day of the race Día de la raza Celebration dedicated to Christopher Columbus' arrival in America.
November 2 Day of the Dead El día de los difuntos A day when most people visit the tombs of deceased loved ones. (November 1 may be commemorated as well.)
November 7–13 National Festival Of Pupusa Festival Nacional De La Pupusa This week is the national commemoration of the national food (Pupusa).
November 21 Queen of the Peace Day Dia de la Reina de la Paz Day of the Queen of Peace, the patron saint. Also celebrated, the San Miguel Carnival, (carnaval de San Miguel), celebrated in San Miguel City, similar to Mardi Gras of New Orleans, where one can enjoy about 45 music bands on the street.
December 25 Christmas Day (Celebrated Dec. 24th) Noche Buena In many communities, December 24 (Christmas Eve) is the major day of celebration, often to the point that it is considered the actual day of Navidad — with December 25 serving as a day of rest.
December 31 New Year's Eve Fin de año The final day of the Gregorian year, and the day before New Year's Day is celebrated in El Salvador with family reunions.


Moncagua, San Miguel

The only airport serving international flights in the country is Comalapa International Airport. This airport is located about 40 km (25 mi) southeast of San Salvador.[102] The airport is commonly known as Comalapa International or El Salvador International.

El Salvador's tourism industry has grown dynamically over recent years as the Salvadoran government focuses on developing this sector. In 2006, tourism accounted for 4.6% of GDP; in 1996, it accounted for 0.4%. In this same year, tourism grew 4.5% worldwide. Comparatively, El Salvador saw an increase of 8.97%, from 1.15 million to 1.27 million tourists. This has led to revenue from tourism growing 35.9%, from $634 million to $862 million. In 1996, tourism revenue was only $44.2 million. Also, there has been an even greater increase in the number of excursions (visits that do not include an overnight stay). More than 222,000 excursionists visited El Salvador in 2006, a 24% increase over the previous year.[103]

El Salvador has surf tourism, due to large waves from the Pacific Ocean.

Most North American and European tourists seek out El Salvador's beaches and nightlife. Besides these two attractions, El Salvador's tourism landscape is slightly different from those of other Central American countries. Because of its geographic size and urbanization, there are not many nature-themed tourist destinations such as ecotours, or archaeological sites, open to the public. Surfing, however, is a natural tourism sector that has gained popularity in recent years as Salvadoran beaches have become increasingly popular.

Surfers visit many beaches on the coast of La Libertad and the east end of the country, finding surfing spots that are not yet overcrowded. Also, the use of the United States dollar as Salvadoran currency, and direct flights of 4–6 hours from most cities in the United States, are factors for American tourists. Urbanization and Americanization of Salvadoran culture has also led to the abundance of American-style malls, stores, and restaurants in the three main urban areas, especially greater San Salvador.

Currently, tourists to El Salvador can be classified into four groups: Central Americans; North Americans; Salvadorans living abroad, primarily in the United States; and Europeans and South Americans. The first three represent the vast majority of tourists. Recently, El Salvador has attempted to broaden its tourist base by increasing the number of visitors from Europe and South America. Early indicators show that the government's efforts are working. When comparing January–March 2007 to the same period in 2006, tourism has grown overall 10%, and specifically from North America 38%, Europe 31%, and South America 36%.[104] In the fall, Livingston Airlines will initiate the only direct flight between Europe (departing from Milan) and El Salvador. The Decameron Salinitas, a recently inaugurated resort, has contributed to the growth of tourism by South American visitors because of the resort chain's name recognition, and it is looking to do the same with Europeans.

Mural in Perquín, former "guerrilla capital" and now a tourist destination.

A whole new segment of tourism has grown up around El Salvador's recent turbulent past. Artillery fragments, battle photographs, combat plans, and mountain hideouts have become tourist attractions in themselves. Since 1992, residents in some economically depressed areas have set up local enterprises to profit from these. The mountain town of Perquín was considered the "guerrilla capital", and today it is home to the "Museum of the Revolution", featuring cannons, uniforms, pieces of Soviet weaponry, and other weapons of war once used by the FMLN's (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) headquarters.

According to the El Salvadoran newspaper El Diario De Hoy, the top 10 attractions are: the coastal beaches, La Libertad, Ruta Las Flores, Suchitoto, Playa Las Flores in San Miguel, La Palma, Santa Ana (location of the country's highest volcano), Nahuizalco, Apaneca, Juayua, and San Ignacio.[105]

Among the numerous volcanic crater lakes in the mountains, Lake Coatepeque and Lake Ilopango are two of the most beautiful.


Pupusas, the national and most famous dish of El Salvador.

One of El Salvador's notable dishes is the pupusa. Pupusas are handmade corn tortillas (made of masa de maíz or masa de arroz, a maize or rice flour dough used in Latin American cuisine) stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese (usually a soft Salvadoran cheese such as quesillo, similar to mozzarella), chicharrón, or refried beans. Sometimes the filling is queso con loroco (cheese combined with loroco, a vine flower bud native to Central America). Pupusas revueltas are pupusas filled with beans, cheese and pork. There are also vegetarian options. Some adventurous restaurants even offer pupusas stuffed with shrimp or spinach. The name pupusa comes from the Pipil-Nahuatl word, pupushahua. The precise origins of the pupusa are debated, although its presence in El Salvador is known to predate the arrival of the Spaniards.[106]

Two other typical Salvadoran dishes are yuca frita and panes con pollo. Yuca frita is deep fried cassava root served with curtido (a pickled cabbage, onion and carrot topping) and pork rinds with pescaditas (fried baby sardines). The Yuca is sometimes served boiled instead of fried. Pan con pollo/pavo (bread with chicken/turkey) are warm turkey or chicken-filled submarine sandwiches. The bird is marinated and then roasted with Pipil spices and handpulled. This sandwich is traditionally served with tomato and watercress along with cucumber, onion, lettuce, mayonnaise, and mustard.

One of El Salvador's typical breakfasts is fried plantain, usually served with cream. It is common in Salvadoran restaurants and homes, including those of immigrants to the United States.

Alguashte, a condiment made from dried, ground pepitas, is commonly incorporated into savoury and sweet Salvadoran dishes.

"Maria Luisa" is a dessert commonly found in El Salvador. It is a layered cake that is soaked in orange marmalade and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

A popular drink that Salvadorans enjoy is Horchata, a drink native to the Valencian Community in Spain. Horchata is most commonly made of the morro seed ground into a powder and added to milk or water, and sugar. Horchata is drunk year round, and can be drunk anytime of day. It mostly is accompanied by a plate of pupusas or fried yuca. Horchata from El Salvador has a very distinct taste and is not to be confused with Mexican horchata, which is rice-based. Coffee is also a common morning beverage.[107]

Other popular drinks in El Salvador include Ensalada, a drink made of chopped fruit swimming in fruit juice, and Kolachampan, a sugar cane-flavored carbonated beverage.

One of the most popular desserts is the cake Pastel de tres leches (Cake of three milks), consisting of three types of milk; evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream.


The Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador is the largest stadium in Central America

Football is the most popular sport in El Salvador. The El Salvador national football team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1970 and 1982. Their qualification for the 1970 tournament was marred by the Football War, a war against Honduras, whose team El Salvador's had defeated.

The national football team play at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador. It opened in 1976 and seats 53,400, making it the largest stadium in Central America and the Caribbean.[108]


The public education system in El Salvador is severely lacking in resources. Class sizes in public schools can reach 50 children, so Salvadorans who can afford the cost often choose to send their children to private schools, which are reasonably higher in every level. Most private schools follow American, European or other advanced systems. Lower-income families are forced to rely on public education.

Education in El Salvador is free through high school. After nine years of basic education (elementary–middle school), students have the option of a two-year high school or a three-year high school. A two-year high school prepares the student for transfer to a university. A three-year high school allows the student to graduate and enter the workforce in a vocational career, or to transfer to a university to further their education in their chosen field.

Post-secondary education varies widely in price.

There is one public university:

The University of El Salvador has one main campus in San Salvador and three more campuses in Santa Ana, San Miguel and San Vicente.

El Salvador has several private universities:

Local foundations and NGOs are fostering further educational development.

See also

Photo gallery of sites in El Salvador


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Further reading

  • "Background Notes", Background Notes: El Salvador, January 2008. Accessed March 6, 2008.
  • Bonner, Raymond. Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador. New York: Times Books, 1984.
  • CIA World Factbook, "El Salvador", February 28, 2008. Accessed March 6, 2008.
  • "Country Specific Information", U.S. State Department, October 3, 2007. Accessed March 6, 2008.
  • Danner, Mark. The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
  • Foley, Erin. 'Cultures of the world, El Salvador. 1995
  • Montgomery, Tommie Sue. Revolution in El Salvador: From Civil Strife to Civil Peace. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995.
  • Rosa, Audrey Celeste (1998). The courage to change: Salvadoran stories of personal and social transformation (El Salvador) (M.A. thesis). Wilfrid Laurier University. 
  • Stadler, Sidney. It started with an oyster. The Memoirs of Sidney M. Stadler, CBE. Penna Press 1975. Autobiography of a British businessman and diplomat in El Salvador, with much on Salvadoran society and politics from the 1920s to 1950s.
  • Vilas, Carlos. Between Earthquakes and Volcanoes: Market, State, and the Revolution America. New York: Monthly Review Press. 1995.

External links

  • Embassy of El Salvador in London – Content rich site about every aspect of Salvadorean life, government, business, and politics.
  • Chief of State and Cabinet Members
  • El Salvador entry at The World Factbook
  • El Salvador at UCB Libraries GovPubs
  • El Salvador at DMOZ
  • El Salvador profile from the BBC News
  • Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation (SAHF)
  • Fundacion Salvadoreña Para la Salud y el Desarollo Humano (FUSAL)
  • Key Development Forecasts for El Salvador from International Futures
  • World Bank Summary Trade Statistics El Salvador

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