Football War

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Football War

Football War, the name popularly given to the war between El Salvador and Honduras (14-18 July 1969), so called because the immediate provocation was violence surrounding soccer playoffs between the Salvadoran and Honduran national teams. The real causes lay much deeper, and although the war was brief, it had a lasting impact on Central America.

Domestic problems in both countries, as well as Honduras's dissatisfaction with its position in the Central American Common Market, led to growing tensions between the two neighbors, but the most serious issue was demographic. Since the 1920s, immigrants had left crowded El Salvador to settle in Honduras, which was much less densely inhabited. Many Salvadoran peasants squatted on public lands along the frontier between the two countries, sometimes remaining there for generations without formal title. During the 1960s, as relations worsened, Salvadorans living in Honduras were often the victims of harassment. In 1969, when Honduran president Oswaldo López Arellano attempted to distribute to Honduran peasants government-owned lands already occupied by Salvadorans, the result was a massive exodus back to El Salvador. Returning peasants carried tales of atrocities, which were widely believed.

Mob violence at the soccer games played in San Salvador and Tegucigalpa in June 1969 brought calls for action on both sides of the border. The pressure on Salvadoran president Fidel Sánchez Hernández was particularly intense, coming from military officers anxious for larger budgets and modern equipment and from conservative opponents of land reform, who feared that the repatriation of so many peasants in an already crowded country would lead to greater agitation from the Left. On 26 June, Sánchez Hernández severed diplomatic relations with Honduras, and on 14 July, Salvadoran troops marched into Honduran territory.

The fighting itself lasted only four days. Salvadoran ground troops advanced rapidly, seizing Nueva Ocotepeque and Santa Rosa de Copán along the western border and seeking to position themselves in the east for an assault on Tegucigalpa. But Honduras had air superiority and successfully bombed Salvadoran fuel storage facilities. Finally, on 18 July, under pressure from the United States and the Organization of American States, El Salvador agreed to a cease-fire. The two countries did not agree to final peace terms until 1980. The number of war-related deaths is frequently reported as 2,000, many of them Honduran civilians. Long-term effects included the crippling of the Central American Common Market and the aggravation of the impending social crisis in El Salvador. The return of thousands of landless peasants created demands that contributed to the failure of the political system in the 1970s and the onset of civil war in the 1980s.

See alsoCentral American Common Market (CACM); El Salvador; Honduras.


The standard work on the war itself is Thomas P. Anderson, The War of the Dispossessed: Honduras and El Salvador, 1969 (1981). For its causes and consequences, see Marco Virgilio Carías and Daniel Slutzky, eds., La guerra inútil: Análisis socioeconómico del conflicto entre Honduras y El Salvador (1971), and William H. Durham, Scarcity and Survival in Central America (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Briscoe, Charles H. Treinta años después. Honduras: s.n., 2000.

Euraque, Darío A. Reinterpreting the Banana Republic: Region and State in Honduras, 1870–1972. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

                                                  Stephen Webre