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El Salvador



Republic of El Salvador

República de El Salvador

CAPITAL: San Salvador

FLAG: The national flag consists of a white stripe between two horizontal blue stripes. The national coat of arms is centered in the white band.

ANTHEM: Saludemos la Patria Orgullosos (Let us Proudly Hail the Fatherland).

MONETARY UNIT: The US dollar became El Salvador's currency in 2001 replacing the colón.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some old Spanish measures also are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 15 September; Columbus Day, 12 October; All Souls' Day, 2 November; First Call for Independence, 5 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Monday, and Corpus Christi; there is a movable secular holiday, the Festival (1st week in August).

TIME: 6 am = noon GMT.


El Salvador, the smallest Central American country, has an area of 21,040 sq km (8,124 sq mi), extending 270 km (168 mi) wnwese and 142 km (88 mi) ns. Comparatively, the area occupied by El Salvador is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. Bounded on the n and e by Honduras, on the s and sw by the Pacific Ocean, and on the nw by Guatemala, El Salvador has a total boundary length of 852 km (529 mi), of which 307 km (191 mi) is coastline. It is the only Central American country without a Caribbean coastline.

El Salvador's capital city, San Salvador, is located in the west central part of the country.


El Salvador is a land of mountains and once-fertile upland plains. It is divided into three general topographic regions: (1) the hot, narrow Pacific coastal belt, 260 km (160 mi) long and 1624 km (1015 mi) wide; (2) the central plateau, at an altitude of about 610 m (2,000 ft), crossing from east to west, between two mountain ranges; and (3) the northern lowlands, formed by the wide Lempa River Valley, bounded by a high mountain range ascending to the Honduran border.

The central plateau, north of the Pacific coastal belt, is an area of valleys endowed with rich volcanic soil. This is the agricultural, industrial, and population center of the country; the capital, San Salvador (682 m/2,237 ft above sea level), is in this region. Almost surrounded by active volcanoesSanta Ana (2,381 m/7,812 ft), San Vicente (2,173 m/7,129 ft), San Miguel (2,132 m/6,995 ft), San Salvador (1,967 m/6,453 ft), and Izalco (1,965 m/6,447 ft)the region is a zone of recurrent earthquakes and volcanic activity; Izalco is known as the Lighthouse of the Pacific. El Salvador has several lakes, the largest being Ilopango, Güija, and Coatepeque. The Lempa, the most important of some 150 rivers, rises in Guatemala and runs south into El Salvador, eventually reaching the Pacific.


Located in the tropical zone, El Salvador has two distinct seasons: the dry season, from November to April, when light rains occur, and the wet season, from May to October, when the temporales, or heavy rains, fall. The coastal plain receives the heaviest rainfall. Some interior areas are relatively dry most of the year, necessitating irrigation and a selection of crops suited for arid land cultivation. The average annual rainfall is 182 cm (72 in). Temperatures vary with altitude, from the hot coastal lowlands to the semitropical central plateau; in general, the climate is warm, with an annual average maximum of 32°c (90°f) and an average minimum of 18°c (64°f). The average temperature at San Salvador is 22°c (72°f) in January and 23°c (73°f) in July.


Indigenous trees include the mangrove, rubber, dogwood, mahogany, cedar, and walnut; pine and oak are found in the northern mountainous region. Varieties of tropical fruit, numerous medicinal plants, and balsam, a medicinal gum, grow in the country. Native fauna (greatly reduced in past decades) includes varieties of monkey, jaguar, coyote, tapir, and armadillo, along with several kinds of parrots and various migratory birds. Fish, both freshwater and saltwater, turtles, iguanas, crocodiles, and alligators abound. Both venomous and nonvenomous snakes, the latter including the boa constrictor, are common in El Salvador.

As of 2002, there were at least 135 species of mammals, 141 species of birds, and over 2,900 species of plants throughout the country.


Because of heavy cutting, the forest resources of El Salvador had been reduced to about 5.8% of the total area by 2000. Forty-five percent of the wood taken from the forests has been used for fuel. Peasant farmers burn the small trees and other growth on the hillsides to plant corn and beans, thus hastening the erosion of the topsoil. Seventy-five percent of the land area in El Salvador is threatened by erosion and desertification at a rate of 20 tons per hectare per year. The government enacted forestry conservation measures in 1973, but they have had little effect on the rate of deforestation. Among the environmental consequences of forest depletion, in addition to loss of soil fertility, are diminution of groundwater resources and drastic loss of native flora and fauna.

Pollution is widespread and restrictions on waste disposal, including disposal of toxic waste, are lax. By 1993, 90% of El Salvador's rivers were polluted. Safe drinking water is available to 91% of the urban population and 68% of the rural dwellers. Forty-six percent of the nation's 18 cu km of renewable water sources is used for agricultural purposes.

There is no comprehensive national law controlling environmental protection, and the legislation that is on the books is poorly enforced. The National Environmental Protection Committee, established by decree in 1974, has had little impact. In 2003, about 0.4% of the total land area was legally protected. There are two Ramsar wetland sites.

The pollution of the environment in El Salvador is a serious threat to the survival of its plants and wildlife. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 2 types of mammals, 3 species of birds, 5 types of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, 5 species of fish, 1 species of invertebrate, and 25 species of plants. Endangered species in El Salvador included the tundra peregrine falcon, four species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley), American crocodile, ocelot, spectacled caiman, jaguar, giant anteater, and Central American tapir.


The population of El Salvador in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 6,881,000, which placed it at number 98 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 33% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 97 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.0%, a rate the government viewed as too high. The projected population for the year 2025 was 9,052,000. The population density was 327 per sq km (847 per sq mi), which makes it the most densely populated country in Central America. Overpopulation is considered a major problem in El Salvador. A majority of the people live in the central plateau.

The UN estimated that 59% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.7% for 20002005. The capital city, San Salvador, had a population of 1,424,000 in that year. Other major cities and their estimated populations are Santa Ana (250,000) and San Miguel (245,428).


Until the early 1980s, emigration and immigration were negligible in El Salvador, except for migration of Salvadorans seeking economic advantages in Honduras, a trend that inflamed tensions between the two nations and was an underlying cause of their 1969 war. At that time, 300,000 Salvadorans were estimated to have settled in Honduras; following the war, as many as 130,000 Salvadorans may have returned from Honduras. An estimated 550,000 people were displaced from their homes by warfare between 1979 and 1992.

While the United States granted temporary asylum to thousands of Salvadoran refugees under the administration of President Jimmy Carter (197781), the administration of President Ronald Reagan began returning them to El Salvador in 1981. Of the one million Salvadorans estimated to be in the United States in 1988, an estimated 550,000 had entered the country illegally, about 500,000 of them since 1979. Their remittances to their families in El Salvador were an important component of the stagnant economy, and their absence from the Salvadoran labor force kept local unemployment lower than it would otherwise have been. In 2002 worker remittances were 13.5% of GDP; in 2003 remittances amounted to $2.2 billion. Where migration from rural to urban areas was once heavy, the pattern has changed as rural migrants bypass urban centers and migrate directly to the United States and Canada. Internal migration had also shifted significantly by 2004. The population of the peri-urban area around San Salvador more than doubled, while the population of the northern third of the country remained stagnant and the southeastern portion of El Salvador's population increased by more than 20%.

In 1989, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua adopted a five-year plan called CIREFCA to solve the problems of uprooted people. Between 1989 and 1994, this plan helped repatriate 30,000 Salvadorians to their homeland. Thousands more Salvadorans who decided not to go home were integrated into asylum countries. In 2000 there were 24,000 migrants living in El Salvador, including 100 refugees. By the end of 2004 only 1 person sought asylum in El Salvador, while 235 sought refuge. However, in that same year 127,941 Salvadorans applied for asylum in the United States and 415 in Canada. The net migration rate estimated for El Salvador in 2005 was -3.67 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The population of El Salvador is racially and culturally homogeneous, with about 90% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian), 1% Amerindian (mainly the Pipil tribes), and 9% European.


The official language of the country is Spanish. A few Amerindians continue to speak Nahua.


About 57.1% of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholic; San Salvador is an archbishopric. About 21.2% of the population are members of various Protestant churches, with the largest denominations being Baptists and Assemblies of God. There are also many active Protestant missions throughout the country. Approximately 2.3% of the populace are associated with other churches and religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, Jews, Muslims, and Amerindian tribal religionists, among others. As many as 16.8% of inhabitants have no religious affiliation whatsoever.

The constitution of 1962 guarantees religious freedom and exempts churches from property taxes. The constitution specifically recognizes the Roman Catholic Church, granting it legal status; however, it also provides that other churches may register for such status according to the Non-Profit Organizations and Foundations law. Certain Christian holidays are celebrated as public holidays.


As of 2002 there were 1,986 km (1,234 mi) of paved highways out of 10,029 km (6,232 mi) of roadway in El Salvador. The Pan American Highway links El Salvador with Guatemala in the northwest and Honduras in the southeast. The Cuscatlán Bridge, where the Pan American Highway crosses the Lempa River, was the main thoroughfare for travel between eastern and western El Salvador at the time of its destruction by guerrillas in January 1984. In 2003, registered passenger vehicles numbered about 67,500, and commercial vehicles numbered 98,250.

As of 2004, El Salvador's railroad mileage totaled 283 km (176 mi), down from 562 km (349 mi) in 2002, due to a lack of maintenance and general disuse. The entire rail system is narrow gauge and single track.

The country's three portsLa Unión/Cutuco, La Libertad, and Acajutlaare located on the Pacific coast. Acajutla was the only port in service and it only receives bulk goods. Finished goods arrive at Guatamalan or Honduran ports and are trucked into El Salvador. In 2002, El Salvador had no registered cargo ships. Inland waterway traffic is negligible, with only the Río Lempa partially navigable, as of 2004.

In 2004 there were an estimated 73 airports. In 2005 only four had paved runways, and there was also one heliport. El Salvador is linked with the entire Western Hemisphere, Europe, and the Far East through international air services provided by Transportes Aéreos Centroamericanos (TACA) and other transportation companies. The principal airport, El Salvador International, is near San Salvador. In 2003, about 2.966 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The Pipil Amerindians, a subgroup of the nomadic Nahuatl Amerindians, migrated from present-day Mexico to Central America in about 3000 bc. The Pipil are believed to have organized their nation into two federated states comprised of smaller principalities in the 11th century, after the Mayan Empire that had held sway over the Nahuatl declined in the 9th century. They were an agricultural people, with a civilization comparable to the Aztecs, except that the Pipil had abolished human sacrifice. The Pipil also succeeded in building lasting urban centers that grew into current cities, such as Sonsonate and Ahuachapan. This fierce peopleas well as two smaller groups, the Pocomans and the Lencalived in the area of present-day El Salvador met the Spanish conquistadors with significant resistance.

In 1524, Pedro de Alvarado, a Spanish conquistador sent by Hernán Cortés from Mexico, invaded El Salvador but was forced by Pipil resistance to retreat. After two additional attempts in 1525 and 1528, the Spanish eventually brought the Pipil under their control. When the conquistadors discovered the area's relative lack of precious metals, the Spanish monarch appropriated to Spanish settlers large tracts of land and the ability to collect tribute (forced payments) from the Amerindians under the terms of the encomienda system.

During the Spanish colonial period, San Salvadorfounded by Alvaradowas one of six administrative regions of the captaincy general of Guatemala. This collective of Central American colonies declared their independence from Spain in 1821, but the first calls for liberation far preceded that date. At the La Merced church in San Salvador, Father José Matías Delgado cried out for independence on 5 November 1811, a day still commemorated as a national holiday in El Salvador. Following successful independence from Spain in 1821, Central America was annexed by the Mexican emperor, Agustín de Iturbide in 1822. When Iturbide was deposed a year later, the Central American states broke from Mexico to form a federation of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, which they named the United Provinces of Central America.

Perpetual conflict between liberals and conservatives forestalled any unification of the United Provinces of Central America into a national unit, as it crippled the legitimacy of the government and its capability to enact political, economic, and social reforms. El Salvador was particularly supportive of the liberals and the rule of liberal Honduran Francisco Morazan, as opposed to the conservative Guatemalan Rafael Carrera. Thus, when liberal forces fell to Carrera in March 1840, El Salvador declared its independence from the United Provinces of Central America shortly thereafter, in January 1841.

The republic of El Salvador was formally proclaimed on 25 January 1859. Turbulence, political instability, and frequent presidential changes characterized Salvadoran history during the second half of the 19th century. This period also saw the growth of coffee as El Salvador's leading product. The Salvadoran elite, known as the "14 families" or simply "the 14," created large coffee plantations, often on the land of displaced Indians. There followed a period of relative stability during 190030, but the seizure of power in 1931 by Gen. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez brought a period of constant military rule for almost 50 years. Hernández ruled for 13 years and presided over la matanza, a brutal suppression of a peasant uprising known in 1932, killing about 30,000 people. Few of the governments after Hernández tried to reduce the gap between the landowners and the landless classes, and those that did were doomed to failure.

Landless Salvadorans found land available in neighboring Honduras. During the 1960s the influx of Salvadorans increased, provoking countermeasures from the Honduran government. Tensions rose between the two nations, and on 14 July 1969, they went to war for four days. The immediate occasion of the conflict was the Central American soccer championship between the two states, in which El Salvador won on a disputed referee's call, leading US journalists to dub it the "Soccer War." A total of 3,0004,000 people on both sides were killed. After an OAS-sponsored cease-fire, the two sides worked out a peace settlement, which was signed on 30 October 1980. A leftover border dispute was settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1992.

In 1972, the military candidate for president was opposed by José Napoleón Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Duarte was denied election by fraud and sent into exile. Pressure for reform came from the armed resistance from several leftist factions. In response, the right unleashed "death squads" to intimidate and eliminate any who attempted to introduce change to the country.

By the late 1970s, the situation had erupted into civil war. The guerrillas consolidated under the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), and right-wing violence escalated. The military had not distinguished itself in its response to the violence, having engaged in widespread repression against suspected rebels. In 1979, a coup brought to power a set of reformist officers, who found common cause with such civilian leaders as Duarte. The junta liberalized the political system, setting legislative elections for 1982. It also nationalized banks and the coffee export trade, while launching an ambitious and controversial land-reform program. Attacked by both left and right, the junta was unable either to suppress left-wing guerrillas or to control its own security forces, which began their own vigilante campaigns even as the angry landowners hired "death squads" to suppress opposition among peasants, students, clergy, and other groups.

In December 1980, José Napoleón Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party was installed by the junta as president. Though he was El Salvador's first civilian head of state since 1931, human rights abuses and bloodshed persisted throughout his administration. In 1980, Archbishop Romero was assassinated while celebrating mass, spurring the guerrilla's launch of their unsuccessful "final offensive," in 1981. It is estimated that at least 62,000 people died between October 1979 and April 1987, most of whom were civilian noncombatants murdered by death squads and government security forces.

The junta headed by Duarte oversaw the drafting of a new constitution, adopted on 20 December 1983 by interim president Álvaro Alfredo Magaña and a constituent assembly that had been elected in March 1982. Following the 1984 election, Duarte became the first constitutionally elected president in over 50 years, after defeating Roberto D'Aubuisson of the National Republican Alliance (ARENA). D'Aubuisson was an extreme anticommunist accused of plotting against the government and supporting the death squads.

Despite Duarte's attempts at reform, charges of corruption, the ongoing civil war, and the economic dislocation brought on by his austerity measures, all led to Duarte's defeat by Alfredo Félix Christiani Burkard in the 1989 elections. Many were concerned because Christiani's ARENA party was tied to former candidate D'Aubuisson.

Christiani allayed these fears, calling for direct dialogue between the government and the guerrillas. Despite a rocky negotiations process punctuated by military escalations, on 31 December 1991 the government and the FMLN signed the Chapultepec Accord formally ending the civil war. The accord called for reforms throughout the military, including the purge of officers linked to human rights abuses, and a reduction by 50% of the force. While the former has been a slow process, the latter goal was achieved ahead of schedule. A cease-fire took effect 1 February 1992, and held until 15 December 1992, when the FMLN officially laid down its arms.

ARENA was returned to power again when Calderón Sol won the presidential runoff election in 1994. Calderón's ambitious economic liberalization plan, his cutting tariffs, his privatizing of banks and pensions, and his attracting foreign investment resulted in healthy economic growth of 45% a year. Yet underemployment and low wages were persistent and were accompanied by an upswing in violent crimefrom marauding bands robbing agricultural workers to organized gang activity preying on urban dwellers. Even the 1996 12-point government plan, which included investment in infrastructure and social services, couldn't convince the electorate to maintain its support of ARENA in the March 1997 parliamentary and local elections. FMLN significantly increased its share of seats in the legislature, as well as in local elections.

The ruling ARENA party managed to retain control of the presidency in the 1999 elections, with Francisco Flores winning 51.4% of the vote. In the March 2000 parliamentary election, however, FMLN became the strongest party in the Assembly, with more seats than ARENA. The FMLN maintained these seats in the March 2003 elections, but ARENA maintained its hold on the presidency when Elias Antonio Saca won the March 2004 presidential election. Despite a public outcry, Saca upheld amnesty laws protecting former officials, like himself, from prosecution for involvement in death-squad murders during the civil war.

Though the peace agreement officially ended the civil war in 1992, the country was still trying to grapple with justice in the region as of 2006. El Salvador has not been able to cope fully with the effects of the civil war; this process has been further hindered by a series of natural disasters that contributed to the socio-political and economic instability.

Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998, and a number of earthquakes occurred in 2001, leaving at least 1,200 people dead and more than one million others homeless. The financial toll, furthermore, was in the billions. In October 2005, the Ilamatepec (Santa Ana) volcano erupted, forcing thousands of people from their homes only days before Hurricane Stan hit, with its consequent flooding and deadly landslides.


The constitution adopted on 20 November 1983 defines El Salvador as a republic. The constitution vests executive power in the president, who is to be elected by direct popular vote for a term of five years. The president, who must be native-born, over 30 years of age, the offspring of native-born parents, and a layperson, is not eligible for immediate reelection. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, enforces the laws, formulates an annual budget, draws up international treaties and conventions (which must be ratified by the National Assembly), appoints diplomatic and consular officials, and supervises the police. Every two years, the National Assembly elects three substitutes (designados), who can, in order of designation, assume the presidency when the president and vice president are not available.

Legislative power is exercised by a unicameral National Assembly composed of 84 deputies apportioned among the various departments according to population. Deputies are elected for a three-year term and must be at least 25 years of age. The Assembly levies taxes, contracts loans and arranges for their payment, regulates the money supply, approves the executive budget, ratifies treaties and conventions, declares war, and suspends or reestablishes constitutional guarantees in national emergencies. The deputies, the president's ministers, and the Supreme Court all may propose legislation. The Assembly approves legislation and is technically empowered to override a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote.

Universal male and female suffrage (over the age of 18) was inaugurated in 1950. However, voting in El Salvador has been a source of controversy. During the 1980s, the government made voting compulsory, while the guerrillas insisted the citizens should not collaborate with the system. Thus, the Salvadorans were confronted with a dilemma: vote, and face the wrath of the guerrillas, or refuse to vote, and immediately become suspected of leftist sympathy. At times, voting was not secret. Current practices include a more confidential and voluntary system.


The leading party of the right in El Salvador is the National Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana NacionalistaARENA), organized in 1982 by Roberto D'Aubuisson. ARENA controlled the National Assembly until 1985, and its next leader, Alfredo Christiani, was elected to the presidency in 1989. Five years later, ARENA candidate Armando Calderón Sol became president. In the March 1997 parliamentary elections, ARENA's representation was reduced from 42 seats in the 84-member legislature to 28. In 1999, ARENA recovered and won the presidency again with 51.4% of the vote, but a year later its support fell to 36% in the National Assembly elections of March 2000. In March 2003, ARENA plummeted even further with 28% of the vote. However, in 2004, ARENA scored a victory when Elias Antonio Saca Gonzalez captured 57.7% of the vote, securing the fourth consecutive ARENA presidential win and extending his term for five years, until 2009. During the campaign, Saca stated his desire to work with other parties to tackle the violent street gangs, known as maras, and to make government more transparent. As one of the most pro-US governments in the hemisphere, Saca worked to promote economic ties with the United States through CAFTA and other similar free trade arrangements.

The Chapultepec Accords introduced a new force into El Salvador's electoral system: the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación NacionalFMLN). Named for an insurgent leader of the 1930s, the FMLN was originally a paramilitary group in armed rebellion against the government. As part of the 1992 accords, the FMLN is now a legal party after having ceased its military operations. The FMLN-backed candidate, Ruben Zamora, was the runner-up in the 1994 presidential election, winning 24% of the vote. In the March 1997 legislative elections, the FMLN made significant gains, nearly doubling its representation in the Legislative Assembly, from 14 to 27 seats, and winning municipal elections in half the departmental capitals. In the March 2000 elections, the FMLN won 31 seats, shy of a majority but more than any other political party. In 2003, the FMLN increased its share of the vote to 34%, but did not win any additional seats in parliament. Expectations ran high that FMLN might secure the presidency in the 2004 elections, but its candidate, Schafik Handa, secured just 35.6% of the vote, more than 20% less than Saca.

The moderate Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata CristianoPDC) was formed in 1960. For three decades, it was associated with its leader and founder, José Napoleón Duarte. Damaged by many splits over the years, and suffering after Duarte's unsuccessful presidency (19841989), the centrist PDC lost strength among the electorate. In the March 2000 National Assembly elections, it obtained 7.2% of the votes and 6 seats in the 84-member Assembly. In 2003, its share of the vote fell to 7.3% and it lost one seat. The National Conciliation Party (PCN), which was founded by the military in 1961, obtained 8.8% of the votes in the 2000 election and secured 13 seats, enough to give a majority to either ARENA or the FMLN. In 2003, it increased its vote to 13% and it secured 16 seats. Because of its ability to break the tie between the FMLN and ARENA, the PCN has gained an important negotiating role in Salvadorian politics.

In March 2003, the Centro Democrático Unido (United Democratic Centre, social-democratic) secured five seats in the National Assembly. The PDC and UDC's mutually endorsed presidential candidate, Hector Silva, secured only 3.9% of the vote in the March 2004 elections.


El Salvador is divided into 14 departments (departamentos), including Ahuachapan, Cabanas, Chalatenango, Cuscatlan, La Libertad, La Paz, La Union, Morazan, San Miguel, San Salvador, Santa Ana, San Vicente, Sonsonate, and Usulutan. Each departamento has its own governor and alternate governor appointed by the executive power through the corresponding ministry. The country's 262 municipalities (cities, towns, and villages) are administered by mayors and municipal councils elected by popular vote. Traditionally independent in their local functions, municipalities may be limited in their activities by the departmental governor.


The court system includes justices of the peace, courts of the first instance, intermediate level appellate courts, and the Supreme Court (Corte Suprema) made up of 13 justices selected by the National Assembly. With the exception of justices of the peace, judges are appointed to renewable three-year terms. An 11-member National Council of the Judiciary, appointed by the National Assembly, is an independent body charged with screening judicial candidates for nomination.

According to the constitution, the Supreme Court is the court of last appeal; it passes on writs of habeas corpus, constitutionality of the laws, jurisdiction and administration of lower courts, and appointment of justices below the appellate level. There are also special courts, appointed by the National Assembly, and military tribunals, selected by the Supreme Court. The 1995 legislation provides for oral trials and establishes family and juvenile courts. The 1996 criminal procedure code replaces a criminal system based on civil law with one in which oral argument is the norm.

Under the constitution, defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to representation by legal counsel, to be present in court, and to confront witnesses.

Foreign and international judicial systems also mattered to the future of justice in El Salvador. El Salvador accepts compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice with reservations. In 2002, US courts held two former Salvadoran army generals on trial for civil war atrocities and ordered them to pay the victims. Additionally, in March 2005, an OAS humans rights court reopened an investigation into one of the worst massacres of the civil warthe 1981 massacre in El Mozote.


In 2005, there were a total of 15,500 active personnel in El Salvador's armed forces, supported by 9,900 reservists. Military numbers had been reduced as prescribed by the peace accord ending the country's civil war. There were 13,850 members in the Army, 700 in the Navy, and an Air Force estimated at 950 personnel. The Army's primary equipment included 10 reconnaissance vehicles, 51 armored personnel carriers and over 600 artillery pieces. The Navy's major units consisted of 38 patrol/coastal vessels. The Air Force had 21 combat capable aircraft, including 5 fighter ground attack aircraft. Paramilitary forces consisted of the National Civilian Police, which numbered over 12,000. In 2005, the defense budget totaled $106 million.


El Salvador is a founding member of the United Nations, having joined on 24 October 1945; it is part of the ECLAC and several specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, IFAD, IFC, ILO, IMF, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, and the World Bank. El Salvador is one of five members of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) and the Central American Common Market (CACM). It is also a member of the WTO, the Latin American Economic System (LAES), G-77, the Río Group, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the OAS. The country has observer status in the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA). In 2004, El Salvador, the United States, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic signed the USCentral America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The agreement must be ratified by all participating countries before it enters into force.

The country is a signatory of the 1947 Río Treaty, an inter-American security agreement. In environmental cooperation, El Salvador is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change, and Desertification. El Salvador is also signatory to the Central American-US Joint Declaration (CONCAUSA).


Traditionally, the Salvadoran economy depended on a single agricultural export commodity. Shortly after independence, this product was indigo. When the market for indigo declined (due to replacement with artificial dyes), El Salvador moved to the cultivation and export of coffee in the mid-1800s. Earnings from coffee spurred cultivation of cotton and sugar, and later financed light manufacturing. The Central American Common Market (CACM) provided a previously absent market for the light manufactures and thus prompted that industry's growth throughout the 1960s. Coffee and sugar remained two of the four principal exports in 2005.

By the 1970s, El Salvador was the most industrialized nation in Central America, although the breakdown of CACM and a dozen years of civil war eroded that position. The change in GDP growth over the years from 19651978 and 19791982 illustrate the effects of civil conflict and disruption of coffee, sugar, and cotton production during the 1980s. From 19651978, GDP growth averaged about 4.3% annually. However, from 1979 to 1982, it declined by 23%. From 19831986, growth recovered modestly at an average annual rate of 1.5%.

The economy largely recovered from the civil strife of the 1980s. Agriculture (mostly coffee) is the foundation of El Salvador's economy, providing about two-thirds of the nation's exports and employing nearly one-third of its labor force. El Salvador enjoys one of the lowest levels of indebtedness in the region, with the bulk of foreign financing provided on a concessional basis.

The Crisitani administration, which came into power in 1989, began a comprehensive economic reform plan oriented toward a free market economy. A market-based currency exchange rate was adopted. Price controls were eliminated, as were the sugar, coffee, and cotton marketing monopolies. The nationalized banking system was largely privatized beginning in 1989. However, due to increased credit availability and public services prices, inflation doubled to around 20% in 1992.

Bolstered by peace, El Salvador's economy experienced brisk growth, with yearly GDP growth averaging 6.5% from 1990 to 1995. Inflation remained a problem, however, falling to 12% in 1993 and 8.9% in 1994, but rising to 11.4% in 1995. The latter increase was due in part to an increase in the VAT rate and one-off increases in charges for telephone, electricity, and water services. Unlike most of the Latin American economies, El Salvador was largely unaffected by the "Tequila Effect" following the Mexican peso devaluation in 1995 because of the government's solid macro-economic management and the economy's low external debt.

In 1996 economic growth slowed to 2.1% as the government sought to rein in inflation, which, through tight monetary and fiscal policies, achieved a then-record low for El Salvador of 7.4% for the year. Higher interest rates resulting in very expensive borrowing costs and pessimistic expectations combined to drive down domestic investment. Yet this did not hold back growth. In 1997, GDP growth rose to 4%, and inflation dipped to the low level of 2% where it stayed through 2000. The growth rate gravitated around that level, with a rate of 3.4% in 1998 and 4.9% in 1999. In 1999, inflation remained at 2%.

In 2000, however, the growth rate was reduced to 2% by the destructive impact of Hurricane Mitch. Inflation rose to 4.3%. Growth was further dampened (1.4%) in 2001 due to two earthquakes, as well as the US recession, global slowdown, and reduced investment activity following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Inflation declined to 3% in 2001. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, real GDP growth in El Salvador averaged 1.9% from 2000 to 2004, and inflation averaged 2.9%.

By 2005, El Salvador had become one of the strongest economies in Central America, with a steady growth in GDP, an environment of macroeconomic stability, falling inflation rates, and increased exports from involvement in several free trade arrangements.

The Economist Intelligence Unit projected that GDP growth would remain positive (at approximately 2.5%) in 2006 due to increased consumption, investment and exports due to the launching of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free-Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Inflation was projected to average 4.7%, accompanied by a worsening current-account deficit.

Despite these advances, GDP per capita was only half that of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. A historic inequality in income distribution plagued the country wherein 45% of the income accrued by the richest fifth of the population and 5.6% by the poorest. In 2003, 36.1% of the population lived below the poverty line. Further, though the dollarization in 2001 made for some increased trade and investment opportunities, it also created an increase in prices without increases in wages, which eroded individuals' purchasing power (GDP per capital was $4,900 in 2004). Natural disaster struck El Salvador once again at the end of 2005, as Tropical Storm Stan acted as another weight on the economy.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 El Salvador's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $33.9 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $5,100. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 2%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 4.7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 9.8% of GDP, industry 30.3%, and services 60%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $2.122 billion or about $325 per capita and accounted for approximately 14.2% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $192 million or about $29 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.3% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in El Salvador totaled $13.31 billion or about $2,037 per capita based on a GDP of $14.9 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.5%. It was estimated that in 2003 about 36.1% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The civilian labor force was estimated at 2.81 million in 2005. As of 2003, agriculture accounted for 17.1% of the workforce, with 65.8% in services, and 17.1% in industry. Although unemployment in 2005 was estimated at 6.5%, much of the nation's workforce is underemployed.

Although workers have the right to organize a union without gaining prior authorization, the government and the courts continued to deny union applications for legal standing through the excessive use of formalities, effectively blocking union formation. Collective bargaining is limited to private sector employees and to those public employees in autonomous government agencies, such as the port authority and utilities. Technically, only private sector workers may strike, nevertheless, many public sector workers carry out strikes that are treated as legitimate. However, unions wishing to call a strike must meet a number of conditions if that strike is to be considered legal. These include: the collective bargaining agreement has to have expired; attempts at resolving differences must first go through a process of direct negotiations, mediation, and arbitration; and at least 51% of the affected workers must support the strike, including those who are not represented by the union. According to the Ministry of Labor, as of end 2005, only 9.1% of El Salvador's workforce were unionized.

The workweek is set at a maximum of 44 hours and six days. Bonus pay is required for overtime, and all full-time employees are required to get a weekly, paid eight-hour day of rest. Minimum pay rates are set by executive decree, and are based on recommendations from a committee made up of labor, business and government representatives. As of 2005, minimum daily wage rates were $5.28 for service employees, $5.16 for industrial workers, and $5.04 for workers in the maquila plants. Those rates were set in 2003. Although the law prohibits employment for those under age 14, child labor remains a problem. Minors between the ages of 14 and 16 years are limited to six hours per day, with a maximum normal workweek at 34 hours. Workers in hazardous occupations must be at least 18 years of age.


Arable land in 2003 consisted of 910,000 hectares (2,249,000 acres) planted with annual and permanent crops. Irrigation covered 4.9% of this area in 2003, half of it in the Sonsonate and Sensunapan region. In 2003, agriculture represented 9.8% of GDP and 17.1% of employment.

Coffee, El Salvador's major crop (30% of total agricultural output), is grown principally in the west and northwest at elevations of 460 to 1,520 m (1,500 to 5,000 ft). Primarily as a result of the civil war, coffee production declined in the 1980s. In June 1993, the Ministry of Economy certified the first shipment of organic coffee; the agrarian reform cooperative that produced the coffee had not used chemicals or pesticides for over four years. Production in 2004 amounted to 83,000 tons (down from 156,000 tons in 1990). Exports of coffee in 2004 amounted 80,744 tons, valued at to $123.4 million. The coffee industry is a major employer in El Salvador, generating about 82,000 jobs.

Sugar production fell between 1979 and 1981 but later recovered; cane production in 2004 was 5.3 million tons, and the sugar industry contributed $37.6 million to the country's foreign exchange earnings in 2004. Sugar is the most important agricultural product after coffee, and is grown mostly by independent producers. Investment has increased, as has the area under cultivation (in contrast to the other two major export crops). The world price has, however, been in decline for several years, and this decline has cut export earnings; the government secured a $30.4 million loan from Venezuela to divert some production to gasohol.

Traditional grains grown in El Salvador include white corn, sorghum, rice, and edible beans. These crops make up the fundamental diet for most Salvadorans and are produced on virtually all small farms. Production amounts in 2004 included corn, 648,000 tons; sorghum, 148,000 tons; rice, 26,500 tons; and beans, 72,000 tons. An additional 441,660 tons of corn were imported in 2004 to meet local demand.

Land that was originally planted for cotton is now being used for sugarcane, pasture, and nontraditional crops. El Salvador has steadily shifted agricultural exports towards nontraditional items such as jalapeño peppers, marigold flowers, okra, and pineapples. Traditional coffee areas are also being absorbed by urbanization projects.


Cattle and hogs are the predominant livestock in El Salvador. Cattle are of the "criollo" type and are used for production of both meat and milk. The dairy sector continued to suffer from inefficient production methods, poor animal genetic quality, and diseases. There are over 100 slaughterhouses operating illegally and without sanitary control. The government has planned to rebuild the livestock sector through financial and technological assistance.

The poultry industry is one of El Salvador's most organized and efficient agri-businesses, divided into smaller family farms and large commercial operations. The poultry industry directly generates roughly 6,000 jobs (60% of which are in rural areas), with an additional 20,000 secondary jobs. Commercial production accounts for 80% of poultry meat and about 75% of egg production.

In 2005 there were 1,259,000 head of cattle. The hog population rose from 390,000 in 1950 to 560,000 in 1979 but then declined to 188,000 in 2005. Other livestock included 96,000 horses, 24,000 mules, 10,800 goats, and 13,209,000 chickens. In 2005, milk production was 412,602 tons. A total of 63,649 tons of eggs were produced during the same year.


The fishing industry, which centers on shrimp, has undergone significant development since it first gained commercial importance in 1957. The best coastal fishing grounds are off the southeastern sector. Scaled fish include freshwater robalo, sea bass, mullet, mackerel, swordfish, and redmouth; a tuna industry has been operating since 1963. Total fish production was 36,541 tons in 2003, including 1,131 tons from aquaculture.


Forests and woodlands covered 121,000 hectares (299,000 acres) in 2000, representing only 6% of the total land area. Virgin forests once covered 90% of El Salvador. Almost all of the lumber used in building and in other Salvadoran industries must be imported, mainly coming from neighboring Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Roundwood production in 2003 was 4.5 million cu m (170 million cu ft). Forest products include dye woods and lumber, such as mahogany, walnut, and cedar, for furniture and cabinet work. El Salvador is the world's main source of balsam, a medicinal gum; between Acajutla and La Libertad in the southwest is the so-called Balsam Coast, which supports a species of balsam tree unique to El Salvador. Imports of forest products in 2003 exceeded exports by $148.3 million.


El Salvador, 90% of which is of volcanic origin geologically, is less well endowed with mineral resources than other Central American country. Mineral production contributed less than 1% to the GDP. The country has produced gold and silver in the past. As of 2003, there had been no recorded production of gold or silver since 2000. Recent activity has been limited to exploration, including at El Dorado, whose indicated resources were estimated at 25,536 kg of gold and 164,849 kg of silver. A 1,050 m diamond drill program on the Aldea Zapote project was completed in 2001. Industrial minerals, especially limestone mined for domestic cement plants, were the primary commodities of the industry. Marine salt output rose in 2003 totaling 31,366 metric tons, down from 31,552 metric tons in 2002. Gypsum output in 2003 was estimated at 5,600 metric tons, unchanged from 1999 through 2002. Copper, lead, zinc, and sands containing titanium and ilmenite were also found in El Salvador.


El Salvador has no known exploitable reserves of fossil fuels. Thus, it must rely upon imports to meet its fossil fuel needs. However, El Salvador is the largest producer of geothermal generated energy in Central America, with two geothermal facilities, the 95 MW Ahuachapan and the 66 MW Berlin facilities, in operation as of October 2005. According to government statistics, in 2003, geothermal sources produced 0.97 billion kWh of electricity, or about 21.9% of the total amount of the electricity generated. In that same year, thermal and hydropower sources accounted for 37.5% and 33.1%, respectively of all power generated. In 2004, a total of 4.158 billion kWh of electricity was produced, with consumption at 4.45 billion kWh. Imports and exports of electricity in that year totaled 473 million kWh and 91 million kWh, respectively. In 2002, electric power generating capacity stood at 1.133 million kW.

Although El Salvador has no known reserves of oil, it is one of only three countries in Central America to operate a refinery. Located at Acajutla on the Pacific coast, the facility has a capacity of 22,000 barrels per day, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. In 2002, refinery output totaled 18,840 barrels per day. Oil product consumption for that year came to 39,010 barrels per day, with total petroleum imports at 45,710 barrels per day.


The leading industrial region is the department of San Salvador. Other industrial centers are La Libertad, Santa Ana, San Miguel, Usulutan, and San Vicente. The industrial sector has been oriented largely to the domestic and Central American markets, though this is changing in light of recent free trade arrangements. There are coffee-processing plants, sugar mills, bakeries, plants making petroleum products, vegetable oils, fats, confectioneries, dairy products, tobacco, soap, candles, matches, shoes, furniture, light metals, cement, and organic fertilizers.

Manufacturing got a foothold in the economy in the 1950s and further grew as the CACM opened up regional markets in the 1960s. Large-scale industry was then introduced, relying mostly on imports of crude materials. In 1963, an oil refinery at Acajutla began processing Venezuelan crude oil; most of the output is consumed locally (in 2002, production capacity was 22,000 barrels per day). During the early 1970s, the greatest increase in value of manufacturing occurred in chemicals and textiles. Civil war during the 1980s hurt industrial production, with an average annual decline of 6% between 1977 and 1987.

Following the attainment of civil peace in the 1990s, the Salvadoran economy boomed. This growth was sustained by the recovery of the agricultural sector, and expansion of the construction and manufacturing sectors. Boosted by the rapid growth and development of its maquila (offshore assembly for re-export) zones, the economy became the most industrialized and best-performing in the Central American region. Maquila exports, as the primary export, are more important to El Salvador's economy than local manufactures. However, reliance on maquilas may prove to be a short-term growth prospect as lower production costs in China and Asia attract maquilas elsewhere. Where growth rates in the 1990s were around 45%, they fell to an average of 7% in 200004, and a 3% drop is expected for 2005. In May 2005, the garment-producer Charles Products transferred operations from El Salvador to Sri Lanka to take advantage of cheaper production costs that would make its products more competitive with those produced in China.

Growing at a rate of 4.5% in 2000, the manufacturing sector as a whole was one of the largest contributors to GDP, and, along with construction (which accounted for 4% of the GDP in 2004), led the economy in past years. Though growth in the sector slowed to 2.3% and 0.7% in 2003 and 2004 respectively, it still remained an important motor for economic growth from 200004. By 2004, manufactures accounted for 27% of El Salvador's total output.

Despite the growth in manufactures, the same basic problems persisted from decade to decade: the low purchasing power of the local population and the diffi cult financial and political situation of other Central American countries on which El Salvador depends for export markets. Nevertheless, El Salvador received substantial amounts of foreign direct investments in the industrial sector in 2001.


El Salvador has research institutes devoted to the study of seismology and geology, meteorology and hydrology, agriculture (including the Salvadoran Institute for the Study of Coffee), and medicine. The principal learned society in the country is the El Salvador Academy, headquartered in San Salvador. In the same city are museums devoted to natural history and zoology. Nine colleges and universities offer degrees in basic and applied sciences. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 59% of college and university enrollments.

In 1998, (the latest year for which the following data was available) research and development (R&D) expenditures totaled $21.280 million, or 0.08% of GDP. Of that total, 51.9% came from the government, followed by foreign sources at 23.4%, higher education at 13.2%, private nonprofit institutions at 10.4%, and business at 1.2%. In 1998, El Salvador had 33 researchers per million people actively engaged in R&D. In 2002, high technology exports were valued at $44 million, accounting for 6% of manufactured exports.


San Salvador is the chief commercial and marketing center. However, following the end of the civil war, thousands of Salvadorans returned from the United States and made San Miguel and Santa Ana two of the most industrialized cities in Central America.

Food is generally produced in small, scattered plots in the vicinity of urban areas and taken to market by traders (mostly women), either on their heads or by pack animals. Residents of remote rural areas usually consume most of what they produce exchanging the remainder for other commodities. In urban areas, the business units are mainly small shops, while in rural regions, individual traders conduct their business at town marketplaces, where agricultural produce, meats, fruit, handicrafts, ceramics, and flowers are sold.

A 10% value added tax was established in 1992 and raised to 13% in 1995. This tax made up 52.3% of the governments total tax revenues in 2004.

The central bank estimated that nearly $150 million per month, over $1.9 billion per year (2001 est.) is added to the economy through remittances of expatriates, primarily those living in the United States. Such remittances reached a record high of $2.5 billion in 2004 and accounted for 17.1% of GDP.

The usual business hours in the major cities are from 8 am to noon and from 2 to 6 pm on weekdays and from 8 am to noon on Saturday. Banking hours are from 9 to 11:30 am and from 2:30 to 4 pm on weekdays, with a half day on Saturday.


While coffee remains one of the four main exports, it has gone from making up one-half of the country's exports in 1988 to 3.8% in 2004. Maquilas and nontraditional goods comprised, respectively, 55.3% and 39.8% of the $3.249 billion in exports in 2004. Sugar, shrimp, textiles, chemicals, and electricity comprised a portion of the remaining exports. The United States, Guatemala, and

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 1,255.0 4,381.8 -3,126.8
Guatemala 361.2 463.6 -102.4
United States 243.8 1,500.0 -1,256.2
Honduras 184.9 134.9 50.0
Costa Rica 102.0 157.4 -55.4
Nicaragua 98.1 111.6 -13.5
Panama 46.3 126.0 -79.7
Mexico 37.4 315.6 -278.2
Russia 25.9 21.5 4.4
Areas nes 25.7 25.7
Spain 14.6 66.5 -51.9
() data not available or not significant.

Honduras absorbed, respectively, 65.5%, 11.8%, and 6.3% of El Salvador's exports in 2004.

El Salvador imports raw materials, consumer goods, capital goods, fuels, foodstuffs, petroleum, and electricity. In 2004, imports totaled $5.968 billion. Imports emanated from the United States (46.3%), Guatemala (8.1%), and Mexico (6%).

One of the El Salvador's greatest weaknesses remained its trade deficit. In 2000, the value of imports was almost three times that of exports. In 2004, the current account balance was -$880.5 million. The deficit is sustained in part by huge inflows of remittances from Salvadoran workers in the United States, estimated at 2.5 billion, 16% of the 2004 GDP.

El Salvador has sought to shrink its trade deficit and increase exports, especially of manufactured and nontraditional products, by creating new export industries through free trade zones. Fifteen of these zones already exist in El Salvador. Maquila industries have thus far been the largest beneficiaries, and have employed approximately 90,000. The Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act allows these goods to be sold duty-free in the United States.

Additionally, El Salvador has negotiated agreements to reduce trade and investment barriers through CAFTA. It has increased its exports to those countries with which it already has signed agreementsMexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Panama. Along with the other five Central American states, El Salvador is pushing for a customs union and the harmonization of customs duties.


El Salvador's positive trade balances in the late 1970s changed into deficits after 1980. The main reasons for this development were declines in cotton, sugar, and coffee export earnings, civil war, and the virtual collapse of the CACM market. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2004 El Salvador's exports were $3.249 billion while imports totaled $5.968 billion, resulting

Current Account -733.6
   Balance on goods -2,273.6
     Imports -5,436.0
     Exports 3,162.4
   Balance on services -169.4
   Balance on income -407.7
   Current transfers 2,117.1
Capital Account 112.9
Financial Account 1,089.5
   Direct investment abroad -18.6
   Direct investment in El Salvador 103.7
   Portfolio investment assets -263.7
   Portfolio investment liabilities 452.7
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets 19.8
   Other investment liabilities 795.6
Net Errors and Omissions -152.6
Reserves and Related Items -316.2
() data not available or not significant.

sin a trade deficit of $880.5 million. Though the deficit was down from figures reported in 2001, it still remained uncomfortably high.

Capital inflow, principally in the form of remittances, transfers, donations, and credits from the United States, has helped cover the deficit. The government in 2000 expected remittances to grow at a rate of 56% from 2000 to 200204. However, with a low tax base and national savings, the economy can become vulnerable to fluctuations in such flows.

Though nontraditional and maquila exports were expected to grow by more than 15% each, maquila exports declined due to more competitive production conditions in China and other regions. This engendered, in part, projections that the current-account deficit would worsen in 200506.


The Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador, established in 1934, was nationalized in 1961. It is the sole bank of issue and the fiscal agent for the government. The entire banking system was nationalized in March 1980, but was later privatized. By 1989, the financial system was practically broke; destroyed by mismanagement and political conflict. In 1991, as part of economic reforms, the government privatized six commercial banks and seven savings and loan institutions. In 1994, the government created the Banco Multisectorial de Inversiones (BMI) to promote private sector development. The Banking Law was modified in 1995 to encourage foreign banks to enter the country. There were 12 commercial banks in 2002. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2000, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $1.1 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $6.1 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 6.93%.

A stock exchange was established in San Salvador in 1993, with five government issues of long-term bonds. In the first 12 months of activity, stock market transactions were nearly $100 million; the rate of growth in 199395 was rapid, and by the end of 1995 transactions reached an estimated $2.4 billion. The market trades almost exclusively in government bonds and short-term commercial paper, but private companies put shares on the market in the late 1990s.


By 2000, El Salvador had at least 19 insurance companies in operation. The 1995 Insurance Law provided national treatment for foreign insurance firms. In 2003, there was $350 million worth of direct premiums written, with nonlife premiums accounting for $246 million. The country's top insurer in that same year was SISA Vida, with written premiums (life and nonlife) of $44.4 million.


Most public revenues come from taxes, fees, and fines. Municipal taxes and fees are subject to approval by the Ministry of the Interior. Until the early 1980s, government fiscal operations had generally shown surpluses; these enabled the government to sustain a growing volume of capital expenditures, resulting in a higher

Revenue and Grants 2,312.8 100.0%
   Tax revenue 1,679.1 72.6%
   Social contributions 344.6 14.9%
   Grants 17.9 0.8%
   Other revenue 271.2 11.7%
Expenditures 2,688.7 100.0%
   General public services 471.9 17.6%
   Defense 91.1 3.4%
   Public order and safety 306.6 11.4%
   Economic affairs 273.7 10.2%
   Environmental protection 5.4 0.2%
   Housing and community amenities 213.2 7.9%
   Health 358.1 13.3%
   Recreational, culture, and religion 31.7 1.2%
   Education 404.5 15.0%
   Social protection 381 14.2%
() data not available or not significant.

government share in total investments. Improved tax collection in 1998 resulted in approximately 56% of government revenues being attributed to the VAT. The use of the colón was phased out and the Central Bank was dissolved in 2003.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 El Salvador's central government took in revenues of approximately $2.8 billion and had expenditures of $3.1 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$28.8 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 45.8% of GDP. Total external debt was $8.273 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues in millions of colones were 2,312.8 and expenditures were 2,688.7. The value of revenues in millions of US dollars was $264 and expenditures $289, based on a market exchange rate for 2003 of 8.750 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 17.6%; defense, 3.4%; public order and safety, 11.4%; economic affairs, 10.2%; environmental protection, 0.2%; housing and community amenities, 7.9%; health, 13.3%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.2%; education, 15.0%; and social protection, 14.2%.


Residents of El Salvador, whether citizens or not, are subject to progressive taxation on both domestic and foreign income ranging from 1030%. Amounts received from insurance policies, interest on savings accounts, gifts, and inheritances are tax exempt. Taxes on corporate income are levied at 25% for amounts over the first $75,000, which are exempt. Dividends are not taxable. The main indirect tax is the value-added tax (VAT) introduced in September 1992 at a standard rate of 10%. In 2003, the standard VAT rate was 13%. Excise taxes are assessed on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. A 3% real estate transfer tax is imposed when the real estate involved has a market value above $250,000. There are no local taxes.


According to the Heritage Foundation in 2000, El Salvador had the most open trade environment in Central America. El Salvador completed a tariff reduction program in 1999 and as a result has tariffs of 0% on capital goods, 05% on raw materials, 510% on intermediate goods, and up to 15% on final products. Some items, such as textiles, agricultural products, and vehicles receive higher tariffs of up to 40%.


The Salvadoran government has fostered foreign investment since the 1988 Foreign Investment and Promotion Law came into force. Incentives included unrestricted remittance and reinvestment of profits and, for firms located in the free zones, the government offers up to a 20-year income tax holiday and duty-free importation of materials needed for production.

The inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) spiked in 1998 to over $1 billion (up from only $59 million in 1997), but then averaged about $219 million a year 1999 to 2001. Contrary to the global trend, and due primarily to the international relief effort following the earthquake of January 2001, FDI inflow increased to El Salvador in 2001 and in 2002 rose to an estimated $277.8 million, $10 million above the year before. Major foreign investors included Coastal Technologies (power generation), Kimberly Clark (paper products), Texaco (fuel storage and distribution), Esso and Shell (petroleum refining), Bayer (pharmaceuticals), Sara Lee (clothing assembly), Xerox (sales), AIG (insurance), and British American Tobacco. El Salvador received approximately $250 million in direct investments in 1999, the majority from the United States.

Over 300 US companies have a commercial presence or financial investment in El Salvador. Such opportunities came about through the US-supported privatization of the electrical and telecommunications markets.

PROESA, the national agency promoting foreign investment in El Salvador, has been boosted by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). The guarantees that MIGA makes of Salvadoran manufacturing and financial sectors helps those sectors attract further investment.


Prior to 1950, the government, with moderate success, followed a policy of stimulating national economic development indirectly by building roads, developing power facilities, establishing credit facilities, and extending tariff protection to some industries. The prosperity and advantageous international position of Salvadoran coffee masked the long-term need for further diversification.

During the 1950s, it became apparent that El Salvador's primary problems were the growing population and lack of uncultivated arable land. The government therefore embarked on a program to encourage intensification of agriculture and expansion of small industry. The National Council for Economic Planning and Coordination (CONAPLAN), established in 1962, drafted a comprehensive five year plan (196569) embodying general objectives proclaimed by the government in line with the aims of the US-inspired Alliance for Progress. The objectives included an increase of the GNP; decrease in illiteracy; expansion of education, health, and housing programs; extension of social security benefits to areas not yet covered; and implementation of an integrated program of agrarian reform. The stimulus for the development program was to be provided by a small group of wealthy Salvadorans, with a minimum of government participation.

In early 1973, CONAPLAN drafted a development plan for 197377, concentrating on production, labor, and social welfare. The basic objectives of the plan were improvement in income distribution, employment, health, nutrition, housing, and education; stimulation of the agricultural, industrial, and construction sectors; acceleration of regional development; and export diversification. The plan called for adoption of a government-sponsored investment and financing program, institutional and financial reforms, and policies to stimulate private investment.

The economic reforms adopted in 1980 included a land redistribution program and nationalization of the banking system. After the civil war was over, the country received substantial influx of economic aid and private remittances. As part of the economic reform program, initiated in 1989 by newly elected President Christiani, the country's economy recuperated at a fair pace. After the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords in January 1992, El Salvador boosted business confidence and stimulated private investment.

In January 1986, a comprehensive stabilization program was announced. Among its most important measures were unification of the exchange rate at C5=$1 (a 50% devaluation), raising of fuel prices and public transportation fares, imposition of price controls on consumer staples (food, medical supplies, and clothing), tariff hikes on nonessential imports, and a rise in commercial interest rates. Because of the continuing costs from the civil war, and also from a drought the program fell short of its objectives. Approximately $2.2 billion were lost to infrastructure damage and foregone production opportunities from 197990 due to the civil war. However, since attacks ended and the peace accords were signed in 1992, investor confidence improved and foreign direct investment (FDI) increased.

In 1990, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a standby agreement, which was followed by another one in January 1992 and another one in May 1993. The World Bank extended a $75 million structural adjustment loan in 1991, and the Inter-American Development Bank provided additional sectoral adjustment financing. Aided by the government's economic reforms and the IMF and World Bank supported macroeconomic programs, the country's economy continued to prosper. The rising influx of private remittances, official transfer, and the return of local capital boosted domestic demand as well as construction activity, especially in transportation infrastructure and other public projects. The industrial sector also benefited from this upturn.

El Salvador's external debt decreased sharply in 1993, chiefly as a result of an agreement under which the United States forgave about $461 million of official debt. Debt still stood at around $2.4 billion in 1999, despite US forgiveness. In 1998, significant aid came from the World Bank for agricultural reform ($40 million) and structural adjustment ($52.5); from the Central American Bank for Economic Development ($20 million) for road repair; and from the Inter-American Development Bank ($60 million) for poverty alleviation. Total non-US government aid reached $600 million in 1998.

In 2001, El Salvador's external debt stood at $4.9 billion. A damaging hurricane, earthquakes, and a decline in world coffee prices in the late 1990s and early 2000s slowed economic growth. The country adopted the US dollar as legal tender in 2001 upon approval of the "Monetary Integration." Colónes were no longer printed, and the Central Bank was dissolved in 2003. This meant that the government could no longer use monetary policy and had to focus attention on maintaining a disciplined fiscal policy. The government broadened the income tax base, by introducing a new tax code, and implemented new banking reform legislation. El Salvador still faced the diffi cult challenge of reducing poverty, in part by investing in infrastructure and social programs.

In 2004, El Salvador ratified the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that it had signed the previous year. It was the first Central American country to do so. El Salvador worked to encourage foreign investment, modernize tax systems and fiscal policies, and to pursue liberalization policies in an effort o open new export markets and balance its trade deficits. Once in place, CAFTA was expected to increase GDP of the signatories by 0.6% annually.

It was projected that the Salvadoran government would implement further tax reforms to raise fiscal revenue after the 2006 elections, to be implemented prior to the legislative elections in 2009.


A mandatory private social insurance program replaced the government-sponsored program. Employees and employers each must contribute 7% of payroll for social insurance, and there is also a private insurance scheme. Old age, disability and survivorship is covered. Maternity and sickness benefits are provided by a social insurance program that is funded by employee and employer contributions, as well as a subsidy from the government. Maternity benefits are equal to 75% of wages for up to 12 weeks. Work injury insurance covers those in industry, commerce and public service; casual workers, domestic workers, and teachers are not covered.

Women have the same legal rights as men, but in practice they face discrimination in employment, salaries, education, and access to credit. Men often receive priority in hiring, and there have been reports of pregnancy tests for female job applicants. Domestic violence against women is pervasive. The incidence of child abandonment and abuse and the use of child labor appear to be on the increase. The government was working with the United Nation's Children's Fund to improve the welfare of children.

Human rights violations include use of excessive force and extrajudicial killings by police. New criminal and sentencing codes decreased violations of due process. Lengthy pretrial detentions are common, and prison conditions remain harsh. Very few Salvadorians claim indigenous status; most have been assimilated into the general population. Indigenous groups live in poor rural areas. Most lack titles to their land and therefore lack the collateral necessary to access credit from a bank.


Health standards have improved considerably since 1930. Average life expectancy in 2005 was 71.22 years. The infant mortality rate, 139.4 per 1,000 live births in 1930 to 1934, declined to 25.10 by 2005. The crude death rate, 23 per 1,000 in 1930 to 1934, dropped to an estimated 6.1 as of 2002. The fertility rate has dropped from 5.3 in 1980 to 3.1 in 2000. Malnutrition persisted in an estimated 23% of children under five as of 2000. However, immunization rates for children up to one year old were quite high in 1997: tuberculosis, 93%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 97%; polio, 96%; and measles, 97%. The contraceptive prevalence for women was 60% as of 2000.

As of 2004, El Salvador had 127 physicians, 184 nurses, 56 dentists, and 31 pharmacists per 100,000 people. The Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare coordinates mobile health brigades, professional medical delegations, field offices, clinics, laboratories, and dispensaries. UNICEF, the US Institute of Inter-American Affairs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other foreign organizations assisted health campaigns. Health care expenditure was estimated at 7.2% of GDP.

The principal causes of death remain gastroenteritis, influenza, malaria, measles, pneumonia, and bronchitis, caused or complicated by malnutrition, bad sanitation, and poor housing. Major causes of death were noted as communicable diseases and maternal/perinatal cause, noncommunicable diseases, and injuries. In 2000, 74% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 83% had adequate sanitation. In 1999, there were 67 cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. There were 1,416 new cases of AIDS reported in 1996 and 2,798 cases of malaria in 1994. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.70 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 29,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 2,200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

Much of the progress since the 1930s was undermined by the country's civil war, which overtaxed health care facilities while, in real terms, expenditures on health care declined. The National Medical School was shut down in 1980.


Inadequate housing, most critically felt in cities and towns, is endemic throughout El Salvador. A 2005 report from Habitat for Humanity indicated a housing deficit of 630,000 homes. Housing problems have been exacerbated by the civil war, which has created hundreds of thousands of refugees. Earthquakes in 2001 damaged nearly 335,000 homes, about 25% of the total housing stock. In 2002, there were about 1,491,588 dwellings in the country. About 90% were single-family, detached homes.

More than half of all urban dwellings have earthen floors and adobe walls and many have straw roofs. Concrete and adobe are preferred building materials. In 2000, only about 74% of households had access to improved water sources and 83% had access to improved sanitation systems.

The government has received financial assistance from international and foreign organizations, such as USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, for projects focused on repair and reconstruction of damaged housing, as well as new housing development. The Salvadorian Foundation for Development and Basic Housing (FUNDASAL), which was established in 1968, continued to work on projects to improve the living conditions of low-income and poverty stricken residents. FUNDASAL has sponsored over 200 improvement projects and built over 25,000 homes.


Primary education is free and compulsory through elementary school, and the public school system is government controlled. Enforcement of primary-school attendance is diffi cult, however, and truancy is high in rural areas. Primary education lasts for nine years, followed by three years of secondary education, with student choosing either a general studies or technical/vocational track. In 2000, an institutional reform process for education was initiated under a Basic Education Modernization Project, and the government was seeking international funding support for improvements in the quality and coverage of secondary education. The academic year runs from February to December. The primary language of instruction is Spanish.

In 2001, about 46% of children between the ages of four and six were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 90% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 49% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 88.6% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 28:1 in 1995.

Twelve private and three public universities offer higher education. The University of El Salvador in San Salvador, authorized in 1841 and with enrollments averaging 30,000, was a base for antigovernment agitation during the 1970s. The university was stormed and ransacked by government troops on 26 June 1980; at least 50 students and the rector were killed; the university did not reopen for several years. In 2003, about 17% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 79.7%, with 82.4% for men and 77.1% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.9% of GDP, or 20% of total government expenditures.


The National Library in San Salvador is the largest in the country, with 150,000 volumes. The library at the University of El Salvador has 34,000 volumes. The Central American University José Simeón Cañas in San Salvador has 150,000 volumes. In addition, there are three governmental libraries attached to the ministries of Education, Economics, and Foreign Affairs and a few small private and college libraries. The Ministry of Education maintains a mobile library with a total of 25,000 volumes.

The David J. Guzmán National Museum in San Salvador, founded in 1883, is a general museum housing historical documents and pre-Columbian artifacts. The Natural History Museum of El Salvador was founded in 1976. The National Zoological Park in San Salvador, established in 1961, maintains a natural science museum. The Anthropological Museum of El Salvador and the Museum of Word and Image are also in San Salvador.


Ownership of domestic telephone and telegraph services has been transferred from the government to a semiautonomous agency. In 2003, there were an estimated 116 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 38,200 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 176 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

As of 2001 there were 150 licensed radio stations and at least 11 commercial television stations, including the government-owned Radio Nacional. Radios in use increased from 398,000 in 1968 to about 2.75 million in 1995. In 2003, there were an estimated 481 radios and 233 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 25.2 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 84 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 35 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

The principal newspapers are published in San Salvador. They are, with 2004 circulations, El Diario de Hoy, 115,000; La Prensa Gráfica, 112,800; El Mundo, 58,000 (in 2002); and Co Latino, 15,000.

The constitution of El Salvador provides for freedom of expression, including that of speech and press, and the government is said to respect these rights in practice. Print and broadcast journalists are said to freely and regularly criticize the government without censure.


Of prime importance is the Salvadoran Coffee Association, founded in 1930 to promote coffee production, distribution, and consumption; to improve quality; and to provide information and advice to growers. Its membership includes all native and foreign coffee growers in El Salvador, and it receives financial support from the government export tax on coffee. Other prominent management organizations include the National Coffee Institute, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Salvadoran Association of Industrialists, Cattle Raisers' Association, El Salvador Sugar Cooperative, National Sugar Institute, Salvadoran Cotton Growers' Cooperative, and National Federation of Small Salvadoran Enterprises. In the early 1970s, the Salvadoran Communal Union was formed to improve peasant farming methods and to campaign for agrarian reform. In 1986, the union claimed 100,000 members.

There are youth organizations affiliated with religious institutions and political movements, as well as student unions at major universities. Scouting and Girl Guide programs are also active. There are several sports associations promoting amateur competitions in a variety of pastimes, such as tennis, badminton, tae kwon do, squash, and baseball. The country also has an active program of the Special Olympics.

Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs and Kiwanis International, are also present. There are national chapters of the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Caritas.


El Salvador's best-known natural wonder is Izalco, an active volcano often referred to as the Lighthouse of the Pacific because its smoke and flames are a guide to ships. Noteworthy are the cathedrals and churches of San Salvador, Santa Ana, and Sonsonate; the parks, gardens, and architecture of San Miguel; and the colonial atmosphere of San Vicente. Archaeological ruins of pre-Columbian origin are found in many parts of the country. Among the most striking are those at Tazumal, near Santa Ana, which include large pyramids and buildings with ancient carvings and inscriptions; there are more than 100 pyramid sites in El Salvador, many still unexcavated. The Pacific coast contains excellent beaches, and there is large-game fishing in the Gulf of Fonseca and in the ocean. Football (soccer) is the national sport. A valid passport is required for entry into El Salvador as well as a visa or a tourist card.

In 2003, there were 857,378 foreign visitors. The 4,578 hotel rooms with 9,156 beds had an occupancy rate of 51%. Visitors stayed an average of five nights. Tourism receipts totaled us $514 million.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in San Salvador at us$191 per day. Outside the capital, daily expenses were an estimated us$91.


The national hero of El Salvador is Father José Matías Delgado (17681833), who raised the first call for independence. A renowned political leader was Manuel José Arce (17861847), who fought against the Mexican empire of Iturbide and was the first president of the United Provinces of Central America. Gerardo Barrios Espinosa (180965) was a liberal president during the 19th century.

Prominent Salvadoran literary figures of the 19th century were Juan José Cañas (18261912), a poet and diplomat and the author of the Salvadoran national anthem, and Francisco E. Galindo (18501900), a poet and dramatist.

Writers of note in the 20th century included Alberto Masferrer (18651932), an essayist and poet; poet Roque Dalton (19351975); Juan Ramón Uriarte (18751927), an essayist and educator; and Salvador Salazar Arrué (18991975). Juan Francisco Cisneros (182378) was a nationally recognized painter.

Key figures in Salvadoran politics of the 1970s and 1980s were José Napoleón Duarte (192690) and Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta (194392). The assassinated Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdames (191780) was well known as a defender of human rights.


El Salvador has no territories or colonies.


Boland, Roy. Culture and Customs of El Salvador. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Byrne, Hugh. El Salvador's Civil War: A Study of Revolution. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996.

Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Gomez, Mayra. Human Rights in Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: A Sociological Perspective on Human Rights Abuse. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Johnstone, Ian. Rights and Reconciliation: UN Strategies in El Salvador. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1995.

Peterson, Anna, Manuel Vásquez, and Philip Williams (eds.). Christianity, Social Change, and Globalization in the Americas. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Studemeister, Margarita S. (ed.). El Salvador: Implementation of the Peace Accords. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2001.

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El Salvador


Republic of El Salvador

Major City:
San Salvador

Other Cities:
Acajutla, Ahuachapán, Cojutepeque, La Libertad, La Unión, Nueva San Salvador, San Miguel, San Vicente, Santa Ana, Sonsonate, Zacatecoluca


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated March 1992. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


EL SALVADOR , the smallest of the Central American republics, shares with its neighbors a history marked by frequent uprisings and unremitting political discontent. Years of power struggles, and their resultant abuses of human rights, created such international concern and pressure in the late 1970s that a provisional government was accepted to initiate political and economic reforms. Under a new constitution, formulated in 1983, support of democratic premises and policies was established. In January 1992, a peace accord was signed between the Salvadoran government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The pact ended a 12-year civil war between the two parties.

What is now El Salvador was once two large Indian states and several principalities whose inhabitants were Pipils, a nomadic Nahua tribe similar to the Aztecs. The area was claimed for Spain in 1525 by Pedro de Alvarado, and remained a Spanish colony until 1821 under the captaincy general of Guatemala. In 1823, it became one of the five states of the Federal Republic of Central America and, when this federation was dissolved 15 years later, El Salvador began its existence as an independent republic.


San Salvador

San Salvador, the capital and principal city of the Republic of El Salvador, is located in the "Valley of the Hammocks" at the foot of San Salvador volcano (6,398 feet high), about 19 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is built on the volcanic belt which parallels the coast and, over the centuries, the city has suffered from such recurrent and severe earthquakes that it has had to be rebuilt frequently. Public buildings are constructed to resist shock, but an earthquake (measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale) rocked San Salvador October 10, 1986, killing 1400, injuring approximately 21,000, and heavily damaging the downtown area and the San Jacinto residential neighborhood. Two hundred aftershocks wrought additional destruction, and a state of emergency was declared. Among the buildings hit were all but one of the city's hospitals, and the U.S. Embassy on Avenida Norte.

The climate here is semitropical with distinct rainy and dry seasons, but no extreme seasonal temperature variations occur.

San Salvador is the economic, political, and cultural center of the country. It is an old city, established in 1524, and has been the country's capital since 1841, except for a three-year period in the mid-19th century. It is the site of a national university, founded almost 150 years ago.

The metropolitan population of San Salvador is 1.5 million, and includes the cities of Soyapongo, San Marcos, and Santa Tecla. While primarily Latin American in culture, many U.S. and Mexican influences are also apparent. Living standards of the Salvadorans belonging to the higher socioeconomic classes (and most foreigners) are comparable to those of the same strata in the U.S., although the standard is achieved at a greater cost. The city has modern, comfortable, fast-growing residential suburbs, several up-to-date shopping centers and supermarkets, and a less modern downtown area.

San Salvador hosts a large foreign colony, including about 3,000 U.S. citizens. Each year more North American tourists "discover" the country. Other principal groups in the city are Germans, Japanese, British, and other Latin Americans. The better educated Salvadoran frequently speaks English; however, local businessmen and officials often prefer to conduct business in Spanish. Almost no English is spoken in the open markets and other food markets in the city.


The local educational system consists largely of private schools; the Spanish curriculum prepares students for entrance into Salvadoran universities. Few American children attend these schools.

School-aged dependents of Americans usually enroll at the American School (Escuela Americana). The institution is not U.S. Government-operated, but receives government support from grants and loans. It is a private, coeducational day school founded in 1946.

Located on a spacious 29-acre campus near San Salvador, Escuela Americana consists of 18 buildings, two cafeterias, three playing fields, four science labs, three computer labs, and two libraries with a total of 35,000 volumes.

Escuela Americana, in session from mid-August to late-June with a month-long recess over the Christmas holidays, maintains six subdivisions from preschool to high school levels. The preschool is for ages four to six; elementary school from grades one through five; junior high, grades six through eight; and the American high school, grades nine through 12.

Escuela Americana not only provides an American education at the elementary and secondary levels, but also serves to demonstrate American educational methods and practices. The schools are headed by an American principal and staffed by American and Salvadoran teachers.

The American high school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and follows a U.S. grading system. The high school curriculum is basically college preparatory. All students, grades one through 12, must study Spanish as a second language. Students also attend some classes that are taught in Spanish. Special efforts are made to help children who enroll without foreign-language capabilities.

The school has a small but active athletic program. Soccerthe national sportis played instead of American football. The school has no swimming pool. Basketball and volleyball are also played at Escuela Americana.

Special educational facilities in El Salvador are limited. Americans rarely attend local universities. Some local teachers offer private lessons in painting, crafts, ballet, and music.


Soccer is the most popular spectator sport among Salvadorans, and is played nearly every Wednesday and Sunday in the capital's stadium. Basketball, baseball, and softball also are major attractions, and the usual participant sportsswimming, golf, tennis, squash, fishing, hunting, and boatingare available.

Several interesting scenic and recreational areas are located within El Salvador, but few have attractive overnight accommodations. Public parks in various parts of the country have picnic and swimming facilities, but these are overcrowded on Sundays and holidays.

The most frequently visited places are Ilopango, a large crater lake about 10 miles east of San Salvador, which has both public and private recreational facilities; Coatepeque, a similar lake about 40 miles to the west; and Cerro Verde, a mountain-top park with a spectacular view of the volcano Izalco and surrounding countryside. All are accessible for a day's outing. A government-operated hotel at Cerro Verde opened in 1975.

The beaches near La Libertad, about 23 miles west of San Salvador on the Pacific, are popular, but also can be treacherous because of the strong undertow, unpredictable currents, and the possibilities of sharks close to the shore. Few public facilities are available on these beaches. Some of the beaches have black volcanic sand; some have white sand.

Excellent saltwater fishing is found in a large estuary about 30 miles from San Salvador. Since rented boats are unavailable, most fishing is done on invitation by friends who own boats. A fishing license is not required. Dove and duck are plentiful anytime, with no hunting season or legal limitations. Firearms permits and hunting licenses are required by law.

The National Archaeological Museum has a collection of artifacts recovered from pre-Columbian times. An Indian pyramid at El Tazumal is located not far from the city of Santa Ana, another is near San Andrés where digs have taken place. The most prestigious recent archeological find is Joya de Ceren, an entire city preserved in volcanic ash. The site is still under investigation.

Guatemala City, four to five hours away by car, is the largest capital in Central America. The volcanic highlands region is strikingly beautiful and offers several spots with good, moderately priced hotel accommodations. The country's unchanged Indian culture is fascinating. Ruins from the ancient Mayan civilizations can be seen in El Salvador, Honduras (Copán), and Guatemala (Tikal). Many are accessible by car.


Entertainment facilities in San Salvador are limited to several comfortable cinemas that show American and European films (with Spanish subtitles), in addition to Latin American films and to an interesting and growing schedule of concerts. The Cine Presidente, a large national theater in the Colonia Benito area of the capital, is popular for both movies and concerts. The larger hotels, with dinner clubs and discotheques, are becoming popular. San Salvador has many good restaurants.

The American Society, open to all Americans in San Salvador, organizes luncheons, a Fourth of July picnic, and several other functions during the year. The American Women's Association has been active in various charitable activities; all English-speaking women in the city are eligible for membership.


ACAJUTLA , with a population over 16,000, is situated near the Pacific coast, about 50 miles west of San Salvador. In 1524, the Spanish conquered the Indians and the city became a colonial port. As the country's major port, Acajutla exports coffee, balsam, and sugar. During summer, the city is a beach resort.

AHUACHAPÁN , in western El Salvador, is the capital of the department of the same name. It lies at the foot of La Lagunita volcano on the Río Molino. Its most important product is coffee. There are mineral baths here, drawn from hot springs located below the nearby Malacatiupan Falls. Ahuachapán has an estimated population of 20,000.

COJUTEPEQUE , a city of about 20,600 residents, is 22 miles east of the capital, near Lake Ilopango. It is a trading center; its market products include rice, sugarcane, cotton, and coffee. Known in El Salvador for its cigars and smoked meats, Cojutepeque's landmarks include a Palladian-style church. A large festival is held here every August 29 in honor of St. John.

LA LIBERTAD , located on the Pacific Ocean, is 20 miles south of San Salvador. It is the chief seaport and port of entry for the capital city. La Libertad exports coffee and sugar, and is also a beach resort. Agriculture and fishing are primary economic activities. The population is about 16,000.

LA UNIÓN is approximately 100 miles east of San Salvador on the Gulf of Fonseca, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. It is situated at the foot of the Conchagua volcano. With a population close to 57,000, La Unión is one of the country's major seaports, exporting cotton and livestock, as well as most of the foreign trade products. The city is situated at the southern terminus of a railroad system and is on the Inter-American Highway. La Unión was the scene of severe fighting during the civil war.

NUEVA SAN SALVADOR (formerly called Santa Telca) is located in west-central El Salvador, eight miles west of the capital. It was founded in 1854 after San Salvador was destroyed by an earthquake. When the capital was rebuilt, what is now Nueva San Salvador became a wealthy suburb. It is also in the midst of a coffee-growing region. The beach resort, Los Chorros, is nearby. The Salvadoran Institute for Coffee Research is in the city. The estimated population is 120,000.

SAN MIGUEL , a commercial center, is situated about 65 miles east of San Salvador, at the foot of San Miguel volcano (6,057 feet). Founded in 1530, and with a population of more than 182,000, San Miguel produces vegetable oil, leather goods, textiles, rope, tobacco products, pottery, and flour, and has textile and dairy industries. The town's industries suffered disruptions during the early 1980s because of fighting between government troops and leftist guerrillas.

Located in a region of geysers and thermal springs, SAN VICENTE is at the foot of San Vicente volcano (7,155 feet). It is in central El Salvador, approximately 25 miles east of the capital. Originally the ancient Indian village of Tehuacán, the city was founded in 1635. It served as the capital (1834-39) and housed the national university (1854-59). Industries include textile manufacturing and sugar refining. San Vicente's population is over 20,000.

SANTA ANA is the second largest city in El Salvador and an important commercial and industrial center. Located in the northwestern part of the country, 50 miles from San Salvador, the city is also near the Santa Ana volcano which, at 7,828 feet, is the highest in the country. Santa Ana is the commercial and processing center for a region that raises sugarcane, coffee, and cattle. It also produces textiles, leather and wood products, cigars, and pottery. Industries include distilling and food processing. Historic landmarks include the Spanish Gothic cathedral and El Calvario colonial church. The population is approximately 213,000.

SONSONATE , about 40 miles west of San Salvador, is the commercial center of one of the richest agricultural regions in the country. Coffee, sugar, tobacco, and dairy products are produced here. Sonsonate, with a population of roughly 60,000, has two beautiful churches and is surrounded by parks and resorts located near the Izalco volcano. Colorful fiestas may be seen in the neighboring village of Asunción Izalco.

ZACATECOLUCA , in south-central El Salvador, is about 25 miles south of the capital. The city lies at the foot of the San Vicente volcano and has a population of around 26,000. Markets in Zacatecoluca include those for lumber, cement, salt, cotton goods, and baskets. The city was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1932. José Simeón Cañas, who successfully fought to end slavery in Central America, was born here.


Geography and Climate

Most of El Salvador is situated on a plateau (about 2,000 feet above sea level) on the Pacific slope of the Central American Cordillera. With an area of 8,260 square miles, it is the smallest independent mainland state in the Western Hemisphere. Roughly rectangular in shape, it is bordered on the west by Guatemala, on the north and east by Honduras, on the southeast by the Gulf of Fonseca (which separates El Salvador from Nicaragua), and on the south by the Pacific Ocean.

Mountain ranges running from east to west divide El Salvador into three distinct regions: a hot, narrow Pacific coastal belt on the south; a subtropical central region of valleys and plateaus, where most of the population lives; and a mountainous northern region. Ninety percent of the land is of volcanic origin and many places still bear volcanic scars. Almost all of the arable land is cultivated.

El Salvador's climate is modified by its elevation and, except for the hot, narrow coastal region, is semitropical. The capital city of San Salvador, 19 miles from the Pacific, has a pleasant climate. Daily temperatures here average 73°F and range from 50°F to 90°F. Cool evenings moderate the sometimes uncomfortably hot afternoon peak hours. The country has distinct dry and wet seasons. The dry season (December to April) is dusty, particularly in the country. The hottest time of the year (March and April) precedes the rainy interval. During the wet season (May to November), the rain is not continuous, but usually falls in early evening, and is sometimes accompanied by thunder and strong winds. Rain patterns change during the season, and some June and September mornings are overcast. Occasional two-or three-day rainy spells occur. Mildew and insects can become problems during this season. Annual rainfall in San Salvador averages 66 inches.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have been hazards in the past, and tremors occur periodically. Most tremors are felt during seasonal changes. A major earthquake in October 1986 caused damage to some sections of San Salvador and to other areas of the country. Hurricanes do not threaten El Salvador directly, but a strong Caribbean storm can generate heavy, damaging winds and rains as in 1974 with Hurricane Fifi.


El Salvador is Central America's second most densely populated country, with an estimated 292 inhabitants per square mile. The population figure for 2000 was 5.9 million, of which roughly half was rural. The estimated annual growth rate is 1.85%. Because of unsettled conditions, many Salvadorans now live in neighboring countries and in the United States.

El Salvador's population is remarkably homogeneous with no significant minority. It comprises 90% mestizo, 9% Caucasian, and 1% Amerindian. The indigenous Indian population has been thoroughly assimilated, and only two or three Indian communities with native customs, dress, or dialects survive. Spanish is the national language and Roman Catholicism the predominant religion. Food varies from typically Latin to typically American. Clothing, houses, shopping facilities, and amusements in San Salvador resemble those in the U.S., but the atmosphere is distinctly Latin American.


El Salvador is a democratic republic governed by a president and an 84-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves for a 5-year term by absolute majority vote. A second round runoff is required in the event that no candidate receives more than 50% of the first round vote. Members of the assembly, also elected by universal suffrage, serve for 3-year terms. The country has an independent judiciary and Supreme Court.

The most recent presidential election, in March 1999, was free and fair, but voter turnout was low (39%). ARENA presidential candidate Francisco Guillermo Flores Perez faced Facundo Guardado of the FMLN party and won with 52% of the votes. Since Flores received just over 50% of the votes, a runoff was not required. Francisco Guillermo Flores Perez of the ARENA party began his 5-year term as president in June 1999, and cannot succeed himself. In the March 2000 legislative races, FMLN won 31 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the ARENA won 29, the National Conciliation Party (PCN) 14, the PDC five, and the Coalition Democratic United Center (CDU) and National Action Party (PAN) won 3 and 2 seats, respectively.

As of March 2002, defections and realignments in the Assembly left ARENA with 29 seats, the FMLN with 26, the PCN, 15, and the FMLN-splinter "Renewal Movement (MR) " 5. The governing ARENA party retains a working majority (43) with its PCN allies. The defection of five FMLN dissidents (MR) also stripped the FMLN of its ability to block qualified (two-thirds) majorities required for major legislation, including approval of international loans and confirmation of supreme court justices. The FMLN retains the capital city of San Salvador, where Hector Silva was re-elected overwhelmingly in 2000. Low voter turnout (35% in 2000) remains a concern.

In accordance with 1992 peace agreements, the constitution was amended to prohibit the military from playing an internal security role except under extraordinary circumstances. Demobilization of Salvadoran military forces generally proceeded on schedule throughout the process. The Treasury Police, National Guard, and National Police were abolished, and military intelligence functions were transferred to civilian control. By 1993--9 months ahead of schedule--the military had cut personnel from a wartime high of 63,000 to the level of 32,000 required by the peace accords. By 1999, ESAF strength stood at less than 15,000, including uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, consisting of personnel in the army, navy, and air force. A purge of military officers accused of human rights abuses and corruption was completed in 1993 in compliance with the Ad Hoc Commission's recommendations. The military's new doctrine, professionalism, and complete withdrawal from political and economic affairs leave it the most respected institution in El Salvador.

The Red Cross, Caritas, the Green Cross, and other privately supported refugee relief organizations are active. Additional organizations, such as professional and university student associations and chambers of commerce, also have active programs in the country.

El Salvador is a member of the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as the following international bodies: Inter-American Development Bank, International Wheat Council, Organization of American States (OAS), Central American Common Market, International Coffee Organization, and the Latin American Economic System.

The Salvadoran flag consists of three horizontal bands in light blue, white, and light blue, with a coat of arms on the white band.

Arts, Science, Education

In addition to overseeing the school system of El Salvador, the Ministry of Education maintains a Directorate General of Fine Arts, with schools of arts, music, and dance. It also sponsors the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Chorus, and National Theaters in San Salvador and Santa Ana.

The Ministry of Education maintains a national archaeological museum and sponsors several excavations of archaeological and anthropological interest. El Tazumal, located near the town of Chalchuapa in western El Salvador, is the major locale of pre-Columbian civilization in El Salvador. The site is open to visitors and includes a small museum. In San Salvador, the ministry sponsors a recently refurbished and expanded natural history museum and exhibit hall, with exhibits by local artists. Parks, recreational areas, and a zoo complete the city's leisure facilities.

The National Symphony Orchestra and the National Chorus give several concerts a year. The annual ballet season offers opportunities for students and professionals to perform. Several private art galleries exhibit the work of Salvadoran artists, and semiprofessional theater groups offer several plays a year. The Salvadoran Institute of Tourism (ISTU) also sponsors cultural events which include folkloric productions and music and dance festivals, often held outside the capital, as well as annual crafts festivals in Panchimalco and Nahuizalco.

The Salvadoran Cultural Center in San Salvador has a modest library of Spanish and English books. Classes in English and elementary Spanish are offered, and frequent art exhibits and concerts are sponsored here.

Many classes have resumed at El Salvador's National University, which was closed in 1980 because of political unrest. Numerous private universities have arisen with the encouragement and support of the Ministry of Education. The second-largest and oldest of these private institutions is the Jesuit-administered Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas; it offers courses in engineering, economics, administration, and the humanities. The university library has over 40,000 volumes and has embarked on an expansion program financed by the Inter-American Development Bank. Albert Einstein University, founded in 1976, offers courses in engineering and architecture to some 8,500 students. Universidad José Matias Delgado, with over 9,000 students, has courses in law, economics, and communications, and a recently established School for Agricultural Investigation in Santa Ana. The American School in San Salvador offers a two-year program in English. In 1995, an estimated 70% of Salvadorans could read and write.

Commerce and Industry

The Salvadoran economy continues to benefit from a commitment to free markets and careful fiscal management. The impact of the civil war on El Salvador's economy was devastating; from 1979-90, losses from damage to infrastructure and means of production due to guerrilla sabotage as well as from reduced export earnings totaled about $2.2 billion. But since attacks on economic targets ended in 1992, improved investor confidence has led to increased private investment.

Rich soil, moderate climate, and a hard-working and enterprising labor pool comprise El Salvador's greatest assets. Much of the improvement in El Salvador's economy is due to free market policy initiatives carried out by the Cristiani and Calderon Sol governments, including the privatization of the banking system, telecommunications, public pensions, electrical distribution and some electrical generation, reduction of import duties, elimination of price controls on virtually all consumer products, and enhancing the investment climate through measures such as improved enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Natural disasters continue to plaque the Salvadoran economy. The damage caused by Hurricane Mitch to infrastructure and to agricultural production reduced 1998 growth by an estimated 5%. Because of the earthquakes that struck the country in January and February, the economy grew less than 2% in 2001.

Fiscal policy has been the biggest challenge for the Salvadoran Government. The 1992 peace accords committed the government to heavy expenditures for transition programs and social services. Although international aid was generous, the government has focused on improving the collection of its current revenues. A 10% value-added tax, implemented in September 1992, was raised to 13% in July 1995. The VAT is estimated to have contributed 51% of total tax revenues in 1999, due mainly to improved collection techniques.

Large inflows of dollars in the form of family remittances from Salvadorans working in the United States offset a substantial trade deficit and support the exchange rate. The monthly average of remittances reported by the Central Bank is around $150 million, with the total estimated at more than $1.9 billion for 2001. As of December 1999, net international reserves equaled $1.8 billion or roughly 5 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 dollar became legal tender along side the colón. No more colónes are to be printed, the economy is expected to be, in practice, fully dollarized, and the Central Reserve Bank dissolved, by late 2003. The FMLN is strongly opposed to the plan, regarding it as unconstitutional, and plans to make it an issue in the 2003 legislative elections.


The usual mode of travel to El Salvador is by air. Ilopango International Airport is equipped for jet planes. Service is provided to the U.S. and Central American countries by TACA (Transportes Aéros Centro Americanos), LACSA (Líneas Aéreas Costarricenses), COPA (Compañía Panameña de Aviación), Belize Airways, and SAHSA (Servicio Aéreo de Honduras Sociedad Anonima).

Of the two main seaports in El Salvador, Acajutla is most important because of its all-weather dock facilities. Another port is Cutuco in La Unión. The Atlantic port generally used for surface freight shipments originating on the U.S. coast is Santo Tomás de Castilla, Guatemala, where cargo is loaded directly onto trucks bound for the Salvador customs warehouse.

Frequent bus service is available to all parts of the country, but is seldom used by Americans. In the cities, taxis are commonly used; they do not have meters, but operate on zone charges.

El Salvador's main roads are generally good, and most are paved. Back roads are often difficult and rough on both the passenger and the vehicle. Two principal branches of the Pan-American Highway pass through El Salvadorone crossing along the Pacific, the other at a more northerly point. Narrow roads, poor driving habits, livestock and pedestrians on the roads at night, and badly placed traffic signs constitute driving hazards.

The most practical mode of travel is by private car. Road transportation and a lack of recreational facilities within city areas make a car most desirable. An air-conditioned car, while not essential, makes traveling more enjoyable, especially because of the pollution from diesel vehicles. Driving is on the right.

Nearly all European and Japanese automobile manufacturers are represented in San Salvador. U.S. manufacturers are not well-represented and, for the most part, do not maintain spare parts in stock.


Telephone and telegraph service is available throughout El Salvador, with direct dialing to most of North America, South America, and Europe. International airmail is dependable; the rates are high for parcel post.

El Salvador's 75 commercial radio stations generally operate from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Several FM stations, including one which presents classical music, broadcast in stereo. A guerrilla group operates its own station. Over 90% of the homes have radios. Shortwave reception is good for Voice of America (VOA) and Armed Forces Radio broadcasts. VOA also broadcasts a daily program in Spanish (Buenos Días America) on medium-wave (Radio Centroamericana).

El Salvador has four commercial television channels that transmit in color. Standard U.S. color receivers are used. All channels transmit at least 16 hours per day. Government-owned channels 8 and 10 are used for educational and informational purposes. Salvadoran TV presents many U.S. programs with Spanish soundtracks. TV sets are costly here. Video recorders are widely used, and several cassette clubs offer a wide selection of movies.

San Salvador has four leading newspapers, El Diario de Hoy, Diario Latino, El Mundo, and La Prensa Gráfica. The Santa Ana newspaper is Diario de Occidente. The Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times are home-delivered on an almost-daily basis, and international editions of Time, Newsweek, and European periodicals are sold at newsstands. The Union Church in San Salvador has an extensive lending library of paperbacks; these also can be purchased in the large hotels and from various bookshops.


Many Americans use the Hospital de Diagnostico y Emergencias, a 155-bed general medical and surgical hospital with an emergency room. Standards are below those of U.S. hospitals. More complicated or serious illnesses are normally referred to Gorgas Hospital in the Canal Zone or to U.S. facilities. San Salvador has a good obstetrical center and maternity hospital, a satisfactory pediatric clinic, and an adequate emergency facility and hospital with 25 beds. Medical laboratories here have most of the necessary equipment. Nearly every medical specialization is represented in San Salvador by physicians who have received training in the U.S. or Europe, and who speak English. Satisfactory dental and orthodontic care is available at costs considerably below those in the U.S.

No water purification plant exists in San Salvador. Most water comes from deep wells or springs and is chlorinated; however, contamination is common because of the many cross constructions in the water distribution system. Potable bottled water is available, and tap water, boiled rapidly for 10 minutes, is also safe.

A food sanitation program is conducted by Salvadoran authorities, with routine inspections similar to those recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service, and carried out by trained sanitarians. Qualified veterinarians and sanitarians perform ante mortem and post mortem meat inspections. While modern meat markets have refrigeration facilities, most meat is not refrigerated either at slaughter or in distribution. Some control of poultry processing has improved sanitation, slaughtering, and packaging. San Salvador experiences frequent power failures, and refrigerated items are not always kept at the proper temperature. Caution should be used in buying foods the day after a power failure.

The country has no planned rabies control program as practiced in the U.S. Dogs are not required by law to be vaccinated against rabies, nor must they be leashed. At intervals, attempts are made to eliminate stray dogs.

The most serious health problems in El Salvador are intestinal diseases, including typhoid fever, and amoebic and bacillary dysentery. These diseases are usually caused by careless handling of food and contamination of food and water. Other diseases present are influenza, malaria, dengue fever (in the coastal regions), frequent colds, and hepatitis.

Clothing and Services

Except for the slightly cooler mornings and evenings during November, December, and January, little temperature change occurs in El Salvador. However, a lightweight wardrobe should be augmented with clothing suitable for travel to cooler areas such as Guatemala. Certain Central American ready-made garments (shirts, underwear, and casual trousers) are available and satisfactory. An umbrella is needed for the rainy season. A warm robe and slippers are useful. Clothing, especially leather, can mildew during the rainy season. It is unwise to use light bulbs in closets to counteract mildew, as they are a fire hazard. Electric dehumidifier rods are fireproof, more effective, and are available locally. Portable dehumidifiers are useful for home storage areas.

Cockroaches, grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects can damage clothing and upholstery; regular spraying with insecticides can eliminate nearly all of these problems. San Salvador has a number of satisfactory fumigating companies.

Several local firms make shoes of acceptable quality, but sizes do not follow the U.S. scale. Local cobblers can make leather boots at well below U.S. prices. Imported shoes are sometimes available, but at higher-than-U.S. prices.

Men wear lightweight clothing, such as tropical worsted, throughout the year. During cooler months, heavier suits of lightweight worsted are suitable for evening outdoor parties. Men wear shorts only on the beach and while participating in sports.

Salvadoran society quickly reflects U.S. women's fashion trends. Simple cocktail dresses (long and short) are suitable for most evening functions. Conservative, washable cotton/polyester knits and synthetic-blend dresses should be made of durable material, as the strong sunlight and frequent laundering quickly make even good fabrics look drab. Boutique prices in San Salvador are higher than in the U.S. Slacks are worn extensively in the city and for casual parties. Shorts are worn only at beaches, clubs, and homes, or for private parties.

Washable fabrics are preferable for children's clothes. Boys and girls wear clothing similar to that worn in summer in the U.S. Satisfactory children's shoes are available locally, but the quality is below that of the U.S. and replacements are required more often.

A wide variety of food is available in El Salvador. Cuts of meat often differ from those in the U.S., and quality meat is often higher in price.

Fresh vegetables are available throughout the year. All vegetables should be thoroughly washed, soaked, and peeled, or cooked before they are eaten.

A wide choice of tropical and semi-tropical fruit is available; temperate-zone fruits are imported and expensive. All fruit needs careful washing.

Pasteurized milk and cream are available, but quality is poor. Powdered and canned milk are also sold locally.

Tap water is not potable unless it is boiled. Local firms deliver bottled drinking water weekly, as well as beer, carbonated soft drinks, soda water, and tonic by the case.


Passage, Customs & Duties

El Salvador may be reached by commercial airlines which serve the capital from any part of the U.S., via Washington, DC, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Travel by ship is seldom undertaken, and is not recommended.

A current U.S. passport and a one-entry tourist card are required to enter El Salvador. The tourist card may be obtained from immigration officials for a ten-dollar fee upon arrival in country. Travelers who plan to remain in El Salvador for more than thirty days can apply for a multiple-entry visa, issued free of charge, from the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington, D.C. or from a Salvadoran consulate in the United States. Travelers may be asked to present evidence of U.S. employment and adequate finances for their visit at the time of visa application or upon arrival in El Salvador. An exit tax must be paid, either in Salvadoran colones or U.S. dollars, when departing El Salvador from Comalapa International Airport in La Paz. Travelers should be aware that airlines operating out of Comalapa International Airport require U.S. citizens to present a valid U.S. passport when boarding flights bound for the United States. Airlines will not accept Certificates of Naturalization or birth certificates in lieu of a U.S. passport, and information to the contrary should be disregarded. U.S. citizens traveling to El Salvador for any reason without a valid passport should apply for a passport in person at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador before attempting to return to the United States. Citizens applying for passports overseas are reminded that original proof of citizenship and identity is required before a passport can be issued. Photographic proof of identity is especially important for young children because of the high incidence of fraud involving children.

Americans living in or visiting El Salvador are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in the capital city, San Salvador, and obtain updated information on travel and security in El Salvador and neighboring countries. The U.S. Embassy is located at Final Boulevard Santa Elena, Urbanizacion Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlan, San Salvador; telephone 011-503-278-4444. The Embassy's web site can be accessed at The Consular Section provides services for U.S. citizens from 8:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on normal Embassy work days.


The following health requirements must be met for the importation of a pet: the animal must be vaccinated against rabies no less than 30 days before arrival in El Salvador, and a certificate from a qualified veterinarian is required, stating that the animal is free from contagious diseases. Shots against distemper, leptospirosis, and gastroenteritis parvo-viral are required. If a bird is imported, the veterinary certificate must show that the bird is free of pullorum and laryngotracheitis; this must be issued within 30 days before arrival of the bird and certified by the nearest Salvadoran consul.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The time in El Salvador is Greenwich Mean Time minus six (the same as Central Time in the United States).

The monetary unit of El Salvador is the colón, but U.S. dollars are widely used.

El Salvador officially uses the metric system of weights and measures but, because of its proximity to the U.S. and the extensive trade between the two countries, U.S. standards are fairly well known and used. Gasoline, for example, is sold by the gallon rather than by the liter, and foods are sold by the pound.

Disaster Preparedness

El Salvador is an earthquake-prone country. There is also the risk of flooding and landslides. An earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated much of El Salvador in January 2001. A second earthquake in February 2001 measured 6.6 on the Richter scale and caused significant additional damage and loss of life. The damage was most severe in the southern half of El Salvador between the cities of San Salvador and San Miguel. While reconstruction efforts are underway and the country is returning to normal, experts indicate that it is common for aftershocks to occur for months or longer following a major earthquake. There also is continuing danger from landslides, particularly during the rainy season that runs from May through October. The most recent data on flood and landslide risk can be found on the Government of El Salvador's web page at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar/Apr. Holy Thursday*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Holy Saturday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

May 1 Salvadoran Labor Day

Aug. Feasts of San Salvador*

Sept.15 Salvadoran Independence

Nov. 1 All Saints' Day

Nov. 2 All Souls' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Americas Watch Staff. El Salvador's Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Bachelis, Faren Maree. El Salvador. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1990.

Barry, Tom. El Salvador: A Country Guide. 2nd ed., Albuquerque, NM: Inter-Hemisphere Education Resource Center, 1991.

Cheney, Glenn Alan. El Salvador: Country in Crisis. 2nd ed., New York: F. Watts, 1990.

Classen, Susan. Vultures & Butterflies: Living the Contradictions. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1992.

Cummins, Ronnie. El Salvador. Milwaukee, WI: G. Stevens Children's Books, 1990.

Diskin, Martin. Reform Without Change in El Salvador: The Political War in the Countryside. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

Golden, Renny, ed. The Hour of the PoorThe Hour of Women: Salvadoran Women Tell Their Stories. New York: Crossroad NY, 1991.

Haverstock, Nathan A. El Salvador in Pictures. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications, 1987.

Krauss, Clifford. Inside Central America: Its People, Politics, and History. Summit Books: 1991.

Kufeld, Adam. El Salvador. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.

Lido-Fuentes, Hector. Weak Foundations: The Economy of El Salvador in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990.

Prisk, Courtney E., ed. The Comandante Speaks: Memoirs of an El Salvadoran Guerilla Leader. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

Ramos, Arnoldo. El Salvador. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.

Smyth, Frank. Wayward War: El Salvador & the American Global Vision. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.

Wright, Scott, et al., eds. El Salvador: A Spring Whose Waters Never Run Dry. Washington, DC: PICA, 1990.

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El Salvador


Republic of El Salvador

República de El Salvador



El Salvador, a Central American country slightly smaller than Massachusetts, borders the North Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and Honduras. It has a land area of 20,720 square kilometers (8,000 square miles) and a coastline of 308 kilometers (191 miles). Land boundaries in El Salvador total 545 kilometers (339 miles). It shares a 327-kilometer (203-mile) border with Guatemala in the northwest, and a 341-kilometer (212-mile) border with Honduras in the southeast.


In 2000, the population of El Salvador was about 6.2 million and was growing by approximately 2.1 percent a year. At this rate, the population is expected to climb to nearly 8 million by 2015. The birth rate in 2000 was estimated to be 29.02 per 1000, and the death rate, 6.27 per 1000.

About 90 percent of the Salvadoran population is mestizo (of mixed Spanish and Amerindian ancestry). Native Amerindians make up about 1 percent of the population, and whites account for the rest. A significant portion of the populatiaon, nearly 40 percent, is under the age of 15. Those 65 and older account for only 5 percent of the population. The percentage of Salvadorans living in rural areas declined in the last half century from 64 percent in 1950 to about 40 percent in 2000.

Over the past 20 years the Salvadoran population has been subject to highly stressful conditions. A number of military coups (domestic takeovers of governments) in the 1970s and sham elections rigged in the army's favor diminished civilian confidence in the political system and spawned a violent guerilla movement (guerilla wars are fought by units with non-conventional military and political tactics). The 1980s were marked by a series of bloody conflicts between leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary death squads who, with tacit support of the army, violently suppressed opposition. Over the course of the decade, 70,000 people were killed. Thousands fled the country, many coming to the United States. There are currently about 1 million Salvadorans living in the United States, many illegally or with uncertain legal status.


El Salvador's civil war, which lasted from 1979 until 1990, had a devastating impact on the country's economy. Rebel guerillas during the fight engaged in widespread sabotage, damaging the nation's infrastructure and undermining production and distribution. Export levels dropped during the war and earnings declined. Revenue losses during this period amounted to $2.2 billion.

Since the signing of the peace accord between the government and rebel factions in 1992, the economy has improved. Alfredo Cristiani, who as head of the Arena party became president in 1989, launched free market initiatives and tightened fiscal control. Competition was increased in a number of sectors; banks were privatized , import duties were lowered, and price controls on consumer products were virtually eliminated. Successive administrations have continued market liberalization . Tariffs were further reduced under Armando Calderon Sol, who was elected president in 1994. The Calderon administration also sought to strengthen intellectual property rights, and in 1998 the government privatized the country's main power plants and telecommunications firms, marking the most extensive efforts thus far to liberalize the economy.

Improvements in economic performance in the first half of the 1990s boosted investor confidence and led to a significant rise in the inflow of foreign capital. However, by 1995 the post-war boom was over, and the economy began to cool. Agriculture, once one of the country's primary export producers, registered little growth in the latter part of the 1990s, diminishing its role in the economy. The manufacturing industry, on the hand, grew rapidly during the 1990s, although by the end of the decade its performance, too, had begun to decline. In the late 1990s, no sectors registered significant gains. Overall, GDP growth rates fell: 4.0 percent in 1997, 2.6 percent in 1999, and to 2.5 in 2000.

Commercial and financial services are fast replacing industry and agriculture as the mainstays of the country's economy. As the once rural-based economy gives way to urban dominance, peasants are abandoning farm labor and moving toward the cities in search of higher paying jobs, leading to the development of shantytowns around many urban areas.

The growth in industry, primarily in the maquila sector (offshore assembly for re-export ), added new jobs to the economy in the 1990s. However, a majority of those were taken by women. Unemployment among young males is still high, which some associate with El Salvador's high crime rates.

With no discovered reserves of oil or coal, the country is dependent on imports for fuel and energy. Trade deficits in El Salvador, while historically broad, widened in the 1990s. Remittances from Salvadorans working overseas, which in 1999 totaled US$1.6 billion, help to offset trade imbalances. However, at least a portion of the trade deficit is generally financed through borrowing, which adds to the country's debt.

Remittances from expatriates are the country's largest source of foreign currency, bringing in more money than all the traditional exports combined. Some of the cash inflows likely come from smuggling and drug-running operations. Money laundering is becoming prevalent as well. If El Salvador is unable or unwilling to crack down on these illicit operations, establishing favorable trade deals with the United States will become difficult.

Taxes also provide a significant source of revenue. The value-added tax (VAT), which was established in September 1992 at 10 percent, was raised to 12 percent in 1995 to offset losses from tariff reductions. The VAT accounts for more than half of all current government revenue. While tax collection is more efficient than it used to be, the system is still hampered by inefficiency and corruption.


The political climate in El Salvador fundamentally changed in 1972 when the military overturned a national election that had been won by the Partido Democrata Cristiano (PDC). Groups of students, peasants, and members of the labor movement abandoned the electoral process, forming guerilla groups in opposition to military rule. Throughout the 1980s, rebels and government forces clashed. Attempts to suppress the rebellion by the army and paramilitary death squads were brutal but ultimately unsuccessful. In November 1989, the guerillasunder the party banner Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN)launched an attack on the capital, San Salvador. The 2-week siege was effective, convincing government and business elites in El Salvador to seek an end to the war. Negotiations brokered by the UN resulted in the signing of a peace accord that went into effect on 16 January 1992. Members of the FMLN agreed to lay down their arms in return for political and military reforms, including a reduction in the size and role of the military. By the time the war had ended, 70,000 people had been killed.

In March of 1989, the right-wing party Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Arena) won control of the presidency with its candidate, Alfredo Cristiani. Arena has held the executive branch ever since.

The Salvadoran constitution, enacted 23 December 1983, stipulates that the country be headed by a president and vice president who are elected to 5-year terms. The legislature is made up of an 84-member body elected every 3 years, which is responsible for taxes and the ratification of treaties signed by the executive. Members of the Supreme Court, El Salvador's highest judicial authority, are selected for fixed terms by members of the legislative assembly. El Salvador considers itself a representative democracy.

The Arena party, while controlling the executive branch, has been struggling to maintain its power in the legislature. The FMLN, since laying down its arms, has become a force in mainstream politics. It captured 31 seats in the legislative assembly in 2000, making it the largest party in the unicameral (one chamber) congress. It has also gained control of the municipalities in most major cities, including San Salvador, giving it governing authority over about half the country at the local level. The FMLN's rise to power has forced Arena to abandon some of its far-right positions in an effort to gain legislative support for its policies.

The 1980s in El Salvador were marked by chronic trade deficits and fiscal imbalances. Expenditures out-paced revenues, destabilizing the currency and raising the rate of inflation . When Alfredo Cristiani came to office in 1989, he introduced fiscal austerity, liberalization, and privatization as a means to induce economic stability. He also passed a series of tax reforms to lure foreign investment, including the abolition of export tariffs on coffee and sugar. To offset losses from the cut, a 10 percent VAT was implemented in September of 1992. The VAT was increased to 12 percent in 1995 in order to fund cuts in the asset tax, which was revoked in 1994, and capital gains taxes, which were removed in 1996.

The VAT in 1999 accounted for over half of the government's revenue. Still, public sector revenues have suffered as tax collection has been persistently corrupt and inefficient.

Armando Calderon Sol, elected in 1994, expanded on the policies of the Cristiani administration, seeking higher investment by reducing import tariffs, accelerating the privatization of state assets, and introducing a fixed exchange rate . The Calderon administration privatized 75 percent of the country's 4 regional power plants and split up the national phone company, which was sold to consortia made up of private investors and local partners. The shift from a state-run to a liberal, market economy has continued under the current president, Francisco Flores, but economic growth has been slow.


War, corruption, and general neglect have taken a toll on El Salvador's infrastructure, as have a string of earthquakes that hit the country at the beginning of 2001. Improvements are badly needed. There are 10,029 kilometers (6,232 miles) of roads in the country. Less than 1,999 kilometers (1,242 miles) of them are paved. The country's rural and secondary roads often become flooded during the 6-month rainy season. In the cities, population growth and a rise in vehicle ownership have increased traffic congestion.

There are 2 main highways in El Salvador, both of which cross the Lempa River. The bridges servicing the

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
El Salvador 48 464 675 N/A 18 N/A N/A 1.17 40
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Mexico 97 325 261 15.7 35 3.0 47.0 23.02 1,822
Guatemala 33 79 126 28.5 10 N/A 8.3 1.26 65
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

highways were destroyed by rebels during the war. Temporary spans were established to accommodate traffic, and in the late 1990s, efforts were underway to rebuild the bridges and repair smaller crossings along the 2 main routes. However, in 1998 the temporary bridges and the repair work were swept away in floods caused by Hurricane Mitch. The reconstruction project, financed by a US$90 million loan from Japan, is expected to be completed in 2001.

While road construction measures have been considered in order to facilitate travel and alleviate urban congestion, there is currently no specified transportation policy. In the 1990s, increased transportation spending resulted in few real improvements. Due to high levels of corruption in the administration of road contracts, several highway projects that got underway were never completed. The government has had a difficult time forcing contractors to meet deadlines and maintain adequate quality standards. In 1999 new legislation was being considered that would regulate bidding and require completion bonds for contracts.

Efforts were renewed to improve the road network in 1999. A construction project was initiated to build overpasses and new interchanges in the capital city to mitigate traffic problems. Other improvements were being considered as well, including the construction of 2 ring roads around the capital area and the creation of a special road fund which would finance highway improvements throughout the country. The fund, however, would likely depend on the creation of a new gasoline tax. As of March 2000, the time of mid-term elections, politicians in El Salvador had refused to acknowledge the need for such a tax, leaving the fund's creation in doubt. A string of earthquakes that struck El Salvador in January and February 2001 will also delay the implementation of road construction programs, as money and foreign aid will be diverted to more urgent reconstruction projects.

El Salvadorans are dependent on 3 main sources for their energy: hydroelectricity, geothermal power (including oil), and firewood. No deposits of oil or coal have been found. Thermal energy was widely utilized until the 1970s when rising world oil prices led to a higher dependence on hydroelectricity. About one-third of the country's energy consumption is still derived from oil imports.

The generation of electricity and the development of energy resources generally falls under the purview of the Comicion Ejecutiva Hidroelectrica del Rio Lempa (CEL), a state-run agency which recently privatized 4 of its regional distribution companies. CEL is also targeting 3 of its thermal generating plants for privatization. It is hoped that opening the market to competition will increase investment in the sector. Customers will likely reap long-term benefits as well, as electricity tariffs are reduced.


El Salvador relies primarily on financial services and manufacturing for the generation of export revenue. Agriculture, once the country's dominant economic sector, has declined in importance but still plays a strong role in the economy. The economic restructuring which occurred over the 1980s and 1990s was undertaken to reduce volatility. Agricultural production was vulnerable to price declines and poor weather, prompting the government to reposition the economy in favor of more stable sources of revenue. The service and manufacturing industries were targeted for development.

Growth in the manufacturing sector was substantial in the 1990s, primarily due to the expansion of the maquila (offshore assembly for re-export) industry which has become the country's single largest category in terms of export revenue. Revenues generated by industry exports more than doubled in the last half of the decade. The CIA World Factbook estimated that by 1999 agriculture accounted for 12 percent of the GDP, industry 28 percent, and services 60 percent.


Agriculture, while showing negligible growth towards the end of the 1990s, has continued to play a key role in the Salvadoran economy, employing nearly 25 percent of the country's labor force , providing a third of its export earnings, and meeting about 70 percent of domestic food needs. In 1996, agriculture accounted for 14 percent of the GDP. By 1999, agriculture accounted for 12 percent of the GDP, but employed nearly 30 percent of the labor force.

Prior to the 1980s most of the land in El Salvador was owned by a minority of wealthy elites. Roughly 70 percent of the farmers who worked the land were sharecroppers or laborers on large plantations. This situation began to change in 1979, when a military-civilian junta came to power and issued sweeping land and agrarian reforms. The government carried out policies of property redistribution to address the grievances of the rural poor and make up for past injustices. Land was transferred to small farmers in an effort to create a rural middle class. By 1990, when the reforms came to an end, 22 percent of El Salvador's land had been transferred to farmers who had previously worked the land but did not own it. Over 500,000 farmers benefitted from the reforms.

El Salvador's mild climate and fertile soil have proven ideal for the production of the country's main export cropscoffee and sugar. Coffee production, which began on a mass scale in the 1850s, dominated the country's economy for over a century and is still the largest agricultural export, accounting for US$244 million in revenues in 1999, about 10 percent of all export earnings. Sugar, the next largest export, was responsible for about 2 percent of export revenues in 1999, bringing in approximately US$46 million. Fisheries have grown more important to the economy as well, mainly through shrimp production, which is third in agricultural export earnings behind coffee and sugar, generating US$25 million in revenues in 1999, a little over 1 percent of the total.

The earnings from agricultural exports as a percentage of the country's total export revenues diminished in the 1990s. Coffee revenues, especially, began to fall during this time. A surge in coffee prices in 1997 led to a brief revitalization in the sector, but poor harvests and falling prices in 1998 sent revenues plummeting. Between 1997 and 1999, coffee earnings dropped by over 50 percent. Improved harvests may raise coffee-generated revenues in the near future, but coffee will not likely regain the position it once held as a mainstay of the economy. Maize, beans, rice, and sorghum are food crops produced primarily for domestic consumption.

Cattle production plays a role, albeit a slight one, in the economy. Widespread cattle rustling and extortion have made ranching difficult, although milk production has increased.


The industrial sector of El Salvador accounted for 28 percent of the GDP and employed 15 percent of the labor force in 1999.


Mining currently plays a negligible role in the Salvadoran economy, accounting for just 0.3 percent of the GDP in 1997, with mineral production limited primarily to gypsum, sea salt, and construction materials such as limestone. While mineral deposits are thought to exist, there has been little attempt in the past 20 years to exploit them. The country had 2 gold mines in operation until the early 1980s: San Cristobal in Morazan province and El Dorado in Cabanas province. Both fell into disuse during the country's civil war. There has been some renewed interest in mineral exploration at the El Dorado mine. A joint mining venture between Mirage Resources, Bethlehem Resources, and Dejour Mines was launched in July 1993. Although San Cristobal is estimated to contain 200,000 tons of ore, including deposits of gold and silver, efforts have not been made to reestablish large-scale operations there.


El Salvador's manufacturing base was established in the 1950s. As regional markets began to open in the 1960s as a result of the Mercado Comun Centroamericano (Central American Common Market, CACM), the industry began to expand. There was significant growth in the output of capital goods and chemicals in the 1970s, but manufacturing contracted in the 1980s as a result of the war and recession . The CACM began to collapse, there were shortages of foreign exchange, and the manufacturing base declined. The industry rebounded strongly in the 1990s primarily as a result of growth in the maquila sector. However, this growth steadied somewhat towards the end of the last decade as the industry matured. Expansion was also slowed by competition, especially from Mexico, which, as a party to NAFTA, receives trade benefits from the United States. Almost a dozen manufacturing plants in El Salvador closed in 1998. As of 1999, no new ones had opened.

Over the last 10 years, the maquila industry has emerged as the largest producer of export revenue in El Salvador, boosting manufacturing to 22 percent of the GDP. Production and export revenues from maquila doubled between 1994 and 1998, going from US$650 million to US$1.3 billion. Offshore production has become more important than local manufacturing, employing around 50,000 people, 85 percent of whom are women.

New opportunities have arisen since the 1990s from the revival of regional trade, yet Salvadoran manufacturers have been hard pressed to develop competitive advantages. Failure on the part of manufacturers to modernize operations, which some have blamed on the high cost of investment, have left local manufacturers vulnerable to increased competition. Compounding this liability was the failure to achieve a NAFTA parity agreement with the United States. (NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement.) By enjoying a "parity agreement" under NAFTA, El Salvador would have had the same free trade benefits as NAFTA signatories Mexico and Canada.


After the peace accord was signed in 1992, construction levels in El Salvador rose, with the building industry growing at an average rate of 6.7 percent a year between 1992 and 1997. Growth peaked in 1994 at 11.5 percent. Due to such rapid expansion, supplies of new property began outpacing demands. Construction began on 6000 new homes in 1997 alone. Many housing and commercial units built during this period have yet to be sold. In 1998, growth slowed to 3.7 percent, and in 1999 it further declined to 2.2 percent amidst allegations of corruption and charges that the sector was being used as a front for money laundering. The Camara Salvadorena de la Industria de la Construccion (Casalco, the construction industry association) is marketing newly-built homes to Salvadoran expatriates in the United States. The earthquakes that hit El Salvador at the beginning of 2001 will also stimulate activity in the construction sector.


El Salvador's service sector was the most dominant sector in the late 1990s. It accounted for 60 percent of the GDP and employed 55 percent of the labor force in 1999.


Although El Salvador has a coastline of over 308 kilometers (191 miles) and is home to ancient ruins, tourism in the country is limited. As of 2000, there had been no major initiatives launched to spur growth in the sector.


A primary component of the Salvadoran economy is the financial services sector, which has grown rapidly in recent years as the dependence on agricultural exports has declined. The sector registered an annual growth rate of 9.6 percent between 1995 and 1999.

In November 1998, the central bank in El Salvador increased bank reserve requirements by 3 percent. The increase was phased in over 5 months to reduce the available money supply and slow inflation. As a result, the average reserve ratio rose from 21 percent to 24 percent. Banks raised interest rates to make up for lost liquidity , and the economy slowed. In 1999, requirement rates were restored to their previous levels. A drop in interest rates could help quicken the rate of economic growth.

The rise in bank reserve ratios may also have been implemented to keep banks from overextending themselves. Bank failures in the 1990s lowered client confidence and small banks have suffered as a result, with many depositors transferring funds to the country's 3 or 4 largest institutions.


War and civil unrest in El Salvador during the 1980s disrupted production, undermined the export sector, and raised the demand for imported goods. As import levels

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): El Salvador
Exports Imports
1975 .531 .614
1980 .967 .966
1985 .679 .961
1990 .582 1.263
1995 .998 2.853
1998 1.263 3.112
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

began to surge in the early 1990s, the trade deficit grew, reaching US$1.7 billion in 1995, about 15.4 percent of the GDP. By 1999, the deficit had narrowed slightly to US$1.6 billion, accounting for 13.3 percent of the GDP.

Total exports in 1999 amounted to around US$2.5 billion, and imports were about US$4.1 billion. These amounts rose to US$2.8 billion for exports and US$4.6 billion for imports by 2000, according to the World Fact-book. Over the years, El Salvador's trade imbalance has been partially offset by family remittances. However, continuing deficits have forced the country to rely on foreign aid to pay for consumption.

El Salvador is dependent on the United States for a majority of its trade. Exports to the United States grew steadily over the latter part of the 1990s, climbing from US$844 million in 1995 to US$1.5 billion in 1999. By the end of the decade exports to the United States accounted for 63 percent of the total. Imports of U.S. goods grew as well during this period, though not as dramatically, rising from US$1.7 billion in 1995 to about US$2.1 billion in 1999. As of 1999, about 52 percent of Salvadoran imports came from the United States.

El Salvador's largest trading partner behind the United States is Guatemala, which accounts for about 11 percent of its exports and 9 percent of its imports. The remaining trade is conducted primarily with Germany, Japan, Costa Rica, Honduras, the Netherlands, Mexico, and Panama. El Salvador's main exports include coffee, sugar, and shrimp, as well as textiles and products derived from offshore assembly.

The Triangulo del Norto (Northern Triangle, or NT, consisting of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) has negotiated a free trade agreement with Mexico pending approval from the United States. Talks with Mexico stalled in 1998 when NT countries demanded they be given up to 15 years of preferential access to Mexican markets to allow local industries time to retool and to mitigate near-term trade imbalances which might arise from an influx of Mexican goods. Disputes blocking the deal were resolved in the latter part of 2000, and an agreement was signed. Mexican industries have become increasingly interested in Central American markets, primarily for the distribution of household appliances, processed foods, clothing, and footwear. Under the terms of NAFTA, trade agreements between Mexico and her neighbors must gain U.S. approval.

El Salvador, at least in the near term, will probably not succeed in its bid to gain NAFTA parity for its exports. NAFTA parity would benefit El Salvador by making merchandise shipped to the United States more competitive. Rising levels of drug trafficking and organized crime in El Salvador could complicate future bids for export parity.


Stabilizing El Salvador's currency and keeping inflation down are key components in the government's plan to attract foreign investment. In 1994, the colon was fixed at ¢8.755 = US$1. Strong reserves allowed the Central Bank to maintain the fixed exchange rate. Bank reserves in 1999 were US$1.97 billion, nearly 4 times what they were in 1992, when reserves stood at US$501 million. The end of the civil war, privatization of state assets, and strong family remittances have fueled the growth in reserves, which rose US$204 million in 1999 alone.

On 1 January 2001, the government in El Salvador gave up control of its monetary policy . It abandoned the fixed exchange rate and "dollarized" the economy. Thus, U.S. currency can be used in El Salvador as legal tender. El Salvadoran monetary policy is now effectively in the hands of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank.

Proponents of dollarization say it will keep the currency stable and help drive interest rates down. Critics argue that the export sector could be hurt by the move. They point out that exporters are having trouble maintaining market share in the global economy. Converting to the dollar, they argue, might lock in this competitive disadvantage.

Exchange rates: El Salvador
Salvadoran colones per US$1
Jan 2001 8.755
2000 8.755
1999 8.755
1998 8.755
1997 8.755
1996 8.755
Note: Salvadoran currency has been at a fixed rate since 1993.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].


The wealth in El Salvador is held by a small minority of the population who made their money from coffee and sugar and have now diversified into finance and commerce. Land reforms and property redistribution in the 1980s improved the situation for many small farmers and peasants, but there is still a substantial divide between the rich and the poor. According to a report from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), El Salvador's per capita income is the fifth lowest in the Western Hemisphere (when adjusted to reflect the cost of living).

The health-care system in El Salvador is in a state of disarray. Medical unions are resisting government moves toward privatization, and as a result strikes by hospital personnel have become common. Supplies of basic drugs and medical equipment are often inadequate. Hospital budgets are used up to pay salaries, with little left over for other costs. Still, general health trends have managed to improve over the last 30 years. The infant mortality rate, though still high, has fallen by over 70 percent in the last 3 decades, from 105 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 31 per 1,000 in 1997. During the same period, life expectancy increased from 57.4 to 69.1 years. The death rate for children under 5 remains high at 81 per 1,000.

The education system in El Salvador is weak. According to the USAID report published in 1998, less than 50 percent of Salvadorans graduate from the sixth grade, only 1 out of 3 complete the ninth grade, and only 1 out of 5 complete high school. The Ministry of Education has worked to improve the quality of schooling in El Salvador, and some of its efforts have met with success. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported in 2000 that programs designed to increase community participation in education at rural schools has increased student enrollment. The school day has been extended as well. Also, in 1995 a program was introduced integrating health care and public works agencies with education initiatives to ensure students had clean water, regular medical examinations, and nutritional monitoring.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
El Salvador 1,779 1,596 1,333 1,378 1,716
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Mexico 3,380 4,167 4,106 4,046 4,459
Guatemala 1,371 1,598 1,330 1,358 1,533
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage
Share: El Salvador
Lowest 10% 1.2
Lowest 20% 3.4
Second 20% 7.5
Third 20% 12.5
Fourth 20% 20.2
Highest 20% 56.5
Highest 10% 40.5
Survey year: 1996
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

El Salvador is highly polluted and suffers from severe environmental degradation. By some estimates, only 59 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. That figure is likely optimistic. Recent studies have shown that the Lempa river, the country's main potable water source, is contaminated with dangerously high levels of mercury and other heavy metals.

The earthquakes that struck El Salvador in January and February 2001 have made matters worse for the poor. Many were left homeless. Social services have been cut or delayed. The Flores administration has its work cut out for it. Its leadership, or lack thereof, during this crisis will likely determine the future political landscape in El Salvador.


A number of labor laws exist in El Salvador to protect the rights of workers. Some of these laws are enforced more than others. The Ministry of Labor, responsible for upholding labor-related statutes, has limited resources and, as a government agency, has at times been accused of bias when dealing with government-union conflicts.

According to the constitution, workers are guaranteed the right to unionize without the threat of harassment or discrimination. However, this right has not always been recognized. When the government telecommunications firm, CTE, was put up for sale in the 1990s, 72 labor leaders were fired to keep the company union-free for potential purchasers. When the workers appealed, the Ministry of Labor sided with the government on dubious grounds.

Because of its limited resources, the Ministry of Labor cannot conduct thorough labor inspections throughout the country, especially outside the manufacturing districts, and worker complaints of mistreatment, though not altogether common, frequently go uninvestigated.

Forced labor is generally prohibited by law, although in cases of calamity or national emergency the government can make exceptions. Child labor is prohibited. Children below the age 14 are not allowed to enter the workforce. Minors between the ages of 14 and 18 may work with permission from the Ministry of Labor if their employment is indispensable to either themselves or their family. Many children under 14 work despite the laws, either as street vendors or doing general labor for small businesses in the informal sector .

The minimum wage in El Salvador varies depending on the industry. Set by a tripartite commission (consisting of members of government, labor, and business), the minimum wage per day as of 1 May 1998 was US$4.81 for commercial, industrial, and service employees. Coffee plantation workers received US$3.66 plus a food allowance, and sugar and cotton plantation workers were paid US$2.61 plus a food allowance. All other agro-industrial workers were paid a minimum of US$2.47 per day. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for either individuals or their families.

Workers are on the job 6 days a week, for 8 hours a day. They get paid, however, for 7 days (56 hours) of work each week. Minors between age 14 and 18 are required to work no more than 6 hours a day. Employers are required to provide 1 month's wage per year as a bonus to workers, who are also supposed to be given 2 weeks of paid vacation a year.


1524. The Spanish first attempt to subjugate the territory of what is now El Salvador.

1821. El Salvador gains independence.

1822. El Salvador refuses to join union with Mexico, insists on maintaining its independence.

1823. The country joins the Central American Federation under General Manuel Jose Arce.

1838. The Central American Federation collapses. El Salvador becomes an independent republic.

1850s. El Salvador begins large-scale production of coffee after the discovery of synthetic dyes renders indigo production unprofitable.

1972. Jose Napoleon Duarte, leader of the Christian Democratic Party, wins the presidential election. The election is overturned by the military. Guerilla groups are formed in opposition to military rule.

1977. Right-wing government of General Carlos Humberto Romero comes to power.

1979. Leftist guerilla warfare breaks out in the cities and in the countryside and results in a 12-year civil war. Reform-minded military officers and civilian leaders unite and oust Romero, forming a revolutionary junta.

1980. Duarte, who has returned after being tortured and exiled in 1972, joins the junta.

1982. Salvadorans elect a new constituent assembly.

1983. The assembly drafts a new constitution strengthening individual rights.

1984. Duarte, head of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena), becomes the first freely-elected president in over 50 years.

1989. Arena's Alfredo Cristiani wins the presidency. Talks are initiated in September between government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Talks break down in November when FMLN guerillas launch a nationwide offensive.

1990. The UN steps in to mediate the conflict. El Salvador allows its exchange rate to float.

1991. The New York accord is signed by both sides, setting up a framework for peace. The banking system is re-privatized.

1992. A final peace agreement is signed. The FMLN lays down its arms, transforming itself into a mainstream political party. A value-added tax is instituted at 10 percent.

1994. Armando Calderon Sol of the Arena party takes over the presidency. He introduces reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy, including the privatization of state assets. He also institutes monetary stability.

1995. A plan to dollarize the economy fails. The VAT is increased to 13 percent. The economy starts to slow.

1996. Laws to facilitate privatization of state assets are passed.

1998. State sells 4 of its regional electricity distributors. The state telecoms are broken up. Social security privatization begins.

1999. Francisco Flores of the Arena party becomes president.

2001. Earthquakes hit, damaging homes and infrastructure, killing many people. The government dollarizes the economy.


El Salvador's future is uncertain. It is a country besieged by poverty and corruption. Crime rates are high, the standard of living is low, services are scarce, and health care is inadequate. A series of natural disasters have worsened already poor conditions. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and earthquakes in January and February of 2001 damaged the country's infrastructure, slowed the economy, and destroyed thousands of homes, leaving many in El Salvador, especially the poor, in dire straits. Road and infrastructure improvements will now have to be delayed as funds are diverted to general reconstruction projects. The administration under President Francisco Flores will be tested by the current situation. Flores has already been accused of allocating economic aid along partisan political lines, and his ability to effectively steer the country out of the current crisis will affect his chances for reelection in 2004.

El Salvador has signed a trade agreement with Mexico which will grant Salvadoran exports preferential access to Mexican markets. Trade agreements with the Dominican Republic and Chile should be ratified in 2001-02, which could help boost the economy. What is certain is that solid economic performance will depend on continued growth in the manufacturing and services sectors, whose expansion after the cease-fire helped fuel the post-war boom. Where El Salvador is most vulnerable is in its dependence on U.S. markets, which account for nearly 60 percent of its exports. A high performing U.S. economy will guarantee El Salvador good export earnings. A downturn in the U.S. economy, however, will lower the demand for imports, diminishing one of El Salvador's main sources of foreign exchange.

El Salvador will continue to battle unemployment among young males, which, according to some analysts, has contributed to high crime rates. Smuggling, drug trafficking, and money laundering, if left unchecked, will likely complicate relations with the United States and preclude future trade arrangements.


El Salvador has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: El Salvador, 2000. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

Embassy of El Salvador, Washington, D.C. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Agency for International Development. The USAID FY 1998 Congressional Presentation: El Salvador. <>. Accessed February 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001: El Salvador. <>. Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Background Notes: El Salvador. <>. Accessed February 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 1999: El Salvador. <>. Accessed February 2001.

John Mazor


San Salvador.


Colón (¢, often called "Peso"). One colón equals 100 centavos. Coins are in denominations of ¢1, and 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos. Paper currency is in denominations of 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100. U.S. dollars have also been accepted as a dual currency since January 2001.


Coffee, sugar, shrimp, textiles, chemicals, electricity.


Raw materials, consumer goods, capital goods, fuels, foodstuffs, petroleum, electricity.


US$24 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$2.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.). Imports: US$4.6 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.).

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El Salvador

El Salvador

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of El Salvador
Region (Map name): North & Central America
Population: 6,237,622
Language(s): Spanish, Nahua (among some Amerindians)
Literacy rate: 71.5%
Area: 21,040 sq km
GDP: 13,211 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 5
Number of Television Sets: 600,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 96.2
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 35,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 5.6
Number of Radio Stations: 91
Number of Radio Receivers: 2,750,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 440.9
Number of Individuals with Computers: 120,000
Computers per 1,000: 19.2
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 50,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 8.0

Background & General Characteristics

El Salvador had an estimated population as of 2002 of over 6 million, a higher population density than India, and a gross national product (GNP) of US$938 per capita. The country experienced a terrible civil war during the 1980s and the early 1990s; endured death squads that killed human rights advocates; felt population pressures; and survived earthquakes, hurricane Mitch, and the denigration of the natural environment. El Salvador has several political parties: the old moderate, center-left Christian Democratic Party (PDC); the right wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA); and the old guerilla, now leftist Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN). Through 1988, the PDC kept the presidency but the ARENA subsequently held on despite strong competition from FMLM. The Inter-American Development Bank spent millions of dollars in projects relating to health issues from the earthquakes, supported social peace, citizen security, and peaceful coexistence of political parties in El Salvador, and attempted to get at the root of these problems in dealing with massive poverty, homelessness, vagrant youths, and serious health issues. President Francisco Flores, unable to stop the terrorist kidnappings even in the midst of the national emergency of the earthquakes, was successful in gaining more freedom to criticize the government and sought both emergency and long-term planning initiatives in an attempt to establish social and economic stability.

El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica were the leading daily newspapers of El Salvador. In the late 1990s their publishers allowed unheard of freedom of speech to the El Salvadorean reporters whose investigative journalism both stretched the traditional freedom of reporting and sold newspapers. Conservative media owners lamented the fading of the absolute dominance of the right-wing ARENA which won almost all elections from the end of the 1992 civil war until the beginning of the millennium and held on to the presidency in the last election only through a coincidence of events and candidates.

Economic Framework

The working conditions of reporters improved in the late 1990s, although salaries continued to be so low that journalists were vulnerable to bribery. Even among information workers, new technologies were not always available. However, on February 18, 1998, the Inter-American Development Bank approved a US$73.2 million loan to El Salvador for expanding video libraries, interactive radio, learning resource centers for new technologies, school equipment, and computers through the ministry of education. However, even in 2002 El Salvador was a land of extremes. A suite in the Hotel Presidente, headquarters for the 1994 presidential elections, cost US$500, while a civil servant made US$4 a day and had no protection from being thrown out of his job in the next election. Luxury juxtaposed uncollected garbage, and black water filled the streets of the towns of El Salvador. According to the CIA World Factbook, there were 380,000 telephone lines (1998); 40,163 cellular phones (1970); 61 AM and 30 FM Radio stations (1998); 1 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) satellite (1997); 2.75 million radios (1997); 600,000 televisions (1990); 5 television stations (2000); 4 Internet service providers (2000); and 40,000 Internet users (2000).

Press Laws

Article 243 of the Constitution prohibited the national police from allowing detained people to talk to journalists because "it affects their good names and violates their right to due process." Article 272 of the El Salvadoran law stated that "In general, penal proceedings will be public. However, the judge may order a partial or total press blackout when he deems, for valid reasons, that it is in the interest of good morals, public interest or national security, or is authorized in some specific rule." This blackout may be partial or complete. Article 273 stated that "Hearings will be public, but the court may, on its own authority, order or at the request of one of the parties that said hearings be closed when required for reasons of good morals, public interest, national security or it is authorized by some specific rule."

In September, 1996, the ARENA party pushed through a controversial bill which was the New Telecommunications Law of El Salvador. Unfortunately, although the legislature had a law that built the legal framework for democratic freedom of speech and of the press in telecommunications, major sections were excluded from the bill which actually was passed. Even the newspaper, Diario de Hoy, an old mouthpiece for the conservative party, admitted that the new law hurt progress towards freedom of expression and suggested that this would make the radio the only place where journalists might be free to tell the truth. This form of the telecommunications law was presented to the legislature by the Commission for Economy and Agriculture. Through a simple majority, largely of ARENA deputies, the law passed, although the representatives of the opposition parties protested and left the Assembly. The great losers were the Association of Participating Radios and Programs of El Salvador (ARPAS) and the Union of Technical Workers of Telecommunications Business of El Salvador (ATTES). These organizations had written proposals in hopes that they might be incorporated into the law and then lobbied for those proposals and their basic regulations and guarantees that the public, as well as the private, sector would be represented. ARPAS had consulted the Federal Communications Commission of the United States in making their suggestions, but nothing of their proposal was included. ARENA's law only needed the signature of then president Dr. Armando Calderon Sol, himself of the ARENA party.

In July 2000, El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica detailed a government scandal in which government legislators were spending excessively on food, travel, and entertainment. In reaction to the news stories, the executive committee of the Legislative Assembly for a time restricted public access to any information concerning its administration and budgetary records. Since there was no member of the FMLN on the executive committee, the press coverage of the scandal could suggest that the young investigative reporters on these two periodicals were no longer afraid to report such news and the publishers were willing to sell newspapers on the basis of such reports and to back their investigative reporters.

While legislation brought forth by the Association de Periodistas de El Salvador to protect press sources languished in committee, never passing in the legislative assembly, at least the Asociacion de Periodistas de El Salvador continued to thrive. Contraportada, unable to secure any significant funding, all but ceased to exist. El Salvadorans had limited public access to their own government documents. Article one of the General Law of the Creation of SIGET (Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecommunicaciones), gave it total autonomy on all administrative and financial aspects. Article 2 required that SIGET be located in San Salvador with offices established in other locations in the country. Article 3 had it relating to other government organizations through the Ministry of Economics. Section 5 dealt with registering telecommunications stations, a big issue in El Salvador.


For many years, journalists were controlled either by the dictates of conservative publishers or by fear of the retribution of El Salvadoran security forces. In August 1988, Harper's editor Francisco Goldman published a review of the Central American press that was quoted by Noam Chomsky in "Necessary Illusions": "You have to be rich to own a newspaper, and on the right politically to survive the experience. Papers in El Salvador don't have to be censored: poverty and deadly fear do the job." Fortunately, this sad state of affairs was no longer absolutely true in the early 2000s. While once the military and government were above printed criticism unless they had fallen into government disfavor and might be sacrificed to the press in the name of spin, in the 2000s investigative journalism did occasionally peek out from among the many pages devoted to reporting sports scores, advertising smart clothes, parading new brides, and making social announcements.

The 1962 El Salvadoran Constitution, Article 6, granted freedom of speech, expression, and information that would not "subvert the public order, nor injure the morals, honor, or private life of others." For the last 20 years of the twentieth century, there was a mockery of these guarantees. However, after 1982, with the installation of a democratic system of elected officials and, at last, a decline in kidnappings and violent political retaliation and politically motivated killings, fear of reporting the news in either the press or in the broadcast media began to lessen. The 1983 Constitution confirmed the rights written down in the 1962 version. Nonetheless, conservative repression, as well as the violence of the opposing left-wing terrorists groups against the press in the early 1980s, made for a kind of self-censorship. Broadcasting licenses were and continued to be sought and renewed on a regular basis. This requirement, so harmless elsewhere, functioned as a kind of censorship for radio and TV stations as there was no guarantee of the renewal of licenses. Most of the owners of the larger broadcasting stations, periodicals, and magazines were conservative so the owners of these information sources became de facto censors and tended to move their periodicals into a conservative camp. Fear of the ubiquitous violence in El Salvador during the 1980s and 1990s, however, caused both extreme right and left wing groups to censor themselves. Despite the need to gain broadcast licenses, owners of broadcast media tolerated greater freedom of speech than did the newspapers, where the editorial policies reflected the opinions of the editors and publishers and therefore often deviated from the realities of the events discussed.

Political parties, businesses, unions, individuals, and even government agencies, might express their opinions through the campos pagados (paid political advertisements) accepted by most newspapers as advertisements. Campos pagados had been one of the few means of access to the printed word available to once revolutionary leftist groups such as the FMLN-FDR, but, of course, any organization or individual had to pay the cost for this access to the public. With the victory of FMLN in the March 12, 2000 elections, censorship decreased in some ways. However, in a famous example of censorship, Juan Jose Dalton, the son of revolutionary writer Roque Dalton, lost his place on the editorial board of El Diario de Hoy and resigned from the paper during the election campaign after he published a piece that sharply rebuked ARENA, the fading but still strong, right-wing National Republican Alliance.

State-Press Relations

While once the state controlled the press but not the radio, as of 2002 there was a more militantly adversarial relationship between state and press and perhaps a less adversarial relationship between the two in broadcast journalism. There was a time in the 1980s when a broadcast journalist without a license would have been considered a rebel and simply shot in some parts of the country and one could largely assume that daily newspapers sought government funding and defended government decisions while radio was the medium of the people. That, to a certain extent, changed. As of 2002 even reporters on La Prenza and El Mondo occasionally stood up to government privilege and survived the experience. However, El Salvador's journalists continued to suffer from restricted access to public records and resources. These restrictions limited their ability to legally contend for this information. The penal code allowed police officers to deny the press information about who had been arrested or even to prevent reporters' access to courtroom trials. Article 339 of the El Salvadorian penal code allowed imprisoning journalists for up to three years for falsely accusing someone of a crime: "An individual who offends the honor or dignity, by deed or word, of a public official in the performance of his duties, or threatened such an official verbally or in writing, shall be punished with a prison term of six months to three years. The punishment may be increased by one third of the maximum sentence should the offended party be the President or Vice President of the Republic, a Deputy of the Legislative Assembly, a Minister or Deputy Minister, a judge of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, a trial judge, or a justice of the peace."

Unfortunately, this law was not just a threat in El Salvador. Former vice president of El Salvador, Francisco Merino of the PCN (Parotid de Conciliacion Nacional), invoked this law when he brought legal action against five journalists for insulting him even though he had been arrested for shooting a police officer. Four reporters from La Prensa Gráfica, Mauricio Bolanos, Alfredo Herandez, Gregoria Moran and Jose Zometa, and El Mondo 's Camilia Calles were all threatened with the same sort of legal action as they pursued their investigative reporting of Merino's alleged illegal transfers of property as it was being investigated and brought before Judge Ana Marina Guzman.

In perhaps a breakthrough change of editorial policy, on September 1996 El Diario de Hoy, traditionally the conservative supporting newspaper of the ARENA party, criticized the new Telecommunications Law passed in El Salvador against the wishes of almost every other party in El Salvador.

Attitude Toward Foreign Media

For years, rebel forces included propaganda teams and actively enlisted often poorly trained journalists, media specialists, radio operators, and technicians. Particularly in rebel territory a person caught with radio equipment would be shot. Kidnapping was rampant during the civil war and not unknown even as of 2002 as a form of income. Foreign journalists were as likely as not to be rebels who had little formal training in radio broadcasting but gained fame through the bravery of their forbidden, unlicensed broadcasting.

Journalism continued to be a dangerous occupation in El Salvador, particularly if the journalist worked for a moderate newspaper or a television or radio station. According to a July 2000 Reuters press release from London, Jorge Zedán, 60-year-old co-owner of the television station Canal 12, and one of the directors of Saltel, the telecommunications firm, was kidnapped, held for five days, and released only after a ransom was paid. The police reportedly attacked Edwin Gongora and Miguel Gonzalez, also of Canal 12, and Ernesto Rivas of El Diariode Hoy, beat them up, and destroyed their equipment in order to stop them from interviewing Roberto Mathies Hill, who was detained and accused of fraud. The only death associated with journalism of late was the 1997 unsolved murder of Maria Lorena Saravia, a newsreader for Radio Corporacion Salvadorena. This single death was a far cry from the murders of over 25 journalists who were killed during the civil war. One could only hope that the relative safety of journalists at the turn of the millennium would be maintained. To put things in perspective, since 1992 and the end of the civil war, there was a post-war crime wave in which murderers generally got away with murder. Of 6,792 homicides since the war ended, only 415 suspects were arrested, and La Prenza Gráfica re-ported on April 21, 1999 in "Justicia de El Salvador reprobada" that the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES) claimed that suspects were arrested in only 6 to 8 percent of murder cases (Popkin).

News Agencies

El Diario de Hoy, the conservative full-service newspaper, also had a daily Internet presence and had worked hard in the late 1990s to rid itself of its reputation as a conservative mouthpiece of the government. In reaction to its reputation for being willing to present false news, the paper attempted to change the impression it has given the people of El Salvador. On June 3, 2002, for example, the Internet daily edition of this newspaper ran the picture of a Morazean farm worker on the cover as if to suggest that its old adversarial relationship with the leftist territories had disappeared. El Diario de Hoy had sections on sports, business, international and national news, and even a section called "Do You Want to Invest in El Salvador?"

Diario El Mundo offered a daily Internet news service at with an amazing "ultima hora" service designed to compete with the swiftness of radio news, in that national and international news appeared there in less than two hours.

CoLatino or El Diario CoLatino claimed to be a completely independent newspaper that had news which was real, truthful or "actualidad," but one had to get through the first page of sports before reaching news articles. CoLatino 's claim that the news was real suggested that El Salvadorans had been the victims of so much misinformation in newspapers that they continued not to trust the medium as they did radio.

La Prensa Gráfica, the premier moderate newspaper, had an extensive Web site which made news available daily on the Web as well as to those who subscribed for or bought the paper. Its subhead was "Noticias de Verdad" which, of course, implied that it was different from other newspapers in that its news was true. Its Web site was divided into national, international, department, economic news, features, and sports. El Heraldo de Occidenteand El Heraldo de Oriente, news from the west and east, kept those interested in local events abreast of the news and made La Prensa Gráfica appear open and fair-minded about local issues. Margaret Popkin noted that a major factor "that contributed to creating a climate of reform was an editorial change at La Prensa Gráfica This traditionally conservative daily took up an editorial line that favored the peace process and judicial reform effort the need for fundamental reforms and protecting individual rights" (221). The policy change was attributed to David Escobar Galinda, university president, utopian, and deservedly famous poet.

Also worth mentioning were the following sources of news: El Noticero, from Chanel 6; Guanaquiemos an electronic magazine, published in Miami, Florida by Mrs. Cecelia Medina Figueroa; Central American News, Salvadoran section; El Faro, a news service which offered up-to-date web reports on news, sports, letters to the editor, and music and which archived old articles; Diario Oficial, the official dissemination organ for legislative decrees. They were made available by the El Salvadorean government and published in this journal.

Broadcast Media


In the capitol of El Salvador, 70 radio stations compete for advertisers. Since El Salvador is small and uses repeater stations, virtually all 103 commercial radio stations can be heard in every part of the country. There is only one government-owned broadcast station. Because broadcast media does not suffer from the handicaps of illiteracy or costly access to the public, radio is the most widely used political medium in El Salvador. The ratio of radios to television sets certainly changed in the late twentieth century. In 1985 there were an estimated 2 million radio receivers and only 350,000 TVs in the whole nation. Radio Cabal broadcasted programs of news, debate, political interest, information, and radio dramas aimed at the poor of San Salvador, but since it was linked with left-wing politics, even though it was not associated with any political party, the station had difficulty getting advertisers. Obviously, targeting the poor parts of the population limited its utility to advertisers. Radio Cabal had depended on donations from international sources, including Denmark to cover broadcasting expenses. Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS), the Danish Association for International Cooperation, and Danida, the Danish International Development Agency supporting communication for development, backed the radio station both financially and with volunteers since the station's establishment in 1993.

Two of FMLN's groups, Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) and Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion (FPL), operated so-called clandestine stations named Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundo Marti, respectively. (CIA Book of Facts, Mass Media). Of course both the openly operated station and the once secret station served as sources of information for and propaganda from the FMLN. Most of the smaller stations focused programming on music rather than politics and news, but after the mid 1980s, the news programming of smaller radio stations presented a range of political points of view including rebel material, music which had potentially leftist themes, and propaganda and news reporting. The very active amateur radio association of El Salvador is Club de Radio Aficionados del El Salvador. The radio broadcasting organization of Asocacion Salvadorena de Empresarios de Radiodifusion (ASDER) is the largest in the country. VOXFM, PulsarFM, La Femenina, LAMIL80, Radio Renacer, Radio Nacional, LaQue Buena all have Web presences that allowed them to reach El Salvadorans in the United States.

The position of radio in 2002 was partly caused by the end of the civil war, but events surrounding the legitimacy of radio stations attested to the fact that all civil strife did not cease in 1992. Many years of civil war were succeeded by the 1992 peace agreement between the left-wing guerilla FMLN and the military-supported rule, and in 1994 the peace agreement led to a truly democratic general election with, for the first time, a broad spectrum of parties participating in the election. In a dramatic contrast to the election, on December 4, 1995, the Salvadoran National Civic Police (PNC) closed 10 radio stations and confiscated their broadcasting equipment. These stations were all members of the Association of Participatory Radio Stations and Programs (ARPAS) and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). Juan Jose Domenech, president of ANTEL, the state agency with the responsibility of regulating broadcasting and telecommunications, gave the orders to close the following stations: Segundo Montes (Meanguera, Department of Morazan), Izcanal (Nueva Grenada, Usulatan), Ulua (Cacaopera, Morazan); Cooperativa (Santa Elena, Usulatan); Victoria (Villa Victoria, Cabanüas); Suchitlan (Suchitoto, Cuscatlan), Excel (Zaragoza, La Libertad), Teo-Radio (Teotepeque, La Libertad), and Nejapa (Nejapa, San Salvador). Radio Sumpul might have been closed but in Guarjila, department of Chalatenango, citizens supposedly successfully defended the station from police action. The zona oriental, Morazon, the home of Radio Venceremos, continued to be a stronghold of extreme political activity. Some of the radio stations there still announced revolutionary causes, espoused what would be considered extreme priorities of redistribution of land, and remained faithful to the old cold war adversarial stance.


As of 2002, there are 8 television channels, 8 commercial stations, and 2 government-owned stations that presented educational programming during limited broadcasting hours. Perhaps more than any other medium, television had increased freedom of speech and access to information, as well as the opinions of a diversity of political organizations. TV news crews covered events, attended press conferences, interviewed, investigated, and reported elections results. When the military, police, and security forces were accused of human rights abuses, TV crews covered these stories and interviewed those accused.

Although, like Salvadorean radio, Salvadorean television stations could transmit over the entire small country, the higher cost of the hardware minimized the influence of the medium until late 1990s. Telecommunications services were provided by the public administration of ANTEL, the Administracion Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (National Telecommunications Administration), Teledos, canal 2; canal 6, canal 12, canal 19; canal 21 and canal 23. TV 12 called itself Canal Salvadoreno and its record for investigative reporting made it popular among those who fear continued misinformation from Flores's ARENA party government. Teledos claimed to have the latest news. El Salvador had television stations on the Web, satellite television, and an international cable television network. Television broadcasting services were found at Cablecolor and Calbvisa.

Associations important in this field are as follows. ANTEL was the state agency responsible for regulating broadcasting and telecommunications. Juan Jose Dome-nech was president of ANTEL and controlled the licensing system. Superintendencia de Electricidad y Telecommunicaciones (SIGET), supervised and controlled telecommunications media in El Salvador. And AMARC which covers community broadcasters.

Electronic News Media

As of 2002, providers of Internet services in El Salvador with their own Web pages were as follows: Americatel,; CyTec,; EBNet www.gbm,net; IFX,; Integra,; Intercom,; Internet Gratis,; Netcom,; Saltel;; Telecam,; Telecom,; Telefonica, com; Telemovil,; Tutopia, Providers of Internet sources without Web sites or who may be working on their Internet presence at publication time are: AmNet; EJJE; El Salvador on Line; and Newcom. Companies like Genesis Technologies are certified to install and support Internet lines and construct Intranets in El Salvador. Internet de Telemovil and many other companies are involved in webhosting. Cybergate and Intersal SA de CV also were Web providers.

Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (CONACYT) was publishing Rusta El Salvador Ciencia y Tecnologia for two years about the turn of the century, and the contents of this publication were available on the Web. From 1997 to 1999 Conacyt published Boletenes del CI. Those editions were still available as of 2002 on the Web as archived material.

Proceso, a weekly news bulletin from El Salvador, was published by Center for Information, Documentation (CIDAI) and Research Support of the Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador where it could be read on the university Web page, scripted into Spanish but partially or extensively obtained in English on PeaceNet. CIDAI was an impressive news service that covered political events and archived all its editions so that every issue was readily available. There were many articles relating to El Salvadoran immigrants in the United States and one of the group that might benefit from this Internet weekly news service that is uninterrupted by either advertising, sports or fashions. As of 2002, Proceso had written an editorial suggesting a reason why President Bush admired President Flores: President Flores was docile to the military objectives of the United States and had defended the war on terrorism and the installation of an American monitoring base on Salvadoran ground. The political events were presented in depth with serious academic and intellectual content often not found in other news coverage, and the editor seemed to support absolute freedom of speech.

Internet en El Salvador (SVNet) was a limited search engine set up by an act of the constitution of El Salvador on September 2, 1994, and run by a Secretariat associated with CONACYT. Phase I connected CONACYT, ANTEL, VES, Don Barco, and UCA. Phase II claimed to be adding VES San Miguel and Santa Ana, the National Library, EUSADES, and Polytechnic University. Telecam operated telecommunication services supervised by SIGET. Moreover, Telecom ran the telephone system and one of its subsidiaries, Publicar, S.A. published the yellow pages and distributed them door to door. Finally, computer magazines, El Salvador USA. El Salvador Magazine. comand Revista Probidad claimed to be non-partisan, anti-corruption, and pro-democracy.

Education & TRAINING

There is little doubt but that El Salvador has had an increasingly professional group of print and broadcast journalists. However, under investment in education, a damaged infrastructure, relatively weak professional institutions, a legal system historically unfriendly to investigative journalism, very low salaries in the profession, and a degraded physical environment all slowed reconstruction and the stabilization of El Salvador's many communications channels and periodicals. In some ways El Salvador's universities were overwhelmed by the nation's large number of people under the age of 20. The universities did not have a sufficiently organized professional curriculum that included journalism, radio and television, and computer science. However, the technological universities, such as Universidad Politecnica de El Salvador (VPES) and the Universidad Tecnologica de El Salvador, were making rapid advances in the area of telecommunications. The University of El Salvador offered both a master's and a 5-year Licenciatura in Journalism with an extremely well organized plan of study through the faculty of Science and Humanities. Extensive and professional course work in newspaper writing, radio and TV was available. The University of El Salvador had a department of periodismo (journalism) and was dedicated to creating professionals in the area of communication.


As of 2002, the media professionals in El Salvador, of necessity, had a kind of largely unspoken wait-and-see policy regarding political reform and freedom of speech. The FMLN evolved from being a guerilla army into an important political party, winning on March 12, 2000, a plurality in the legislative assembly as well as re-electing the FMLN candidate for mayor of San Salvador. Ironically, Cuba's insistence on leftist unity and that of Socialist European sponsors such as the West Germans, lessened the numbers of the dead, yet the fact remained that over 50,000 people died between the Duarte death squads and the leftist juggling for power. In the early 2000s, understandably, the desire for order and stability was great. Although the traditional El Salvadorean media were not as closely censored and restricted as Nicaraguan media, neither did they illustrate the diversity, plurality, and freedoms of the press of Costa Rica. Enjoying moderate freedom of speech and exhibiting great differences in political points of view, the press of El Salvador was self-censored. Publishers feared la violencia of those who would disagree with their interpretation of the news, whether opponents were right or left-wing organizations or political parties and groups. The largely conservative, business-oriented owners of the press caused a less conservative broadcast network to be the place that many El Salvadorians found news. Literacy was as much a factor in the popularity of broadcast news as the more liberal reporting provided by broadcasters. Even though approximately 70 percent of the adult population was reported to be literate, in the capital the press's influence was still limited by considerable illiteracy and poverty.

Economic censorship was real in the often under-capitalized organizations that published newspapers and ran broadcast stations. An example of the kind of economic censorship that occurs is as follows. In June 2000, after a phone-tapping accusation by Jorge Zedán, co-owner of TV DOCE, he was kidnapped but then released. El Diario de Hoy published a story accusing the state telephone company of tapping a huge number of phone lines, including the phone of Lafitte Fernandez, managing editor of that newspaper and by publishing the story accused a major advertiser and revenue source, France Telecom, of criminal activity. France Telecom immediately canceled its advertising in El Diario de Hoy. In 2002, it was too soon to suggest that all was well between the media and the government in El Salvador.

Time will tell if the government really does encourage telecommunications and sophisticated broadcast networks in and around Morazon, the old rebel capitol, and how the government uses this new technology. Nonetheless, despite significant destruction from guerrilla sabotage in the 1980s, earthquakes, and terrible economic problems, El Salvador experienced significant growth in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s. Powerful forces helped El Salvador restore order. The media's unrelenting pursuit of the truth, actualidad, gave one cause for hope for greater freedom of the press, clearer legal relationships between government and the press, and a more stable financial future for the media of El Salvador.

Significant Dates

  • 1995: Confiscating their equipment, national police close 10 community radio stations that never received broadcast licenses from ANTEL but were members of the AMARC and had been operating since at least 1990.
  • 1996: ARENA is able to get their Telecommunications Law passed in the Salvadorean legislature despite bills introduced by other parties and offers by telecommunication networks that are more forward-looking than ARENA's. Even El Diario de Hoy, usually supportive of ARENA, concedes that this bill damages freedom of expression.
  • 1997: Maria Lorena Saravia, a news reader from Radio Corporation Salvadorena who also works for YSKL and canal 21 television, is murdered. The crime remains unsolved.
  • 1999: Francisco "Paco" Flores of the Arena party begins his five-year term as president of El Salvador. The FMLN's candidate, with 29 percent of the vote, fails to disassociate himself from the violence of the civil war. Flores has spent those years teaching philosophy and managing an irrigation project with his wife, a schoolteacher. Flores, a former president of El Salvador's unicameral National Assembly, runs as a new kind of leader of ARENA, the traditionally conservative party. Flores was educated at Amherst, MA, and studies at Harvard in Cambridge, MA, and at Oxford University in England.


Arreaza-Camero, Emperatriz Communicacion. Derechos Humanos y Democracia: El Rol de Radio Venceremos en el Proceso de Democeatizacion en El Salvador (1981-1994). Available from

Belt, Juan. A.B. and Anabella Larde de Palomo. "El Salvador: Transition Towards Peace and Participatory Development." Paris: unpublished paper presented at OECD workshop 21 November 1994.

Chomsky, Noam. "Necessary Illusions: Sad Tales of La Libertad de Prensa." Harper's, (August 1988). Available from http://zena.secureforum/znet/chomsky/ni/ni/c10-s25html.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Factbook 2001. Available from

"El Salvador, Rural Development Strategy." Washington, DC: The World Bank.

Galeas, Marvin. "La prensa como contrapoder." Tendencias, no. 40. San Salvador: COOPEX.S.A., May 1995.

Gonzalez-Vega, Claudio. "BASISCentral American Reconnaissance Mission Report 19-24." Prepared for the Consortium for Applied Research on Market Access (CARMA), May 1997.

Haggarty, Richard A., ed. El Salvador: A Country Study. Washington D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990.

Morales, Maria. Radio Venceremos: un medio de comunicacion alternativo en Latino America. Mexico: U.N. A. M. (Tesis mimeografiada), 1992.

Popkin, Margaret. Peace Without Justice: Obstacles to Building the Rule of Law in El Salvador. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 2000.

Merrilee Cunningham

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El Salvador

El Salvador

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of El Salvador
Region: North & Central America
Population: 6,122,515
Language(s): Spanish, Nahua
Literacy Rate: 71.5%
Academic Year: February-October
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 2.5%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 473
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,191,052
  Secondary: 143,588
  Higher: 112,266
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 97%
  Secondary: 34%
  Higher: 18%
Teachers: Secondary: 9,255
  Higher: 5,910
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 96%
  Secondary: 36%
  Higher: 18%

History & Background

The republic of El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, with a total area of 21,041 square kilometers (8,124.59 mi.). It is bounded on the northwest by Guatemala, on the north and east by Honduras, and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. The local government is divided into 14 departments and 262 municipalities including cities, towns, and villages. The capital is San Salvador. The median age in the country declined from nineteen in 1950 to seventeen in 1975, and 41.3 percent were projected to be under the age of fifteen by 2001. The population for the year 2000 was 5.5 million. El Salvador is not only Central America's smallest country, but it is also the most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere, with an average population of approximately 298 people per square kilometer. Most of the land is devoted to agriculture and the population is concentrated in industrial and agricultural areas centered on San Salvador, which attracts people on account of better job opportunities and higher salaries. The population is divided into: Mestizo 90 percent; Indigenous 50 percent; and European descendants 5 percent.

Spanish is the national language. The daily use of Indigenous languages has faded out. There has been some academic interest in preserving the old Nahua language of the Pipils, but Nahua is not spoken in the street, except in a few Indian villages in Morazán and Chalatenango. El Salvador is predominantly Roman Catholic, but a number of other churches are also represented.

Cuscatlán, the original name of El Salvador, dates to as early as 2000 B.C. The Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century. El Salvador was dominated by the Pipils, who were descendants of Nahua and Aztec (two Mexican tribes). The Pipils came to central El Salvador in the eleventh century. In 1540, Pedro de Alvarado conquered Cuscatlán and the region came under Spanish control. It was designated a province of Nueva España and placed under the direct control of the Capitanía General de Guatemala.

The Dominican order arrived first to the Provincia de San Salvador, later the Franciscans, and later still the Mercenary Orders. Churches and convents created by faith and the commitment of the religious orders were founded in the sixteenth century. Their prosperity was concentrated on agricultural labor and the teaching of arts and informal skills. It was during this period that the first public library, school, and university were created.

Education during this period began with the convent schools. The convents in the Provincia de San Salvador were more modest than those in the Capitanía General de Guatemala, but they used the same methods and educational tendencies. The frailes received from the Indigenous people a series of histories, chronicles, and historical narratives that have disappeared because of fires or earthquakes. During the Colonial period the schools were only for the Spanish children. The Indigenous received instruction, but this was limited to the teaching of Catholicism in their native languages. Later this instruction was improved, but in the classroom they were never recognized as being in the same category as the white students.

The first school was founded in 1548 by Lic. Francisco Marroquín. From the beginning, the education of the male was more important than that of the female; her instruction was considered not only less important, but dangerous. Although many women from privileged families enjoyed better conditions, colonial women's lives were mainly committed to difficult and inferior jobs. The convents began the liberation of women. For the first time in their history, women received instruction in reading, writing, and in improving their minds along Christian precepts. An example of women educated during this period are: Juana de Maldonado, Juana de Arévalo, Ana Guerra de Jesus, Catarina de Jesus, Isabel de Bustamante y Naba, María Ana de León, Lucía Villacorta de Cañas, Josefa de Barahona, Antonia Fagoaga y Aguilar, Felipa de Aranzamendi, and Manuela Antonia de Arce.

Independence from Spain came on September 15, 1821. On July 1, 1823, El Salvador joined Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to form the Provincias Unidas de Centro América. However, regional and ideological conflicts beset the union, which was finally dissolved in 1840. In the following year, El Salvador adopted a constitution as a sovereign independent nation. The republic was formally proclaimed on January 25, 1859.

Turbulence, political instability, and frequent presidential changes characterized Salvadoran history during the second half of the nineteenth century. The land had been settled in large landholdings. The Indigenous were pushed off their land or ejidos (community land) and were forced to work on the Spanish plantations for miserable wages or no wages at all. Anastasio Aquino, chief of Nonualcos, led an unsuccessful Indigenous rebellion in 1833 with the idea that "Land is for those who work it." A hundred years later, Feliciano Ama, the last chief of Nonualcos, led another rebellion called La Matanza (The Massacre).

Relative stability was evident in the area of education from 1900 to 1942, but so was turmoil. The dictatorship of Gral. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez brought a period of constant military rule for almost 13 years. During this period, 95 percent of El Salvador's income came from coffee exports. Union activity in the industrial sector during the 1920s brought strikes and demands for better wages, but when coffee prices plummeted following the stock market crash of 1929 the situation between union workers and the landowners became unbearable. Landowners, no longer tolerating union activities, incited the government to take action. In January 1932, Agustin Farabundo Marti, the founder of the Central American Socialist Party, led an uprising of peasants and the Indigenous people. Under Hernández Martínez, the military responded by systematically killing 30,000 people. Farabundo Martí and other leaders were arrested and executed by firing squad. Martí's name is preserved in the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

In the 1960s, Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera became president, creating a favorable political environment for constitutional reform, the creation of the Common Central American Market, improved civil rights organizations for workers (including teachers), and a new educational system. The minister of education was Walter Beneke, who was responsible for the Educational Reform. For the first time, televised instruction was used in the classroom. Students throughout the country were able to obtain the same instruction for the entire curriculum. Originally, this system was overseen by experts in this pedagogical technology, but by 1972 this system was increasingly run by native personnel. General student ability and reading scores increased, although there was little difference between television and non-television classes. Behavioral objectives were introduced and students showed increased skills in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The students under this program were enthusiastic, but teacher enthusiasm waned somewhat after the initial uncritical acceptance. Teacher attitudes toward their profession as a whole and its attendant problems remained poor. Student aspirations became increasingly high, perhaps unrealistically so, but educational reform was working, as evidenced by the percentage of students going on to higher education. At the same time, Liberation Theology created an environment for preference to the poor. The social conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s cannot be explained plausibly just by population density and the socio-political balance between town and country, since the education of the masses played a significant role. Rural unions, which often originated from the cooperatives and communal associations sponsored by the church, posed little ostensible threat to the established order. That is, until the rural unions' support of the Preferential Option for the Poor brought about a rise in violence.

The era of Popular Education occurred in 1980-1992. The Civil War affected the mental health of children who were born and raised during the twelve years of the war, and exposed them to different levels of violence. Children from industrial neighborhoods who came from displaced villages reported higher war experiences and lower mental health, while children who experienced the highest personal-social effects of the war showed the poorest mental health and they were most likely to have difficulty in imagining the future. Popular education focused on children and women and their potential for societal change, and proved to be particularly relevant for women. By using popular education, the insurgent movement sought to fill the education gap created because most combatants and civilians were peasants, few of who had much opportunity for schooling in the communities where they grew up. The most sustained experiences of popular education occurred in FMLN-controlled zones of the country. Popular education was as much a political and organizational process as an educational process. The focus of the Christian-based communities was to work toward their conception of social justice and political change. Its work can be summarized as: Christian-based communities in the 1970s; refugee camps on the Honduran border in the 1980s; and repopulated communities in FMLN-controlled zones from 1980 to 1992.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Constitution adopted in 1983 rested in the executive power of the president, who appointed a cabinet to help run the country. The minister of education was responsible for all matters related to education. The Constitution of El Salvador declared that elementary education was free and compulsory for all children between the ages of seven and fifteen. In 1960, the compulsory education was extended three years more than had been the case under the old educational system, with students having to complete nine years of schooling. The public school system was controlled by the government. The curriculum for elementary and secondary levels was uniform throughout the country. The provision of education, however, suffered from rural-urban dichotomy. A number of national education plans developed by the ministry of education have recognized the inequality between the rural and urban education systems, but none have succeeded in bringing rural education up to the urban level.

Educational SystemOverview

The aims of the educational program designed in the 1960s differed significantly from the previous educational system; the objectives were democratization, introduction of technology into the classroom, and the preparation of students for achieving social and economic development. Democratization led to the rapid expansion of schools. During the 1960s, the government was able to open as many schools as possible under the program Una escuela por día (One school per day). This expansion was based on the idea that education is not a privilege, but a right of every Salvadoran. As a result, there were significant increases in enrollments at the elementary level, which reduced illiteracy rates from 72.0 percent in 1930 to 49.0 percent by 1988, and 28.5 percent by 1995.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The educational system begins with the preschool or "kindergarten," most of which are located in cities rather than rural areas. The children, ranging in age from five to six years old, receive instruction for two years, three hours per day, and five days per week. Most of these schools are under government supervision, although there are private preschools. The main objectives are to prepare the children for entry into elementary school, to inculcate in them good work habits, and to develop oral and listening comprehension skills.

The school calendar runs from February to the end of October, five hours per day, Monday through Friday. Graduation takes place on November 5th. Elementary education begins at the age of seven and last for nine years. From the seventh grade, students receive classes in English as a second language as a part of the curriculum; it remains a requirement throughout the rest of their elementary school years. Curriculum stresses the teaching of formal Spanish grammar as well the fundamentals of science and mathematics, and six hours are devoted to sports and cultural activities.

Most primary schools are not coeducational. However, the majority of classes in grades seven to nine are mixed. Both men and women are teachers at this level. Student-teacher ratios are high in public schools. With an insufficient number of teachers, classrooms are over-crowded. In 1993, there were 3,961 primary schools with an enrollment of 1,042,256 primary students. In order to best utilize the buildings, there are two groups of students: one group attends in the morning from 7:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.; the other attends from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Some schools have adult evening classes from 7:00-9:00 p.m. Among school-age children, the total student enrollment in 1980 was 65 percent; in 1993, 70 percent; and by 1995 it had risen to 79 percent in public primary schools.

Only about 8 percent of the country's total enrollment in middle secondary education was rural children; the majority of the illiterate population reside in rural areas. The high degree of rural illiteracy reflects several factors, at the most basic level, the number of teachers and schools provided for rural areas. In the 1980s, only 15 percent of the nation's teachers served in rural areas, although these areas accounted for 64 percent of the primary schools. Of the primary schools available to rural children, approximately 70 percent offered education only below grade four or five. By contrast, 90 percent of the urban primary schools offered grade five and above.

There was a high attrition rate in school attendance in rural areas as students left school to earn wages or work at home. Although school attendance generally began at about the age of eight or nine, approximately 70 percent of all male workers began employment before the age of fifteen, many by age ten or earlier, thus permitting only one or two years of schooling. Many girls also dropped out of school at an early age in order to assume domestic responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings, working in the fields, or tending animals. Therefore, only 20 percent of the rural school-age children reached grade six, and only a few percent reached grade nine. Efforts to improve this situation in the rural agricultural areas were somewhat discouraging, in part because of the political tension during the Civil War and post-war period. In some situations, teachers, mainly women, faced threats if they supported political change. Many rural landowners seemed to prefer an uneducated rural population on the grounds that better-educated workers would expect better wages and be more likely to organize and lobby the government for reform, particularly land reform.

In the 1960s, Educational Reform integrated the middle school into elementary education. Aimed at preparing students for the secondary level, the curriculum, different from grades seven to nine, consists of history, geography, mathematics or algebra, science, English, physics, computer programming (available only at private schools), sports and cultural activities. Students who pass gain the primary school certificate and are allowed to progress to secondary educational institutions.

Secondary Education

Secondary education, for children from the age of sixteen, lasts for three years. Of children in the relevant age group, only 21 percent were enrolled in secondary schools in 1996. The curriculum at the secondary level was developed by the government to be uniform throughout the country. The provision of the secondary level suffers from the same rural-urban dichotomy as the public school system. Only a small percentage of students reach grade twelve and receive their bachillerato (equivalent to a high school diploma). Secondary-level enrollment among the rural population is about 8 percent of the country's total enrollment in secondary education; in grades ten through twelve it drops to about 1 percent. Although both men and women teach at this level, the majority are men. The school year runs from February through November. In general, the curriculum prepares students for either employment or further study. At the secondary level there are different programs: academic or general, technical, pedagogical, and commercial.

Academic Secondary Study: The academic secondary study has two programs, physics/mathematics and chemistry/biology. All students are expected to take the same courses in the first year and carry about 30 instructional hours. In the second year, students start taking different courses according to their program. For example, the science/mathematics program students would take the same classes as other students, and later add specialty classes such as vocational physics/mathematics, and, for science students, the instructional classes include vocational chemistry and advanced biology. In the third year, the number of courses is reduced, but the vocational classes are increased. For example, seventeen hours per week are dedicated to the specialty. Also, all students in the third year take the following common courses: letters, demography, English, and physics/mathematics. After completion of the three-year cycle of secondary education, students sit an examination administered by the government; those who pass are awarded a high school certificate. These programs are offered specially in private schools or Catholic colleges for upper class students. Most of the students continue to the university level.

Commercial Secondary Study: This program consists of three years of instruction. The curriculum at this level is vocational and is aimed at preparing students for employment or further vocational training programs. The program focuses on three areas of study: economics, business administration, and accounting. The certificate is earned after three years upon passing the final examination. The students either enter the labor market or a postsecondary institution. The curriculum of the commercial secondary studies is computer science, economics, accounting, typing and shorthand, among others. The total instruction hours per week are 30.

Technical Secondary Study: Technical secondary study is only offered to low income students at the National Institutes. There are three programs: general mechanics, general electrics, and auto mechanic. All these programs are based on three years of attendance, from Monday to Friday, 40 hours per week. In the first year, all students are expected to take the same courses. There are no electives until the second year, when each program introduces special courses according to each specialty. After completing the three years cycle of secondary education, the students take the government-administered examination.

Pedagogic Secondary Study: This program is offered for students who want to be preschool or elementary teachers. If they want to specialize in secondary education they need to attend the university level. The curriculum in this program is focused on pedagogy, children's literature, psychology, sociology, philosophy, methodology, and teaching techniques. After the second year, students spend a great of deal of time working on the practical, supervised by teachers. At the end of the third year, students take two examinations, on science and pedagogical material, administered by the government. Those who pass are awarded the diploma of education. Those who fail may take the examinations again.

Transitional Education: The aim of the Technological Institute is to make the transition from study to work simple and to make education relevant to the social and economic needs of the country. It also targets students who cannot afford tuition at the university level. Study at this institute, located in Santa Tecla, lasts for two years, 40 hours per week. The program offers technical industry, civil engineering, architecture, mechanics, and decoration courses.

Higher Education

There are three public and twelve private universities. The most important universities are the University of El Salvador authorized in 1841 and The Central America University (UCA) in San Salvador. After the war, the participation of women became very significant. In 1993, some 77,369 students were enrolled at universities and other higher-level institutions; approximately 51 percent of these students were female. Attaining a university education is still the key to status in Salvadoran society. For students from low-income families, the University of El Salvador, with its enrollment averaging 30,000 students, offers them the best opportunity. The enrollment age is between 19 and 23. The National University requires an admission examination, and offers all fields of study; the Central America University specializes in the humanities. Between 1950 and 1980, the country's urban population grew from 18 percent to 44 percent of the total, an average increase by regional standards; that of the city of San Salvador increased from 116,000 to 700,000 (this, too, by no means exceptional in Central America). Both men and women teach at this level, and there is strong competition between their numbers. The school year is divided in two semesters (circles) and runs from January to December. After completing the requirement for their specialty, students write and defend a dissertation. Successful completion enables them to earn the Licenciatura (Master's degree).

Teaching Profession

Traditionally, teachers were recruited from the high school level, but, after 1930, they were recruited from the graduating classes of the Escuelas Normales (teacher training schools). After 1965, under Educational Reform, the Escuelas Normales developed into part of the secondary educational system. Most of the teachers for universities and higher levels hold a Master's degree or doctorate.


By the late 1990s, El Salvador was financially stable and had recovered from the economic crisis of the 1980s. However, there are many challenges to be met in the future. For example, for the vast majority of rural residents, unemployment, under-employment, and extremely low wages combine to keep the standard of living low and the quality of life barely tolerable. The educational system has emphasized elementary and secondary education in urban areas. Even the ministers of education have recognized the inequality between rural and urban education, but none have succeeded in bringing rural education up to the urban level. The earthquakes of January 13 and February 13, 2001 destroyed many rural schools. It is imperative that the government builds more schools and improves the lack of adequate facilities, equipment, and personnel in rural areas. According to the Opicina de Referencia de Población (PRB), the population in El Salvador is estimated to reach twelve million by the year 2030. The departments with the most population are: San Salvador with 2,240 people per square kilometer, La Libertad with 413 people per square kilometer, and Sonsonate with 367 people per square kilometer; compared with 97 people per square kilometer in Chalatenango. El Salvador needs to create a politically aware population in order to reorganize. High levels of poverty, agricultural stagnation, environmental damage, and increasing social crime and violence are all issues that the country urgently needs to confront.


Berthell, Leslie, ed. Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean since 1930, 251-282. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Browning, David. "History of El Salvador." Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations Americas. Detroit-New York: Worldmark Press, Ltd., 1997.

Cagan, Beth, and María Juli. "Maintaining Wartime Gains for Women: Lessons from El Salvador." Institutional Social Work 4 (October 1998): 405-415.

Gunson, Phil, and Greg Chamberlain, eds. The Dictionary of Contemporary Politics of Central America and the Caribbean, 132-133. London: T.J. Press Ltd. Cornwall, 1991.

Freire, Paulo. "Liberation and Pedagogic Empowerment: Identities and Localities: Social Analyses on Gendered Terrain. Symposium." Latin American Perspectives 26.4 (July 1999): 3-106.

Funkhouser, Edward. "Mobility and Labor Market Segmentation: The Urban Labor Market in El Salvador." Economic Development and Cultural Change 46.1 (October 1997): 123-153.

Haggerty, Richard A., ed. El Salvador: A Country Study, Area Handbook Series. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1990.

Hammond, John L., ed. Fighting to Learn: Popular Education and Guerrilla War in El Salvador. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

. "Popular Education as Community Organizing in El Salvador." Latin American Perspectives 26.4 (July 1999): 69-94.

. Popular Education in the Salvadoran Guerrilla ArmyHuman Organization 55 (Winter 1996): 436-445.

Kincaid, A. Douglas. "Peasants into Rebels: Community and Class in Rural El Salvador." Comparative Studies in Society and History 3 (July 1987): 466-494.

Mayo, John K. Educational Reform with Television: the El Salvador Experience. Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 1976.

Pan American Health Organization. Health Condition in the Americas, 1981-1984. Washington: Scientific Publication No. 500, 1986.

Sol, Ricardo. El Salvador: Medios Masivos y Comunicación Popular. San José, Costa Rica: Editorial Porvenir, 1984.

Waggoner, George R., and Barbara Ashton Waggoner. Education in Central America. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1971.

Walton, Joan Riley, Ronald L. Nuttall, and Ena Vazquez Nuttall. "The Impact of the War on the Mental Health of Children: A Salvadoran Study." Child Abuse & Neglect 21 (August 1997): 737-749.

Marta A. Umanzor

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El Salvador

El Salvador

Official name : Republic of El Salvador

Area: 21,040 square kilometers (8,124 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount El Pital (Cerro El Pital) (2,730 meters/ 8,957 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Western and Southern

Time zone: 6 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 142 kilometers (88 miles) from north to south; 270 kilometers (168 miles) from west-northwest to east-southeast

Land boundaries: 545 kilometers (339 miles) total boundary length; Guatemala 203 kilometers (126 miles); Honduras 342 kilometers (213 miles)

Coastline: 307 kilometers (191 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 363 kilometers (200 nautical miles)


El Salvador is located on the south side of the Central America isthmus. It has a southern coastline along the North Pacific Ocean and shares borders with Guatemala to the northwest and Honduras to the northeast. With an area of about 21,040 square kilometers (8,124 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts. El Salvador is divided into fourteen departments.


El Salvador has no territories or dependencies.


Temperatures in tropical El Salvador vary more with altitude than with season. The average temperature in the central highlands is 28°C (74°F) year round. But along the coast and at lower altitudes, the temperatures tend to be hotter, while in the northern mountains, the climate tends to be cooler. Even at the highest elevations, the climate remains temperate, rarely approaching freezing even in the winter.

Most rainfall occurs during the winter, which runs from May to October. The heaviest rains are along the coast. During the wet season, this region averages 216 centimeters (85 inches), while the drier northwest area averages 150 centimeters (60 inches). Summer is the dry season, lasting from November to April.

Heavy rains have become a hazard, mostly due to deforestation of the countryside. Hurricanes have caused massive landslides, property damage, and loss of life.


El Salvador is divided into three geographic regions: the hot, narrow Pacific coastal belt; the central plateau; and the northern lowlands.

El Salvador is one of the most seismically active, earthquake-vulnerable areas in the Western Hemisphere. The country lies between two areas of active tectonic plate movement. In southern El Salvador, on the Pacific Ocean side, the Cocos Plate pushes itself under the relatively motionless Caribbean Plate (a process called subduction), accounting for frequent earthquakes near the coast. As the ocean floor is forced down, the submerged rocks melt, and the molten material spews up through fissures, producing volcanoes and geysers.

North of El Salvador, the North American Tectonic Plate abuts one edge of the same stationary Caribbean Plate, creating a major fault that runs the length of Río Motagua Valley in Guatemala. Motion along this fault generates earthquakes in both Guatemala and the northernmost part of El Salvador.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

El Salvador's southern border is the Pacific Ocean. Off the coast lies a deep ocean valley, called the Middle America Trench, which was created by movement of the Cocos Tectonic Plate.

Sea Inlets and Straits

At its southeastern tip, El Salvador faces Nicaragua across the Gulf of Fonseca (Golfo de Fonseca), with La Unión Bay lying between El Salvador and Honduras, just off the town of La Unión in the northwestern Gulf. Further west is Jiquilsco Bay, a narrow inlet that forms a long westward-reaching finger of water.

Islands and Archipelagos

The small islands of Meanguera and Meanguerita lie in the Gulf of Fonseca. The coasts of these islands are covered with mangroves.

Coastal Features

The area between the coastal range and the shoreline is relatively narrow; it spans about 32 kilometers (20 miles) at its widest point in the eastern end of the country, until it eventually disappears at the western end. The beaches are black volcanic sand with many marshes. Near the small port of La Libertad, volcanoes fall steeply to the sea, leaving virtually no beach.

West of La Libertad is the popular 75-kilometer-long (45-mile-long) beach known as Balsam Coast (Costa de Bálsamo). Remedios Point (Punta Remedios) is near the western-most end of the country.


El Salvador contains hundreds of tiny lakes and a few larger ones. The largest lake, the scenic Lake Ilopango (Lago de Ilopango), lies just east of San Salvador and contains emerald-blue water in the caldera (crater formed by the eruption of a volcano) of an inactive volcano. The lake has an area of about 65 square kilometers (25 square miles). In the late 1800s, an island, Burnt Island (or Islas Quemadas), appeared in the middle of the lake, perhaps as a result of receding water levels or seismic activity.

A second volcanic lake, Lake Coatepeque, is smaller in surface area but it is so deep, its lowest point is unknown. It is located in Cerro Verde National Park, located due north of Lago de Ilopango. A third lake, Lake Guija, lies in the northwest region on the border with Guatemala.

Jocotal Lagoon (Laguna del Jocotal) is really a permanent freshwater lake that covers 1,570 hectares (3,880 acres). The lake is 3 meters (10 feet) deep during the wet season but it recedes to less than 1.1 meters (4 feet) deep during the dry season. The lake is eutrophic (especially supportive of plant life) and much of the surface is covered with floating vegetation. In 1978 a wildlife sanctuary was created at the site. In May 1999, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands registered the surrounding marsh as an internationally significant wet-land. Jocotal Lagoon is located just south of the San Miguel Volcano.


The Lempa River (Río Lemopa) is the longest river in El Salvador. It is also the only navigable river in the country. The Lempa originates in Guatemala, flowing for a short distance through Honduras before entering El Salvador. The total length of the river is 320 kilometers (200 miles). The portion that flows through El Salvador is approximately 257 kilometers (160 miles) long. Once in El Salvador, the river turns east near Lake Guija, where it is fed by a tributary from the lake. From there, the Lempa continues in an easterly direction about halfway across the country, then turns south to empty into the Pacific Ocean. The area around the mouth of the Lempa is known as Montecristo Island (Isla Montecristo). It is undeveloped with lush stands of mangroves. Hundreds of smaller rivers and streams drain from the highlands directly into the Pacific Ocean or are tributaries of the Lempa.

The Río Grande de San Miguel flows in the eastern part of the country, originating north of San Francisco and continuing southward past San Miguel. It joins a tributary that flows from Lake Olomega, and the two combined waterways then meander westward for about 40 kilometers (25 miles) before turning south to the Pacific Ocean. Another river, the Jiboa, flows from Lake Ilopango to the Pacific, where its mouth marks the country's approximate midpoint.


Although there are no true deserts in El Salvador, it has been estimated that half of the land has been severely eroded from deforestation, farming, and development. Much of this land is on the way to becoming desert. This phenomenon, known as desertification, is a worldwide problem.


The plains region of El Salvador is really part of the central plateau (see Plateaus and Monoliths).


The "Ring of Fire" encircles the Pacific Ocean, stretching northward from New Zealand and running along the eastern edge of Asia, then moving across to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and traveling south along the edges of North and South America. This area contains at least 75 percent of the world's volcanoes, and a large number of these are still active. Frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity occurs here as a result of the Pacific Tectonic Plate pushing against other adjacent tectonic plates.


This tiny "Land of Volcanoes" contains more "Ring of Fire" volcanoes than any other Central American country. Two volcanic-formed mountain ranges run roughly northwest to southeast across northern and southern El Salvador, with a broad high plateau between them. The northern Sierra Madre range is a continuous chain, with elevations from 1,580 to 2,200 meters (5,200 to 7,210 feet). The southern coastal range is a discontinuous chain composed of more than twenty volcanoes in five clusters. Near the western end is the Santa Ana Volcano, the highest volcano in the country at 2,381 meters (7,812 feet). Also at the western end is the Izalco Volcano (1,950 meters/6,396 feet), known as "Light-house of the Pacific," which last erupted in 1966, making it El Salvador's most recently active volcano. Other volcanoes in the chain are the San Salvador Volcano northwest of the city of San Salvador, San Vicente Volcano (2,180 meters/7,155 feet) south of the city of San Vicente, and the San Miguel Volcano (2,120 meters/6,957 feet) southwest of the city of San Miguel.

The highest mountain in El Salvador is not a volcano. Mount El Pital (Cerro El Pital) sits on the Honduras-El Salvador border and towers to a height of (2,730 meters/ 8,957 feet).

Some of the country's most spectacular forests are in the mountain regions. In the northwest corner, at the junction of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three countries have agreed to protect an area called El Trifinio International Biosphere Reserve. The El Salvador portion is named Montecristo National Park. Montecristo National Park is perpetually covered in clouds and mist. It is a spectacular true rainforest, an increasingly rare type of ecosystem. Within the boundary of the park are giant ferns, air plants, and areas near the ground that never receive sunlight, since the foliage is so dense. The park protects a few species of mammals, including endangered jaguars, jungle foxes, tree-dwelling spider monkeys, and opossums.

Near the southwest coast, near the country's border with Guatemala, is the Impossible Forest (Bosque El Imposible) National Park. It is named for a dangerous pass that is part of a traditional mule trail employed to transport coffee to the coast. The park is home to four hundred species of trees and nearly three hundred species of birds, as well as to unique animals such as the Tamandua anteater (antbear), pumas, and hundreds of species of butterfly. Three extinct volcanoes are located within the park boundaries, which is described as one of the last examples of coastal rainforest.


In Morozan, in northeast El Salavdor, the two caves of Espiritu Santo and Cabeza de Duende have well-preserved pre-Columbian paintings on the walls.


UNESCO named the archaeological excavation site of Joya de Ceren in El Salvador a World Heritage Site. Joya de Ceren was a farming community that was completely buried under lava from a volcanic eruption around 600 a.d. The artifacts and fossils found there have provided a great deal of insight into the daily lives of the community's inhabitants.


The central valley, running east and west between the two mountain ranges, is actually a rolling plateau peppered with lava fields, escarpments, and geysers. Comprising most of the land in the country, this high plain averages 50 kilometers (30 miles) in width with an average elevation of 600 meters (2,000 feet). Starting in the early 1900s, forests in the central high plateau have been cleared and farmed, creating large areas of grasslands across much of the country. Coffee, the major natural resource of El Salvador, is grown extensively across this plateau region.


A dam on the Lempa River created the Cerrón Grande Reservoir.



Boland, Roy C. Culture and Customs of El Salvador. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Brauer, Jeff, and Bea Weiss. On Your Own in El Salvador. Charlottesville, VA: On Your Own Publications, 2001.

Kelly, Joyce. An Archaeological Guide to Northern Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Towell, Larry. El Salvador. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

Web Sites

Wild World: Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World. National Geographic. (accessed May 17, 2003).

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El Salvador

El Salvador (ĕl sälväŧħōr´), officially Republic of El Salvador, republic (2005 est. pop. 6,705,000), 8,260 sq mi (21,393 sq km), Central America. The country is bounded on the south by the Pacific Ocean, on the west by Guatemala, and on the north and east by Honduras. The capital and largest city is San Salvador.

Land and People

Two volcanic ranges, running roughly west to east, segment the country, but in between are broad, fertile valleys, such as that of the Lempa, the principal river. There are several fairly large lakes. El Salvador is the smallest Latin American republic and the most densely populated; overpopulation is a critical problem. The vast majority of the population is of mixed indigenous and European descent. Spanish is the official language. Roman Catholicism the dominant religion, but there is a growing minority who belong to evangelical Protestant churches.


El Salvador's economy has traditionally been agricultural, but services and industry now employ a greater percentage of the workforce and account for a much higher percentage of the gross domestic product. El Salvador's economy was adversely affected by its 12-year civil war. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, attempts were made to revive the country's economic life, and the economy had recovered by the beginning of 2001, when El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency.

About half of the land is used for either crops or pasturage. Corn is the chief subsistence crop, and rice, beans, oilseeds, and sorghum are also grown; coffee and sugar are the major cash crops. Food and beverage processing is important and petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, furniture, and light metals are among El Salvador's leading manufactures. The Inter-American Highway crosses El Salvador and forms the heart of an excellent transportation system that links San Salvador with the ports of La Unión, Acajutla, and La Libertad and the inland cities of San Miguel and Santa Ana.

Offshore assembly products, coffee, sugar, shrimp, textiles, and chemicals are El Salvador's main exports. The leading imports are raw materials, consumer and capital goods, fuel, food, petroleum, and electricity. The United States is by far the largest trading partner.


El Salvador is governed under the constitution of 1983. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is popularly elected for a five-year term and may not succeed himself. The members of the 84-seat unicameral Legislative Assembly are elected for three-year terms. The principal parties are the National Republican Alliance (ARENA), the Christian Democratic party (PDC), and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The country is divided administratively into 14 departments.


Before the arrival of the Spaniards, El Salvador was inhabited by the Pipils, descendants of the Aztecs and the Toltecs of Mexico, who had arrived in the 12th cent. In 1524 Pedro de Alvarado landed and began a series of campaigns that resulted in Spanish control. With independence from Spain in 1821, it became briefly a part of the Mexican Empire of Augustín de Iturbide, and after the empire collapsed (1823) El Salvador joined the Central American Federation. El Salvador protested the dominance of Guatemala and under Francisco Morazán succeeded in having the federal capital transferred (1831) to San Salvador. After the dissolution of the federation (1839), the republic was plagued by frequent interference from the dictators of neighboring countries, notably Rafael Carrera and Justo Rufino Barrios of Guatemala and José Santos Zelaya of Nicaragua.

The primacy of coffee cultivation in the economy began in the second half of the 19th cent. Intense cultivation led to the predominance of landed proprietors, and the economy became vulnerable to fluctuations in the world market price for coffee. In 1931, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, capitalizing on discontent caused by the collapse of coffee prices, led a coup. His dictatorship lasted until 1944, after which there was chronic political unrest.

Under the authoritarian rule of Major Oscar Osorio (1950–56) and Lt. Col. José María Lemus (1956–60) considerable economic progress was made. Lemus was overthrown by a coup, and after a confused period a junta composed of leaders of the National Conciliation party came to power in June, 1961. The junta's candidate, Lt. Col. Julio Adalberto Rivera, was elected president in 1962. He was succeeded in 1967 by Col. Fidel Sánchez Hernández.

Relations with Honduras deteriorated in the late 1960s. There was a border clash in 1967, and a four-day war broke out in July, 1969. The Salvadoran forces that had invaded Honduras were withdrawn, but not until 1992 was an agreement that largely settled the border controversy with Honduras signed. The last disputed border area was finally marked in 2006.

In the 1970s El Salvador's overpopulation, economic problems, and inequitable social system led to social and political unrest; by the end of the decade, murder and other terrorism by leftist guerrillas and especially by right-wing "death squads" had become common. In 1979, Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero, the last in a series of presidents whose elections were denounced by many as fraudulent, was overthrown by a military junta. Murders and other terrorism continued, and the unrest erupted into a full-scale civil war between the government and guerrillas of the leading opposition group, the FMLN.

In 1980, José Napoleón Duarte, a Christian Democrat, assumed the presidency under the junta and called for presidential elections, which he won in 1984. Despite his reputation as a reformer, he did not appear able to rein in the army and control the death squads. These excesses continued after the election in 1989 of President Alfredo Cristiani, leader of the right-wing ARENA party.

In 1991, however, the Cristiani government, with help from the United Nations, negotiated with the FMLN, and in Jan., 1992, a peace treaty with the rebels was signed, ending the bloody 12-year civil war that killed over 70,000 people. The FMLN demobilized and participated in the postwar 1994 elections, which resulted in the presidency of Armando Calderón Sol, the ARENA candidate. The army was apparently reined in, and terrorism and violence, by both left and right, virtually disappeared. A major program was put in place to transfer land (80% of which was concentrated in the hands of the wealthy) to former combatants. However, progress in implementing reforms and rebuilding the economy was slow, and was further hindered by a major hurricane in 1998.

The ARENA party remained in power with the election of Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez to the presidency in 1999. In Mar., 2000, however, the FMLN won the greatest number of seats in the National Assembly, although not enough to control the legislature. Two earthquakes struck central El Salvador a month apart early in 2001, killing about a thousand people and leaving many homeless. In Mar., 2003, the FMLN again won the largest bloc of assembly seats, but failed to win a majority. The presidential elections a year later resulted in an ARENA victory; Elías Antonio "Tony" Saca received 57% of the vote. An earthquake in Jan., 2005, killed nearly 700 people. An increase in gang-related violence in 2005 led to army patrols on the country's streets.

Legislative elections in Mar., 2006, gave a plurality of the seats to ARENA, but it failed to win a majority and the FMLN was a close second. The government mounted a crackdown against criminal gangs in Aug., 2006, but gang violence remained a continuing and serious problem of the 21st cent., one that the government has proved unable to control. In Oct., 2006, the government said it had uncovered an assassination plot against the president that was linked to the anti-gang campaign.

Crime and deteriorating economic conditions contributed to the election of Mauricio Funes, a journalist and moderate leftist who was the FMLN candidate, as president in Mar., 2009; the FMLN also won a plurality of seats in the National Assembly in January. Funes became the first leftist candidate to be elected to the office. The assembly elections in Mar., 2012, resulted in losses for the FMLN, and ARENA edged ahead to become the largest party in the legislature; no party won a majority. Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Funes's vice president and a former FMLN rebel, narrowly won the presidency in Mar., 2014. ARENA again won a plurality in the assembly elections in Mar., 2015.


See T. P. Anderson, Matanza: El Salvador's Communist Revolt of 1932 (1971); D. Browning, El Salvador: Landscape and Society (1971); A. White, El Salvador (1973); P. L. Russell, El Salvador in Crisis (1984); J. Dunkerley, The Long War: Dictatorship and Revolution in El Salvador (1985); R. A. Haggerty, ed., El Salvador, a Country Study (1990).

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El Salvador

El Salvador


21,040sq km (8124sq mi)



capital (population):

San Salvador (496,000)



ethnic groups:

Mestizo 89%, Native American 10%, White 1%


Spanish (official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 94%)


Colón = 100 centavos

Republic in Central America. El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. It has a narrow coastal plain along the Pacific Ocean. The majority of the interior is mountainous with many extinct volcanic peaks, overlooking a heavily populated central plateau. Earthquakes are common; in 1854, an earthquake destroyed the capital, San Salvador. In October 1986, another earthquake killed 400 people and caused widespread damage.


The coast has a hot tropical climate. Inland, the climate is moderated by altitude. There is a wet season between May and October.


Grassland and some virgin forests of original oak and pine are found in the highlands. The central plateau and valleys have areas of grass and deciduous woodland, while tropical savanna or forest cover the coastal regions.

History and Politics

In 1524–26, the Spanish explorer Pedro de Alvarado conquered Native American tribes such as the Pipil, and the region became part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Guatemala. Independence was achieved in 1821, and in 1823 El Salvador joined the Central American Federation. The federation dissolved in 1839. El Salvador declared independence in 1841, but was continually subject to foreign interference (especially from Guatemala and Nicaragua). El Salvador's coffee plantations developed at this time.

Following a collapse in the world coffee market, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez seized power in a palace coup (1931). In 1944 a general strike (1944) overthrew his brutal dictatorship. After a period of progressive government, a military junta headed by Julio Adalberto Rivera (1962–67) and Fidel Sánchez Hernández (1967–72) seized power. Honduras' discriminatory immigration laws exacerbated tension on the border between the two countries. The ‘Soccer War’ (1969) broke out following an ill-tempered World Cup qualifying match. Within four days, El Salvador captured much of Honduras. A ceasefire occurred and the troops withdrew. In the 1970s, the repressive National Republican Alliance (ARENA) regime compounded El Salvador's problems of overpopulation, unequal distribution of wealth, and social unrest. Civil war broke out in 1979 between US-backed government forces and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The 12-year war claimed 75,000 lives and caused mass homelessness. A cease-fire came into effect in 1992, and the FMLN became a recognized political party. In 1993 a UN Truth Commission led to the removal of senior army officers for human rights abuses, and the decommissioning of FMLN arms. Armando Calderón Sol of the ruling ARENA party became president in 1994 elections. Francisco Flores succeeded him in 1999. In 2001, massive earthquakes killed 1200 people and left one million homeless.


El Salvador is a lower-middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$4000). Farmland and pasture account for c.60% of land use. El Salvador is the world's 10th largest producer of coffee. Its reliance on the crop caused profound economic structural imbalance. Sugar and cotton grow on the coastal lowlands. Fishing is important, but manufacturing is on a small scale. The civil war devastated the economy. Between 1993 and 1995, El Salvador received more than US$100 million of credit from the IMF.

Political map

Physical map


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El Salvador

El Salvador

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Salvadorean, Guanaco, salvadoreño


Identification. El Salvador "the Savior," was named by Spanish conquistadors. Guanaco, a type of bird, is a slightly derogative nickname used by other Central Americans and some Salvadorans.

Location and Geography. El Salvador is a country of 8,260 square miles (21,040 square kilometers) in Central America, between Guatemala and Honduras. Mountains separate the country into the southern coastal belt, the central valleys and plateaus, and the northern mountains. These regions have created slight cultural variations because of the different crops grown in each one. Coffee grown in the mountains and cane grown on the coast provide the rural population with paid labor; in the central valleys, corn and beans are grown for private consumption and for sale. Most industry is in the center, where the capital, San Salvador, is located. Other large cities include San Miguel in the east and Santa Ana in the west.

Demography. In 1999 the population was estimated to be 5,839,079, making El Salvador one of the most densely populated countries in the Western Hemisphere. Over a million persons have migrated, starting in the early 1980s during a civil war. Legal and illegal emigration has continued at a high rate since the end of the civil war in 1992.

Linguistic Affiliation. Almost all residents speak Spanish, which was brought in by the conquistadors. Before the Spanish conquest, the area was inhabited by the Pipil Indians. Very few Salvadorans now speak the indigenous language, which virtually disappeared after 1932, when General Maximilio Hernández Martínez suppressed rural resistance by massacring 30,000 mostly Indian rural peasants. Those who survived la Matanza ("the massacre") hid their Indian identity by changing their dress and speaking only Spanish. Some remnants of the Pipil language remain in everyday Salvadoran Spanish.

Symbolism. The flag consists of two blue horizontal stripes with a white stripe in the middle. In the center is a coat of arms inscribed "1821," the year of independence. Salvadorans in the United States often have plaques that contain the flag, as a symbol of national pride. Since independence, the blue in the flag has symbolized support for the ruling oligarchy, while the red has symbolized support for communism or resistance. Conservative political parties use blue in their banners; a liberal party, the Farabunda Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), uses red and centralist parties use blue or green. During the civil war, both sides sang the national hymn.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Before the Spanish conquest, the area that is now El Salvador was made up of two large Indian states and several principalities. Most of the area was inhabited by the Pipil. Spain's first attempt to conquer the area failed as the Pipil forced Spanish troops to retreat. In 1525, the district fell under the control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, a colony of Spain, which retained authority until independence in 1821. During the colonial period, the Spaniards replaced the communal property of the indigenous population with a system of private property. The encomienda system obliged Indians to work for the Spanish in order to pay a large tax. At the top of the colonial hierarchy were the Peninsulares , Spaniards born in Spain. Under them were the criollos , Spaniards born in the Americas. The mestizos were people of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent, who had some rights but could not hold private property. The indigenous peoples were exploited and mistreated.

Independence from Spain (1821) was sought by criollos who were inspired by the American and French revolutions. They gained support from the Indians and landless peasants by promising to end the abuses committed by landowners. After the revolution, Indians and peasants remained impoverished and largely without land or legal rights.

When the Central American provinces were joined with Mexico in 1822, El Salvador insisted on the autonomy of the Central American countries. Guatemalan troops that were sent to enforce the union were forced out in June 1822. In 1823, José Manuel Arce's army was defeated by the Mexicans. However, in February of that year, a revolution in Mexico ousted the emperor, and a new congress granted independence to the Central American provinces. That year the United Provinces of Central America were formed from five Central American countries. When that federation dissolved in 1838, El Salvador became an independent republic.

The first decades of independence saw uprisings by poor mestizos and Indians to protest their impoverishment and marginalization. Before the cultivation of coffee was introduced in the late nineteenth century, indigo was the principal export crop. In 1833, an Indian rebellion of indigo sowers and cutters led by Anastasio Aquino demanded distribution of land to the poor and the just application of the penal laws, the only laws applied to the poor. The rebellion was crushed by the government. Thousands of rural peasants were displaced as new laws incorporated their lands into large "modern" coffee plantations where peasants were forced to work for very low wages. This created a coffee oligarchy made up of fourteen families. The economy is still controlled by a wealthy landowning caste (1 percent of the population still owns 40 percent of the arable land).

The civil war in the 1980s led to a huge population upheaval, with up to 40 percent of the population relocating and close to 20 percent leaving the country. Estimates of deaths in the twelve years of civil war have reached 80,000, including twelve thousand civilians killed in 1981. In 1982, mutilation killings, particularly decapitations, of adults and children were used as mechanisms of social terror.

Much of that repression was in response to the political organization of the people in the 1960s and 1970s as workers, peasants, women, students, and shanty town dwellers developed organizations to demand political and economic rights. Many political activists felt that "legal" political organizing would not lead to political change and began organizing the clandestine guerrilla units that formed the nucleus of the FMLN in 1980. By 1979 the FMLN was perceived as a threat by the military dictatorship.

A new spirit of activism emerged within the Catholic Church. Rural peasants and church workers formed Christian "base communities" and agricultural cooperatives in the 1960s and 1970s. Progressive priests and nuns formed Bible study groups in which peasants reflected on local conditions in light of biblical texts. This organizing was considered communist and subversive and became a target of government repression.

A group of young officers staged a military coup and formed a cabinet consisting of civilians from a wide spectrum of political parties. However, the military and the oligarchy frustrated attempts at change. Three more juntas followed, but each was incapable of implementing reform and stopping atrocities.

In 1980, the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, who had become a forceful critic of military oppression, was assassinated while saying Mass. This led many people in the base Christian communities and political organizations to turn to armed resistance. Five revolutionary armies joined together to form the FMLN.

In November 1989, the FMLN launched a bloody nationwide offensive, taking parts of the capital. International coverage of the offensive increased the pressure for a negotiated settlement to the conflict. On 31 December 1991, the government and the FMLN signed an agreement under the auspices of the United Nations, and a cease-fire took effect in 1992. The peace accords called for military reforms including a reduction in the size of the military, a new armed forces doctrine stressing democratic values and prohibiting an internal security role, and the banning of paramilitary groups. The National Civilian Police was established to replace the repressive National Police. Judicial, electoral, and social reforms included land reform and government-financed loans for land purchases.

Ideological polarization between the two sides in the conflict has made reconciliation difficult, and the government has failed to prosecute human rights abusers, or address the social injustices. Many Salvadorans, especially rural peasants, do not trust the nation's political leaders.

National Identity. Salvadoran national identity is comprised of a mix of indigenous and Spanish influences expressed in food, language, customs, and religious beliefs.

Ethnic Relations. Indians were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in colonial times and subject to massacre and exploitation well into the twentieth century. Ninety-seven percent of the population in El Salvador is now "mestizo." However, those who have more indigenous features suffer some discrimination and are referred to by the derogatory terms "indios" (Indians) or "negros" (blacks).

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Rural houses are typically made of adobe, with a large front porch ( corredor ) where people spend most of their time when at home. The insides of houses are used mainly for sleeping and storage, and families of seven or eight people may live in one or two small rooms. Urban houses built during the colonial period typically have outdoor space in the middle of the house, making family life more private. Modern urban middle-class and upper-class houses often have a small garden in front instead of in the middle, with the house and garden surrounded by a large wall that often is topped by barbed wire and glass. These houses often cannot be seen from the street. This type of architecture was used in the 1970s for security reasons. Houses for the lower classes are often less protected, with entrances onto the street. Many of the poorest families have houses made of discarded materials such as cardboard and sheet metal.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Corn is the staple of the diet and is most often made into thick tortillas that are eaten at every meal and also are served as tamales and in a thick corn drink called atol. Small red beans are the other staple. A variety of fruits and vegetables are eaten, including mango, papaya, tamarind, oranges, bananas, watermelon, cucumber, pacayao, lettuce, tomatoes, and radish. Salvadorans also eat rice, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, fish and seafood, and some game. Coffee is the most common drink, along with highly sugared fruit drinks. Elotes (new corn) are eaten in September before the corn hardens. Restaurants are most often cafeterias, comedores, where food is ordered from a menu near the kitchen or a buffet table and waitresses bring the food to the table. There are fast food restaurants in the cities which are more expensive, and expensive restaurants where food is ordered from a menu at the table.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Tamales are often eaten on special occasions, as is chumpe, turkey stewed in a sauce.

Basic Economy. Corn, beans, and rice, are among the principal crops, but El Salvador relies on the importation of these staples.

Land Tenure and Property. The land reform started in the early 1980s transferred land to former combatants who were mostly the rural poor. The purchase of land was financed by a United Statesassisted land bank. However, many people find it difficult to sustain their families on small plots of infertile land.

Commercial Activities. Major commercial activities include shoe and textile production.

Major Industries. Major industries include food processing, beverages, petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, furniture, and light metals.

Trade. El Salvador is a large exporter of agricultural products, but exports of sugarcane, cotton, and coffee have declined. The nation exports only half the quantity of goods it imports. Traditional exports include coffee, sugarcane, and shrimp. Nontraditional crops include manufactured goods, principally shoes and textiles. Textiles produced in maquilas (foreign-owned sweatshops) have replaced coffee as the leading export. However, dollars sent from Salvadorans in the United States to their families provide more income than do any exports.

Division of Labor. Professional jobs, including elementary school teaching, require a university education and are limited mainly to the middle and upper classes. Clerical or technical jobs usually require a high school diploma, which is received by only a small percentage of the population. Semi-skilled jobs such as construction and plumbing generally require a period of apprenticeship but not of formal study. Access to education corresponds to the possession of wealth, and poor families are often limited to unskilled positions in industry, agriculture, and small businesses. Others are employed in the informal economy selling candy, fruit, or tamales on the streets and at bus stops. The majority of working women are employed in the informal sector, along with many children.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. About half the population lives below the national poverty line, able to buy food but not clothing and medicine. Over half of these families live in a situation of extreme poverty. Forty-seven percent of the population does not have access to clean water.

The difference between the incomes of the most wealthy and the poorest are extreme and increasing. The poorest 20 percent receive only 2 percent of the national income, whereas the richest 20 percent receive 66 percent. The distinction between the rich and poor is no longer ethnic, as the vast majority of the population is now mestizo (about 97 percent).

Symbols of Social Stratification. The rich have more access to American goods and typically dress like Americans. They also have access to education at home and abroad and often speak English, as well as a more grammatical form of Spanish.

Political Life

Government. The constitution provides for a representative government with three independent branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The president is popularly elected and must receive a majority of the vote. The president is limited to a single five-year term but exercises significant authority in appointing a cabinet with the advice and consent of the assembly. This assembly has one chamber of eighty-four popularly elected deputies who serve three-year terms and may be reelected. The supreme court is the highest court of appeals, with other civil and criminal courts in each of the fourteen departments.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties include those of the extreme right, the left, and more central parties. The Partido Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), founded in 1981, was associated with the death squads. It continues to have enormous influence. The party has moved from the extreme right to supporting neoliberal structural adjustment policies since the war. More extreme members of ARENA have joined the Partido de Conciliación Nacional (PCN), which was founded in 1961.

The FMLN formed a political party after disarming at the end of the war. It has gained political ground since the end of the war, winning a majority of Assembly seats and the mayor's office in San Salvador in 1997. The FMLN is considered a socialist alternative to ARENA, which is seen as protecting the interests of the rich. There has been internal dissent within the FMLN.

The Partido Democrata Cristiano (PDC), which was formed in 1960, failed to address human rights atrocities. Other parties include the Partido Convergencia Democrática, founded in 1993; the Partido Liberal Democrático, founded in 1994; the Partido Popular Laborista, founded in 1997; and the Partido Unión Social Cristiano, founded in 1997.

Social Problems and Control. The number of violent deaths resulting from crime in 1996 was greater than the number of deaths resulting from the conflict during any year of the civil war. In that same year, the murder rates in some parts of the country were among the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Many crime victims do not report crimes to the authorities because of continuing mistrust of the courts and police. The National Civilian Police have poorly trained officers and few resources to investigate crimes. Corrupt courts release criminals, who then seek revenge on those who reported them to the police. Vigilante groups have formed to fight crime by assassinating criminals. Most residents feel that these groups bear a strong resemblance to the former death squads.

Military Activity. The military and paramilitary forces have had an enormous influence on the national culture. From 1932 to 1993, every president but one was an army general. During the civil war the country was highly militarized, with 32,000 soldiers. In spite of the current demilitarization, the culture remains militarized, as evidenced by the high rate of violent crime, armed guards in front of most urban businesses, and the presence of vigilantes.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Government expenditures on health and education programs declined during the war. The government committed to large expenditures in social welfare programs with the signing of the peace accords to end the civil war. There has been increased spending in health and education, and a number of rural schools have been opened through a special government program. Some health care is provided to students through the Escuela Saludable program. El Salvador has paid for these programs in part through generous foreign aid. The government has also tried to pay for some of these social welfare programs through more efficient collection of the value added tax (VAT).

The transfer of land back to the people at the end of the war and the implementation of agricultural loans also represent massive government and United States-supported social change programs.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) flourished during the war as a result of the civil population's desire for peace, democracy, and development. The NGOs continued to support alternative political, economic, and social projects in the areas which had been most affected by the war and have begun to coordinate their efforts on a national level.

Since the signing of the peace accords, NGOs have grown in importance and experience, particularly in rural zones. They often are connected to the FMLN and have helped distribute land to former combatants, and have represented rural communities politically. They are often involved in rural education, various development projects, agricultural or small business loans, technical assistance, veterinary services, and health services.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. During the civil war, many women began to take leadership positions outside the traditional domestic sphere, becoming leaders in popular organizations and base Christian communities. While women were often placed in "supportive roles," cooking for the troops and sewing, many became combatants and held key military and political leadership positions in the FMLN.

Although women often work outside the home generating income, they are exclusively responsible for housework and child care.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women also began to realize that the revolution could not end the inequalities in society without addressing inequality between men and women. Each of the five branches of the FMLN has its own women's organizations. In those organizations women have fought for women's rights to work outside the home; loans for women's cooperatives and small, women-owned businesses; education; medical care; and economic support for children.

Fathers' abandonment of families increased after the war, and economic support for children is still rare. Families headed by single women often live in extreme poverty, and women are forced to work for low wages. Women's mean salary is 28 percent lower than men's and almost one-third of girls under age sixteen work to support the family. Women are also under-represented in politics.

Violence toward women occurred during the war, and has continued at an alarming rate. Violent crime including murder and rape increased after the signing of the peace accords. Domestic abuse, along with alcohol abuse, is said to be prevalent.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Among the poor, marriage is the decision of the couple. The most common kind of marriage is informal: a man and a woman set up a household and have children without a civil or church service. These unions are recognized under law but can be dissolved easily. However, men are now required to support children conceived in common law marriage as well as with women with whom they have no formal relationship.

A marriage performed in a church is considered irreversible, and many people wait until they have children to marry. Couples must be 18 years old to marry unless the woman is pregnant or already has children. In both civil and religious marriages, divorce law requires a separation and a cause. The Catholic Church and many Evangelical churches never condone divorce.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit generally consists of a couple and their children, although other relatives also may live in the household. The man is nominally the head of the household, but women, especially in poorer families, often provide economic support for their children. A large proportion of families are headed by single women.

Kin Groups. The extended family is very important in the national culture. A woman can count on her cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents on both sides for support. The Family Code recognizes the importance of the extended family and requires various categories of kin to support their relatives with food, clothing, housing, health care, and education. Either spouse may be required to pay support to the other. Grandparents may be asked to support grandchildren, and vice versa. Parents must support their children, and brothers and sisters may be required to pay support to their siblings.


Infant Care. Infants in poor families are cared for by their mothers, who take them along on their daily tasks. They sleep in a room with their parents, in a crib or hammock of their own or in the parents' bed. People are affectionate with babies and play and talk with them often. They are breast-fed on demand and are not weaned until eighteen months or two years of age. In the upper middle and upper classes, child care often is delegated to a nanny.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are expected to show "respect" to their elders, which involves using respectful greetings and terms of address. They are expected to be obedient and comply with requests from adults immediately. Children may be hit or reprimanded after age six or seven years for not complying with adults' requests, complaining, or answering back. Shaming is another method used to discipline children. Parents loudly complain about a misbehaving child to another adult or child, within earshot of the offending child. Shaming most often occurs in regard to completing assigned tasks, school performance, and propriety in matters such as dress.

Basic education is compulsory until age thirteen, but half the children ages six to sixteen in the poorest families do not attend school. Nine of ten children of the richest families attend school, and a quarter go on to study at a university. Poor families often cannot afford to pay school fees or pay for shoes and school supplies.

Higher Education. Higher education is not emphasized and accounts for a small part of the government budget. Professors and students at the Universidad Centramericana and the National University were killed in the war, and neither university has been given the resources to recover. There has been an explosion of private colleges offering professional and technical degrees, but these schools are not respected and prepare students badly.


Respect is due to older persons from younger person, and to higher-status persons from lower-status individuals. This includes using titles of respect before people's names and using the formal "you" (" usted "). Women must show respect to men, should not raise their voices to them, and must serve them food on demand. Greetings are necessary upon entering a store or, in small towns and communities, passing someone on the street. Failure to greet a person is considered offensive.


Religious Beliefs. El Salvador is 75 percent Roman Catholic but has a growing Protestant movement. The Catholic Church returned to its traditional conservative stance after the end of the civil war. Among Protestant denominations, Pentecostal and fundamentalist sectscalled evangelical churcheshave had the largest growth. There are a number of reasons for the growth of evangelical churches in the last two decades of the twentieth century. First, Catholics were often targets of government repression for their "subversive" involvement in base Christian communities, while evangelicals were safe from government repression. Second, the evangelical emphasis on personal conversion is considered apolitical. Finally, small evangelical churches provide their members with a strong sense of community and family.

Religious Practitioners. While the Catholic Church has allowed greater participation of religious lay workers, the possibilities for leadership in the laity are restricted. There are more possibilities in the evangelical churches for nonspecialists to rise to leadership positions. Such positions are restricted to men.

Death and the Afterlife. Catholics devote nine nights of prayer for deceased persons so that the souls of the dead can be purified and they can rise from purgatory to heaven.

Medicine and Health Care

Most Western-trained doctors who work in clinics and hospitals are located in the metropolitan areas. In the rural zones, most health issues are dealt with by health promoters or midwives who receive some training through the Ministry of Health, a foreign organization, or a local NGO. Salvadorans often treat themselves with modern medicine bought in pharmacies or from ambulatory salesmen. There are traditional remedies for some folk illnesses. The ojo , or "evil eye," is said to affect babies with fever. It is cured when the person who gave the eye chews various herbs and spits them into a liquid that is rubbed on the baby's body. Traditional healers are called curanderos .

Secular Celebrations

Independence is celebrated on 15 September with parades. It is the only secular holiday, although many religious holidays have become secularized. Many people spend Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, at the beach.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. Salvadoran literary production in the latter twentieth century has been concerned with a re-examination of the national history. Notable works include the novels and poetry of Manlio Argueta, the poetry of Roque Dalton, and the short stories of José Marie Mendez. The country suffers from a lack of publishing facilities.

Graphic Arts. The village of LaPalma has become famous for a school of art started by Fernando Llort. Images of mountain villages, campesinos, and Christ are painted in bright colors on a variety of wooden objects. The town of Ilobasco is known for its ceramics, while San Sebastián is known for its textile art.

Performance Arts. Most of the music on Salvadoran radio is standard pop fare from the United States, Mexico, and various Latin American countries, but there is a small underground movement of folk music which draws its inspiration from current events in El Salvador.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Academia has suffered much from the war and has not been given the resources to recover. However, there has recently been increased social science research on social problems such as crime, violence, and social and economic inequality. There has also been increased interest in research on the environment. Much of this research is being conducted with funds from foreign agencies.


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Berryman, P. Stubborn Hope: Religion, Politics and Revolution in Central America , 1994.

Binford, Leigh. The El Mozote Massacre: Anthropology and Human Rights , 1996.

Clements, C. Witness to War: An American Doctor in El Salvador , 1984.

Craft, Linda Jo. Novels of Testimony and Resistance from Central America , 1997.

Dalton, Roque. Miguel Marmol , 1982.

A Dream Compels Us: Voices of Salvadoran Women , 1989.

Dickson-Gomez, J. "Lessons of the War: The Psychosocial Effects of the War in El Salvador." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1999.

Farias, P. "The Socio-Political Dimensions of Trauma in Salvadoran Refugees: Analysis of a Clinical Sample." Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 15:167192, 1991.

Garaizabal, C., and N. Vazquez. El Dolor Invisible: Una Experiencia de Grupos de Auto-Apoyo con Mujeres Salvadorenas , 1994.

Golden, R. The Hour of the Poor, the Hour of Women: Salvadoran Women Speak , 1991.

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Mahler, Sarah J. American Dreaming: Immigrant Life on the Margins , 1995.

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. "Guerra y Trauma Psicosocial del Niño Salvadoreno." In Psicologia de la Guerra: Trauma y Terapia , 1990.

Suarez-Orozco, M. "Speaking of the Unspeakable: Toward Psychosocial Understanding of Responses to Terror." Ethos 18:335383, 1990.

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Williams, Philip J. Militarization and Demilitarization in El Salvador's Transition to Democracy , 1997.

Julia Dickson-Gomez

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El Salvador

El Salvador


The people of El Salvador are called Salvadorans. The population is just under 90 percent mestizo (mixed white and Amerindian), 10 percent Amerindian (native people, mainly the Pipil tribes), and less than 1 percent white.

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Salvador, El

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Salvador, El

Salvador, El See El Salvador

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