El Salvador

San Salvador


Currency unit

US $ Colon













The country is named for "The Savior" . There has been a Civil war since 1979.

The country was conquered by Spaniards who arrived in 1524 to find an Aztec related kingdom of the Pipil people called Cuzcatlan. They conquered it in 1527. As a colony it was ruled as part of the province of Guatemala.

At independence in 1821 it was part of the Mexican Empire and then part of the Central American Federation of the United Provinces. This split up in 1840 when it became an independent republic.

The Spanish method of settlement was based on the economic structures found in Spain: large baronial landowners and serf-like peasants who in El Salvador were the original inhabitants.

This structure has persisted into the present day, though it is clearly preventing economic development. The result is that the mass of the people feel powerless, and cannot form new small businesses, co-operatives or trade unions if the owners feel that they will reduce their control over the situation. It is not surprising that a guerrilla war broke out in 1979 and has been going on ever since.

El Salvador has been plagued with political violence throughout its history and there has been a series of military dictatorships and one party states. A coup in 1979, which was a reaction to the fall of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, led to the civil war. The United States supported the coup leaders, who to the outside world represented themselves as moderate reformers, but in practice were the agents of the oligarchy and the organisers of Death Squads designed to intimidate the poor into not rebelling. To the United States government, obsessed with the Cold War, these thugs were seen as opponents of Communism.



Amerindian langs.

Nahuat (related to Aztec Nahuatl)






The political situation of the country is the most extreme example of those found through most of Central America. A small group of families are said to control the country, mainly through their control of the security forces, and access to American aid. The elected government is suspected of being a facade for these real rulers.

In elections in March 1989 the extreme right wing won but more than 50% of registered voters did not vote. And indeed, although 1.4 million were registered, 500 thousand are said to have been left off the voters' roll. The results were therefore not accepted by the guerrillas as a fair election. (It is true that the left wing parties called for a boycott and were therefore under-represented but they were threatened by death squads if they ran for election).

The best known victim of the assassination squads was Archbishop Oscar Romero, who preached in favor of human rights. He was shot down while conducting Mass in a hospital chapel.

The winning party, ARENA, (Allianza National) had among its leadership people such as the late Roberto d'Aubuisson suspected of organizing death squads in the past and perhaps still doing so.

The United States spokesmen declared that they did not approve of the result, but continued to send the new government military aid, just the same.

The civil war seems likely to continue until the basic causes - land ownership and power by the ruling aristocracy - are changed. But the war makes it difficult to change these. Presumably the United States government would never accept a victory by the guerrillas and would treat them as it did the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Until a change occurs the official political system will be a sham. In early 1991 elections allowed some of the leftwing parties to enter the parliament, which gives some hope for an end to the fighting. By September 1991 there was talk of reconciliation. Time will tell whether this actually occurs.

In November 1993 there were reports of renewed death squad activity when members of the left wing party were killed.

UN supervised elections in March 1994 were alleged to be corrupt as many potential voters were left off the rolls. Ballot box stuffing was alleged as well as personation. Thus the Extreme Right victory is questionable. ARENA, the National Republican Alliance, (satirically named the National Psychopathic Alliance by British comedians) probably represents mainly the owners and their US backers.

The election system seems to be designed to prevent people from voting. Thus even those on the register did not vote at the place nearest their homes but at a place designated by alphabetical order of names. The result cannot be regarded as a free and fair election.

More recent elections have seen the election of a "moderate" left government. Will this represent the ordinary people better? Time will tell.

Among problems faced by the new moderate president - a former opposition journalist - are: the deportation from the US (mainly Los Angeles) of gang members without US citizenship who then become criminals in the "home country" they scarcely know. The drug smuggling gangs from Mexico are also active in the country and may well have corrupted most of the institutions of the country, never strong to start with.

The main income of the country has been the remittances of the emigrated people, perhaps as many as 50% of the people living in the country. This has reduced since the 2008 financial catastrophe.

Interesting reading

Manlio Argueta - Cuzcatlan

Cuzcatlan: Where the Southern Sea Beats (Aventura)






The economy remains at an early stage of development with plantations of tropical crops (coffee) the main economic activity. These are badly affected by the war. Foreign aid, from the United States was probably the main source of income for the government, implying that the government was more the agent of the United States than an independent power. But this aid went mostly into arms. Remittances have been the second most important source of money and as US military aid has reduced following the peace agreement are now the largest sector.

The US dollar is now the currency.






A small overcrowded country with a ruling group which does not care much about the environment, or the poor. This is leading to erosion and forest cutting.





Human Rights

The rule of law is undermined by the death squads operated by the army and police.

There is a total ban on abortion for any cause whatsoever.

Climate effects

Last revised 15/08/11

Central America


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Since 15/08/11

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