El Salvador

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The smallest Central American country, situated on the Pacific coast. Only some 80 km (50 miles) wide, it is bounded on three sides by Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and has a 258-km (160-mile) southward-facing coastline.


It comprises a hot, very wet coastal plain with wooded inland slopes, above which rise volcanic mountains with cratered lakes; as the country is at a junction of two crustal plates, earthquakes occasionally occur.


The economy of El Salvador is primarily agricultural, with coffee and cotton important exports. There is some manufacturing industry, principally textiles, chemicals, food-processing, and paper.


After it was conquered by Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Hernan Cortés, El Salvador formed part of the viceroyalty of New Spain, but was subject to the jurisdiction of the captain-general sitting in Guatemala City.

The country gained independence from Spain in 1821, joined (1824) the United Provinces of Central America, and with the break-up of that entity in 1838, became an independent republic (1839). Internal struggles between liberals and conservatives and a series of border clashes with neighbours retarded development in the 19th century. By the early 20th century the conservatives had gained ascendancy and the presidency remained within a handful of élite families as if it were their personal patrimony. El Salvador's 20th-century history has been dominated by a series of military presidents. While some of them, such as Oscar Osorio (1950–56) and José M. Lemus (1956–60), appeared mildly sympathetic to badly needed social reform, they were held in check by their more conservative military colleagues in concert with the civilian oligarchy. Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution and leftist guerrilla activity in other Central American countries pushed the Salvadoran army steadily to the right. Repressive measures and violations of human rights by the army during the 1970s and 1980s were documented by a number of international agencies, and posed a large refugee problem. Under President Felix Cristiani (elected 1989) negotiations began with the extreme left-wing guerrilla group Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberación (FMLN). The UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar sponsored peace-talks throughout 1991 and a peace agreement was reached in 1992. The FMLN was recognized as a political party and took part in the 1994 elections, winning a few seats. The Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), under President Armando Calderón Sol, won the majority of seats and has held power since. In 1995 the government announced plans for economic reform. In 1998 and 1999 El Salvador was devastated by hurricanes, and then by two earthquakes in 2001.


San Salvador


21,041 sq km (8,124 sq miles)


6,881,000 (2005)


1 US dollar = 100 cents


Roman Catholic 92.4%

Ethnic Groups:

Mestizo 88.3%; Amerindian 9.1%; White 1.6%


Spanish (official)

International Organizations:


Subjects: World History.

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