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El Salvador

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Republic of El Salvador
República de El Salvador  (Spanish)
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Dios, Unión, Libertad"  (Spanish)
"God, Union, Freedom"
Anthem:  Himno Nacional de El Salvador
and largest city
San Salvador
13°40′N 89°10′W
Official languages Spanish
Ethnic groups 90% Mestizo, 9% White ( Spanish, Italian, French, Swiss, others), 1% Amerindian ( Pipil, Lenca)
Demonym Salvadoran
Government Presidential republic
 -  President Mauricio Funes
 -  from Spain September 15, 1821 
 -  from the First Mexican Empire 1823 
 -  from the Central American Federation 1842 
 -  Total 21,040 km2 
8,124 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.4
 -  July 2009 estimate 7,185,218 ( 99th)
 -  2007 census 5,744,113
 -  Density 341.5/km2 ( 47th)
884.4/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $43.748 billion
 -  Per capita $7,564
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $22.115 billion
 -  Per capita $3,823
Gini (2002) 52.4
HDI (2007) Increase 0.747
Error: Invalid HDI value · 106th
Currency U.S. dollar 2 ( USD)
Time zone ( UTC-6)
Drives on the right
Calling code +5031
ISO 3166 code SV
Internet TLD .sv
1. Telephone companies (market share): Tigo (45%), Claro (25%), Movistar (24%), Digicel (5.5%), Red (0.5%).
2. The United States dollar is the currency in use. Financial information can be expressed in U.S. Dollars and in Salvadoran colón, but it is out of circulation.

El Salvador (Spanish: República de El Salvador, literally meaning "Republic of the Savior"; original name in Nahuatl was Cōzcatlān) is the smallest and also the most densely populated country in Central America. It borders the Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and Honduras. It lies on the Gulf of Fonseca, as do Honduras and Nicaragua further south.

It has a population of approximately 7.2 million people as of 2009. The capital city of San Salvador is, by some distance, the largest city of the republic. In 2001 El Salvador dropped its own currency, the colón, and adopted the U.S. dollar instead.


At the time of the Spanish conquest, the inhabitants of the western part of El Salvador, the Pipil called that part of the country Cuzcatlan, which in Pipil means "the land of precious things."

Spanish rule

In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors ventured into ports to extend their dominion to the area. They called the land "Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesucristo El Salvador Del Mundo" ("Province of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the World"), which was subsequently abbreviated to "El Salvador".

Pedro de Alvarado sent an expedition into the region from Guatemala in 1524, but the Pipil drove them out in 1526. In 1528 he sent a second expedition, which succeeded, and the Spanish founded their first capital city in El Salvador at a place known today as Ciudad Vieja, the first site of the Villa de San Salvador, 10 km. south of Suchitoto. This capital was occupied from 1528 until 1545 when it was abandoned, and the capital city moved to where modern San Salvador is today.

Towards the end of 1810, a combination of internal and external factors allowed the Central American elites an attempt to gain independence from the Spanish crown. The internal factors were mainly the interest the elites had in controlling the territories they owned without involvement from Spanish authorities. The external factors were the success of the French and American revolutions in the eighteenth century and the weakening of the military power of the Spanish crown because of its wars against Napoleonic France.

The independence movement was consolidated on November 5, 1811, when the Salvadoran priest, Jose Matias Delgado, sounded the bells of the Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, making a call for the insurrection. After many years of internal fights, the Acta de Independencia (Act of Independence) of Central America was signed in Guatemala on September 15, 1821. When these provinces were joined with Mexico in early 1822, El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. After minor battles the resistances were recognized in forming a new country.


In 1823, the United Provinces of Central America was formed by the five Central American states under General Manuel José Arce. When this federation was dissolved in 1839, El Salvador became an independent republic. El Salvador's early history as an independent state was marked by frequent revolutions.

From 1872 to 1898, El Salvador was a prime mover in attempts to reestablish an isthmian federation. The governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed the Greater Republic of Central America via the Pact of Amapala in 1895. Guatemala and Costa Rica considered joining the Greater Republic (which was rechristened the United States of Central America when its constitution went into effect in 1898), but neither country did so. This union, which had planned to establish its capital city at Amapala on the Golfo de Fonseca, did not survive a coup in El Salvador in 1898.

The enormous profits that coffee yielded as a monoculture export served as an impetus for the process whereby land became concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy of few families. A succession of presidents from the ranks of the Salvadoran oligarchy, nominally both conservative and liberal, throughout the last half of the nineteenth century generally agreed on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, on the development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily in support of the coffee trade, on the elimination of communal landholdings to facilitate further coffee production, on the passage of anti- vagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other rural residents provided sufficient labor for the coffee fincas ( plantations), and on the suppression of rural discontent. In 1912, the national guard was created as a rural police force.

The coffee industry grew inexorably in El Salvador and provided the bulk of the government's financial support through import duties on goods imported with the foreign currencies that coffee sales earned.

20th century

Monumento El Salvador del Mundo (Monument to the Savior of the World)

The economy was based on coffee-growing after the mid-19th century and, as the world market for indigo withered away, prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. El Salvador president Tomas Regalado came to power by force in 1898 and his regime lasted until 1903. He reinitiated designating presidential successors. Up until 1913 El Salvador had been politically stable, but there was popular discontent as well, president Araujo was killed and there are many hypothesis for his murder.

Then he was followed by the Melendez-Quinonez dynasty that lasted since 1913 to 1927. Pio Romero Bosque, ex-Minister of the Government succeeded president Jorge Melendez and in 1930 he announced free elections in which Ing. Arturo Araujo came to power in March 1, 1931. His government only lasted 9 months. His Labor Party lacked of political and government experience and many Labor party members used government offices inefficiently.

In that year, Farabundo Marti came back from exile that was ordered by Romero Bosque, sending him to California and spending time in San Pedro Immigration Office. He was visited by some local leftists. President Romero Bosque sent him away before the upcoming 1930 presidential elections for his communist activities. President Araujo faced popular discontent as people expected economic reforms and land. Demonstrations started since the first week of his government in front of the National Palace. His Minister of War was General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez and his National Police Director Mr. Rochac who was the president brother in law.

A coup d'état was organized by junior officers and the first strike started in the First Regiment of Infantry across from the National Palace in downtown San Salvador and only the First Regiment of Calvary and the National Police was loyal to the president and defended him (the National Police had been paid its payroll), but later that night on December 1931, after hours of military fight and outnumbered surrendered to the military revolution.

The Directorate composed by officers had behind a shadowy figure, who is told by Thomas Anderson in his book Matanza, his name was Rodolfo Duke, a rich man and also General Martinez. The causes of the revolt are mainly supposed to be for the army discontent against president Araujo for not paying the army for some months. Araujo left the National Palace and later tried to organize to defeat the revolt, but was unable.

The U.S. Minister in El Salvador met with the Directorate and later recognized the government with Vice President Martinez who agreed to have later presidential elections. (Martinez resigned in 1934 six months before the presidential elections to be able to run for the presidency and then as the only candidate won the election ruling from 1935 to 1939 and then 1939-1943 and finally started his 4th term in 1944 but resigned in May after the General strike. Martinez said he was going to respect the Constitution which said he couldn't be reelected, but he didn't).

From December 1931, the year of the coup in which Gen. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez came to power, there was brutal suppression of rural resistance. The most notable event was the February 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, commonly referred to as La Matanza (the massacre), organized by Farabundo Martí and with leaders like Abel Cuenca, and other academic people like Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata. Only Abel Cuenca survived, the other communists were killed by the government.

In Western El Salvador hundred of peasants had revolt and caused also barbarism, but this was crushed by the Army, that not only killed the revolutionaries peasants, but also innocent people. The number of the massacre is estimated in 300,000. The barbarism of the revolutionaries peasants was such that even there was an order from Farabundo Marti saying to kill the wealthy landowners at once and only let the children live.

This ad was received by the military officers and very severe actions were done against the rebels. High officers like Jose Calderon lead the expeditions to the towns of Nahuizalco, Juayua, Apaneca and Izalco. Feliciano Ama, an Indian leader, was hanged and this event was shown on Post Office stamps of the time. Since then from 1932-1979 military officers held the Main Office, with some presidents using more repression than others. El Salvador problems included unfair minimun wages, repression against student and general demonstrations, and election fraud.

The PDC and the PCN parties

In 1960, two political parties were born and are still active in the politics the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN). Both shared alike ideals, but one represented the Middle Class and the latter the Army.

Opposition leader José Napoleón Duarte from ( PDC) was the Mayor of San Salvador from 1964-1970, winning 3 elections during Jose Adalberto Rivera regime. (This president allowed free elections for Mayors and the National Assembly) Mr. Duarte later ran for president but was defeated in the 1972 presidential elections with UNO (National Oppossition Union), the official PCN was declared winner with ex-Minister of Interior Col. Arturo Armando Molina. Duarte, at some officers request, supported a revolt for the election fraud, but was captured, tortured and later exiled. Duarte came back to the country in 1979 to enter politics after working in Venezuela projects as engineer.

The October 1979 Coup d'état

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

Due to the pressure of the staunch oligarchy and the inability to control the Army in repressing its own people because they were fighting for their right to unionize, agrarian reform, better wages, health, freedom of expression, this Junta was dissolved. In the meantime the guerrilla movement was spreading in all sectors of the Salvadoran society. Middle and High School students were organized in MERS ( Movimiento Estudiantil Revolutionario de Secundaria, Revolutionary Movement of Secondary Students); college students were involved with AGEUS (Asociacion de Estudiantes Universitarios Salvadorenos; Association of Salvadoran College Students); workers were organized in BPR (Bloque Popular Revolucionario, Popular Revolutionary Block).

The U.S. supported and financed the creation of a second Junta to change the political environment and stop the spread of a leftist insurrection. Napoleon Duarte was recalled from his exile in Venezuela to head this new Junta. However, a revolution was already underway and his new role as head of the Junta was seen as opportunistic by the general population. He was unable to influence the outcome of the insurrectional movement and this resulted in the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).

Civil War (1980 to 1992)

The Salvadoran Civil War was predominantly fought between the government of El Salvador and a coalition of four leftist groups and one communist group known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). This coalition got organized in 1980 after Fidel Castro of Cuba requested that there be a common front. Castro had a lot of influence in the region and provided weapons through Nicaraguan territory (then in the hands of President Ortega).

Subversive activity started with "El Grupo" (a group that later would be called E.R.P.) and also the FPL that initiated activities after Cayetano Carpio (its leader) broke in ideology from now extinct El Salvador's Communist Party (PCES). In 1970, the FPL guerrilla force was small and didn't have military training. Later the FPL was one of the largest organizations inside of the FMLN coalition.

In the beginning of the conflict, the PCES didn't believe in taking power by force, but through elections. The ERP split off, creating the RN (National Resistance) after ERP leaders killed the leftist poet Roque Dalton, whom they believed had spied for the American CIA. Approximately 75,000 people were killed in the war. The Salvadoran Civil war was fought in the context of the global Cold War, with Cuba and the USSR backing the Marxist-Leninist rebels and the United States backing the right wing military Salvadoran government.

On January 16, 1992 the government of El Salvador represented by president Alfredo Cristiani and the guerrilla represented by the commanders of the five guerrilla groups such as Shafick Handal, Joaquin Villalobos, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Francisco Jovel and Eduardo Sancho signed the Peace Agreements ending a 12 year civil war in the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico. The international community was present and there was wide admiration because after the signature of the president he stood up and shook hands to all the now ex-guerrilla commanders. The Peace Agreements included reduction of the Army, the disolution of the National Police, Treasury Police and National Guard. The disolution of the Civilian Defense, a paramilitary group. The organization of a new Civil Police and the end of impunity with which the government would leave recommendation to a Comission of the Truth.

End of the 20th century

From 1989 until 2004, Salvadorans favored Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, voting ARENA presidents in every election ( Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores Pérez, Antonio Saca).

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

21st century

With the government of ARENA and the unsuccessful attempts of the left-wing party to win an election, they decided to change their tradition by selecting as a candidate, a journalist instead of one of their former guerrilla leaders. On March 15, 2009, Mauricio Funes, a television figure not associated with left-wing militias, became the first president from the FMLN party. He was inaugurated on June 1, 2009. One focus of the Funes government is revealing the alleged corruption from the past government.


The political framework of El Salvador is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multiform multi-party system. The President of El Salvador, currently Mauricio Funes, is both head of state and head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly. The Judiciary the legislative branches.

Departments and municipalities

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

Department names and abbreviations for the 14 Salvadoran Departments:

  1. AH Ahuachapán
  2. CA Cabañas
  3. CH Chalatenango
  4. CU Cuscatlán
  5. LI La Libertad
  6. PA La Paz
  7. UN La Unión

8. MO Morazán
9. SM San Miguel
10. SS San Salvador
11. SV San Vicente
12. SA Santa Ana
13. SO Sonsonate
14. US Usulután

Departments of El Salvador


Shaded relief map of El Salvador
The scenic Jiboa Valley and San Vicente volcano
Beach at Playa Los Cóbanos.

El Salvador is located in Central America. It has a total area of 8,123 square miles (21,040 km²) (about the size of New Jersey). It is the smallest country in continental America and is affectionately called the " Tom Thumb of the Americas" ("Pulgarcito de America"). It has 123.6 square miles (320 km²) of water within its borders.

Several small rivers flow through El Salvador into the Pacific Ocean, including the Goascorán, Jiboa, Torola, Paz and the Río Grande de San Miguel. Only the largest river, the Lempa River, flowing from Guatemala and Honduras across El Salvador to the ocean, is navigatable for commercial traffic.

Volcanic craters enclose lakes, the most important of which are Lake Ilopango (70 km²/27 sq mi) and Lake Coatepeque (26 km²/10 sq mi). Lake Güija is El Salvador's largest natural lake (44 km²/17 sq mi). Several artificial lakes were created by the damming of the Lempa, the largest of which is Embalse Cerrón Grande (135 km²).

El Salvador shares borders with Guatemala and Honduras. It is the only Central American country that does not have a Caribbean coastline. The highest point in the country is Cerro El Pital at 8,957 feet (2,730 m), which shares a border with Honduras.

Survey marker at the summit of Cerro El Pital


El Salvador has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation and show little seasonal change. The Pacific lowlands are uniformly hot; the central plateau and mountain areas are more moderate. The rainy season extends from May to October. Almost all the annual rainfall occurs during this time, and yearly totals, particularly on southern-facing mountain slopes, can be as high as 217 centimeters (85 in).

Protected areas and the central plateau receive less, although still significant, amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pressure over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunderstorms. Hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific with the notable exception of Hurricane Mitch.

From November through April, the northeast trade winds control weather patterns. During these months, air flowing from the Caribbean has lost most of the precipitation while passing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy.

Natural disasters

A landslide caused by one of the 2001 El Salvador earthquakes

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

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

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

El Salvador's position on the Pacific Ocean also makes it subject to severe weather conditions, including heavy rainstorms and severe droughts, both of which may be made more extreme by the El Niño and La Niña effects. In the summer of 2001, a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country's crops, causing famine in the countryside. On October 4, 2005, severe rains resulted in dangerous flooding and landslides, which caused a minimum of fifty deaths. El Salvador's location in Central America also makes it vulnerable to hurricanes coming off the Caribbean, however this risk is much less than for other Central American countries.

The Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador is currently dormant, but while it was still erupting it was very dangerous. Lago de Coatepeque (one of El Salvador's lakes) was caused by a massive eruption.


Cotton field in the Usulután Department

According to the IMF and CIA World Factbook, El Salvador has the third largest economy in the region (behind Costa Rica and Panama) when comparing nominal Gross Domestic Product and purchasing power GDP. El Salvador's GDP per capita stands at US$6,200, however, this " developing country" is still among the 10 poorest countries in Latin America.

Most of El Salvador's economy has been hampered by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but El Salvador currently has a steadily growing economy.

GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2008 was estimated at $43.94 billion USD. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 64.1%, followed by the industrial sector at 24.7% (2008 est.). Agriculture represents only 11.2% of GDP (2008 est.).

The GDP has been growing since 1996 at an annual rate that averages 3.2% real growth. The government has recently committed to free market initiatives, and the 2007 GDP's real growth rate was 4.7%.

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

In 2004, the colón stopped circulating and is now never used in the country for any type of transaction.

San Salvador

A challenge in El Salvador has been developing new growth sectors for a more diversified economy. As many other former colonies, for many years El Salvador was considered a mono-export economy (an economy that depended heavily on one type of export). During colonial times, the Spanish decided that El Salvador would produce and export indigo, but after the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, Salvadoran authorities and the newly created modern state turned to coffee as the main export.

For many decades, coffee was one of the few sources of foreign currency in the Salvadoran economy. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s and the fall of international coffee prices in the 1990s pressured the Salvadoran government to diversify the economy.

There are 15 free trade zones in El Salvador. The largest beneficiary has been the maquila industry, which provides 88,700 jobs directly, and consists primarily of supplying labor for the cutting and assembling of clothes for export to the United States.

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

El Salvador has one of the lowest tax burdens in the American continent (around 11% of GDP). The government has focused on improving the collection of its current revenues with a focus on indirect taxes. A 10% value-added tax (IVA in Spanish), implemented in September 1992, was raised to 13% in July 1995. The VAT is the biggest source of revenue, accounting for about 52.3% of total tax revenues in 2004.

Inflation has been steady and among the lowest in the region. Since 1997 inflation has averaged 3%, with recent years increasing to nearly 5%. From 2000 to 2006 total exports have grown 19% from $2.94 billion to $3.51 billion. During this same period total imports have risen 54% from $4.95 billion to $7.63 billion. This has resulted in a 102% increase in the trade deficit from $2.01 billion to $4.12 billion.

Remittances from Salvadorans living and working in the United States, sent to family in El Salvador, are a major source of foreign income and offset the substantial trade deficit of $4.12 billion. Remittances have increased steadily in the last decade and reached an all-time high of $3.32 billion in 2006 (an increase of 17% over the previous year). approximately 16.2% of gross domestic product(GDP).

Remittances have had positive and negative effects on El Salvador. In 2005 the number of people living in extreme poverty in El Salvador was 20%, according to a United Nations Development Program report, without remittances the number of Salvadorans living in extreme poverty would rise to 37%. While Salvadoran education levels have gone up, wage expectations have risen faster than either skills or productivity. For example, some Salvadorans are no longer willing to take jobs that pay them less than what they receive monthly from family members abroad. This has led to an influx of Hondurans and Nicaraguans who are willing to work for the prevailing wage. Also, the local propensity for consumption over investment has increased. Money from remittances have also increased prices for certain commodities such as real estate. Many Salvadorans abroad earning much higher wages can afford higher prices for houses in El Salvador than local Salvadorans and thus push up the prices that all Salvadorans must pay.


El Salvador has lacked authoritative demographic data for many years because between 1992 and 2007, a national census had not been undertaken. Prior to the 2009 census, patterns in population growth led many officials (including within the Salvadoran government) to estimate the country's population size at between 7.1 and 7.2 million people. However, on May 12, 2008, El Salvador's Ministry of Economy finally released statistics gathered in the census of the previous May. These data present a surprisingly low figure for the total population - 7,185,218. Challenges to the 2009 census on a number of grounds are forthcoming.

Ninety percent of Salvadorans are mestizo (mixed Native American and Spanish origin). Nine percent report their race as being white; this population is mostly of Spanish descent, including some of French, German, Swiss, and Italian descent. El Salvador is 1% indigenous, mostly Pipil, Lenca and Kakawira (Cacaopera). Very few Native Americans have retained their native customs, traditions, or languages, especially in the wake of the deliberate 1932 massacres in which the Salvadoran military murdered somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 peasants.

El Salvador is the only Central American country that has no visible African population because of its lack of an Atlantic coastline and subsequent access to the slave trade as occurred along the east coast of the continent. In addition, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez instituted race laws in 1930 that actually prohibited blacks from entering the country at all and it was not until the 1980s that this law was removed.

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

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

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

As of 2004, there were approximately 3.2 million Salvadorans living outside El Salvador, with the U.S. traditionally being the destination of choice for Salvadorans looking for greater economic opportunity. Salvadorans also live in nearby Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The majority of expatriates emigrated during the civil war of the 1980s for political reasons and later because of adverse economic and social conditions. Other countries with notable Salvadoran communities include Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom (including the Cayman Islands), Sweden, Brazil, Italy,Colombia, and Australia. There is also a large community of Nicaraguans, 100,000 according to some figures, many of them are seasonal immigrants.


Spanish is the official language and is spoken by virtually all inhabitants (some indigenous people still speak their native tongues, but all speak Spanish). English is also spoken by some throughout the republic. Many Salvadorans have studied or lived in English-speaking countries (primarily the U.S., but also Canada and Australia), including many young Salvadorans deported from the United States, many of whom had grown up speaking only English. Furthermore, today all public schools teach English as a required course in both primary and secondary school.

The local Spanish vernacular is called Caliche. Nahuat is the indigeous language that has survived, though it is only used by small communities of elderly Salvadorans in western El Salvador. Salvadoreans also use voseo, like in Uruguay and Argentina; referring to the second person as "vos" instead of "tú."


According to a survey in 2008, 52.6% of El Salvador's residents are Catholic, and 27.9% are Protestant. Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist churches are all growing, as are Pentecostals and Mormons


For the period 2005-2010 El Salvador has the third lowest birth rate in Central America, 22.8 per 1,000. However, it has the highest death rate in Central America during the same period, 5.9 per 1,000. According to the most recent United Nations survey, life expectancy for men was 68 years and 74 years for women. Healthy life expectancy was 57 for males and 62 for females in 2003. There are about 148 physicians per 100,000 people.


Ballet folklore in El Salvador, displaying traditional dress.

The Catholic Church plays an important role in the Salvadoran culture. Archbishop Oscar Romero is a national hero for his role in speaking out against human rights violations that were occurring in the lead up to the Salvadoran Civil War. Significant foreign personalities in El Salvador were the Jesuit priests and professors Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baró, and Segundo Montes, who were murdered in 1989 by the Salvadoran Army during the heat of the civil war.

Painting, ceramics and textile goods are the main manual artistic expressions. Writers Francisco Gavidia (1863–1955), Salarrué (Salvador Salazar Arrué) (1899-1975), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino, Pedro Geoffroy Rivas, Manlio Argueta, José Roberto Cea, and poet Roque Dalton are among the most important writers to stem from El Salvador. Notable 20th century personages include the late filmmaker Baltasar Polio, artist Fernando Llort, and caricaturist Toño Salazar.

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

Date English name Local name
January 16 Peace Accords Day Día de los Acuerdos de Paz Celebrates the peace accords signing between the government and the guerrilla in 1992 that finished the 12-year civil war. Mostly political events.
March/April Holy Week/Easter Semana Santa Celebrated with Carnival-like events in different cities by the large Catholic population.
May 1 Labor Day Día del trabajo International Labour Day
May 3 The Day of the Cross Día de la Cruz A celebration with pre-colonial origins that is linked to the advent of the rainy season. People decorate a cross in their yards with fruit and garlands then go house to house to kneel in front of the altar and make the sign of the cross.
May 10 Mothers' Day Día de las Madres
August 1–7 August Festivals* Fiestas de agosto Week-long festival in celebration of El Salvador del Mundo, patron saint of San Salvador.
September 15 Independence Day Día de la Independencia Celebrates independence from Spain, achieved in 1821.
October 1 Day of the children "Día del niño" Celebration dedicated to the Children of the country it is celebrated across the country.
October 12 Day of the race Día de la raza Celebration in dedication to the Christopher Columbus's arrival to America.
November 2 Day of the Dead Día de los Santos Difuntos A day on which most people visit the tombs of deceased loved ones. (November 1 may be commemorated as well.)
November 21 Queen of the Peace Day Dia de la Reina de la Paz Day of the Queen of Peace, the patron saint. Also celebrated, the San Miguel Carnival, (carnaval de San Miguel) a known feast in El Salvador, celebrated in San Miguel City, similar to Mardi Gras of New Orleans,where you can enjoy about 45 music bands on the street.
December 12 Festival Day of the Virgin Guadalupe Día del Festival de la Virgen Guadalupe
December 24 Christmas Day Noche Buena In many communities, December 24 ( Christmas Eve) is the major day of celebration, often to the point that it is considered the actual day of Navidad — with December 25 serving as a day of rest.

* Almost only celebrated in San Salvador


The only airport serving international flights in the country is Comalapa International Airport. This airport is located about 50 km (30 mi) southeast of San Salvador. The airport is commonly known as Comalapa International or El Salvador International.

El Salvador's tourism industry has grown dynamically over recent years as the Salvadoran government focuses on developing this sector. Last year tourism accounted for 4.6% of GDP; only 10 years ago, it accounted for 0.4%. In this same year tourism grew 4.5% worldwide. Comparatively, El Salvador saw an increase of 8.97%, from 1.15 million to 1.27 million tourists. This has led to revenue from tourism growing 35.9% from $634 million to $862 million. As a reference point, in 1996 tourism revenue was $44.2 million. Also, there has been an even greater increase in the number of excursionists (visits that do not include an overnight stay). 222,000 excursionists visited El Salvador in 2006, a 24% increase over the previous year.

Most North American and European tourists are seeking out El Salvador's beaches and nightlife. Besides these two choices, El Salvador's tourism landscape is slightly different than those of other Central American countries. Because of its geographical size and urbanization, there aren't many nature-themed tourist destination such as ecotours or archaeological monuments. Surfing, however, is a natural tourist sector that is gaining popularity in recent years as more surfers visit many beaches in the coast of La Libertad and the east side of the country, finding surfing spots that are not yet overcrowded. Also, the use of the United States dollar as Salvadoran currency and direct flights of 4–6 hours from most cities in the United States are important things to note for first-time travelers from the United States. Urbanization and Americanization of Salvadoran culture has also led to something else that first time tourists might be surprised to see: the abundance of American-style malls, stores, and restaurants in the three main urban areas, especially greater San Salvador.

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

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

Tourists continue to be drawn by El Salvador's turbulent past. Some of the latest tourist attractions in the former war-torn El Salvador are gun fragments, pictures, combat plans, and mountain hideouts. Since 1992, residents in economically depressed areas are trying to profit from these remains. The mountain town of Perquin was considered the "guerrilla capital." Today it is home to the "Museum of the Revolution," featuring cannons, uniforms, pieces of Soviet weaponry, and other weapons of war once used by the FMLN's (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) headquarters.

According to El Salvador newspaper El Diario De Hoy the top 10 attractions are the beaches, La Libertad, Ruta Las Flores, Suchitoto, Playa Las Flores in San Miguel, La Palma, Santa Ana where you find the country's tallest volcano, Nahuizalco, Apaneca, Juayua, San Ignacio.


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Salvadorian woman at a food stall.

El Salvador's most notable dish is the pupusa. Pupusas are a thick hand-made corn tortilla (made using masa de maíz or masa de arroz, a maize or rice flour dough used in Latin American cuisine) stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese (usually a soft Salvadoran cheese, a popular example is Quesillo con loroco,or mozarella), chicharrón, and refried beans. Loroco is a vine flower bud native to Central America. There are also vegetarian options, beans, or a combo of cheese and beans. Some adventurous restaurants even offer pupusas stuffed with shrimp or spinach.

Pupusa comes from the pipil-nahuatl word, pupushahua. The pupusa's exact origins are debated, although its presence in El Salvador is known to predate the arrival of Spaniards.

Two other typical Salvadoran dishes are yuca frita and panes rellenos. Yuca frita, which is deep fried cassava root served with curtido (a pickled cabbage, onion and carrot topping) and pork rinds with pescaditas (fried baby sardines). The Yuca is sometimes served boiled instead of fried. Panes con Pavo (turkey sandwiches) are warm turkey submarines. The turkey is marinated and then roasted with Pipil spices and handpulled. This sandwich is traditionally served with turkey, tomato, and watercress along with cucumber, onion, lettuce, mayonnaise, and mustard.

One of the most noticeable breakfast plate that El Salvador has is fried plantain, usually accompanied with beans, cream, and cheese. It is one of El Salvador's great dishes in breakfasts.This plate is really common in Salvadorian restaurants and homes extending also to the United States.

A drink that Salvadorians love is chuco, usually made out of purple corn. Chuco is made by soaking purple corn in water, then blending it and cooking the corn over a medium fire. The thickened drink is called chuco. Toasted pumpkin seeds and boiled beans are added to the drink.

Another drink that Salvadorians love is called Horchata. Horchata is most commonly made of the Morro seed, ground into a powder, that is later added to milk or water, and sugar. Horchata is drunk year round and can be drunk anytime of day. It mostly is accompanied by a plate of pupusas or fried yucca.



The public education system in El Salvador is severely lacking in resources. Class sizes in public schools can reach 50 children, so Salvadorans who can afford the cost often choose to send their children to private schools. Lower-income families are forced to rely on the public education system.

Education in El Salvador is free through high school. After nine years of basic education (elementary - middle school) students have the option of a two year high school or a three year high school. A two year high school prepares the student to transfer to a university. A three year high school allows the student graduate with a vocational career and enter the workforce or transfer to a university as well to further their education in that field. The national literacy rate is 80.1%

The Post-Secondary education varies widely in price. The cheapest university in El Salvador is the University of El Salvador. The UES is partially funded by the state yet maintains administrative and educational autonomy. It is the only public university in the country.

El Salvador has several private universities:

  • Universidad Dr. José Matías Delgado, UJMD
  • Universidad de El Salvador, UES
  • Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas”, UCA
  • Universidad Francisco Gavidia, UFG
  • Universidad Tecnologica, UTec
  • Universidad Don Bosco, UDB
  • Universidad Evangelica
  • Universidad Dr Andrés Bello UNAB
  • Universidad de Nueva San Salvador, UNSS
  • Universidad Albert Einstein
  • Universidad Salvadorena Alberto Masferrer, USAM
  • Universidad Modular Abierta, UMA
  • Universidad Polytecnica
  • Universidad Catolica de El Salvador, UNICAES
  • Escuela de Comunicación Mónica Herrera, ECMH
  • Escuela Superior de Economía y Negocios, ESEN

Local Foundations and NGOs are fostering further education development.

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace Global Peace Index 94 out of 144
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 106 out of 182
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 84 out of 180
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 77 out of 133
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