El Salvador

Republic of El Salvador

President: Mauricio Funes (2009)

Land area: 8,000 sq mi (20,720 sq km); total area: 8,124 sq mi (21,040 sq km)

Population (2012 est.): 6,090,646 (growth rate: 0.3%); birth rate: 17.44/1000; infant mortality rate: 19.66/1000; life expectancy: 73.69; density per sq km: 341

Capital and largest city (2009 est.): San Salvador, 1,534,000

Other large cities: Santa Ana, 167,200; San Miguel, 145,100; Zacatecoluca, 36,700

Monetary units: Colón; U.S. dollar

National name: República de El Salvador

Current government officials

Languages: Spanish, Nahua (among some Amerindians)

Ethnicity/race: mestizo 90%, white 9%, Amerindian 1%

National Holiday: Independence Day, September 15

Religions: Catholics 83%; growing population of evangelical Protestants (1992)

Literacy rate: 81.1% (2011 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2011 est.): $44.78 billion; per capita $7,600. Real growth rate: –2.0%. Inflation: 5.1%. Unemployment: 7%. Arable land: 32%. Agriculture: coffee, sugar, corn, rice, beans, oilseed, cotton, sorghum; beef, dairy products; shrimp. Labor force: 2.577 million; agriculture 9.7%, industry 29.6%, services 60.7% (2012 est.). Industries: food processing, beverages, petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, furniture, light metals. Natural resources: hydropower, geothermal power, petroleum, arable land. Exports: $5.309 billion (2011 est.): offshore assembly exports, coffee, sugar, shrimp, textiles, chemicals, electricity. Imports: $10.2 billion (2011 est.): raw materials, consumer goods, capital goods, fuels, foodstuffs, petroleum, electricity. Major trading partners: U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Germany, China (2006).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 1 million (2011); mobile cellular: 7.7 million (2011). Radio broadcast stations: AM 52, FM 144, shortwave 0 (2005). Television broadcast stations: 5 (1997). Internet hosts: 22,372 (2011). Internet users: 746,000 (2011).

Transportation: Railways: total: 283 km; note: railways not in operation since 2005 because of disuse and lack of maintenance due to high costs (2011). Highways: total: 10,866 km; paved: 2,827 km (including 327 km of expressways); unpaved: 8,059 km (2011 est.). Waterways: Rio Lempa partially navigable (2004). Ports and harbors: Acajutla, Puerto Cutuco. Airports: 65 (2011).

International disputes: in 1992, the ICJ ruled on the delimitation of "bolsones" (disputed areas) along the El Salvador-Honduras boundary, but despite OAS intervention and a further ICJ ruling in 2003, full demarcation of the border remains stalled; the 1992 ICJ ruling advised a tripartite resolution to a maritime boundary in the Gulf of Fonseca advocating Honduran access to the Pacific; El Salvador continues to claim tiny Conejo Island, not identified in the ICJ decision, off Honduras in the Gulf of Fonseca.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of El Salvador

Geography | Government | History


Situated on the Pacific coast of Central America, El Salvador has Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the north and east. It is the smallest of the Central American countries, with an area equal to that of Massachusetts, and it is the only one without an Atlantic coastline. Most of the country is on a fertile volcanic plateau about 2,000 ft (607 m) high.




The Pipil Indians, descendants of the Aztecs, likely migrated to the region in the 11th century. In 1525, Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Cortés's, conquered El Salvador.

El Salvador, with the other countries of Central America, declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821, and was part of a federation of Central American states until that union dissolved in 1838. For decades after its independence, El Salvador experienced numerous revolutions and wars against other Central American republics. From 1931 to 1979 El Salvador was ruled by a series of military dictatorships.

In 1969, El Salvador invaded Honduras after Honduran landowners deported several thousand Salvadorans. The four-day war became known as the “football war” because it broke out during a soccer game between the two countries.

El Salvador Suffers During 12-Year Civil War

In the 1970s, discontent with societal inequalities, a poor economy, and the repressive measures of dictatorship led to civil war between the government, ruled since 1961 by the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN), and leftist antigovernment guerrilla units, whose leading group was the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The U.S. intervened on the side of the military dictatorship, despite its scores of human rights violations. Between 1979 and 1981, about 30,000 people were killed by right-wing death squads backed by the military. José Napoleón Duarte—a moderate civilian who was president from 1984 to 1989—offered an alternative to the political extremes of right and left, but Duarte was unable to end the war. In 1989, Alfredo Cristiani of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) was elected. On Jan. 16, 1992, the government signed a peace treaty with the guerrilla forces, formally ending the 12-year civil war that had killed 75,000.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, leaving 200 dead and over 30,000 homeless. In Jan. and Feb. 2001, major earthquakes struck El Salvador, damaging about 20% of the nation's housing. An even worse disaster befell the country in the summer when a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country's crops, causing famine in the countryside.

In 2004, Antonio Saca of ARENA was elected president. The nation implemented a free-trade agreement (CAFTA) with the U.S. in March 2006, the first Central American country to do so.

Mauricio Funes, a former journalist and member of the FMLN party, was elected President in March 2009, ending two decades of conservative rule in El Salvador.

See also Encyclopedia: El Salvador
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: El Salvador
Statistical Data Index (In Spanish Only) www.minec.gob.sv/presenta.htm .

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