Sovereign state in Central America
Top 10 El Salvador related articles
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Geography
- 4 Government and politics
- 5 Economy
- 6 Infrastructure
- 7 Demographics
- 8 Health
- 9 Education
- 10 Crime
- 11 Culture
- 12 Notable people
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Republic of El Salvador
República de El Salvador (Spanish)
Motto: "Dios, Unión, Libertad" (Spanish)
English: "God, Unity, Freedom"
Anthem: Himno Nacional de El Salvador
(English: "National Anthem of El Salvador")
and largest city
|Religion||Roman Catholicism (Preferred Religion)|
|Government||Unitary presidential constitutional republic|
• Declared from Spain
|15 September 1821|
• Declared from the
of Central America
|12 June 1824|
• International recognition
|18 February 1841|
|21,041 km2 (8,124 sq mi) (148th)|
• Water (%)
• 2018 estimate
|303.1/km2 (785.0/sq mi) (47th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2018 estimate|
|$53.667 billion (101st)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2018 estimate|
|$25.855 billion (102rd)|
• Per capita
medium · 124th
|Currency||United States dollara (USD)|
|Time zone||UTC−6 (CST)|
|ISO 3166 code||SV|
El Salvador (/ / (
El Salvador was, for millennia, controlled by several Mesoamerican nations, especially Lenca, early Mayans, then later the Cuzcatlecs up until the Spanish conquest. Archaeological monuments also suggest an early Olmec presence around the first millennium BCE. In the early 16th century, the Spanish Empire conquered the territory, incorporating it into the Viceroyalty of New Spain ruled from Mexico City. However the Viceroyalty of Mexico had little to no influence in the daily affairs of the Central American isthmus, which would be colonized in 1524. In 1609 the area became the Captaincy General of Guatemala, of which El Salvador was part until its independence from Spain, which took place in 1821, as part of the First Mexican Empire, then later seceded, as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, in 1823. When the Republic dissolved in 1841, El Salvador became a sovereign nation, then formed a short-lived union with Honduras and Nicaragua called the Greater Republic of Central America, which lasted from 1895 to 1898.
From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups. The conflict ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords. This negotiated settlement established a multiparty constitutional republic, which remains in place to this day.
El Salvador's economy has historically been dominated by agriculture, beginning with the indigo plant (añil in Spanish), the most important crop during the colonial period, and followed thereafter by coffee, which by the early 20th century accounted for 90% of export earnings. El Salvador has since reduced its dependence on coffee and embarked on diversifying its economy by opening up trade and financial links and expanding the manufacturing sector. The colón, the currency of El Salvador since 1892, was replaced by the United States dollar in 2001.
El Salvador ranks 14th among Latin American countries in terms of the Human Development Index and fourth in Central America (behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala) due in part to ongoing rapid industrialization. However, the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and gang-related violent crime.
El Salvador Intro articles: 66
Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado named the new province for Jesus Christ – El Salvador (lit. 'The Saviour'). The full name was Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo (lit. 'Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World'), which was subsequently abbreviated to El Salvador.
El Salvador Etymology articles: 2
Tomayate is a palaeontological site located on the banks of the river of the same name in the municipality of Apopa. The site has produced abundant Salvadoran megafauna fossils belonging to the Pleistocene epoch. The palaeontological site was discovered accidentally in 2000, and in the following year, an excavation by the Museum of Natural History of El Salvador revealed not only several remnants of Cuvieronius, but also several other species of vertebrates. In the Tomayate site, they have recovered at least 19 species of vertebrates, including giant tortoises, Megatherium, Glyptodon, Toxodon, extinct horses, paleo-llamas and especially a large number of skeletal remains of proboscis genus Cuvieronius. The Tomayate site stands out from most Central American Pleistocene deposits, being more ancient and much richer, which provides valuable information of the Great American Interchange, in which the Central American isthmus land bridge played the title primordial role. At the same time, it is considered the richest vertebrate palaeontological site in Central America and one of the largest accumulations of proboscideans in the Americas.
Sophisticated civilization in El Salvador dates to its settlement by the indigenous Lenca people; theirs was the first and the oldest indigenous civilization to settle in there. They were a union of Central American tribes that oversaw most of the isthmus from southern Guatemala to northern Panama, which they called Managuara. The Lenca of eastern El Salvador trace their origins to specific caves with ancient pictographs dating back to at least the year 600 AD and some sources say as far back as 7000 BC. There was also a presence of Olmecs, although their role is unclear. Their influence remains recorded in the form of stone monuments and artefacts preserved in western El Salvador, as well as the national museum. A Mayan population also settled there in the Formative period but their numbers were greatly diminished when the Ilopango supervolcano eruption caused a massive exodus.
Centuries later the Mayans and Lenca were displaced by the Pipil people, Nahua speaking groups who migrated from Mexico beginning around 800 A.D. and occupied the central and western regions of El Salvador. The Pipil were the last indigenous people to arrive in El Salvador. They called their territory Kuskatan, a Pipil word meaning The Place of Precious Jewels, back-formed into Classical Nahuatl Cōzcatlān, and Hispanicized as Cuzcatlán. It was the largest domain in Salvadoran territory up until European contact. The term Cuzcatleco is commonly used to identify someone of Salvadoran heritage, although most of the eastern population has indigenous heritage of Lenca origin, as do their place names such as Intipuca, Chirilagua, and Lolotique.
Most of the archaeological sites in western El Salvador such as Lago de Guija, Joya De Ceren, and Cihuatan indicate a pre-Columbian Mayan culture. Cihuatan shows signs of material trade with northern Nahua culture, eastern Mayan and Lenca culture, and southern Nicaraguan and Costa Rican indigenous culture. Tazumal's smaller B1-2 structure shows a talud-tablero style of architecture that is associated with Nahua culture and corresponds with their migration history. In eastern El Salvador, the Lenca site of Quelepa is highlighted as a major pre-Columbian cultural center and demonstrates links to the Mayan site of Copan in western Honduras as well as the previously mentioned sites in Chalchuapa, and Cara Sucia in western El Salvador. An investigation of the site of La Laguna in Usulutan has also produced Copador items which link it to the Lenca-Maya trade route.
European contact (1522)
By 1521, the indigenous population of the Mesoamerican area had been drastically reduced by the smallpox epidemic that was spreading throughout the territory, although it had not yet reached pandemic levels in Cuzcatlán or the Salvadorian portion Managuara. The first known visit by Spaniards to what is now Salvadoran territory was made by the Spanish admiral Andrés Niño, who led a Spanish expedition to Central America. He disembarked in the Gulf of Fonseca on 31 May 1522, at Meanguera island, naming it Petronila, and then discovered Jiquilisco Bay on the mouth of Lempa River. The first indigenous people to have contact with the Spanish were the Lenca of eastern El Salvador.
Conquest of Cuzcatlán (1524–1525)
In 1524, after participating in the conquest of Mexico, Spanish conquistadors led by Pedro de Alvarado and his brother Gonzalo crossed the Rio Paz (Peace River) from the area comprising the present Republic of Guatemala into what is now the Republic of El Salvador. The Spaniards were disappointed to discover that the indigenous Pipil people had no gold or jewels like those they had found in Guatemala or Mexico, but recognized the richness of the land's volcanic soil.
Pedro de Alvarado led the first incursion by Spanish forces to extend their dominion to the nation of Cuzcatlan (El Salvador), in June 1524. When he arrived at the borders of the Cuzcatlan kingdom he saw that civilians had been evacuated. Cuzcatlec warriors moved to the coastal city of Acajutla and waited for Alvarado and his forces. Alvarado approached, confident that the result would be similar to what occurred in Mexico and Guatemala. He thought he would easily defeat this new indigenous force since his Mexican allies and the Pipil of Cuzcatlan spoke a similar language.
The Indigenous peoples of El Salvador did not see the Spanish as gods, but as foreign invaders. Alvarado saw that the Cuzcatan force outnumbered his Spanish soldiers and Mexican Indian allies. The Spanish withdrew and the Cuzcatlec army attacked, running behind them with war chants and shooting bow arrows. Alvarado had no choice but to fight to survive.
Alvarado described the Cuzcatlec soldiers in great detail as having shields made of colourful exotic feathers, a vest-like armour made of three inch cotton which arrows could not penetrate, and large spears. Both armies suffered many casualties, with a wounded Alvarado retreating and losing a lot of his men, especially among the Mexican Indian auxiliaries. Once his army had regrouped, Alvarado decided to head to the Cuzcatlan capital and again faced armed Cuzcatlec. Wounded, unable to fight and hiding in the cliffs, Alvarado sent his Spanish men on their horses to approach the Cuzcatlec to see if they would fear the horses, but they did not retreat, Alvarado recalls in his letters to Hernan Cortez.
The Cuzcatlec attacked again, and on this occasion stole Spanish weaponry. Alvarado retreated and sent Mexican Indian messengers to demand that the Cuzcatlec warriors return the stolen weapons and surrender to the Spanish king. The Cuzcatlec responded with the famous response, "If you want your weapons, come get them". As days passed, Alvarado, fearing an ambush, sent more Mexican Indian messengers to negotiate, but these messengers never came back and were presumably executed.
The Spanish efforts were firmly resisted by the indigenous people, including the Pipil and their Mayan-speaking neighbours. They defeated the Spaniards and what was left of their Mexican Tlaxcala Indian allies, forcing them to withdraw to Guatemala. After being wounded, Alvarado abandoned the war and appointed his brother, Gonzalo de Alvarado, to continue the task. Two subsequent expeditions (the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528) brought the Pipil under Spanish control, since the Pipil also were weakened by a regional epidemic of smallpox. In 1525, the conquest of Cuzcatlán was completed and the city of San Salvador was established. The Spanish faced much resistance from the Pipil and were not able to reach eastern El Salvador, the area of the Lencas.
In 1526 the Spanish founded the garrison town of San Miguel, headed by another explorer and conquistador, Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, nephew of Pedro Alvarado. Oral history holds that a Maya-Lenca crown princess, Antu Silan Ulap I, organized resistance to the conquistadors. The kingdom of the Lenca was alarmed by de Moscoso's invasion, and Antu Silan travelled from village to village, uniting all the Lenca towns in present-day El Salvador and Honduras against the Spaniards. Through surprise attacks and overwhelming numbers, they were able to drive the Spanish out of San Miguel and destroy the garrison.
For ten years the Lencas prevented the Spanish from building a permanent settlement. Then the Spanish returned with more soldiers, including about 2,000 forced conscripts from indigenous communities in Guatemala. They pursued the Lenca leaders further up into the mountains of Intibucá.
Antu Silan Ulap eventually handed over control of the Lenca resistance to Lempira (also called Empira). Lempira was noteworthy among indigenous leaders in that he mocked the Spanish by wearing their clothes after capturing them and using their weapons captured in battle. Lempira fought in command of thousands of Lenca forces for six more years in Managuara until he was killed in battle. The remaining Lenca forces retreated into the hills. The Spanish were then able to rebuild their garrison town of San Miguel in 1537.
Spanish rule (1525–1821)
During the colonial period, El Salvador was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala (Spanish: Reino de Guatemala), created in 1609 as an administrative division of New Spain. The Salvadoran territory was administered by the Mayor of Sonsonate, with San Salvador being established as an intendencia in 1786.
Towards the end of 1811, a combination of internal and external factors motivated Central American elites to attempt to gain independence from the Spanish Crown. The most important internal factors were the desire of local elites to control the country's affairs free of involvement from Spanish authorities, and the long-standing Creole aspiration for independence. The main external factors motivating the independence movement were the success of the French and American revolutions in the 18th century, and the weakening of the Spanish Crown's military power as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, with the resulting inability to control its colonies effectively.
In November 1811 Salvadoran priest José Matías Delgado rang the bells of Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, calling for insurrection and launching the 1811 Independence Movement. This insurrection was suppressed and many of its leaders were arrested and served sentences in jail. Another insurrection was launched in 1814, and again this insurrection was also suppressed.
In 1821 in light of unrest in Guatemala, Spanish authorities capitulated and signed the Act of Independence of Central America, which released all of the Captaincy of Guatemala (comprising current territories of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Mexican state of Chiapas) from Spanish rule and declared its independence. In 1821, El Salvador joined Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in a union named the Federal Republic of Central America.
In early 1822, the authorities of the newly independent Central American provinces, meeting in Guatemala City, voted to join the newly constituted First Mexican Empire under Agustín de Iturbide. El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. A Mexican military detachment marched to San Salvador and suppressed dissent, but with the fall of Iturbide on 19 March 1823, the army decamped back to Mexico. Shortly thereafter, the authorities of the provinces revoked the vote to join Mexico, deciding instead to form a federal union of the five remaining provinces. (Chiapas permanently joined Mexico at this juncture.)
When the Federal Republic of Central America dissolved in 1841, El Salvador maintained its own government until it joined Honduras and Nicaragua in 1896 to form the Greater Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1898.
After the mid-19th century, the economy was based on coffee growing. As the world market for indigo withered away, the economy prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. The enormous profits that coffee yielded as a monoculture export served as an impetus for the concentration of land into the hands of an oligarchy of just a few families.
Throughout the last half of the 19th century, a succession of presidents from the ranks of the Salvadoran oligarchy, nominally both conservative and liberal, generally agreed on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, the development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily in support of the coffee trade, the elimination of communal landholdings to facilitate further coffee production, the passage of anti-vagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other rural residents provided sufficient labour for the coffee fincas (plantations), and the suppression of rural discontent. In 1912, the national guard was created as a rural police force.
In 1898, Gen. Tomas Regalado gained power by force, deposing Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez and ruling as president until 1903. Once in office he revived the practice of presidents designating their successors. After serving his term, he remained active in the Army of El Salvador, and was killed 11 July 1906, at El Jicaro during a war against Guatemala. Until 1913 El Salvador was politically stable, with undercurrents of popular discontent. When President Dr. Manuel Enrique Araujo was killed in 1913, many hypotheses were advanced for the political motive of his murder.
Araujo's administration was followed by the Melendez-Quinonez dynasty that lasted from 1913 to 1927. Pio Romero Bosque, ex-Minister of the Government and a trusted collaborator of the dynasty, succeeded President Jorge Meléndez and in 1930 announced free elections, in which Arturo Araujo came to power on 1 March 1931 in what was considered the country's first freely contested election. His government lasted only nine months before it was overthrown by junior military officers who accused his Labor Party of lacking political and governmental experience and of using its government offices inefficiently. President Araujo faced general popular discontent, as the people had expected economic reforms and the redistribution of land. There were demonstrations in front of the National Palace from the first week of his administration. His vice president and minister of war was Gen. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez.
In December 1931, a coup d'état organized by junior officers and led by Gen. Martínez started in the First Regiment of Infantry across from the National Palace in downtown San Salvador. Only the First Regiment of Cavalry and the National Police defended the presidency (the National Police had been on its payroll), but later that night, after hours of fighting, the badly outnumbered defenders surrendered to rebel forces.
The Directorate, composed of officers, hid behind a shadowy figure, a rich anti-Communist banker called Rodolfo Duke, and later installed the ardent fascist Gen. Martínez as president. The revolt was probably due to the army's discontent at not having been paid by President Araujo for some months. Araujo left the National Palace and unsuccessfully tried to organize forces to defeat the revolt.
The U.S. Minister in El Salvador met with the Directorate and later recognized the government of Martínez, which agreed to hold presidential elections. He resigned six months prior to running for re-election, winning back the presidency as the only candidate on the ballot. He ruled from 1935 to 1939, then from 1939 to 1943. He began a fourth term in 1944, but resigned in May after a general strike. Martínez had said he was going to respect the Constitution, which stipulated he could not be re-elected, but he refused to keep his promise.
From December 1931, the year of the coup that brought Martínez to power, there was brutal suppression of rural resistance. The most notable event was the February 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, originally led by Farabundo Martí and Abel Cuenca, and university students Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata, but these leaders were captured before the planned insurrection. Only Cuenca survived; the other insurgents were killed by the government. After the capture of the movement leaders, the insurrection erupted in a disorganized and mob-controlled fashion, resulting in government repression that was later referred to as La Matanza (The Massacre), because tens of thousands of peasants died in the ensuing chaos on the orders of President Martinez.
In the unstable political climate of the previous few years, the social activist and revolutionary leader Farabundo Martí helped found the Communist Party of Central America, and led a Communist alternative to the Red Cross called International Red Aid, serving as one of its representatives. Their goal was to help poor and underprivileged Salvadorans through the use of Marxist-Leninist ideology (strongly rejecting Stalinism). In December 1930, at the height of the country's economic and social depression, Martí was once again exiled due to his popularity among the nation's poor and rumours of his upcoming nomination for president the following year. Once Arturo Araujo was elected president in 1931, Martí returned to El Salvador, and along with Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata began the movement that was later truncated by the military.
They helped start a guerrilla revolt of indigenous farmers. The government responded by killing over 30,000 people at what was to have been a "peaceful meeting" in 1932; this became known as La Matanza (The Slaughter). The peasant uprising against Martínez was crushed by the Salvadoran military ten days after it had begun. The Communist-led rebellion, fomented by collapsing coffee prices, enjoyed some initial success, but was soon drowned in a bloodbath. President Martínez, who had himself toppled an elected government only weeks earlier, ordered the defeated Martí shot after a perfunctory hearing.
Historically, the high Salvadoran population density has contributed to tensions with neighbouring Honduras, as land-poor Salvadorans emigrated to less densely populated Honduras and established themselves as squatters on unused or underused land. This phenomenon was a major cause of the 1969 Football War between the two countries. As many as 130,000 Salvadorans were forcibly expelled or fled from Honduras.
The Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) were active in Salvadoran politics from 1960 until 2011, when they were disbanded by the Supreme Court because they had failed to win enough votes in the 2004 presidential election; Both parties have since reconstituted. They share common ideals, but one represents the middle class and the latter the interests of the Salvadoran military.
PDC leader José Napoleón Duarte was the mayor of San Salvador from 1964 to 1970, winning three elections during the regime of PCN President Julio Adalberto Rivera Carballo, who allowed free elections for mayors and the National Assembly. Duarte later ran for president with a political grouping called the National Opposition Union (UNO) but was defeated in the 1972 presidential elections. He lost to the ex-Minister of Interior, Col. Arturo Armando Molina, in an election that was widely viewed as fraudulent; Molina was declared the winner even though Duarte was said to have received a majority of the votes. Duarte, at some army officers' request, supported a revolt to protest the election fraud, but was captured, tortured and later exiled. Duarte returned to the country in 1979 to enter politics after working on projects in Venezuela as an engineer.
Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992)
In October 1979, a coup d'état brought the 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 in response to Duarte's stolen election. Nevertheless, the oligarchy opposed agrarian reform, and a junta formed with young liberal elements from the army such as Gen. Majano and Gen. Gutierrez, as well as with progressives such as Guillermo Ungo and Alvarez.
Pressure from the oligarchy soon dissolved the junta because of its inability to control the army in its repression of the people fighting for unionization rights, agrarian reform, better wages, accessible health care and freedom of expression. In the meantime, the guerrilla movement was spreading to all sectors of Salvadoran society. Middle and high school students were organized in MERS (Movimiento Estudiantil Revolucionario de Secundaria, Revolutionary Movement of Secondary Students); college students were involved with AGEUS (Asociacion de Estudiantes Universitarios Salvadorenos; Association of Salvadoran College Students); and workers were organized in BPR (Bloque Popular Revolucionario, Popular Revolutionary Block). In October 1980, several other major guerrilla groups of the Salvadoran left had formed the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, or FMLN. By the end of the 1970s, death squads were killing about 10 people each day, and the FMLN had 6,000 – 8,000 active guerrillas and hundreds of thousands of part-time militia, supporters, and sympathizers.
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. Napoleón 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 by the general population as opportunistic. He was unable to influence the outcome of the insurrection. Óscar Romero, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, denounced injustices and massacres committed against civilians by government forces. He was considered "the voice of the voiceless", but he was assassinated by a death squad while saying Mass on 24 March 1980. Some consider this to be the beginning of the full Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992. An unknown number of people "disappeared" during the conflict, and the UN reports that more than 75,000 were killed. The Salvadoran Army's US-trained Atlacatl Battalion was responsible for the El Mozote massacre where more than 800 civilians were murdered, over half of them children, the El Calabozo massacre, and the murder of UCA scholars.
On 16 January 1992, the government of El Salvador, represented by president Alfredo Cristiani, and the FMLN, represented by the commanders of the five guerrilla groups – Shafik Handal, Joaquín Villalobos, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Francisco Jovel and Eduardo Sancho, all signed peace agreements brokered by the United Nations ending the 12-year civil war. This event, held at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico, was attended by U.N. dignitaries and other representatives of the international community. After signing the armistice, the president stood up and shook hands with all the now ex-guerrilla commanders, an action which was widely admired.
The so-called Chapultepec Peace Accords mandated reductions in the size of the army, and the dissolution of the National Police, the Treasury Police, the National Guard and the Civilian Defence, a paramilitary group. A new Civil Police was to be organized. Judicial immunity for crimes committed by the armed forces ended; the government agreed to submit to the recommendations of a Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (Comisión de la Verdad Para El Salvador), which would "investigate serious acts of violence occurring since 1980, and the nature and effects of the violence, and...recommend methods of promoting national reconciliation." In 1993 the Commission delivered its findings reporting human rights violations on both sides of the conflict. Five days later the El Salvadoran legislature passed an amnesty law for all acts of violence during the period.
From 1989 until 2004, Salvadorans favoured the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, voting in ARENA presidents in every election (Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores Pérez, Antonio Saca) until 2009, when Mauricio Funes was elected president from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party.
Economic reforms since the early 1990s brought major benefits in terms of improved social conditions, diversification of the export sector, and access to international financial markets at investment grade level. Crime remains a major problem for the investment climate.
This all ended in 2001, and support for ARENA weakened. Internal turmoil in ARENA weakened the party also, while the FMLN united and broadened its support.
The unsuccessful attempts of the left-wing party to win presidential elections led to its selection of a journalist rather than a former guerrilla leader as a candidate. On 15 March 2009, Mauricio Funes, a television figure, became the first president from the FMLN party. He was inaugurated on 1 June 2009. One focus of the Funes government has been revealing the alleged corruption from the past government.
ARENA formally expelled Saca from the party in December 2009. With 12 loyalists in the National Assembly, Saca established his own party, GANA (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional or Grand Alliance for National Unity), and entered into a tactical legislative alliance with the FMLN. After three years in office, with Saca's GANA party providing the FMLN with a legislative majority, Funes had not taken action to either investigate or to bring corrupt former officials to justice.
Early in the new millennium, El Salvador's government created the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales — the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) — in response to climate change concerns.
El Salvador History articles: 126
El Salvador lies in the isthmus of Central America between latitudes 13° and 15°N, and longitudes 87° and 91°W. It stretches 270 km (168 mi) from west-northwest to east-southeast and 142 km (88 mi) north to south, with a total area of 21,041 km2 (8,124 sq mi). As the smallest country in continental America, El Salvador is affectionately called Pulgarcito de America (the "Tom Thumb of the Americas"). The highest point in El Salvador is Cerro El Pital, at 2,730 metres (8,957 ft), on the border with Honduras.
El Salvador has a long history of destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The capital San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854, and it suffered heavy damage in the 1919, 1982, and 1986 tremors. El Salvador has over twenty volcanoes, two of them, San Miguel and Izalco, active in recent years. From the early 19th century to the mid-1950s, Izalco erupted with a regularity that earned it the name "Lighthouse of the Pacific." Its brilliant flares were clearly visible for great distances at sea, and at night its glowing lava turned it into a brilliant luminous cone.
El Salvador has over 300 rivers, the most important of which is the Rio Lempa. Originating in Guatemala, the Rio Lempa cuts across the northern range of mountains, flows along much of the central plateau, and cuts through the southern volcanic range to empty into the Pacific. It is El Salvador's only navigable river. It and its tributaries drain about half of the country's area. Other rivers are generally short and drain the Pacific lowlands or flow from the central plateau through gaps in the southern mountain range to the Pacific. These include the Goascorán, Jiboa, Torola, Paz and the Río Grande de San Miguel.
There are several lakes enclosed by volcanic craters in El Salvador, the most important of which are Lake Ilopango (70 km2 or 27 sq mi) and Lake Coatepeque (26 km2 or 10 sq mi). Lake Güija is El Salvador's largest natural lake (44 km2 or 17 sq mi). Several artificial lakes were created by the damming of the Lempa, the largest of which is Embalse Cerrón Grande (135 km2 or 52 sq mi). There are a total 320 km2 (123.6 sq mi) of water within El Salvador's borders.
El Salvador shares borders with Guatemala and Honduras, the total national boundary length is 546 km (339 mi): 126 miles (203 km) with Guatemala and 343 km (213 mi) with Honduras. It is the only Central American country that has no Caribbean coastline. The coastline on the Pacific is 307 km (191 mi) long.
Two parallel mountain ranges cross El Salvador to the west with a central plateau between them and a narrow coastal plain hugging the Pacific. These physical features divide the country into two physiographic regions. The mountain ranges and central plateau, covering 85% of the land, comprise the interior highlands. The remaining coastal plains are referred to as the Pacific lowlands.
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; this time of year is referred to as invierno or winter. Almost all the annual rainfall occurs during this period; yearly totals, particularly on southern-facing mountain slopes, can be as high as 2170 mm.
The best time to visit El Salvador would be at the beginning or end of the dry season. Protected areas and the central plateau receive less, although still significant, amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pressure systems formed over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunderstorms. Hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific with the notable exception of Hurricane Mitch, which formed in the Atlantic and crossed Central America.
From November through April, the northeast trade winds control weather patterns; this time of year is referred to as verano, or summer. During these months, air flowing from the Caribbean has lost most of its precipitation while passing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy, and the country experiences hot weather, excluding the northern higher mountain ranges, where temperatures will be cool. In the extreme northeastern part of the country near Cerro El Pital, snow is known to fall during summer as well as during winter due to the high elevations (it is the coldest part of the country).
Extreme weather events
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 El Salvador's crops, causing famine in the countryside. On 4 October 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 severe storms and hurricanes coming off the Caribbean.
Earthquakes and volcanic activity
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 13 January 2001 that measured 7.7 on the Richter magnitude scale and caused a landslide that killed more than 800 people; and another earthquake only a month later, on 13 February 2001, that killed 255 people and damaged 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 1 October 2005, when the Santa Ana Volcano spewed a cloud of ash, hot mud and rocks that fell on nearby villages and caused two deaths. The most severe volcanic eruption in this area occurred in the 5th century AD when the Ilopango volcano erupted with a VEI strength of 6, producing widespread pyroclastic flows and devastating Mayan cities.
The Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador is active; the most recent eruptions were in 1904 and 2005. Lago de Coatepeque (one of El Salvador's lakes) was created by water filling the caldera that formed after a massive eruption.
Biodiversity and endangered species
There are eight species of sea turtles in the world; six of them nest on the coasts of Central America, and four make their home on the Salvadoran coast: the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), the green sea turtle (black) (Chelonia agasizzii) and the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea). Of these four species, the most common is the olive ridley turtle, followed by the green sea turtle. The other two species, hawksbill and leatherback, are much more difficult to find as they are critically endangered, while the olive ridley and green sea turtle are in danger of extinction.
Recent conservation efforts provide hope for the future of the country's biological diversity. In 1997, the government established the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. A general environmental framework law was approved by the National Assembly in 1999. Specific legislation to protect wildlife is still pending. In addition, a number of non-governmental organizations are doing important work to safeguard some of the country's most important forested areas. Foremost among these is SalvaNatura, which manages El Impossible, the country's largest national park under an agreement with El Salvador's environmental authorities.
Despite these efforts, much remains to be done.
It is estimated that there are 500 species of birds, 1,000 species of butterflies, 400 species of orchids, 800 species of trees, and 800 species of marine fish in El Salvador.