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Thursday, 9 January 2003
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El Salvador

Capital: San Salvador
Area: 21,040 sq. km, (8,260 sq. miles), the smallest country in continental Latin America, El Salvador is bounded by Guatemala to the north and Honduras to the north and east, a string of volcanoes running east to west, roughly parallel to its Pacific Ocean coastline.
Language: Spanish, English

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Population:6.2 million (1999), 9.1 million (2025)
Ethnic groups:Spanish descendents and mixed Amerindians.
Religion:Roman Catholics about 88 percent, some active Protestant evangelical groups.
Climate:Pacific coastline has a hot tropical climate with one rainy season between May-October; higher regions cooler; rainfall governed by altitude, with noticeable dry period between November-January.
Currency:Salvadorean coln and US dollar.
Time zone:GMT-6
Public holidays:Jan 1, April 13-16, May 1, June 14, Aug 4-6, Sept 15, Oct 12, Nov 2, 5, Dec 24, 25.
Electricity:110V AC 50Hz.
Travel rules:Passport, Visas required except by nationals of Britain, some European Union, Asian and Latin American countries.
Driving:National licence or international permit required.
Health rules:Yellow fever certificate required if arriving from infected area; hepatitis A, tetanus, typhoid immunisation recommended.
(Source: The State of World Population 1999, UNFPA)

Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Alvarado, marched into what is now El Salvador in 1524. Over the next 20 years, his troops would defeat an unusually strong Indian resistance to the conquest.

The Spanish ran the country from neighbouring Guatemala for almost 300 years, until El Salvador won independence, along with the rest of Central America, in 1821. Its early wealth was based on indigo and cocoa but big coffee growers held most political and economic power after independence.

The army crushed a peasant revolt against landowners in 1932, killing between 10,000 to 30,000 in less than a week.

After decades of rightist military governments, young officers staged a coup in October 1979 and formed a junta with leftist civilians. The junta was taken over by right-wing officers and far-right death squads murdered thousands of suspected leftists. Left-wing guerrillas, active since the early 1970s, fought back.

In 1989, the rebels mounted their biggest offensive, taking large parts of the capital before retreating in the face of superior air power. Although unable to seize power, they showed that the army was unable to win the war.

The U.S. government poured about $6 billion of economic and military aid into El Salvador during the civil war, to defeat the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas. It then saw as a spearhead for the Soviet Union in Central America. U.S. aid was severely criticised due to notorious human rights abuses by the Salvadoran security forces, such as the torture and murder of thousands of political opponents.

With the end of the Cold War and the departure of U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1989, the United States government backed a negotiated settlement to the war and pushed the government into making concessions.

Both sides accepted United Nations mediation and peace accords were signed in January 1992. Some 75,000 people died in the 12-year internal conflict.

U.N. peacekeepers oversaw rebels demobilisation; cuts in the armed forces and sweeping political reforms. More than 100 officers were purged for their involvement in human rights atrocities.

In general elections in 1994, the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) won 39 of the 84 seats in the National Assembly. The left-wing FMLN won 21 and the Christian Democratic Party 18. Armando Caldern Sol, the ARENA candidate, was elected president with 68.2 percent of the votes against 31.6 percent for the FMLN candidate. However, ARENA lost its congressional majority to its rival.

Francisco Flores was elected president in March 1999, in a third consecutive presidential victory for ARENA.

The FMLN was rift by internal divisions after the 1994 election and again after the 1999 poll.

On January 13, 2001, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale hit Central America, with strongest impact in Santa Tecla, La Libertad, Usulutn and other areas south and west of San Salvador.

A similar-scale earthquake in 1986 killed 1,500 people, injured more than 20,000 and left 300,000 homeless.

Infant mortality:34 per 1,000 live births
Maternal mortality ratio:300 per 100,000 live births
Life expectancy:66.7 years men, 72.7 years women
Illiteracy:19.1 percent men, 25 percent women above 15 years
Access to basic care:40 percent
Access to safe water:66 percent
Human development index value:0.696 (1998)
(Source: Human Development Report 2000, UNDP)

GDP:139 billion colons ($15.9 billion)
Per capita:$2,900 (1999)
Growth:2.6 percent (1999)
Inflation:0.5 percent (1999)
Defence budget:980 million colones ($112 million) (2000)
(Source: The Military Balance, 2000/2001, IISS)

Armed forces:Active 16,800 men.
Army:15,000 men with 10 light armoured vehicles.
Navy:700 men men 15 patrol craft.
Air force:1,100 men, 23 combat aircraft, 10 armed helicopters.
(Source: The Military Balance, 2000/2001, IISS)

Civil aviation: El Salvador International Airport is about 65 km (40 miles) south of the capital.

Airlines: TACA International Airlines operates passenger and cargo services to Central America and the United States.
Railways:There are about 675 km of railway. The main track links San Salvador with the ports of Acajutla and Cutuco and with San Jeronimo, on the Guatemalan border.
Roads: There are 12,500 km of roads, including the Pan-American Highway. There are 1,700 km of paved highway, 8,000 km of improved roadway and 2,700 km of dry-weather roads.

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(Country Profiles on AlertNet have been compiled by Reuters bureaux around the world and from other named sources).

Copyright 2001 AlertNet.


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  • LANIC - University of Texas links on El Salvador
  • Central America Report
  • Regional Disaster Information Center - Latin America and the Caribbean
  • News from Central America Daily
  • Pan American Health Organisation - disaster information

    Pginas de Internet en castellano:

  • Guanacos online
  • La Prensa Grfica
  • Comisin Nacional de Solidaridad
  • cipotes.com
  • El Diario de Hoy
  • Inforpress Centroamericana
  • One World - Amrica Latina
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