El Salvador

The Republic of El Salvador is a small country in Central America famous for its beauty and history and infamous for its numerous problems with public security. This essay will provide general information about geographical conditions, demographic situation, economy and current issues in the country.



El Salvador is situated in Central America. The capital of the country is San Salvador. The territory is divided into fourteen administrative units called departamentos. Its total area is 21,041 sq. km (Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], 2015). El Salvador is 153rd in size in the world and the smallest state among Central American countries (CIA, 2015). El Salvador is bounded by Honduras to the north and east, by the Pacific Ocean to the south, and by Guatemala to the northwest (Schultze-Kraft, 2014). Unlike other countries in the region, El Salvador has no connection to the Caribbean.

The area of El Salvador is mountainous, with a narrow coastal belt and Central Plateau. Cerro El Pital in the Sierra Madre is the highest point (2,730 m). The lowest point is zero, the ocean level. The country often suffers from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The highest volcanos are Santa Ana (2,365 m), San Vicente (2,182 m), and San Salvador (1,943 m) (El Salvador travel guide, 2015). The only navigable river is Rio Lempa. There are also many lakes of volcanic origin in El Salvador (El Salvador travel guide, 2015).


The total population of El Salvador is about 6.1 million people. The country has the highest density of population compared to its neighbors, namely 291 per sq. km (El Salvador travel guide, 2015). The people refer to themselves as Salvadorans. According to 2007 estimate, 86.3% of the population are mestizo of Spanish-American origin, 12.7% are Caucasian, and only 0.2% are indigenous Indians (CIA, 2015). The number of Indians has drastically reduced compared to 1980 estimate when they accounted for 10% of the population (Haggary, 1988).

The median age is 25.6 years, but the population is gradually ageing due to family planning and emigration of young Salvadorans. In addition, the population reduced because of the extensive emigration of Salvadorans during the civil war of 1979-1982 and following economic recession. About 20% of Salvadorans live abroad, mainly in the USA, Canada, Mexico, and neighboring countries (CIA, 2015).

Main Sources of Income

El Salvador possesses the fourth largest economy in the region. Since colonial times, agricultural sector dominated the economy; light, food, and chemical industries boosted in the 1960s and 1970s. The service sector has seen rapid expansion in the recent decades (Schultze-Kraft, 2014). In the language of statistics, in 2014, agriculture accounted for only 10% of GDP; 25.1% came from industry, and 64.9% was provided by services (CIA, 2015).

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Expatriate Salvadorans that fled the country during the civil war and in the following years send remittance home that significantly helps to reduce poverty. These money transfers made 17% of the GDP in 2014 and were received by one third of households. Thus, remittances are the second largest source of national income (CIA, 2015).

Agriculture still plays an important role in the economic structure. El Salvador is famous for its coffee; it also produces cotton, corn and sugarcane, much of which is exported. Other crops are rice, beans, oilseed, and sorghum. There are various tropical fruits, for example melon, watermelon, coconut, tamarind, and mango. Salvadoran farms increased production of such non-traditional products as pineapple, marigolds, jalapeno peppers, and okra. El Salvador exports valuable kinds of wood, such as cedar, laurel, mahogany, nispero, madrecacao, and balsa tree. Cattle breeding and commercial fishing are important sources of income as well (Schultze-Kraft, 2014; CIA, 2015). Meanwhile, government has to import foodstuffs to cover the needs of population.

The most developed industries are food processing and beverages production, manufacture of furniture and textiles, production of petroleum, chemicals and fertilizers, and light metal mining. Ethanol is an important export product (CIA, 2015). Over 20% of the imports are re-exported (Schultze-Kraft, 2014). The main trade partners of El Salvador are the USA and the neighboring Central American countries (CIA, 2015). El Salvador is a famous touristic destination, and the receipts from tourism account for a significant share in the countrys budget.

Best Known for

The name of El Salvador is associated with its historical heritage, natural beauties, natural disasters, the recent civil war, and a high crime rate. Mayan and Pipil ruins and pyramids are a touristic attraction. Cultural events and architectural sites of the Hispanic heritage are of great interest to the tourists as well (El Salvador travel guide, 2015). The country is famous for its beaches and the best surfing in the Atlantic region. Eco-tourism is also popular; kayaking on the volcanic lakes, white-water rafting, hiking and exploring the volcanoes are extremely popular (El Salvador travel guide, 2015).

Ethnicities of Population

Originally, the ethnical composition was varied, consisting of indigenous groups of people, the Spanish and Africans brought as slaves. The population is ethnically and culturally homogeneous (Haggarty, 1988). Mestizos that form the majority of the population appeared due to the assimilation of the local Indian people and Spaniards. Numerous Hispanic traditions shape the cultural pattern of El Salvador.

The indigenous ethnicities are Pipil and Lenca Indians that mostly live in the western region of the country. Unfortunately, the Indian culture is almost extinct in El Salvador. The assimilation that started during the colonial era was fastened by the repressions of the 1930s. Indian caciques supported the failed peasant uprising of 1932, and the government repressions followed the racial principle. Over 30,000 Indians were killed, and the remaining people abandoned their traditional clothes, customs and language for the sake of life (Haggarty, 1988). In spite of the revived interest in the Indian culture, very few Indians have preserved cultural identity.

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Spanish is the official language in El Salvador and the mother tongue of the vast majority of population. Salvadorans speak the dialect called Caliche. Elderly Indians living in remote districts speak Nahua (or Nahuatl), the language of Pipil tribe (CIA, 2015; Schultze-Kraft, 2014). The language was almost extinct during the events described above; in the 1970s, one tenth of the households in the traditionally Pipil districts had at least one Pipil speaker (Haggarty, 1988). Another Indian dialect spoken in the eastern region is Poton (Schultze-Kraft, 2014). Unfortunately, the government efforts to revive the Indian languages are so far ineffective.

The Countrys Colonial History

Before the Spanish conquest, the territory of the modern Salvador was shared between two Indian states. The larger part belonged to the Pipil state of Cuscatlan while the smaller was a part of Mayan Empire. The Pipil strongly resisted the military expeditions of 1524 headed by Pedro de Alvarado. During the expedition of 1525, the Spanish founded a new capital, San Salvador, but they gained control over the territory only in 1528 (Haggarty, 1988). The conquistadores did not find gold and jewels although Cuscatlan meant the Land of Jewel in the Pipil language. The only exploitable resource was the land that was shared between the Spanish elite. The indigenous tribes lost their land and were treated as workforce. The periods of economic prosperity were connected with the export of cacao and indigo. The colonial period was marked by impoverishment and assimilation of the indigenous people, formation of the national elite, domination of Roman Catholic Church, and development of commercial agriculture. The bond with the Spanish Empire was shaken with the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, and El Salvador won independence in 1821 (Haggarty, 1988; Schultze-Kraft, 2014).

Current Economic, Social and Political Problems

Like other countries in Central America, El Salvador faces many major problems, including violence, corruption, lack of political consent, and poverty. Competing drug gangs lead the war, due to which the present-day homicide rate is equal to that of the civil war. Corruption flourishes at all levels. It is not possible to stay in business unless one pays to extortionists. Youth gangs, drug and alcohol consumption are the challenges of the contemporary Salvadoran society. Poverty, health problems and illiteracy are other social issues to solve (Thale, 2014).

The economy of El Salvador is unstable. The countrys development depends on the remittances and foreign financial support. The economy fell into decline due to the global economic recession, so the prospects of paying the external debts are quite limited (CIA, 2015).

The lack of political accord between the two major parties, leftist FMLN and ARENA, makes it problematic to conduct a decisive government policy. FMLN came to power in June 2014, and ARENA forms a numerous and influential opposition (Thale, 2014). The parties have to show the wish and ability to negotiate for the countrys progress.


El Salvador is a beautiful country with many challenges. It has good opportunities for development as well as chances to improve the situation. However, its domestic problems are damaging the countrys image and hindering its progress. The future will show whether the current government will be able to tackle the social security and crime problems effectively, stabilize the economy, and solve the issue of poverty.

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