Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Thursday, 16 August 2012 14:25 UK

El Salvador country profile

Map of El Salvador

El Salvador, which is Spanish for "the saviour" - or Jesus Christ - has been wracked by civil war and a succession of natural disasters.

The tiny country is the most densely-populated state on the mainland of the Americas and is highly industrialised. But social inequality and a susceptibility to earthquakes have shaped much of modern El Salvador.


In the 1980s El Salvador was ravaged by a bitter civil war. This was stoked by gross inequality between a small and wealthy elite, which dominated the government and the economy, and the overwhelming majority of the population, many of whom lived - and continue to live - in abject squalor. The war left around 70,000 people dead and caused damage worth $2bn, but it also brought about important political reforms.

In 1992 a United Nations-brokered peace agreement ended the civil war, but no sooner had El Salvador begun to recover when it was hit by a series of natural disasters, notably Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and earthquakes in 2001. These left at least 1,200 people dead and more than a million others homeless.

The economy depends heavily on the money sent home by Salvadoreans living in the US. Poverty, civil war, natural disasters and their consequent dislocations have left their mark on El Salvador's society, which is among the most crime-ridden in the Americas.

Violent street gangs, known as "maras", were described by former President Saca as a "regional problem that requires regional solutions". One of the most notorious groups was started in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the US.

El Salvador has one of the world's highest murder rates, with 71 per 100,000 residents in recent years.


  • Full name: Republic of El Salvador
  • Population: 6.2 million (UN, 2011)
  • Capital: San Salvador
  • Area: 21,041 sq km (8,124 sq miles)
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: US dollar & Salvadoran colon
  • Main exports: Offshore assembly exports, coffee, sugar, shrimp, textiles, chemicals, electricity
  • GNI per capita: US $3,480 (World Bank, 2011)
  • Internet domain: .sv
  • International dialling code: +503


President: Mauricio Funes

President Mauricio Funes
Mr Funes is the first left-wing president in two decades

Mauricio Funes' election victory in March 2009 marked the first time in 20 years that a left-wing leader had come to power in El Salvador.

He defeated his conservative rival from the Arena party which had previously won every election since El Salvador's civil war ended in 1992.

Within hours of taking office on 1 June 2009, Mr Funes ordered to re-establishment of full diplomatic ties with Cuba, after a break of 50 years.

Since coming to power, he has also launched a clampdown on street gangs.

Mr Funes' FMLN party (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) was founded by Marxist guerillas who were engaged in a conflict against the US-backed government in the 1980s.

At least 75,000 people were killed during the civil war. In 1992 the FMLN signed a peace agreement and re-branded itself as a legitimate political party.

Mr Funes himself was never involved in armed uprising. He gave up his career as TV journalist to run for president.

He is considered a moderate and says he admires US President Barack Obama. Like Mr Obama, he campaigned on a platform of change. Mr Funes says he wants to build a relationship of "understanding and mutual respect" with the United States.

He has also expressed admiration for the economic policies of Brazil's moderate left-wing president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mauricio Funes was born on 18 October 1959. He is married to a Brazilian doctor and has three children.


Press freedom is guaranteed under the constitution, and the media freely and routinely criticise the government and report on opposition activities.

Broadcasting is dominated by private operators, with a handful of national TV networks. There are scores of radio stations in the capital alone.

Cable TV is widely available and carries international channels.

There were just over a million internet users by June 2011 (via Internetworldstats).

The press



Print Sponsor




Compiled by BBC Monitoring

Archive: Reynolds on El Salvador war
22 Feb 11 |  Latin America & Caribbean
Gangs rule in El Salvador jails
12 Jul 09 |  Americas
Former rebels win Salvador poll
25 Jan 09 |  Americas
US woes slow migrant remittances
12 Mar 08 |  Americas
El Salvador in US free trade deal
24 Feb 06 |  Business
Gang life tempts Salvador teens
24 Jan 05 |  Americas


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific