Our Central America tour (11): El Salvador

The country’s name means “the saviour” which is a reference to Jesus Christ. A Spanish colony from 1540, El Salvador became fully independent in 1840. It is known as the land of the volcanoes.

In the 1980s, the country was ravaged by a civil war which left around 70,000 people dead and caused damage of around $2 billion. Oliver Stone’s 1986 film “Salvador” portrayed the early years of the conflict. The civil war ended in 1992 but then the country was hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and earthquakes in 2001.

El Salvador is the smallest by far of the five countries we are visiting, but it still has a population of over 6 million, making it the most densely populated state on the mainland of the Americas. The capital is San Salvador.

It is one of the most crime-ridden countries in the Americas with street gangs called “maras” and it has one of the highest murder rates in the world: 70 per 100,000 per year, compared to one in 100,000 for the UK and five in 100,000 in the USA. All this is blamed largely on the fights between two rival gangs: Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. The two gangs entered into a truce in 2011, but the number of murders has recently been going up again and some analysts fear it may not hold much longer.

Once the civil war ended in 1992, the conservative Arena Party won won every election until, in March 2009, Mauricio Funes of the Left-wing Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), founded by the former Marxist guerrillas, was elected president. Two days before our arrival in the country, there were fresh elections in which former rebel and current Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of FMLN had a convincing 10-percentage-point lead in the presidential ballot, but a run off election is now necessary in early March.


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