CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

El Salvador

El Salvador 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 industrialized. 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”, have been 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.

BBC Country Profile: El Salvador
Photo by MA Candidate Tia Vice, Stone Center for Latin American Studies

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