El Salvador, the most densely-populated state on the mainland of the Americas, is a small and highly-industrialised country.
In the 1980s, El Salvador was ravaged by a bitter civil war stoked by gross inequality between the overwhelming majority of the population and a small and wealthy elite that left around 70,000 people dead.
A UN-brokered peace agreement ended the civil war in 1992, ushering in important political reforms, but the country still suffers from the legacy of a divided society.
Violent “mara” street gangs have left El Salvador with one of the world’s highest murder rates.
EL SALVADOR: FACTS
- Capital: San Salvador
- Area: 21,041 sq km
- Population: 6.5 million
- Language: Spanish
- Life expectancy: 68 years (men) 78 years (women)
President: Nayib Bukele
A youthful political independent, Mr Bukele won the 2019 presidential election on a pledge to create a “new era” for El Salvador.
During his five-year-term he has vowed to take on gang violence and corruption, and foster better relations with the United States.
His predecessor, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, had conducted a left-wing foreign policy and established diplomatic relations with China.
The media are among the victims of the widespread violence in El Salvador, says Reporters Without Borders.
Harassment and acts of violence in response to coverage of corruption and organized crime have often led journalists to engage in self-censorship, says Freedom House.
Some key dates in the history of El Salvador:
c. 600AD – Lenca establish the first widely recognised civilization in what is now El Salvador. They develop links with Mayan settlements in neighbouring Honduras.
800 – Nahua-speaking Pipil occupy central and western regions. They called their territory Kuskatan, meaning “the place of precious jewels”.
1521 – Smallpox epidemic sweeping across Central America – triggered by the arrival of European colonists in the region – drastically reduces the indigenous population.
1524 – Pedro de Alvarado, attempts initial Spanish conquest of the area, but withdraws after being defeated by the Pipil and their allies. It takes the Spanish some 15 years to finally crush indigenous resistance.
1821 – Independence from Spain.
1823-1840 – El Salvador forms part of the short-lived United Provinces of Central America, which also includes Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
1859-63 – President Gerardo Barrios introduces coffee growing, which becomes the country’s dominant crop.
1932 – Some 30,000 people are killed during the brutal suppression of a rural revolt known as La Matanza led by social activist and revolutionary leader Farabundo Martí.
1961 – Right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN) comes to power after a military coup.
1969 – Week-long so-called “Football War” with Honduras leads to 4,000 deaths. Border tensions lead to conflict triggered when El Salvador meet Honduras for a three-round football elimination match preliminary to the World Cup. Up to 130,000 Salvadoran illegal immigrants are expelled from Honduras.
1979–1992 – Salvadoran Civil War. Up to 75,000 people are estimated by the UN to have died in the violence between army-backed right-wing death squads and left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels.
1980 – Archbishop of San Salvador and human rights campaigner Oscar Romero assassinated;
1992 – Government and rebels sign the Chapultepec Peace Accords.
2002 – US court holds two retired, US-based Salvadoran army generals responsible for civil war atrocities, orders them to compensate victims who brought case.
2003 – El Salvador – along with Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala – agrees on a free-trade agreement with the US. The government ratifies the pact a year later.
2006 – El Salvador and neighbouring Honduras inaugurate their newly-defined border.
2009 – Former FMLN rebel movement emerges as largest party in parliamentary elections, and shortly afterwards former rebel Mauricio Funes wins presidential elections.
2012 – Human Rights Court for the Americas finds El Salvador guilty over the civil war massacre at El Mozote in 1981.
2012 – A year-long truce between street gangs. It reputedly saves the lives of thousands, but violence rises again in subsequent years.
2015 – Murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero is beatified, after Pope Francis approved his status as martyr.
2022 – Government initiates a massive fight against criminal gangs and gang-related violence; declares state of emergency and arrests more than 53,000 suspected gang members.