El Salvador -- Geography --
Official Name: El Salvador
Capital City: San Salvador
Official Currency: USD
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, others
Land Area: 21,040 sq km
Landforms: Mostly mountains with narrow coastal belt and central plateau.
Land Divisions: 14 prefectures
El Salvador -- History --
In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors ventured into ports to extend their dominion to the area that would be known as El Salvador. They were firmly resisted by the Pipil and their remaining Mayan-speaking neighbors. Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Hernan Cortes, led the first effort by Spanish forces in June 1524. The people defeated the Spaniards and forced them to withdraw to Guatemala. Two subsequent expeditions took place—the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528—to bring the Pipil under Spanish rule. Towards the end of 1810, a combination of internal and external factors allowed Central American elites to attempt to gain independence from the Spanish crown. The internal factors were mainly the interest the elites had in controlling the territories they owned without involvement from Spanish authorities. The external factors were the success of the French and American revolutions in the eighteenth century and the weakening of the military power of the Spanish crown because of its wars against Napoleonic France. The independence movement was consolidated on November 5, 1811, when the Salvadoran priest, Jose Matias Delgado, sounded the bells of the Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, making a call for the insurrection. After many years of internal fights, the Acta de Independencia (Act of Independence) of Central America was signed in Guatemala on September 15, 1821. When these provinces were joined with Mexico in early 1822, El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. In 1823, the United Provinces of Central America was formed by the five Central American states under General Manuel Jose Arce. When this federation was dissolved in 1838, El Salvador became an independent republic. El Salvador's early history as an independent state was marked by frequent revolutions. From 1872 to 1898, El Salvador was a prime mover in attempts to reestablish an isthmian federation. The governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed the Greater Republic of Central America via the Pact of Amapala in 1895. Although Guatemala and Costa Rica considered joining the Greater Republic (which was rechristened the United States of Central America when its constitution went into effect in 1898), neither country joined. This union, which had planned to establish its capital city at Amapala on the Golfo de Fonseca, did not survive a seizure of power in El Salvador in 1898. The enormous profits that coffee yielded as a monoculture export served as an impetus for the process whereby land became concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy of few families. A succession of presidents from the ranks of the Salvadoran oligarchy, nominally both conservative and liberal, throughout the last half of the nineteenth century generally agreed on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, on the development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily in support of the coffee trade, on the elimination of communal landholdings to facilitate further coffee production, on the passage of anti-vagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other rural residents provided sufficient labor for the coffee fincas (plantations), and on the suppression of rural discontent. In 1912, the national guard was created as a rural police force. The coffee industry grew inexorably in El Salvador. As a result, the elite provided the bulk of the government's financial support through import duties on goods imported with the foreign currencies that coffee sales earned. This support, coupled with the humbler and more mundane mechanisms of corruption, ensured the coffee growers of overwhelming influence within the government. The economy, based on coffee-growing after the mid-19th century, as the world market for indigo withered away, prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. From 1931—the year of the coup in which Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez came to power until he was deposed in 1944 there was brutal suppression of rural resistance. The most notable event was the 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, commonly referred to as La Matanza (the massacre), headed by Farabundo Marti and the retaliation led by Martinez's government, in which approximately 30,000 indigenous people and political opponents were murdered, imprisoned or exiled. Until 1980, all but one Salvadoran temporary president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair, and an oligarchy in alliance with military forces ruled the nation. A second peasant uprising against the oligarchy resulted in the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992), notable for atrocities on the part of the National Guard and government-related death squads. In 1972 Jose Napoleon Duarte (PDC) was elected President but betrayed by the military Party, Party of National Conciliation, tortured and had to flee. After a Coup d'etat in October 1979, the RGJunta and elections in 1984 he became president. The El Mozote massacre, and the murder of Catholic missionaries and other religious aid workers, such as Jean Donovan, were some notorious consequences of the war, which lasted until the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in January 1991. Five different factions of the guerrillas formed the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional party (FMLN) in order to seek office through democratic elections. Since then, the FMLN has gradually gained representation, particularly in the Legislative Assembly and local governments. Since 1989 the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, founded by Roberto D'Aubuisson, has won every presidential election. In 1998, El Salvador became one of three Latin-American countries where abortion is illegal with no exceptions, along with Chile and Nicaragua.
El Salvador -- Economy --
According to the IMF and CIA World Factbook, El Salvador has the third largest economy in the region (behind Costa Rica and Panama) when comparing nominal Gross Domestic Product and purchasing power GDP. El Salvador's GDP per capita stands at US$5,800 , however, this "developing country" still faces many social issues and is among the 10 poorest countries in Latin America. Approximately 2.4 million (30.7%) people live below the poverty line, its GDP real growth rate is low compared to its neighbors, and 6% of the population is unemployed with much underemployment. Most of El Salvador's economy has been hampered by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but El Salvador currently has a steadily growing economy. GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2007 was estimated at $41.65 billion USD. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 60.7%, followed by the industrial sector at 29.6% (2006 est.). Agriculture represents only 7.6% of GDP (2006 est.). The Salvadoran economy has experienced mixed results from the recent government's commitment to free market initiatives and conservative fiscal management that include the privatization of the banking system, telecommunications, public pensions, electrical distribution, and some electrical generation, reduction of import duties, elimination of price controls, and an improved enforcement of intellectual property rights. The GDP has been growing since 1996 at an annual rate that averages 2.8% real growth. In 2006 the GDP's real growth rate was 4.2%. A problem that the Salvadoran economy faces is the inequality in the distribution of income. In 1999, the richest fifth of the population received 45% of the country's income, while the poorest fifth received only 5.6%. In December 1999, net international reserves equaled US$1.8 billion or roughly five months of imports. Having this hard currency buffer to work with, the Salvadoran government undertook a monetary integration plan beginning January 1, 2001 by which the U.S. dollar became legal tender alongside the Salvadoran colon and all formal accounting was done in U.S. dollars. This way, the government has formally limited its possibility of implementing open market monetary policies to influence short term variables in the economy. As of September 2007, net international reserves stood at $2.42 billion. Since 2004, the colon stopped circulating and is now never used in the country for any type of transaction. In general, there was discontent with the shift to the U.S. dollar, primarily because of wage stagnation vis-a-vis basic commodity pricing in the marketplace. Additionally there are contentions that, according to Colin's Law, a reversion to the colon would be disastrous to the economy. The change to the dollar also precipitated a trend toward lower interest rates in El Salvador, helping many to secure much needed credit for house or car purchases. A challenge in El Salvador has been developing new growth sectors for a more diversified economy. As many other former colonies, for many years El Salvador was considered a mono-export economy (an economy that depended heavily on one type of export). During colonial times, the Spanish decided that El Salvador would produce and export indigo, but after the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, Salvadoran authorities and the newly created modern state turned to coffee as the main export. Since the cultivation of coffee required the highest lands in the country, many of these lands were expropriated from indigenous reserves and given or sold cheaply to those that could cultivate coffee. The government provided little or no compensation to the indigenous peoples. On occasion, this compensation implied merely the right to work for seasons in the newly created coffee farms and to be allowed to grow their own food. Such actions provided the basis of conflicts that would shape the political landscape of El Salvador for years to come. For many decades, coffee was one of the only sources of foreign currency in the Salvadoran economy. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s and the fall of international coffee prices in the 1990s pressured the Salvadoran government to diversify the economy. The government has followed policies that intend to develop other export industries, such as textiles and sea products. Tourism is another industry Salvadoran authorities see as a possibility. But rampant crime rates, lack of infrastructure, and inadequate social capital have prevented this resource from being properly exploited and is still underdeveloped. There are 15 free trade zones in El Salvador. The largest beneficiary has been the maquila industry, which provides 88,700 jobs directly, and consists primarily of supplying labor for the cutting and assembling of clothes for export to the United States. El Salvador signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) — negotiated by the five countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic — with the United States in 2004. CAFTA requires that the Salvadoran government adopt policies that foster free trade. El Salvador has signed free trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Panama and increased its trade with those countries. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua also are negotiating a free trade agreement with Canada. In October 2007, these four countries and Costa Rica began free trade agreement negotiations with the Central Americaan Union. Negotiations started in 2006 for a free trade agreement with Colombia. Fiscal policy has been the biggest challenge for the Salvadoran government. The 1992 peace accords committed the government to heavy expenditures for transition programs and social services. The Stability Adjustment Programs (PAE, for the initials in Spanish) initiated by President Cristiani's administration committed the government to the privatization of banks, the pension system, and the electric and telephone companies. The total privatization of the pension system has implied a serious burden for the public finance system, because the newly created private Pension Association Funds did not absorb coverage of retired pensioners covered under the old system. The government lost the revenues from contributors and absorbed completely the costs of coverage of retired pensioners. This has been the main source of fiscal imbalance. ARENA governments have financed this deficit with the emission of bonds, something the leftist FMLN has opposed. Debates surrounding the emission of bonds have stalled the approval of the national budget for many months on several occasions. The emission of bonds and the approval of government loans need a qualified majority (3/4 of the votes) in the National Legislature. If the deficit is not financed through a loan it is enough with a simple majority to approve the budget (50% of the votes plus 1). Despite such challenges to keep public finances in balance, El Salvador still has one of the lowest tax burdens in the American continent (around 11% of GDP). Many specialists claim that it is impossible to advance significant development programs with such little public sector aid. (The tax burden in the United States is around 25% of the GDP and in developed countries of the EU it can reach around 50%.) The government has focused on improving the collection of its current revenues with a focus on indirect taxes. Leftist politicians criticize such a structure since indirect taxes (like the value-added tax) affect everyone alike, whereas direct taxes can be weighed according to levels of income. A 10% value-added tax (IVA ins Spanish), implemented in September 1992, was raised to 13% in July 1995. The VAT is the biggest source of revenue, accounting for about 52.3% of total tax revenues in 2004. Inflation has been steady and among the lowest in the region. Since 1997 inflation has averaged 3%, with recent years increasing to nearly 5%. From 2000 to 2006 total exports have grown 19% from $2.94 billion to $3.51 billion. During this same period total imports have risen 54% from $4.95 billion to $7.63 billion. This has resulted in a 102% increase in the trade deficit from $2.01 billion to $4.12 billion. Remittances from Salvadorans living and working in the United States, sent to family in El Salvador, are a major source of foreign income and offset the substantial trade deficit of $4.12 billion. Remittances have increased steadily in the last decade and reached an all-time high of $3.32 billion in 2006 (an increase of 17% over the previous year). approximately 16.2% of gross domestic product(GDP). Remittances have had positive and negative effects on El Salvador. In 2005 the number of people living in extreme poverty in El Salvador was 16%, according to a United Nations Development Program report, without remittances the number of Salvadorans living in extreme poverty would rise to 37%. While Salvadoran education levels have gone up, wage expectations have risen faster than either skills or productivity. For example, some Salvadorans are no longer willing to take jobs that pay them less than what they receive monthly from family members abroad. This has led to an influx of Hondurans and Nicaraguans who are willing to work for the prevailing wage. Also, the local propensity for consumption over investment has increased. Money from remittances have also increased prices for certain commodities such as real estate. Many Salvadorans abroad earning much higher wages can afford higher prices for houses in El Salvador than local Salvadorans and thus push up the prices that all Salvadorans must pay.
El Salvador -- Culture --
The Roman Catholic Church plays an important role in the Salvadoran culture. Archbishop Oscar Romero is a national hero for his role in speaking out against human rights violations that were occurring in the lead up to the Salvadoran Civil War. Significant foreign personalities in El Salvador were the Jesuit priests and professors Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martin-Baro, and Segundo Montes, who were murdered in 1989 by the Salvadoran Army during the heat of the civil war. Painting, ceramics and textile goods are the main manual artistic expressions. Writers Francisco Gavidia (1863–1955), Salarrue (Salvador Salazar Arrue) (1899-1975), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino, Pedro Geoffroy Rivas, Manlio Argueta, Jose Roberto Cea, and poet Roque Dalton are among the most important writers to stem from El Salvador. Notable 20th century personages include the late filmmaker Baltasar Polio, artist Fernando Llort, and caricaturist Tono Salazar. Amongst the more renowned representatives of the graphic arts are the painters Noe Canjura, Carlos Canas, Julia Diaz, Camilo Minero, Ricardo Carbonell, Roberto Huezo, Miguel Angel Cerna (the painter and writer better known as MACLo), Esael Araujo, and many others. Spanish is the main and official language of El Salvador. The local Spanish vernacular is called Caliche. Nahuat is the indigeous language that has survived, though it is only used by small communities of elderly Salvadorans in western El Salvador.
El Salvador -- Political system, law and government --
Politics of El Salvador takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of El Salvador is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Executive branch: El Salvador elects its head of state – the President of El Salvador – directly through a fixed-date general election whose winner is decided by absolute majority. If an absolute majority (50% + 1) is not achieved by any candidate in the first round of a presidential election, then a run-off election is conducted 30 days later between the two candidates who obtained the most votes in the first round. The presidential period is five years, and re-election is not permitted. The most recent presidential election, held on 21 March 2004, resulted in the election of Tony Saca of the ARENA party with almost 58 percent of the vote, the highest in Salvadoran history. The turnout of 70 percent was also a record. The youthful Saca, who embraced pro-business and pro-U.S. policies, recovered ground lost in the 1999 Presidential election, which ARENA had barely survived, and in the March 2000 legislative races, in which ARENA had been eclipsed as the largest single party by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and had retained overall control of the Assembly only by forging a coalition with a smaller party.
Legislative branch: Salvadorans also elect a single-chamber, unicameral national legislature – the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador – of 84 members (deputies) elected by closed-list proportional representation for three-year terms, with the possibility of immediate re-election. Twenty of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly are elected on the basis of a single national constituency. The remaining 64 are elected in 14 multi-member constituencies (corresponding to the country's 14 departments) that range from 3-16 seats each according to department population size.