El Salvador 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.

Coffee seller in San Salvador El Salvador is densely populated and highly industrialised

The war left around 70,000 people dead and caused damage worth $2bn, but it also brought about important political reforms.

At a glance

  • Politics: El Salvador has returned to democracy after being torn by a bitter civil in the 1980s; crime gangs and the drugs trade pose a serious challenge to security
  • Economy: Fettered by natural disasters, corruption and inequality, El Salvador's economy is heavily dependent on remittances from abroad, especially the US
  • International: El Salvador is a member of the Organisation of American States; it restored ties with Cuba in 2009, ruptured after the Cuban Revolution in 1959

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

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

Participants perform the role of medieval Christian and Moorish warriors at the traditional Los Historiantes dance in San Miguel de Mercedes, El Salvador (Dec 2007) The traditional Los Historiantes dances were introduced by the conquistadors

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