• Official name: Republica de El Salvador (Republic of El Salvador)
• Location: Central America
• International organisations: Organisation of American States, United Nations, World Trade Organisation
• Borders: Guatemala, Honduras
• Coastline: North Pacific Ocean
• Land area: 21,040 Km2
• Population: 5,700,000
• Annual GDP (PPP) per capita: US$7,100 (2009 CIA estimate). World ranking: 99
• Ethnicity: More than 90% of the population are of mixed Amerindian and European (mostly Spanish) decent. The remainder are mostly of European descent.
• Languages: Spanish is the official language and is univerally understood. Amerindian languages are used in the interior
• Religion: Almost the entire population is at least nominally Christian (Catholic 80%, Protestant 20%).
• Form of government: Presidential democratic republic. El Salvador is divided into 14 Departments
• Capital: San Salvador
• Constitution: The Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador came into effect on 23 December 1983.
• Head of state: The President, elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term.
• Head of government: The President, who appoints all ministers.
• Legislature: El Salvador has a unicameral legislature. The Legislative Assembly has 84 members, elected for three-year terms. Of these, 64 are elected from multi-member constituencies and 20 are elected by proportional representation.
• Electoral authority: The Supreme Electoral Tribunal administers national elections
• Freedom House 2009 rating: Political Rights 2, Civil Liberties 3

Political history

The area which is now El Salvador was brought under Spanish rule in the early 16th century, and from 1528 became part of the captaincy-general of Guatemala. In 1823 it became part of the independent United Provinces of Central America, but in 1838 it became an independent republic.

Through the 19th century El Salvador was racked by conflict between liberals and conservatives, with frequent coups and occasional civil wars. After 1911, however, there was a period of stability and progress. This ended in 1931 when General Maximiliano Martinez seized power, and ruled as a dictator until 1944. There were further coups and disorders through the 1950s and '60s, as the largely Amerindian rural population increasingly resisted rule by the small white minority of landowners.

In 1979 the conservative President Carlos Romero was overthrown by a reformist military junta. The country was polarised between the left-wing guerillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the extreme right Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party led by Roberto d'Aubuisson, a conflict that killed 75,000 people dead and left 500,000 refugees. In 1980 Jose Napoleon Duarte, a Christian Democrat, became President, with the twin aims of defeating the FMLN and bringing about fundamental reforms as a basis for national reconciliation.

He was successful in both these objectives, and under his ARENA successor Alfredo Cristiani a peace agreement was signed with the FMLN, which agreed to become a legal political party. Since 1992 El Salvador has enjoyed constitutional government and democracy, and both ARENA and the FMLN have become more moderate parties. From 1989 to 2009 four successive ARENA presidents held power, and gave El Salvador what the party's website calls "20 years of peace, progress and freedom." In 2009 the FMLN finally broke ARENA's grip on power when Mauricio Funes was elected President. The 2006 legislative election gave neither of the two major parties a majority.

Freedom House's 2009 report on El Salvador (which was written before the 2009 presidential election) says: "El Salvador is an electoral democracy. The 2006 legislative and 2004 presidential elections were deemed free and fair... Corruption is regarded as a serious problem throughout government... El Salvador was ranked 67 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index... The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and this right is generally respected in practice. The media are privately owned, but ownership is confined to a small group of powerful businesspeople who often impose controls on reporters to protect their political or economic interests... Freedoms of assembly and association are generally upheld... El Salvador's wide array of nongovernmental organisations generally operate freely... The ineffectual and corrupt judicial system continues to promote impunity, especially for the well connected."

Updated February 2010