El Salvador: a former Spanish colony washed by the Pacific Ocean

Spanish colonization and struggle for independence

The indigenous populations living in what is now El Salvador prior to the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent Spanish colonization, were the Maya Indian tribes, later replaced by the Toltecs, succeeded by the Aztecs. By the 16th century, the latter were replaced by the Pipil (Nahua group) and Lenca (Mayakiche family), whose culture had reached a relatively high level of development (hieroglyphic writing, complex social structure, irrigated farming).

In the 1520s El Salvador was invaded by Spanish conquistadors (the first expedition led by Pedro de Alvarado was organized in 1524 from Guatemala). Resistance to the colonizers was generally suppressed by 1528 (finally in the first half of the 1540s). Indian tribes were exploited in various forms (the most widespread were debt slavery and encomienda, which consisted in the fact that a formally free Indian population was placed under the “protection” of the Spanish and was obliged to work a piece of land or pay a tribute). In 1560 most of the territory of present-day El Salvador (without the province of Sonsonate) was incorporated into the Capitanía General de Guatemala as the province of San Salvador.

San Salvador, which did not have significant reserves of precious metals, primarily attracted colonizers, was characterized by favorable conditions for growing various crops (cocoa in the 16th century, indigo in the 18th century, coffee since the second half of the 19th century), which led to the formation of an agricultural economy focused primarily on exports. The latter circumstance determined the dependence of the economy of the province of San Salvador and, later, of independent El Salvador on the state of world agricultural markets: high prices, for example, for indigo helped landowners to prosper, while low prices led to general stagnation of the economy. In the seventeenth century, the Spaniards made limited use of African negro slaves to work on plantations (due to the impossibility of mass transportation due to the lack of access to the Caribbean Sea).

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The independence of El Salvador is associated with the struggle of the European powers during the Napoleonic Wars: in 1808, the Spanish King Ferdinand VII was overthrown and interned by Napoleonic troops. The consequence of these events was the war of independence of the Spanish colonies in America in 1810-1826. In San Salvador the struggle for independence culminated in uprisings in 1811 and 1814, which were suppressed by the administration of the Guatemalan General.

On September 15, 1821, this Spanish colony declared independence, but later decided to join Agustín Iturbide’s Mexican Empire. In 1822 San Salvador was occupied by Mexican and Guatemalan troops in response to Guatemala’s refusal to submit to the initiative and was incorporated into the Empire (to avoid this scenario San Salvadorian legislators considered requesting the United States to become part of it), after the collapse of which it became part of the federation of the United Provinces of Central America. This state was formed by the former provinces of the Capitol Generals – El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica (creation proclaimed July 1, 1823; liberal constitution adopted in 1824; other name – the Central American Federation or the Central American Federal Republic).

The first president of the new state was M. J. Arce, one of the leaders of the Salvadoran independence movement, in 1825. Although the United Provinces of Central America lasted until 1839 (it actually broke up in 1838), this unstable federation is still considered the most successful (despite the civil war between liberals, oriented to the political experience of the United States and associated with commercial and industrial circles, and conservatives, who wanted to preserve the traditional political order, including all kinds of privileges of large landowners and the church) integration association in Central America.

The independence of El Salvador was proclaimed in 1841 (the same year the modern name of the state – El Salvador – came into use).

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El Salvador

The official name is the Republic of El Salvador (República de El Salvador).

The flag of El Salvador was adopted on May 17, 1912 by the President of the Republic, Manuel Henrique Araujo.

Border countries: Honduras (in the north and east), Guatemala (in the west). It is washed by the Pacific Ocean from the south.

Capital: San Salvador.

Population: About 6.3 million people.

Indigenous People: The indigenous Amerindian populations of El Salvador were originally divided into two large “families”: the Lencas, who were absorbed later by other cultures (mayas and nahuas) and the pipiles, who were much larger (they were descended from the nahua, as their language was heavily influenced by the náhuatl (Aztec language). The pipiles stay in the center of the country, which they give the name Cuzcatlán, here they develop their culture (with the same name), near the modern city of San Salvador. At that time, El Salvador was the center of pottery production, which was highly valued throughout the region. However, the Spanish conquerors stopped the normal development of this culture, and after fifteen years of war, they were enslaved.

Cocoa, cotton, balsam, and indigonosca (añil) were products for export from El Salvador, for the production of which the natives were used as slaves. With the arrival of the Spaniards in El Salvador a social division emerged: Spaniards or Creoles, Mestizos, and Indians.

At present, the Indians represent 10% of the total population and almost all of them are below the poverty line. They are mostly engaged in the cultivation of the land.

Read more about El Salvador’s indigenous population here.

Santa Ana Volcano

Natural diversity: El Salvador is a mountainous country, with the highest seismicity of the region. The climate varies from hot and humid in the coastal area to warm in the middle zone of the country and cold in the high and mountainous areas. The period from May to October is considered the rainy season. El Salvador is a very small country, so you can see it by traveling from the capital to other regions. El Salvador is rich in volcanoes. There is even a National Volcano Park, among the most famous: Izalco, Cerro Verde, Santa Ana (notable because it has a lake Lago de Coatepequ). In total, there are more than 60 protected areas in El Salvador at this time. Nevertheless, this country is considered the least forested of all Central American countries.

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The largest river in the country is the Lempa, which originates in El Salvador and then crosses into Guatemala and Honduras. The fauna of El Salvador is represented by 17 species of birds. Some of them are found only in certain areas, such as the tucán verde in the area of the volcano San Miguel or the pava negra in the Apaneca mountain range. The animals include monkeys, coyotes, jaguars, cougars and ocelots, while the reptiles include boas and iguanas.

Two important dates for the history of the country: September 15, 1821 – the Independence of Central America from Spain. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador also gained independence. January 16, 1992 – Signing of peace, after twelve years of civil war.

Traditional dishes: Salvadoran cuisine is based on such foods as rice, beans, meat, vegetables and fruits, dairy products, fish and seafood. Among traditional dishes are “la pupusa” (corn tortilla filled with cheese, beans and pork rinds), also beans with cheese, bean soup, cheese tamales, chirmol (special tomato soup). For the sweet things, you can try the dulce de camote (one of the main ingredients is guava) and nuégados (a kind of sweet cakes). The region’s typical liqueurs are Tic-Tack and Torito.

What the Salvadorans are proud of: their hard work :).

Literature: Miguel Álvarez Castro (1795-1855), politician and the first (chronologically) poet of El Salvador. Francisco Gavidia (1863-1955) – writer, historian, journalist. Juan José Cañas (Juan José Cañas, 1826-1918) – politician, diplomat, military man and poet. He was the author of the national anthem of El Salvador. Alfredo Espino (Alfredo Espino, 1900-1928) was a Salvadoran poet. He committed suicide. Hugo Lindo (1917-1985) was a poet, short story writer, diplomat, lawyer, representative of the “1944 Generation”. Matilde Elena López (1919-2010), poet and playwright, representative of the 1944 Generation.

Music: David Granadino (1876-1933), composer, considered one of the most important composers of Latin America. Pancho Lara (Francisco “Pancho” Lara, 1900-1989) was a musician and composer who performed original music with national motifs.

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Francisco “Paquito” Palaviccin (1912-1996) – musician and composer, creator of the XUC rhythm. Benjamín Solís Menéndez (born 1932) – musician, organist and conductor of the Salvadoran choir. Álvaro Torres (born 1954) is one of the most famous Salvadoran singers. Pamela Robin is a singer.

“Bañista” de José Mejía Vides

Art: Wenceslao Cisneros (1823-1878) was a painter, draughtsman, and lithographer. Salvador’s first professional artist. He studied in Paris, died in Cuba. José Mejía Vides (1903-1993) – painter, engraver, sculptor. He studied at the National School of Graphic Arts, then received a scholarship from the Mexican government, through which he studied at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. The influence of Paul Gauguin can be seen in his work. Carlos Alberto Imery (Carlos Alberto Imery, 1879-1949), painter and teacher, was the director of the National Museum from 1928 to 1930. Julia Díaz (1917-1999) was an artist and the founder of El Salvador’s first art gallery.

Toño Salazar (1897-1986) was one of the most famous Salvadoran cartoonists. Edwin Aguilar Cruz is one of the designer-creators of The Simpsons.

Sports Carlos (el famoso) Hernández (born 1971) is a boxer who was the first world champion from El Salvador. Mahico González (Jorge (el mágico) González, born 1958) is the best Salvadoran soccer player of all time.

Some “salvadorizm”: guir: voy a ir – “I will go”. Volado – used for anything. Bayunco – a person who is a joker, making fun of others. Cipote – a child, a youngster. Cabal – exactly, correctly. Veá? – verdad? – true? Juela – used to hide the phrase “hijo de la gran puta”. Puya – used to hide the word “puta”. Trucho – salvadoreño – Salvadoran.

What the Salvadorans are dissatisfied with: a. Everything! b. That the Mexicans are beating them in soccer c. The fact that they live in crisis all the time d. The lack of opportunities e. Crime f. The economy g. The government h. The high price of everything i. In particular, high gasoline prices j. Politicians

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Acknowledgement: Laura Cuéllar was kind enough to share with us the intricacies of Salvadoran life.

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