Last Updated: Friday, 27 November 2015, 12:04 GMT

El Salvador: Agrarian reform since 1997, including legal rights of peasants to occupy land unused by an owner, treatment of occupants by the security forces and landowners, existing programs to provide land to peasants and organizations that support them

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 May 1999
Citation / Document Symbol SLV31908.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, El Salvador: Agrarian reform since 1997, including legal rights of peasants to occupy land unused by an owner, treatment of occupants by the security forces and landowners, existing programs to provide land to peasants and organizations that support them, 1 May 1999, SLV31908.E, available at: [accessed 28 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


No reports of land reform in El Salvador since 1997 could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Various reports refer to land transfers and adjudication of land after the 1992 peace agreements. These led to a constitutional provision prohibiting property of more than 245 hectares of arable land by an individual, and to a government commitment of allocating land to former combatants.

After the occupation of 13 large properties in the Ahuacapan and Sonsonate departments on 23 October 1995, the journal of the Jesuit Central American University of El Salvador Proceso wrote on the issue of land occupation:

[From the government's standpoint,] the land takeovers are an isolated and private problem which has nothing whatsoever to do with the structural and unequal distribution of wealth and property in El Salvador. Thus, since the incident is seen to be independent of any historical motivation and no more than a common crime, the proponents of this view justify the use of all legal means to defend private property and penalize "these criminal gangs" who flagrantly violate the Constitution.

In confirmation of the above, on October 26 [1995] a series of amendments to the Penal and Penal Procedural Codes were passed in an "emergency" fashion. Explicitly, articles 248 of the Penal Code and 122 of the Penal Procedural Code were amended. The reforms are aimed at awarding more autonomy to judges in issuing eviction orders for usurped lands. Furthermore, the punishment imposed on the transgressors (2-4 years of prison) will apply to all those who propose, promote or instigate the usurpation of properties. Gloria Salguero Gross, president of the legislature, stated: "we are ready to pass any law which helps support legality."

With the help of MINUSAL and the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office, the PNC evicted the campesinos on Thursday of that week. As they left the lands, they said the "takeovers" would be repeated constantly until the government enforced the constitutional ban on owning over 245 hectares and distributed the excess. Furthermore, the peaceful and "voluntary" eviction saved the campesinos from a jail sentence or from being forcibly"dispersed" (1 Nov. 1995).

By January 1999, over 3,000 former qualifying combatants reportedly had not been allocated land; at least one foreign-based human rights group placed responsibility for the delay on the Salvadorean Agrarian Transformation Institute (Instituto Salvadoreño de Transformación Agraria, ISTA), the land responsible for redistributing properties that exceeded the new constitutional limit (Latin American Regional Reports 19 Jan. 1999).

Former civil patrollers were not covered by the land allocation commitment, and have been recently protesting the lack of land or financial compensation; the government announced in late 1998 that, of an association of more than 25,000 former civil patrollers, only some 5,000 might receive some form of compensation (Central America Report 9 Oct. 1998, 8).

In a 19 May 1999 telephone interview, an ISTA representative explained that the organization continues to handle transfer and allocation of land in El Salvador, from lands considered surplus (excedentarias, in excess of the legal maximum allowed) or unclaimed. ISTA also provides technical and legal assistance to new and small landowners, of which three categories are defined: individual, cooperative, and mixed ownership. The representative stated that there are numerous national and international organizations in El Salvador that work with peasants or communities in different ways, from development projects, to ownership issues and agricultural techniques.

The ISTA representative stated that unauthorized occupation of private property, be it urban or agricultural, is illegal in El Salvador. The action to follow an illegal occupation depends on the owners and the persons occupying the land, and whether the former request police intervention: in some cases, peaceful solutions have been negotiated, with occupying peasants even joining a cooperative whose unused lands they invaded, while in some cases occupants have been forcefully evicted. ISTA does not handle problems related to land occupation or eviction; this is a judicial and police matter between owners and those who occupy their land.

Specific reports on a land occupation in Sonsonate department in late 1997 could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please see below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this information request.


Central America Report [Guatemala City]. 9 October 1998. "Ex-Civil Patrollers Reject Pay Offer."

Instituto Salvadoreño de Transformación Agraria (ISTA), San Salvador. 19 May 1999. Telephone interview with representative.

Latin American Regional Reports: Caribbean and Central America [London]. 19 January 1999. "Mixed Feelings as El Salvador Celebrates Seven Years of Peace." (NEXIS)

Proceso [San Salvador]. 1 November 1995. No. 684. "Land: Conflict in the Countryside." [Internet] [Accessed 18 May 1999]

Additional Sources Consulted

Central America NewsPak [Austin, Tex.]. 1997-1999.

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 1997-1999.

Latin American Regional Reports: Central America & the Caribbean [London]. 1997-1999

News from Americas Watch [New York]. Monthly.

Electronic Sources: IRB Databases, Global NewsBank, Internet, REFWORLD, WNC.


             This list is not exhaustive. Country-specific books available in the Resource Centre are not included.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld