El Salvador Facts
Area:    21,040 sq. km.
Capital:    San Salvador
Total Population:    5,752,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Most of El Salvador's indigenous people are assimilated into the society, though there remain small pockets of indigenous communities that have retained their traditional customs and language. Though the Salvadoran government does not officially recognize the indigenous people, political discrimination against them is due to neglect, not any prevailing practice (POLDIS01-03 = 2). Economic discrimination against the indigenous is a widespread yet informal social practice. The indigenous people of El Salvador are impoverished and lack adequate education and health facilities. While not targeting the indigenous specifically, conditions within the country have been improving slightly since 1992, when the government started implementing policies to ensure better treatment of individuals, and began to recognize past human rights abuses by the military and police. Some officials have even been sentenced to prison. As the peace process consolidates in El Salvador, it is not very likely that the indigenous will organize or mobilize as an identity group (COHESX9 = 4), but rather as a larger part of the rurally poor in society (ECOSTR99 = 5). Furthermore, violence does not seem likely since most protest and organization by indigenous people has been peaceful and non-violent. Factors supporting the likelihood of rebellion or protest are all but non-existent.

Analytic Summary

The indigenous constitute 5% (310,000) of El Salvador's population and primarily reside in the southwestern region in the states of Sonsonate (especially the communities Nahuizalco and Izalco), Ahuachapan, La Libertad, and (to a lesser extent) Santa Ana. The most well known community is Panchimalco, just outside of San Salvador (GROUPCON = 3).

Although the indigenous are estimated to make up 5% of the population of El Salvador, few retain their traditional indigenous culture and customs. Virtually all of El Salvador's indigenous speak Spanish as their native tongue and very few are familiar with Nahuatl, their traditional language. By appearance, some may appear of darker skin color than ladinos (i.e. mestizos), which may also be due to their likelihood to labor outdoors. Very few indigenous wear traditional dress, such as the huipiles (skirts worn by women) (ETHDIFXX = 7). The majority of Salvadoran society are ladinos, and distinct indigenous communities and organizations are less prevalent (RACE = 2). Most Salvadorans, indigenous and non-indigenous, are Roman Catholic.

Salvadoran indigenous people are the descendants of the Pupils, a nomadic tribe of the Nahua of central Mexico. From the beginning of Spanish conquest in El Salvador, the indigenous and the Spaniards lived in the same areas. Racial mixing, known as "mestizaje", began in the 16th century. With the development of indigo plantations in the early 17th century, many indigenous villages were destroyed, and many were forced to farm and work on these plantations.

In 1932, some indigenous people who were protesting government policies killed 35 ladinos. In retaliation, the government killed between 35,000 and 50,000 indigenous, in a massacre called "La Matanza." Afterwards, the indigenous began to hide their traditions and to assimilate into the dominant ladino society (POLSTAT = 2). This process accelerated during the 1980-1992 civil war, when death squads killed thousands (ATRISK1 = 1). Many indigenous people were discouraged from their traditional customs and culture for fear of being associated with targeted grassroots organizations. The present Salvadoran Constitution makes no specific provisions for the rights of indigenous people, or for their ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, or the allocation of natural resources.

The indigenous people want: protection of land (ECOGR501-03 = 1), protection of customs (CULGR201-03 = 1), bilingual education (CULGR301-03 = 1), equal civil rights (POLGR401-03 = 2), the development of a central state to organize a national commission to address indigenous concerns (POLGR302-03 = 1), greater political rights in own community (POLGR201-03 = 1), and improved working conditions (ECOGR401-03 = 1).


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Cody, Edward. "Salvadorians sign Accord Ending Twelve Year War." The Washington Post. Jan 17,1992.

Dalton, Juan Jose. El Salvador- Environment: Ecologist Warns of Serious Water Shortage. March 27, 1995.

El Salvador. Amnesty International. October 1990.

El Salvador. Amnesty International. March 1991.

Human Rights Violations in Latin America. Amnesty International. New York. October 1992.

Langfield, Martin. "Years and Memories Weigh Heavily on Salvador's indian Chief". The Rueter Library Report. Nov. 5,1990.

Scott, David Clark. "Salvadorians Cease-Fire Takes Hold". The Christian Science Moniter. 2/3/92.

The Christian Science Moniter. Aug 29,1989.

"Chief of El Salvador Indian Peoples Dies at 117" The Rueter Library report.

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U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights, 2002.

Pueblos Indigenas, Salud y Calidad de Vida en El Salvador. CONCULTURA. Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud. Representacion en El Salvador. 1999. http://www.ops.org.sv/Archivos/Pueblos_indigenas.pdf. Date accessed: 12/08/2003.

Hablemos On Line. http://www.elsalvador.com/hablemos/Ediciones/120801/identidad.htm. Date accessed: 12/08/2003.

Foro Nacional Sobre Los Derechos Indigenas En El Salvador. 31 Agosto 2002. http://www.oit.or.cr/unfip/principales/link4.htm. Date accessed: 12/8/2003.

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Hablemos On Line. Salud Deteriorada. August 12, 2001. http://www.elsalvador.com/hablemos/Ediciones/120801/saludeteriorada.htm. Date accessed: 12/9/2003.


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