El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, tucked away on the Pacific coast surrounded by Guatemala, Honduras and -- across the Gulf of Foneseca -- Nicaragua.
THE LAND -- With an area of 8,260 square miles, El Salvador is slightly larger than Massachusetts. There are mountains in the north, with a hot flat coastal area and a subtropical central region of valleys and plateaus.
THE PEOPLE -- El Salvador has a relatively large population of about 4.7 million that is growing so fast it will double in 20 to 22 years. The population density of almost 570 persons per square mile is among the largest in the hemisphere. Most Salvadorans are of mixed Spanish and Indian descent and 60 percent live in rural areas.
THE ECONOMY -- Agriculture -- primarily coffee, cotton and sugar -- is the basis of the economy, and occupies about 60 percent of the labor force. Its per capita income of $660 is one of the lowest in the Americas.
POLITICAL HISTORY -- Along with other Central American colonies of Spain, El Salvador declared its independence in 1821 eventually becoming part of a Federal Republic of Central America. This republic subsequently dissolved and El Salvador became an independent nation in 1838.
In 1871, political reformers began to change the structure of land ownership, breaking up communal land holdings and permitting some families to build up large land plantations and grow export crops such as coffee, cotton and sugar.
The resulting displacement of peasants created social tensions, which, combined with the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s, culminated in a peasant revolt, led by a communist intellectual named Farabundo Marti. The well-organized revolt was put down by the military, led by a Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, in a brutal fashion. Estimates of the number killed during the three-day revolt range from 8,000 to 30,000. Hernandez Martinez became president, an office that was held by a high-ranking military officer until a coup by lower level officers installed a military-civilian coalition junta in October 1979.
Today the leftist revolutionary coalition carries Marti's name while one right-wing extremist group has been named for Gen. Hernandez Martinez.