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El Salvador


SIECA, ODECA, Ahuachapan, Chalatenango, Usulutan

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El Salvador’s 1983 constitution—the 23rd in its history—provides for a representative government with three independent branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. It mandates universal suffrage for all citizens over the age of 18. Despite the republican and democratic provisions of its constitutions, a small, elite group of landowners and military officers has historically dominated government in El Salvador. Since the civil war of the 1980s, however, more-democratic procedures have been adopted, including reforms of the electoral system and inclusion of former leftist guerrillas in the political system. More people in other social classes have participated in government.


The president is popularly elected and must receive a majority of the votes. Although limited to a single five-year term, the president in El Salvador has great authority, and the executive branch has historically dominated the government. The president appoints his ministerial cabinet with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly.


The Legislative Assembly has one chamber of 84 popularly elected deputies who serve three-year terms and may be reelected. This legislature enacts laws, advises and consents on major executive appointments, and elects the members of the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court is the nation’s highest court of appeals. Other civil and criminal courts are provided in each of El Salvador’s 14 departments (geographic regions). The Salvadoran legal system is based on civil and Roman law, with traces of common law. The Supreme Court provides judicial review of legislative acts and also recognizes, with reservations, the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in matters of international law.

Local Government

Local town councils and officials are popularly elected, but in practice the national president and the military have exercised great authority in local government. The country is divided into 14 departments (with 1992 populations): Ahuachapan (260,563), Cabanas (136,293), Chalatenango (180,627), Cuscatlan (167,290), La Libertad (522,071), La Paz (246,147), La Union (251,143), Morazan (166,772), San Miguel (380,482), San Salvador (1,477,766), San Vicente (135,471), Santa Ana (451,620), Sonsonate (354,641), and Usulutan (317,079).

Social Services

The Salvadoran Social Security Institute was created in 1949 to provide national health, accident, unemployment, old-age, and life insurance. Compulsory contributions from workers, employers, and the government support the program, which in theory covers most industrial workers and employees. The system is far from comprehensive, however, and El Salvador’s millions of poor lack adequate medical care, housing, education, and other basic services. The deterioration of social services during the civil war of the 1980s left much of the Salvadoran population in desperate straits. Although economic recovery has been expected to ease this situation, by the mid-1990s there was little evidence of significant improvement in health or welfare for the majority. Such hardships continue to encourage poor Salvadorans to leave the country.

International Organizations

El Salvador is a member of the United Nations and its many subsidiary organizations. It is also in the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization of Central American States (ODECA), and other Central American cooperative organizations within the Central American Economic Integration Movement (SIECA). El Salvador has also ratified the OAS-sponsored San Salvador Protocol, signed in San Salvador in 1988, which guarantees the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or economic status.

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