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Armed Forces of El Salvador

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Armed Forces of El Salvador
Fuerza Armada de El Salvador
Founded7 May 1824; 196 years ago (1824-05-07)
Service branches
Salvadoran Army Seal.svg
El Salvador Air force Badge.svg
Air Force
Salvadoran Navy Seal.svg
HeadquartersKm 5 1/2 Carretera a Santa Tecla, San Salvador, El Salvador
General Commander of the Armed ForcesPresident of El Salvador
Ministry of National Defense of El SalvadorMinister of National Defense
Chiefs and senior officers of the Armed ForcesJoint Staff of the Armed Forces
Military age16 (voluntary)
18 (conscription)[1]
Available for
military service
1,634,816 males, age 16–49[1],
1,775,474 (2008 est.) females, age 16–49[1]
Fit for
military service
1,201,290 males, age 16–49[1],
1,547,278 (2009 est.) females, age 16–49[1]
Reaching military
age annually
77,473 males,
74,655 (2009 est.) females
Active personnel47,000 (2017 est.)[2]
Budget$157,000,000 (2008 est.)[3]
Percent of GDP0.62%[citation needed]
Foreign suppliers United States
Related articles
HistoryFootball War
Salvadoran Civil War
War on Terror
RanksMilitary ranks of El Salvador

The Armed Forces of El Salvador (Spanish: Fuerza Armada de El Salvador) are the official governmental military forces of El Salvador. The Forces have three branches: the Salvadoran Army, the Air Force of El Salvador and the Navy of El Salvador. The Forces were founded in 1840 at the time of the dissolution of the United Provinces of Central America. Between 1978 and 1992, the Salvadoran armed forces fought a civil war against the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN). The military is accused of committing massacres, killings, torture and abuses of human rights during this time.


Spanish colonial rule

In the 19th century, soldiers in El Salvador may have been nominally employed by the governing body. However, if not paid their wage, the soldiers would supplement their income as mercenaries and militia for local politicians and landowners.[4]

Coffee barons and militia

In the late 19th century, El Salvador went through a period of internal discord. In 1871, Santiago Gonzales seized power by military coup. General Carlos Ezeta did the same in 1890 and General Rafael Gutierrez in 1894.[5] However, these changes in power were fought between networks of rival landowners (coffee barons) and politicians under their patronage rather than between official military and government forces.[4]

La Matanza

Military operations in El Salvador continued in a similar way until the early 20th century.[5] During the Great Depression, coffee prices fell, the wages of indigenous Salvadoran workers were cut and unemployment was widespread. For three days in 1932, the indigenous workers rebelled.[6] The ruling general, Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (1882 – 1966), responded with force. Under his command, the national army proper, slaughtered up to 40,000 peasants (La Matanza).[7]

Palm Sunday rebellion

Twelve years of autocratic rule followed. Martinez withheld democratic and civil rights. On 2 March 1944, a Palm Sunday, the landowners, intellectuals, students and also some sections of the Salvadoran armed forces rebelled. The First Infantry Regiment and the Second Artillery Regiment of San Salvador joined the rebels as did the Garrison of Santa Ana. Santa Ana was bombed from the air.[8] The rebellion was put down by the remaining loyal sections of the military. Reprisals of torture and execution of those who had joined the rebellion followed. Martial law was put in place. However, in May 1944, non-violent protest leading to a general strike caused Martinez to fall from power.[9]

Rebellion of 1948

During the years that followed, young military officers became increasingly dissatisfied with their situation. They saw the generals clinging to senior posts for which they had little training and without making way for the younger officers. They saw the generals failing to prepare for the social and economic changes coming to Central America. They objected to unfair disciplinary measures and unfair surveillance. In 1948, fighting broke out between the younger officers and troops under their command and the senior generals and the police force under their command. The president, Salvador Castaneda Castro (1888 – 1965) was imprisoned. Senior officers and politicians were dismissed. The new government promoted the formation of a truly national, apolitical and professional army in El Salvador.[10]

American influence and the Cold War

From 1947 to 1953, El Salvador held an agreement with the US whereby an American military aviation mission would be sent to El Salvador; El Salvador would seek advice from the US preferentially and purchase arms from the US.[11][12] Some Salvadoran military officers were trained in North America and the Panama Canal Zone. Nevertheless, the amount of American military aid purchased by El Salvador in the 1950s was small; just enough in munitions and light arms to suppress internal conflict such as communist activity.[10]

In the 1950s, Salvadoran men underwent one year of national service before being discharged to a reserve army. They then underwent further training on a regular basis and could be called to join active provincial patrols (patrullas cantonalles). Regular meetings of the men were held reinforcing loyalty to the nation and opposition to communism. Men from disadvantaged circumstances were offered monetary and practical assistance and education for their children. The number of reservists grew to approximately 40,000.[10]

In the 1960s, a junta of conservative military officers and landowners took power in a coup and then organised elections. In 1961, the junta's candidate Lieutenant Colonel Julio Adalberto Rivera was elected president. In 1967, Colonel Fidel Sanchez Hernandez became president.[13]

Football war

In 1969, tensions between El Salvador and Honduras increased. There was dispute concerning the border between the two countries. Approximately 300,000 Salvadorans had moved to Honduras due to population and land pressures in their homeland but Honduras had not renewed the El Salvador – Honduras Bilateral Treaty on Immigration. Honduras and El Salvador were competitors in the Central American Common Market. Honduras' economy was struggling and the Honduran Government started to deport the Salvadorans who they saw as illegal immigrants. Many Salvadorans fled after their Vice Consul was killed.[14][15][16] In June 1969, El Salvador played three games against Honduras in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup.[5](p64) Then, on 26 June 1969, El Salvador won a play-off game 3 goals to 2 against Haiti, taking a place in the cup finals.[17]

On 14 July 1969, armed hostilities began between El Salvador and Honduras. Due to the war's proximity to the World Cup qualifying games, it was called the "Football War" or the "Soccer War".

At this time, the Salvadoran forces included approximately 8,000 infantrymen with rifles, machine guns, mortars and bazookas, 105 mm cannons and a few armoured personnel carriers. Very few arms were manufactured in El Salvador. Most arms were supplied by the US. Honduras' infantry was smaller and less well equipped.[18]

The El Salvador Air Force flying P-51 Mustangs attacked Honduran targets and vice versa but each air force had only a few working aeroplanes and were hampered by a lack of spare parts.[5](p64) El Salvador's infantry forces invaded Honduras and took Ocotepeque.[16][18][19]

As Salvadoran troops approached Tegucigalpa, their supply lines failed, they became exhausted and were slowed by heavy rainfall, and their morale fell. On July 18 1969, the Organization of American States (OAS) organised a ceasefire. Then as economic sanctions and an arms embargo took effect, both sides. The war lasted for four days and therefore is also called the "one hundred hour war".[18]

Civil War

The Salvadoran Civil War was fought between 1979 and 1992. The Salvadoran armed forces fought the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN), a coalition of insurgent guerrilla groups. The war began when a reformist government was suppressed by hard line military elements and by landowners.[20]

Between 1980 and 1983, the Salvadoran armed forces were driven out of territory controlled by large FMLN groups in rural areas. The FMLN membership later increased to over 12,000 when the organisation was able to provide local governance and services.[5](p10) The government responded with counter-insurgency actions including the assassination of the archbishop, Oscar Romero (1917 – 1980).[21]

In late 1981, soldiers of the national armed forces' Atlacatl Battalion, a rapid response troop, killed 900 civilians at El Mozote. This was one of a number of actions including rapes, bashings, torture and killings. Men of this battalion were graduates of the US School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia.[22] Another atrocity occurred on 16 November 1989. Army soldiers murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the Central American University.[23]

In 1989, the armed forces of El Salvador had raised 56,000 fighting men with 63 aeroplanes and 72 helicopters.[5](p11) Between 1983 and 1987, El Salvador's military forces received over 100 million dollars per year from the US.[24]

In 1990, at the end of the Cold War, the US restricted funding to the Salvadoran military. The US found its rigorous measures against left wing groups were no longer needed. This and the lack of advantage on either side led to the end of the war in 1992.[25]

Under the terms of the Chapultepec Peace Accords which had been signed on 16 January 1992 in Chapultepec, Mexico, the Salvadoran Armed Forces was to be subordinated and removed from the political arena.[10] The Ministry of Defense handed the role of internal security to a new body, the National Police Force. The number of soldiers in the Armed Forces was reduced by half. Counter-insurgency forces were demobilised. Military intelligence units reported directly to the president. The constitutional mission, doctrine and recruitment and educational systems of the Armed Forces were redefined.[5]

During the civil war, military and right wing paramilitary death squads used exemplary violence with murder and mutilation, massacre and forced displacement to gain control of the populace.[26] In 1993, a General Amnesty Law was passed by the Salvadoran government. Victims of human rights violations had no redress. International human rights entities such as the UNHCR made formal objections to the law. Spain found jurisdiction in the matter and indicted twenty retired soldiers who were officers at the time of the killings.[27]

For many reasons, the armed forces resisted the application of the requirement of the Peace Accord. Junior officers who had volunteered to work in security units did not want to be treated as raw army recruits when their units disbanded. Senior officers feared the autonomy of the military's core activities, such as training, would be lost. Military leaders feared that the loss of military units in rural areas would lead to social and political unrest. The civilian population feared that officers purged from military ranks for human rights violations would join right wing paramilitary organisations.[10] (p159)

Post civil war

From 2003 to January 2009, the Salvadoran armed forces were part of the Multi-National Force – Iraq. Five Salvadoran soldiers died in Iraq during this time.[28]

In 2016, a new armed force was raised in El Salvador with the remit of stopping criminal gangs (especially MS-13) and narcotrafficking.[29]

In 2017, the strength of the Salvadoran armed forces was estimated to be 47,000 men.[30]


The Salvadoran armed forces are a combat force composed of army, navy and air force each led by their Chief of the General Staff. The support units are a military education and doctrine command, a logistics support command, a military health command, a military special security brigade and a directorate general of recruitment and reserves.

The duties of the Salvadoran Armed Force is described in articles 211 and 212 of the Constitution of 1983. It is the duty of the armed forces to defend national territory and sovereignty; maintain public peace, tranquillity, and security; and to support democracy. Article 212 describes the armed forces as a 'fundamental institution for national security, of a permanent character, apolitical, obedient to established civilian authority, and non-deliberative". It also charges the military with enforcing the no-reelection provision of the country's president; with guaranteeing universal suffrage, human rights;and with working with the executive branch of government in promoting national development[31][32]

The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces is the president. Reporting to the president is the Ministry of Defence. Members of the ministry advise the Secretary of State, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military provides a panel composed of the Chiefs of the General Staff and military experts who provide the ministry with technical advice for policy making and strategic planning. Oversight of the military is provided by the Assistant Inspector General of the Armed Forces.

Within the military leadership are operating units, tactical units and advisory bodies. The operating units build on operational plans. The tactical units include detachments, training centers and forces of the army at the battalion level. The combat recognition and transport groups make up the Air Force tactical unit. The Navy uses transport and hydrographic tactical units.


Among the highest military decorations in the Salvadoran Armed Forces are the Gold Cross of War Heroism in Action; the Silver Cross of Heroism; the Gold Medal for Courage in Action; and the Silver Medal of Valor. for such actions, there may be a monetary payment in addition to the armed forces pension. There are other honours for field service, distinguished service, and merit.

See also


  1. ^ a b "CIA – The World Factbook – El Salvador". Central Intelligence Agency.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "El Salvador Military Facts & Stats". Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b Ching E. Authoritarian El Salvador: Politics and the Origins of the Military Regimes University of Notre Dame Press, 2014 ISBN 0268076995
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Perez O. Historical Dictionary of El Salvador Rowman & Littlefield, 2016 p7. ISBN 0810880202
  6. ^ History of Coffee in El Salvador Equal Exchange website. Accessed 26 February 2018.
  7. ^ Lindo-Fuentes H. et al Remembering a Massacre in El Salvador: The Insurrection of 1932 UNM Press, 2007 p23. ISBN 0826336043
  8. ^ Ackerman P. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-violent Conflict St. Martin's Press, 2015 p252 ISBN 125010520X
  9. ^ Zunes S. El Salvador: 1944 International Center on Non-violent Conflict website. Accessed 27 February 2018
  10. ^ a b c d e Williams P. and Walter K. Militarization and Demilitarization in El Salvador’s Transition to Democracy University of Pittsburgh Pre, 1997 p38. ISBN 0822971860
  11. ^ United States Treaties and Other International Agreements, Volume 5 Department of State, 1955 p419.
  12. ^ Holden R. Armies Without Nations: Public Violence and State Formation in Central America Oxford University Press, 2006 p285 ISBN 0195310209
  13. ^ Civil War in El Salvador Macro history and world timeline website. Accessed 1 March 2018
  14. ^ Di Piazza F. El Salvador in Pictures Twenty-First Century Books, 2007 p29. ISBN 0822571455
  15. ^ Moodie E. El Salvador in the aftermath of peace University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011 p30. ISBN 0812205979
  16. ^ a b Fouskas V. Politics of Conflict Routledge, 2010 p37. ISBN 1136833579
  17. ^ Dunmore T. Encyclopedia of the FIFA World Cup Scarecrow Press, 2015 p204. ISBN 0810887436
  18. ^ a b c Brzoska M. and Pearson F. Arms and Warfare: Escalation, De-escalation, and Negotiation Univ of South Carolina Press, 1994 p64. ISBN 0872499820
  19. ^ Lerner, P. "The Last Piston-Engine Dogfights". Air and Space Magazine. Retrieved 2017-10-05.
  20. ^ Wood E. Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador Cambridge University Press, 2003 p2. ISBN 0521010500
  21. ^ Lemoine F. and Strickland J. Government Leaders, Military Rulers, and Political Activists Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001 p157. ISBN 1573561533
  22. ^ Whitfield T. Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuría and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador Temple University Press, 1994 p169. ISBN 1566392535
  23. ^ Congressional Record, V. 145, Pt. 21, November 17, 1999 to December 3, 1999 Government Printing Office p30524.
  24. ^ Negroponte D. Seeking Peace in El Salvador Springer, 2012 p191 ISBN 1137012080
  25. ^ Gomez M. Human Rights in Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua Routledge, 2004 p121 ISBN 1135940541
  26. ^ Collins C. Post-transitional Justice: Human Rights Trials in Chile and El Salvador Penn State Press, 2010 p154. ISBN 0271075708
  27. ^ Lessa F. and Payne L. Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability Cambridge University Press, 2012 p204. ISBN 1107025001
  28. ^ U.S. military chief thanks El Salvador for Iraq help Reuters 19 January 2008. Accessed 10 March 2018
  29. ^ Salvador unveils new military force to fight gangs BBC News Latin America. 21 April 2016. Accessed 10 March 2018.
  30. ^ 2017 El Salvador Military Strength Global Firepower website. Accessed 10 March 2018
  31. ^ "El Salvador – the Armed Forces". Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  32. ^ Haggerty R. El Salvador: A Country Study Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990. p208.

External links

This page was last edited on 31 May 2020, at 19:07
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