The Republic of El Salvador (República de El Salvador, literally “Republic of The Savior”) lies in the isthmus of Central America between latitudes 13° and 15°N, and longitudes 87° and 91°W. It stretches 168 miles (270 kilometers) from west-northwest to east-southeast and 88 miles (142 km) north to south, with a total area of 8,124 square miles (21,041 km²). As the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America, El Salvador is affectionately called Pulgarcito de America (the “Tom Thumb of the Americas”). The highest point is Cerro El Pital, at 8,957 feet (2,730 meters), on the border with Honduras. El Salvador’s capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2015, the country had a population of approximately 6.38 million, consisting largely of Mestizos of European and Indigenous American descent.
El Salvador has a long history of destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854, and it suffered heavy damage in the 1919, 1982, and 1986 tremors. The country has over twenty volcanoes, two of them, San Miguel and Izalco, active in recent years. From the early 19th century to the mid-1950s, Izalco erupted with a regularity that earned it the name “Lighthouse of the Pacific.” Its brilliant flares were clearly visible for great distances at sea, and at night its glowing lava turned it into a brilliant luminous cone.
El Salvador has over 300 rivers, the most important of which is the Rio Lempa. Originating in Guatemala, the Rio Lempa cuts across the northern range of mountains, flows along much of the central plateau, and cuts through the southern volcanic range to empty into the Pacific. It is El Salvador’s only navigable river. It and its tributaries drain about half of the country’s area. Other rivers are generally short and drain the Pacific lowlands or flow from the central plateau through gaps in the southern mountain range to the Pacific. These include the Goascorán, Jiboa, Torola, Paz and the Río Grande de San Miguel.
El Salvador shares borders with Guatemala and Honduras, the total national boundary length is 339 miles (546 km): 126 miles (203 km) with Guatemala and 213 miles (343 km) with Honduras. It is the only Central American country that has no Caribbean coastline. The coastline on the Pacific is 191 miles (307 km) long.
El Salvador was for centuries inhabited by several Mesoamerican nations, especially the Cuzcatlecs, as well as the Lenca and Maya. In the early 16th century, the Spanish Empire conquered the territory, incorporating it into the Viceroyalty of New Spain ruled from Mexico City. In 1821, the country achieved independence from Spain as part of the First Mexican Empire, only to further secede as part of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1823. Upon the republic’s dissolution in 1841, El Salvador became sovereign until forming a short-lived union with Honduras and Nicaragua called the Greater Republic of Central America, which lasted from 1895 to 1898.
From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups. The conflict ended with a negotiated settlement that established a multiparty constitutional republic, which remains in place to this day.
El Salvador’s economy was historically dominated by agriculture, beginning with the indigo plant (añil in Spanish), the most important crop during the colonial period, and followed thereafter by coffee, which by the early 20th century accounted for 90 percent of export earnings. El Salvador has since reduced its dependence on coffee and embarked on diversifying the economy by opening up trade and financial links and expanding the manufacturing sector. The colón, the official currency of El Salvador since 1892, was replaced by the U.S. dollar in 2001.
As of 2010, El Salvador ranks 12th among Latin American countries in terms of the Human Development Index and fourth in Central America (behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize) due in part to ongoing rapid industrialization. However, the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime.
Before the Spanish conquest, the area that is known as El Salvador was composed of three indigenous states and several principalities. In central El Salvador were the indigenous inhabitants, the Pipils, or the Pipiles, a tribe of the nomadic people of Nahua that were settled there for a long time. The Pipil were a determined people who stoutly resisted Spanish efforts to extend their dominion southward. The region of the east was populated and then governed by the Lencas. The North zone of the Lempa High River was populated and governed by the Chortis, a Mayan people. Their culture was similar to that of their Aztec and Maya neighbors.
By 1521, the indigenous population of the Mesoamerican area had been drastically reduced by the smallpox epidemic that was spreading throughout the territory, although it had not yet reached pandemic levels in Cuzcatlán. The first known visit by Spaniards to what is now Salvadoran territory was made by the Spanish admiral, Andrés Niño, who led a Spanish expedition to Central America. He disembarked in the Gulf of Fonseca on May 31, 1522, at Meanguera island, naming it Petronila, and then discovered Jiquilisco Bay on the mouth of Lempa River. The first indigenous people to have contact with the Spanish were the Lenca of eastern El Salvador.
In 1524, after participating in the conquest of Mexico, Spanish conquistadors led by Pedro de Alvarado and his brother Gonzalo crossed the Rio Paz (Peace River) from the area comprising the present Republic of Guatemala into what is now the Republic of El Salvador. The Spaniards were disappointed to discover that the indigenous Pipil people had no gold or jewels like those they had found in Guatemala or Mexico, but recognized the richness of the land’s volcanic soil.
Pedro de Alvarado led the first incursion by Spanish forces to extend their dominion to the nation of Cuzcatlan (El Salvador), in June 1524. When he arrived at the borders of the Cuzcatlan kingdom he saw that civilians had been evacuated. Cuzcatlec warriors moved to the coastal city of Acajutla and waited for Alvarado and his forces. Alvarado approached, confident that the result would be similar to what occurred in Mexico and Guatemala where the people believed the Spanish were gods. He thought he would easily defeat this new indigenous force since his Mexican allies and the Pipil of Cuzcatlan spoke a similar language.
The Indigenous peoples of El Salvador did not see the Spanish as gods, but as foreign invaders. Alvarado saw that the Cuzcatan force outnumbered his Spanish soldiers and Mexican Indian allies. The Spanish withdrew and the Cuzcatlec army attacked, running behind them with war chants and shooting bow arrows. Alvarado had no choice but to fight to survive.
Alvarado described the Cuzcatlec soldiers in great detail as having shields made of colorful exotic feathers, a vest-like armor made of three inch cotton which arrows could not penetrate, and large spears. Both armies suffered many casualties, with a wounded Alvarado retreating and losing a lot of his men, especially among the Mexican Indian auxiliaries. Once his army had regrouped, Alvarado decided to head to the Cuzcatlan capital and again faced armed Cuzcatlec. Wounded, unable to fight and hiding in the cliffs, Alvarado sent his Spanish men on their horses to approach the Cuzcatlec to see if they would fear the horses, but they did not retreat, Alvarado recalls in his letters to Hernan Cortez.
The Cuzcatlec attacked again, and on this occasion stole Spanish weaponry. Alvarado retreated and sent Mexican Indian messengers to demand that the Cuzcatlec warriors return the stolen weapons and surrender to the Spanish king. The Cuzcatlec responded with the famous response, “If you want your weapons, come get them”. As days passed, Alvarado, fearing an ambush, sent more Mexican Indian messengers to negotiate, but these messengers never came back and were presumably executed.
The Spanish efforts were firmly resisted by the indigenous people, including the Pipil and their Mayan-speaking neighbors. They defeated the Spaniards and what was left of their Mexican Tlaxcala Indian allies, forcing them to withdraw to Guatemala. After being wounded, Alvarado abandoned the war and appointed his brother, Gonzalo de Alvarado, to continue the task. Two subsequent expeditions (the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528) brought the Pipil under Spanish control, since the Pipil also were weakened by a regional epidemic of smallpox. In 1525, the conquest of Cuzcatlán was completed and the city of San Salvador was established. The Spanish faced much resistance from the Pipil and were not able to reach eastern El Salvador, the area of the Lencas.
Alvarado named the new province for Jesus Christ — El Salvador (“The Savior”). The full name was Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesus Cristo, El Salvador Del Mundo (“Province of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World”), which was subsequently abbreviated to El Salvador. Alvarado was appointed its first governor, a position he held until his death in 1541. The area was under the authority of a short-lived Audiencia of Panama from 1538 to 1543, when most of Central America was placed under a new Audiencia of Guatemala.
In 1526 the Spanish founded the garrison town of San Miguel, headed by another explorer and conquistador, Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, nephew of Pedro Alvarado. Oral history holds that a Maya-Lenca crown princess, Antu Silan Ulap I, organized resistance to the conquistadors. The kingdom of Lenca was alarmed by de Moscoso’s invasion, and Antu Silan travelled from village to village, uniting all the Lenca towns in present-day El Salvador and Honduras against the Spaniards. Through surprise attacks and overwhelming numbers, they were able to drive the Spanish out of San Miguel and destroy the garrison.
For ten years the Lencas prevented the Spanish from building a permanent settlement. Then the Spanish returned with more soldiers, including about 2,000 forced conscripts from indigenous communities in Guatemala. They pursued the Lenca leaders further up into the mountains of Intibucá.
Antu Silan Ulap eventually handed over control of the Lenca resistance to Lempira (also called Empira). Lempira was noteworthy among indigenous leaders in that he mocked the Spanish by wearing their clothes after capturing them and using their weapons captured in battle. Lempira fought in command of thousands of Lenca forces for six more years in El Salvador and Honduras until he was killed in battle. The remaining Lenca forces retreated into the hills. The Spanish were then able to rebuild their garrison town of San Miguel in 1537.
During the colonial period, El Salvador was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala (Reino de Guatemala), created in 1609 as an administrative division of New Spain. The Salvadoran territory was administered by the Mayor of Sonsonate, with San Salvador being established as an intendancia in 1786.
Towards the end of 1811, a combination of internal and external factors motivated Central American elites to attempt to gain independence from the Spanish Crown. The most important internal factors were the desire of local elites to control the country’s affairs free of involvement from Spanish authorities, and the long-standing Creole aspiration for independence. The main external factors motivating the independence movement were the success of the French and American revolutions in the 18th century, and the weakening of the Spanish Crown’s military power as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, with the resulting inability to control its colonies effectively.
In November 1811, Salvadoran priest José Matías Delgado rang the bells of Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, calling for insurrection and launching the 1811 Independence Movement. This insurrection was suppressed and many of its leaders were arrested and served sentences in jail. Another insurrection was launched in 1814, and again this insurrection was also suppressed.
In 1821, in light of unrest in Guatemala, Spanish authorities capitulated and signed the Act of Independence of Central America, which released all of the Captaincy of Guatemala (comprising current territories of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Mexican state of Chiapas) from Spanish rule and declared its independence. In 1821, El Salvador joined Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in a union named the Federal Republic of Central America.
In early 1822, the authorities of the newly independent Central American provinces, meeting in Guatemala City, voted to join the newly constituted First Mexican Empire under Agustín de Iturbide. El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries. A Mexican military detachment marched to San Salvador and suppressed dissent, but with the fall of Iturbide on March 19, 1823, the army decamped back to Mexico. Shortly thereafter, the authorities of the provinces revoked the vote to join Mexico, deciding instead to form a federal union of the five remaining provinces. Chiapas permanently joined Mexico at this juncture.
When the Federal Republic of Central America dissolved in 1841, El Salvador maintained its own government until it joined Honduras and Nicaragua in 1896 to form the Greater Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1898.
After the mid-19th century, the economy was based on coffee growing. As the world market for indigo withered away, the economy prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. The enormous profits that coffee yielded as a monoculture export served as an impetus for the concentration of land into the hands of an oligarchy of just a few families.
Throughout the last half of the 19th century, a succession of presidents from the ranks of the Salvadoran oligarchy, nominally both conservative and liberal, generally agreed on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, the development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily in support of the coffee trade, the elimination of communal landholdings to facilitate further coffee production, the passage of anti-vagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other rural residents provided sufficient labor for the coffee fincas (plantations), and the suppression of rural discontent. In 1912, the national guard was created as a rural police force.
In 1898, Gen. Tomas Regalado gained power by force, deposing Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez and ruling as president until 1903. Once in office he revived the practice of presidents designating their successors. After serving his term, he remained active in the Army of El Salvador, and was killed July 11, 1906, at El Jicaro during a war against Guatemala. Until 1913, El Salvador was politically stable, with undercurrents of popular discontent. When President Dr. Manuel Enrique Araujo was killed in 1913, many hypotheses were advanced for the political motive of his murder.
Araujo’s administration was followed by the Melendez-Quinonez dynasty that lasted from 1913 to 1927. Pio Romero Bosque, ex-Minister of the Government and a trusted collaborator of the dynasty, succeeded President Jorge Meléndez and in 1930 announced free elections, in which Arturo Araujo came to power on March 1, 1931, in what was considered the country’s first freely contested election. His government lasted only nine months before it was overthrown by junior military officers who accused his Labor Party of lacking political and governmental experience and of using its government offices inefficiently. President Araujo faced general popular discontent, as the people had expected economic reforms and the redistribution of land. There were demonstrations in front of the National Palace from the first week of his administration. His vice president and minister of war was General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez.
In December 1931, a coup d’état organized by junior officers and led by Gen. Martínez started in the First Regiment of Infantry across from the National Palace in downtown San Salvador. Only the First Regiment of Cavalry and the National Police defended the presidency (the National Police had been on its payroll), but later that night, after hours of fighting, the badly outnumbered defenders surrendered to rebel forces.
The Directorate, composed of officers, hid behind a shadowy figure, a rich anti-Communist banker called Rodolfo Duke, and later installed the ardent fascist General Martínez as president. The revolt was probably due to the army’s discontent at not having been paid by President Araujo for some months. Araujo left the National Palace and unsuccessfully tried to organize forces to defeat the revolt.
The U.S. Minister in El Salvador met with the Directorate and later recognized the government of Martínez, which agreed to hold presidential elections. He resigned six months prior to running for re-election, winning back the presidency as the only candidate on the ballot. He ruled from 1935 to 1939, then from 1939 to 1943. He began a fourth term in 1944, but resigned in May after a general strike. Martínez had said he was going to respect the Constitution, which stipulated he could not be re-elected, but he refused to keep his promise.
From December 1931, the year of the coup that brought Martínez to power, there was brutal suppression of rural resistance. The most notable event was the February 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, originally led by Farabundo Martí and Abel Cuenca, and university students Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata, but these leaders were captured before the planned insurrection. Only Cuenca survived; the other insurgents were killed by the government. After the capture of the movement leaders, the insurrection erupted in a disorganized and mob-controlled fashion, resulting in government repression that was later referred to as La Matanza (The Massacre), because tens of thousands of peasants died in the ensuing chaos on the orders of President Martinez.
In the unstable political climate of the previous few years, the social activist and revolutionary leader Farabundo Martí helped found the Communist Party of Central America, and led a Communist alternative to the Red Cross called International Red Aid, serving as one of its representatives. Their goal was to help poor and underprivileged Salvadorans through the use of Marxist-Leninist ideology (strongly rejecting Stalinism). In December 1930, at the height of the country’s economic and social depression, Martí was once again exiled due to his popularity among the nation’s poor and rumors of his upcoming nomination for President the following year. Once Arturo Araujo was elected president in 1931, Martí returned to El Salvador, and along with Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata began the movement that was later truncated by the military.
They helped start a guerrilla revolt of indigenous farmers. The government responded by killing over 30,000 people at what was to have been a “peaceful meeting” in 1932; this became known as La Matanza (The Slaughter). The peasant uprising against Martínez was crushed by the Salvadoran military ten days after it had begun. The Communist-led rebellion, fomented by collapsing coffee prices, enjoyed some initial success, but was soon drowned in a bloodbath. President Martínez, who had himself toppled an elected government only weeks earlier, ordered the defeated Martí shot after a perfunctory hearing.
Historically, the high Salvadoran population density has contributed to tensions with neighboring Honduras, as land-poor Salvadorans emigrated to less densely populated Honduras and established themselves as squatters on unused or underused land. This phenomenon was a major cause of the 1969 Football War between the two countries. As many as 130,000 Salvadorans were forcibly expelled or fled from Honduras.
The Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) were active in Salvadoran politics from 1960 until 2011, when they were disbanded by the Supreme Court because they had failed to win enough votes in the 2004 presidential election; both parties have since reconstituted. They share common ideals, but one represents the middle class and the latter the interests of the Salvadoran military.
PDC leader José Napoleón Duarte was the mayor of San Salvador from 1964 to 1970, winning three elections during the regime of PCN President Julio Adalberto Rivera Carballo, who allowed free elections for mayors and the National Assembly. Duarte later ran for president with a political grouping called the National Opposition Union (UNO) but was defeated in the 1972 presidential elections. He lost to the ex-Minister of Interior, Col. Arturo Armando Molina, in an election that was widely viewed as fraudulent; Molina was declared the winner even though Duarte was said to have received a majority of the votes. Duarte, at some army officers’ request, supported a revolt to protest the election fraud, but was captured, tortured and later exiled. Duarte returned to the country in 1979 to enter politics after working on projects in Venezuela as an engineer.
In October 1979, a coup d’état brought the Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador to power. It nationalized many private companies and took over much privately owned land. The purpose of this new junta was to stop the revolutionary movement already underway in response to Duarte’s stolen election. Nevertheless, the oligarchy opposed agrarian reform, and a junta formed with young liberal elements from the army such as General Majano and General Gutierrez, as well as with progressives such as Guillermo Ungo and Alvarez.
Pressure from the oligarchy soon dissolved the junta because of its inability to control the army in its repression of the people fighting for unionization rights, agrarian reform, better wages, accessible health care and freedom of expression. In the meantime, the guerrilla movement was spreading to all sectors of Salvadoran society. Middle and high school students were organized in MERS (Movimiento Estudiantil Revolucionario de Secundaria, Revolutionary Movement of Secondary Students); college students were involved with AGEUS (Asociacion de Estudiantes Universitarios Salvadoreno — Association of Salvadoran College Students); and workers were organized in BPR (Bloque Popular Revolucionario — Popular Revolutionary Block). In October 1980, several other major guerrilla groups of the Salvadoran left had formed the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, or FMLN. By the end of the 1970s, death squads were killing about 10 people each day, and the FMLN had 6,000–8,000 active guerrillas and hundreds of thousands of part-time militia, supporters, and sympathizers.
The U.S. supported and financed the creation of a second junta to change the political environment and stop the spread of a leftist insurrection. Napoleón Duarte was recalled from his exile in Venezuela to head this new junta. However, a revolution was already underway and his new role as head of the junta was seen by the general population as opportunistic. He was unable to influence the outcome of the insurrection.
Monsignor Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, denounced injustices and massacres committed against civilians by government forces. He was considered “the voice of the voiceless”, but he was assassinated by a death squad while saying Mass on March 24, 1980. Some consider this to be the beginning of the full Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992. An unknown number of people “disappeared” during the conflict, and the UN reports that more than 75,000 were killed. The Salvadoran Army’s U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion was responsible for the El Mozote massacre where more than 800 civilians were murdered, over half of them children, the El Calabozo massacre, and the murder of UCA scholars.
On January 16, 1992, the government of El Salvador, represented by president Alfredo Cristiani, and the FMLN, represented by the commanders of the five guerrilla groups — Shafik Handal, Joaquín Villalobos, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Francisco Jovel and Eduardo Sancho, all signed peace agreements brokered by the United Nations ending the 12-year civil war. This event, held at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico, was attended by U.N. dignitaries and other representatives of the international community. After signing the armistice, the president stood up and shook hands with all the now ex-guerrilla commanders, an action which was widely admired.
The so-called Chapultepec Peace Accords mandated reductions in the size of the army, and the dissolution of the National Police, the Treasury Police, the National Guard and the Civilian Defense, a paramilitary group. A new Civil Police was to be organized. Judicial immunity for crimes committed by the armed forces ended; the government agreed to submit to the recommendations of a Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (Comisión de la Verdad Para El Salvador), which would “investigate serious acts of violence occurring since 1980, and the nature and effects of the violence, and…recommend methods of promoting national reconciliation.” In 1993, the Commission delivered its findings reporting human rights violations on both sides of the conflict. Five days later, the El Salvadoran legislature passed an amnesty law for all acts of violence during the period.
From 1989 until 2004, Salvadorans favored the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, voting in ARENA presidents in every election (Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores Pérez, Antonio Saca) until 2009, when Mauricio Funes was elected president from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party.
The unsuccessful attempts of the left-wing party to win presidential elections led to its selection of a journalist rather than a former guerrilla leader as a candidate. On March 15, 2009, Mauricio Funes, a television figure, became the first president from the FMLN party. He was inaugurated on June 1, 2009. One focus of the Funes government has been revealing the alleged corruption from the past government.
ARENA formally expelled Saca from the party in December 2009. With 12 loyalists in the National Assembly, Saca established his own party, GANA (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional or Grand Alliance for National Unity), and entered into a tactical legislative alliance with the FMLN. After three years in office, with Saca’s GANA party providing the FMLN with a legislative majority, Funes had not taken action to either investigate or to bring corrupt former officials to justice.
Early in the new millennium, El Salvador’s government created the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales — the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and began promoting the integration of climate change into national policy. This move was in response to the increase in extreme weather events affecting the country. Initially MARN aimed to fulfill the country’s obligations following its ratification of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto protocol However, since Hurricane Ida in 2009, the government’s stance has shifted towards integrating risk reduction into all areas of policy, including financial.
In a specific effort to increase the resilience of its economy and people to climate-related events, El Salvador commissioned a project in 2011 to develop and implement a National Policy and Strategy for Climate Change, which culminated with the launch of the National Environmental Policy in June 2012 and the National Environmental Strategy in June 2013, both incorporating climate change goals. This work was undertaken with support from the Climate & Development Knowledge Network. The government is now preparing action plans for putting the strategy into practice.
Throughout the colonial era, El Salvador was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala. Hence, its postal history during this period is directly related to that of the other provinces of the territory: Chiapas, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. After the Spanish conquest in the 1520s, the authorities started sending messengers to the ports in Mexico and Yucatán, from where all correspondence was sent to Spain. However, it was not until 1602, that the President of the Audiencia Real of Guatemala appointed Manuel de Esteves as Correo Mayor de Guatemala y sus Provincias (Postmaster General of Guatemala & its Provinces).
Esteves died the following year, but it was not until 1612 that Baltasar Pinto de Amberes was appointed as the new Correo Mayor. Pedro Crespo Xuarez, who bought the title and office at a public auction, replaced him in 1620. After Crespo, only three individuals filled the office of Correo Mayor by purchasing it: Francisco de Lira y C·rcamo (1646–1682), Jose Agustin de Estrada (1682–1730), and Pedro Ortiz de Letona (1730–1767).
In 1767, the Correo Mayor system was abolished and replaced by a government monopoly. On March 1, 1768, the new office of Administrador General de Correos y Maestre de Hostes, Postas, y Correosí was created, a position occupied by Captain General Pedro de Salazar Herrera Natera y Mendoza. Under the new regime, Simon de Larrazabal (1768–1797) assumed responsibility of the royal mail in Guatemala. He was succeeded by Miguel de Ateaga y Olazaga (1797–1823), who was the last Spanish postmaster of the Captaincy.
Early in the Colonial era, the route for shipment of goods and supplies, including mail, was established between Spain and Central America. The Correo Mayor set up periodic routes across the Captaincy territory, and appointed deputies in Comayagua, San Salvador, Ciudad Real, Chiapas, Honduras, Leon, Matagalpa, and Cartago. Mail from and going to Spain was initially received and sent via Veracruz, but in 1615, the route was changed. Correspondence was sent by ship to ports in Yucatán (either Río Lagartos or Sisal), going overland via Valladolid to Bacalar, a onetime Caribbean port, then by coastal vessel up the Gulf of Honduras, and finally overland to Guatemala City.
The first mail boat to Mexico and Central America departed from Spain on November 4, 1679, and arrived at Veracruz on March 28, 1680. By 1704, the route to Central America was changed again, so the mail would first arrive at Veracruz, and from there, it would be sent inland to Oaxaca, and then successively to Chiapas, Comitn, Huehuetenango, Totonicapán, and Guatemala City. From Guatemala, the route continued south to cities in El Salvador and Nacaome (Honduras), then north to Comayagua and Tegucigalpa (Honduras), and south to León (Nicaragua) and Cartago (Costa Rica).
By 1754, regularly scheduled horseback or mule couriers went from Guatemala City to León, picking up mail along the way. By 1766, the service extended as far south as El Realejo (Nicaragua) and Cartago. Likewise, from 1748, monthly courier trips to the north went as far as Oaxaca, which was the trans-shipment point for correspondence destined to or coming from Spain.
By August 1764, a monthly maritime service has been set up by Royal Decree, and ships regularly sailed between La Coruña (Spain) and Havana, Cuba. From Havana, sloops trans-shipped mail and parcels primarily to Veracruz, but also to Trujillo (Honduras); from there, mounted couriers took the mail to its final destination. Regarding mail sent through Veracruz, it was taken to Hacienda de Soto where the route to Oaxaca and Mexico City separated. There, mail for Central America was sorted out, and carried to Oaxaca. On February 22, 1768, the Spanish Crown issued a proclamation that required all mail to be stamped and initialed as evidence that the legal postage had been paid. While postal markings existed in a few places in Spanish America prior to this date, it is probable that the impetus to prepare the initial postmark devices for the entire Central American area came from this decree. The earliest known postal marking for El Salvador has been found on an entire letter from Santa Ana to Guatemala, July 30, 1780. It bears a postmark from Santa Ana.
In an order of 1796, the Captain General of Guatemala outlined the existing routes and established new ones to the south from Guatemala City. Two trips went to Leon on a monthly basis, with intermediate stops in Santa Ana, San Salvador, San Vicente, and San Miguel, all in El Salvador. From Leon, there was a monthly trip further south, ending in Cartago. From San Miguel, two trips went to Trujillo (Honduras), and one trip was made to Tegucigalpa. Finally, from Santa Ana, trips were made to Ahuachapán and Sonsonate. Return trips were made on the same routes with the same frequency; and were scheduled to coincide with the deliveries of mail made from the outlying regions.
Starting in 1809, hemispheric packet boat service was organized to run from Iztapa (Guatemala) via Cartago and David, Panama, and terminating in Guayaquil (Ecuador). The first sailing on this course was said to have occurred on March 10, 1810. During 1811, a tri-monthly mail route was established between Guatemala, Mexico, the Windward Islands, and Spain.
During the 53 years between the commencement of the Colonial government’s mail service (1768) and independence from Spain (1821), a number of different Salvadorian estafetas or post offices operated, from time to time. These offices included Ahuachapán, Ateos, Cojutepeque, Chalatenango, Gotera, Metapán, Mexicanos, San Salvador, San Miguel, San Vicente, Santa Ana, Sonsonate, Suchitoto, Usulután and Zacatecoluca. Additionally, postal markings are known from Olocuilta and Sensuntepeque. Most of the letters or wrappers from this era were used for government purposes, primarily concerning indigo, coffee, tobacco, or other judicial matters.
During the Federal Republic of Central America with Mexico (1821–1823), no important changes were made to the postal system inherited from Spain. When the Central American Federation was proclaimed, Miguel de Ateaga, Spanish postmaster since 1796, was replaced by Antonio Batres y Naxera. The Federation issued its initial postal legislation on August 7, 1823, and the first definitive postal decree on April 24, 1824. This decree stated the following postal rates for a simple letter of less than one-half Onza: 2 (Central American Republic) reales for any destination in Central America, South America, or the Caribbean; and 4 reales for any destination in Spain, the Philippines, the United States, and any other foreign country. The legislation also granted free postal franking for all federation officials, but these wide exemptions from payment were voted out by the Federal Congress in 1826.
The Federation continued the route to Oaxaca, having two trips per month from Guatemala City, and added a third trip south to Leon. According to a post office listing of the Central American Federation, El Salvador had the following estafetas in 1830: Ahuachapán, Cojutepeque, Metapán, San Miguel, San Salvador, San Vicente, Santa Ana, Sonsonate, Suchitoto, and Zacatecoluca.
Upon separating from the Federation, each state assumed the full responsibilities of handling their own mail system. However, the regulations of the Federation remained in use in each country until superseded by local legislation. For El Salvador, no information is available until 1849, when Mr. Jose Andrino was appointed as postmaster. On July 13 of that same year, El Salvador established weekly routes to Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The first postal law was decreed on October 26, 1851, and three years later, on September 1, 1854 the first route itinerary for the interior of the country was published. By 1857, all the country was again covered by the postal service.
In 1852, a Postal Treaty was signed between Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. One practical effect of this Treaty was that in the free port on Tigre Island, near Amapala (Honduras), a postal employee exchanged mail between the three countries. Guatemala and El Salvador signed a further treaty in 1865 with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, providing for reciprocal exchange of mail and parcels, free postage on official and diplomatic mail, and other procedural matters. It is believed that El Salvador, as the other Central American countries, retained the 2 real rate for domestic and inter-Central American postage for letters of less than one-half ounce until the issuance of its adhesive stamps. It is important to note that mail to and from any Central American destination could be marked prepaid or collect, at the option of the sender.
In 1853, El Salvador signed a contract with the Central American Steam Navigation Company (CASNC) to permit mail steamers to call at Acajutla, La Libertad, and La Union. This company ran a line of steamers once a month between Iztapa (Guatemala) and Panama, touching in turn at Acajutla, La Libertad, La Union, Amapala (Honduras), El Realejo and San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua) for the conveyance of mail, passengers, and freight. Each government paid a subsidy for the carriage of the mail. Service began in 1854 and later was continued by the Panama Canal Railway Company steamers, and subsequently, by the steamers of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. It can be assumed that because of these circumstances, post offices were opened in the three ports where the CASNC called (Acajutla, La Libertad, and La Union).
The first stamps of El Salvador were issued in 1867, printed by the American Bank Note Company, or as it says in the bottom of the sheets: Compañía Americana de Billetes de Banco de Nueva York (Scott #1-4). Printed in September 1866, they arrived to El Salvador on December 17. They were officially issued on January 17, 1867, but their use was not mandatory until March 1. The set consists of 4 values: ½ real (blue), 1 real (red), 2 reales (green) and 4 reales (bistre), issued in sheets of 100. They feature an active volcano with 11 stars making a semi-circle above the volcano; each star represents Salvadorian provinces in those years: San Salvador, La Libertad, Sonsonate, Santa Ana, La Paz, Cuscatlán, Usulután, San Vicente, San Miguel, La Union, & Chalatenango.
Traditionally, the volcano on the central oval has been considered to be the San Miguel volcano. However, since the design is an allegorical representation of the coat of arms existing at the time, the stamps really depict not the San Miguel, but the Izalco volcano (popularly known as El Faro del Pacífico — The Lighthouse of the Pacific). This argument is based on the fact that the decree signed by Francisco Duenas, creating the coat of arms, specifically mentions the Izalco volcano as the inspiration for its design, and also on the idea that the Izalco volcano was (and still is) one of the symbols of the country. Covers genuinely used with these stamps are rare. So far, only 37 have been recorded.
There were two printings of the fist stamp issue, the one in September 1866 already mentioned, and another in April 1873. The printings can be distinguished by the different color shades for each printing, and by the heavy yellow gum used on the first printing, which differs from the thin white gum used for the latter.
For several decades, the designs of El Salvador stamps had a clear North American influence as the majority of issues were supplied by American Bank Note Company and the Hamilton Bank Note Company among others. From the 1950s onwards, the country started to commission stamps in Europe and also to produce them locally. In recent years, the printing has been mostly done by the Direccion General de Servicios Graficos (the government printing house in San Salvador) and the subjects depict a combination of events of worldwide importance with local personalities or commemorations.
Scott #407 is a 17-centavo violet and slate unwatermarked stamp released in 1912, perforated 12, depicting the Monument of Gerardo Barrios, located in the historical center of the city of San Salvador. It is dedicated to President Gerardo Barrios, created by Francisco Durini and unveiled in 1909. The bronze statue shows an equestrian statue of the soldier placed on a granite pedestal that shows scenes of battles and the shield of El Salvador. The square in which the monument lies is a point of reference of the Salvadoran capital as it is surrounded by emblematic buildings such as the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Gerardo Barrios (September 24, 1813 – August 29, 1865) was President of El Salvador, from March 12, 1859 to October 26, 1863. Barrios was a liberal and supported the unity of Central America. He was, from a young age, part of the army of the last president of Federation of Central American Estates, Francisco Morazan. After his death, he became the leader or the unionist movement. He was known for his concern for international relations and is attributed for introducing coffee production to El Salvador, accelerating the spread through Central America. Coffee became the basis of El Salvador’s economy.
Between 1860 and 1863, Barrios launched a reorganization of the public finances and promoted the coffee production and silk-elaboration related activities. He also created a professional armed force, and favored non-religious public education. In his first years of government he looked for a pacific convivance with Guatemala, which made him visit that country in 1860. However, conflicts were not absent, especially with the church.
One of the first incidents was the expulsion of three capuccine religious. In 1860, conflicts escalated when the clerk represented by bishop Tomás Pineda y Zaldaña, denied to accept the Constitution on the Republic, claiming that none of the priests were committed to obey the government, because the only authority above all earth is God, the bishop and the Pope.
Conservatives felt outraged by Barrios, claiming he was anti-clerical, despotic and liberal. Many conservatives, including bishop Pineda y Zaldaña, had to look for shelter in Guatemala and from there they launched a newspaper campaign against the Salvadoran government. In 1861, attacks were strong, and even worse, a confrontational climate began to grow between the two countries. Particularly because of Guatemala’s President aspirations to become the controller of Central America.
In 1863, after a few border skirmishes El Salvador declared war on Guatemala, and on June 19 Guatemalan troops began invading El Salvador. On October 26, after a long siege, Carrera took over San Salvador, taking full control of the city. The same year Barrios escaped to San Miguel. With Carrera’s approval, Francisco Dueñas installed himself as a president and won the 1865 elections.
As a constitutional president, he promoted a trial against Barrios, who was captured in Nicaragua on July 27 and extradited to El Salvador the same week. The court martial began on August 10, and he was sentenced to death on August 28; the execution took place the following day.
In 1910 he was officially granted a title of ‘national hero’ for his heroic efforts to protect the rights of the farming communities as well as leading his military triumphs to protect Central America from foreign invasions.