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El Salvador, country of Central America. El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated of the seven Central American countries. Despite having little level land, it traditionally was an agricultural country, heavily dependent upon coffee exports. By the end of the 20th century, however, the service sector had come to dominate the economy. The capital is San Salvador.
From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, El Salvador was the focus of international attention, owing to its civil war and to external involvement in its internal conflicts. The war, which pitted a militarily and politically capable left-wing insurgency against the U.S.-backed Salvadoran Armed Forces, was caused by decades of repressive, military-dominated rule and profound social inequality. Following the United Nations-mediated 1992 peace accords, which contained fundamental provisions for El Salvador’s democratization (including the removal of the military from political affairs), the country began to recover from years of political and economic turmoil, only to be devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and by a major earthquake in 2001. Skyrocketing crime, faltering economic growth, and persistent social inequality have further hampered full postwar reconstruction.
The Pipil (descendants of the Aztecs), the predominant tribe in the region prior to the Spanish conquest, named their territory and capital Cuscatlen, meaning “Land of the Jewel”; the name is still sometimes applied to El Salvador today. The mixing of the Pipil and other tribes with European settlers is reflected in the modern-day ethnic composition of the country. El Salvadorans are known for their industriousness, and the country has produced several internationally acclaimed artists, including poet Roque Dalton.
El Salvador is bounded by Honduras to the north and east, by the Pacific Ocean to the south, and by Guatemala to the northwest. Its territory is situated wholly on the western side of the isthmus, and it is therefore the only Central American country that lacks a Caribbean coast. The entire territory of El Salvador is located on the Central American volcanic axis, which determines the major geographic regions of the country.
The climate of El Salvador is tropical but is moderated by elevation in the interior; in general it is warm rather than hot, varying between the high 50s and low 70s F (about 15 and 23 °C). Heavy rains, known as the temporales, fall in the winter season, from May to October. The dry summer season lasts from November to April. There is considerable climatic variation in the different regions. The Pacific lowlands and low areas in the middle Lempa River valley have mean monthly temperatures between the high 70s and mid-80s F (about 25 and 29 °C). In San Salvador, the capital, which is 2,238 feet (682 metres) above sea level, the maximum monthly mean temperature is in the mid-90s F (about 34 °C), in March, and the lowest monthly mean is in the low 60s F (about 17 °C), in January. In the mountains, above 4,800 feet (1,460 metres), mean monthly temperatures vary between the low 60s and low 70s F (about 17 and 22 °C). Annual precipitation on the Pacific lowlands averages about 65 to 70 inches (about 1,700 mm); on the southern and northern mountain ranges, at elevations between 2,000 and 3,500 feet (600 and 1,060 metres), the average is between 70 and 100 inches (1,800 and 2,500 mm); the higher mountains receive a little more. Annual precipitation recorded in the deeper valleys and surrounding plateaulike areas is between about 45 and 60 inches (1,100 and 1,500 mm).
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