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The social situation in both countries in the run-up to the war was explosive, and their military governments were looking for a convenient cause towards which to direct their nationals' political concerns. National media in both countries encouraged hatred towards citizens of the other, eventually provoking the expulsion from Honduras of thousands of Salvadoran labourers, including both temporary harvest workers and longer-term settlers.
This general rise in tensions ultimately led to a military conflict that served to direct the attention of the citizenry of both countries outward rather than in on their own internal affairs, leaving both armies rearmed, and destroying the Central American economic integration that had been expressed in the Central American Common Market (Mercado Común Centroamericano or MCE), under whose trade rules the richer Salvadoran economy gained much ground relative to Honduras.
These existing tensions between the two countries were inflamed by rioting during the second qualifying round for the 1970 Football World Cup. On July 14, 1969, the Salvadoran army launched an attack against Honduras. The Organization of American States negotiated a cease-fire which took effect on July 20, with the Salvadoran troops withdrawn in early August.
However, as one might suspect, this conflict took place against a backdrop of deeper historically significant issues for both Honduras and El Salvador, and was not merely the product of overly zealous fans or nationalist sentiments. The root of the conflict was a geographic and demographic rift that had developed within the society of El Salvador over land use. Rich landowners controlled the majority of farmable land in El Salvador, which over time resulted in the migration of poor peasants into a borderland that El Salvador shared with neighboring Honduras. The peasants had lived on the land for generations. In 1969, Honduras decided to distribute the land to Honduran peasants thereby evicting the Salvadoran peasants. This triggered a mass return of peasants to El Salvador, and created tension that instigated political and social upheaval. Social conservatives in El Salvador were concerned that the returning peasants would strengthen calls for land reform, and military leaders were concerned that if the peasant demands for reform were not met guerrilla movements would arise. It was against this backdrop that the Salvadoran government fought a six-day war with Honduras.
- June 6, 1969, Tegucigalpa: Honduras 1 - 0 El Salvador (0-0 at halftime)
- June 15, 1969, San Salvador: El Salvador 3 - 0 Honduras (HT: 3-0)
- A playoff match on June 27, 1969, Mexico: El Salvador 3 - 2 Honduras after extra time (HT: 1-2, FT: 2-2).
Results of the war
- Essentially both sides 'lost' the war; neither gained a decisive military victory and the death toll of approximately 2000 was shared reasonably equally between the two.
- The war brought an end to the Central American Common Market, a regional integration project that had been set up by the United States largely as a means of counteracting the effects of the socialist revolution in Cuba.
- The political power of the military in both countries was reinforced. In the Salvadoran legislative elections that followed, candidates from the governing National Conciliation Party (Partido de Conciliación Nacional, PCN), were largely drawn from the ranks of the military. Having apologised for their role in the conflict, they proved very successful in elections both at national and local level.
- The social situation worsened in El Salvador as the government proved unable to satisfy the economic needs of citizens deported from Honduras. The resulting social unrest was one of the causes of the civil war in El Salvador that followed.
This article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the Spanish-language Wikipedia, which was accessed in the version of December 11, 2004. For more discussion of historical context: Skidmore, T., and Smith, P. (2001) Modern Latin America (5th edition). New York: Oxford University Press: pg.343
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