El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations

El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations
July 1, 2020
Congress has had significant interest in El Salvador, a smal Central American nation
that has had a large percentage of its population living in the United States since the
Clare Ribando Seelke
country’s civil conflict (1980-1992). During the 1980s, the U.S. government spent
Specialist in Latin
bil ions of dollars supporting the Salvadoran government’s counterinsurgency efforts
American Affairs
against the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The United

States later supported a 1992 peace accord that ended the conflict and transformed the

FMLN into a political party. Despite periodic tensions, the United States worked with
two consecutive FMLN administrations (2009-2019). As bilateral efforts have been unable to prevent irregular
emigration from El Salvador, the Trump Administration has focused relations with President Nayib Bukele on
migration-related issues.
Domestic Situation
On June 1, 2019, Nayib Bukele, a 37-year-old businessman and former mayor of San Salvador, took office for a
five-year presidential term. Bukele won 53% of the vote in the February 2019 election, standing for the Grand
Al iance for National Unity (GANA) party. Elected on an anticorruption platform, Bukele is the first president in
30 years to be elected without the backing of the conservative National Republic Al iance (ARENA) or the FMLN
parties. Bukele succeeded Salvador Sánchez Cerén (FMLN), who presided over a period of moderate economic
growth (averaging 2.3%), ongoing security chal enges, and political polarization.
President Bukele promised to reduce crime and attract investment, but his lack of support in the National
Assembly (GANA has 11 of 84 seats) has led to several executive-legislative clashes. Homicides continued to
trend downward during his first year in office (to a rate of 36 per 100,000), but extortion rates rose. El Salvador’s
economy grew 2.4% in 2019 but is expected to decline by 5.4% this year due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019
(COVID-19) pandemic. Bukele has remained popular, but his government’s refusal to abide by legislative and
Supreme Court decisions and his harsh COVID-19 quarantine have received significant international criticism.
U.S. Policy
Since FY2016, Congress has appropriated nearly $3.1 bil ion, at least $411 mil ion of which has been al ocated to
El Salvador, through the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America to address the underlying drivers of
migration. In March 2019, the Administration suspended most foreign aid to El Salvador (and to Guatemala and
Honduras) after criticizing the government’s failure to address irregular migration. After signing several
migration-related agreements with the Bukele government in 2019, the Administration informed Congress that it
intends to release some suspended assistance and provide smal amounts of new targeted aid for El Salvador. U.S.
funds aim to deter migration, support President Bukele’s security strategy, and respond to the COVID-19
pandemic. The FY2021 budget does not specify a funding amount for El Salvador but asks for $377 mil ion for
the Central American region.
In addition to scaled-back U.S. assistance, shifts in U.S. immigration policies have tested bilateral relations. The
Administration’s decision to rescind the temporary protected status (TPS) designation that has shielded up to
250,000 Salvadorans from removal since 2001 is a major concern for the Bukele government. A House-passed
bil , H.R. 6, would al ow certain TPS designees to apply for permanent resident status.
The 116th Congress has considered various measures affecting U.S. policy toward El Salvador. In December 2019,
Congress enacted the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94), which provides $519.9
mil ion for Central America, including at least $73 mil ion for El Salvador. Several other measures Congress may
consider would expand in-country refugee processing in the Northern Triangle (H.R. 2347 and H.R. 3731) and
authorize foreign assistance for certain activities in Central America (H.R. 2615, H.R. 2836, H.R. 3524, S. 1445,
and S. 1781).
See also CRS Report R44812, U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, by
Peter J. Meyer.
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Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Politics and Governance ................................................................................................... 1

Postconflict Era of ARENA and FMLN Rule ................................................................. 1
Bukele Administration................................................................................................ 3
Security Conditions ......................................................................................................... 5
Criminal Justice System ............................................................................................. 7
Bukele’s Security Plan ............................................................................................... 9
Economic and Social Conditions................................................................................ 10
Human Rights .............................................................................................................. 14
Recent Human Rights Violations................................................................................ 14
Confronting Past Human Rights Violations .................................................................. 15
U.S. Relations .............................................................................................................. 17
U.S. Foreign Assistance ............................................................................................ 17
Suspension of Assistance ..................................................................................... 19
FY2020 Appropriations and FY2021 Budget Request .............................................. 20
COVID-19 Assistance and Humanitarian Aid for Tropical Storm Amanda................... 20
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Investment Compact ............................... 21
Migration Issues ...................................................................................................... 21
Recent Migration Flows ...................................................................................... 21
Human Trafficking and Alien Smuggling ............................................................... 22
Removals, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals ........... 23
Asylum Processing Capacity in El Salvador and the U.S.-El Salvador Asylum
Cooperation Agreement .................................................................................... 25
Security Cooperation................................................................................................ 26
Counternarcotics ................................................................................................ 26
Gangs and Citizen Security .................................................................................. 27
Trade Relations ....................................................................................................... 28
Human Rights Cases: Former Salvadoran Officials Tried in the United States ................... 28
Outlook.................................................................................................................. 29

Figure 1. Map of El Salvador and Key Country Data ............................................................ 2
Figure 2. Homicide Rate in El Salvador: 2004-2019 ............................................................. 6
Figure 3. U.S. Apprehensions of Salvadoran Nationals: FY2009-FY2020 (May)..................... 22

Table 1. U.S. Assistance to El Salvador: FY2016-FY2021 ................................................... 18

Author Information ....................................................................................................... 30
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link to page 6 link to page 21 El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations

A smal , densely populated Central American country that has deep historical, familial, and
economic ties to the United States, El Salvador has been a focus of sustained congressional
interest (see Figure 1 for a map and key country data).1 After a troubled history of authoritarian
rule and a civil war (1980-1992), El Salvador has established a multiparty democracy, albeit with
significant chal enges, particularly related to insecurity.2 A 1992 peace accord ended the war and
assimilated the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerril a movement
into the political process as a political party. The conservative Nationalist Republican Al iance
(ARENA) ruled until 2009, before ceding power to two consecutive FMLN administrations. With
both the FMLN and ARENA tarnished by revelations of corruption by former presidents,
Salvadorans elected Nayib Bukele, an outsider who took office on June 1, 2019.3
President Bukele, a businessman and former mayor of San Salvador, left the FMLN and captured
a first-round victory standing for the Grand Al iance for National Unity (GANA) party in
February 2019 presidential elections.4 Born in 1981, Bukele is the first president of El Salvador
from a generation that did not come of age political y during the civil conflict in which more than
70,000 Salvadorans died.5 Bukele has battled with the legislature (where GANA holds 11 of 84
seats) and the Supreme Court over funds he sought for his security plan and his aggressive
enforcement of a Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) quarantine. Although he remains
popular, Bukele’s critics are concerned about his authoritarian tendencies and lack of respect for
other branches of government.6 In contrast to the FMLN, President Bukele has adopted a pro-
United States agenda and pledged to stop irregular migration (see “U.S. Relations,” below).
This report examines political, economic, security, and human rights conditions in El Salvador. It
then analyzes selected issues in U.S.-Salvadoran relations that have been of particular interest to
Congress, including foreign assistance, migration, security cooperation in addressing gangs and
counternarcotics issues, human rights, and trade.
Politics and Governance
Postconflict Era of ARENA and FMLN Rule
Polarization between the FMLN, a party formed by former gueril as, and ARENA, a party aligned
with the military, has been the primary dynamic in Salvadoran politics since the civil conflict.
From 1994 to 2008, successive ARENA governments sought to rebuild democracy and

1 For historical background on El Salvador, see Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, El Salvador: A
Country Study
, ed. Richard Haggerty (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1990).
2 Priscilla B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions (New York, NY: Routledge,
2002); Diana Villiers Negroponte, Seeking Peace in El Salvador: The Struggle to Reconstruct a Nation at the End of
the Cold War
(New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
3 Nelson Renteria and Noe T orres, “Outsider wins El Salvador Presidency, Breaking two-party System,” Reuters,
February 3, 2019.
4 Charles T . Call, The Significance of Nayib Bukele’s Surprising Election as President of El Salvador, Brookings
Institution, February 5, 2019.
5 United Nations Commission on the T ruth for El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The 12-Year War in El Salvador:
Report of the Com m ission on the Truth for El Salvador
, 1993.
6 “Hungry House: Nayib Bukele’s Power Grab in El Salvador,” The Economist, May 6, 2020.
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implement market-friendly economic reforms. ARENA proved to be a reliable U.S. al y but did
not effectively address inequality, violence, or corruption. Development indicators general y
improved, but natural disasters, including earthquakes in 2001 and periodic hurricanes, hindered
progress. Moreover, despite ARENA’s probusiness policies, economic growth averaged 2.4%
over the postwar years in which it governed.7
Figure 1. Map of El Salvador and Key Country Data

Area: 8,008 sq. mi. (about the size of Massachusetts)
Capital: San Salvador
Population: 6.5 mil ion (CEPAL, 2020)
Life Expectancy: 74 years (CEPAL, 2020)
Infant Mortality: 11.8 deaths per 1,000 births (CEPAL, 2018)
Poverty: 34.5% (CEPAL, 2018)
Gross Domestic Product (GDP): $26.9 bil ion (IMF, 2019)
GDP per capita: $4,000 (IMF, 2019)
Top Trade Partners: United States (34.5%), Guatemala (12.3%), Honduras (10%), China (9.8%)
(TDM, 2019)
Top Exports to the United States: Apparel and textiles, Electrical Machinery Parts, Sugar,
Coffee (TDM, 2019)
Sources: Graphic created by CRS using data from the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the
Caribbean (CEPAL), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and El Salvador’s Central Bank data downloaded
from Trade Data Monitor (TDM).
The attorney general’s office has brought cases against the two most recent ARENA presidents.
Francisco Flores (1999-2004) passed away in January 2016 while awaiting trial for al egedly
embezzling donations from Taiwan destined for earthquake relief. In August 2018, former
president Anthony (“Tony”) Saca (2004-2009) pled guilty to charges of money laundering and

7 International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Economic Outlook Database, April 2019.
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embezzlement of some $300 mil ion. Saca, who started the GANA party in 2010 after being
expel ed from ARENA, is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), a former journalist, served as El Salvador’s first FMLN president.
Funes remained popular and his government reduced poverty and inequality. The government
expanded crime prevention programs and community policing but also supported and then later
disavowed a failed gang truce.8 In 2016, the attorney general’s office began investigating Funes
for al egedly embezzling more than $350 mil ion in public funds. He received political asylum in
Nicaragua, but Salvadoran officials have sought his extradition.9
Salvador Sánchez Cerén (2014-2019), a former guerril a commander, failed to implement most of
his pledges to boost social and infrastructure spending due, in part, to El Salvador’s severe fiscal
constraints and his party’s lack of a congressional majority. During his term, El Salvador
continued to contend with difficult security conditions despite reductions in homicides since
2015, low investment, and polarization between the executive and the ARENA-led National
Assembly.10 Aggressive anti-gang efforts led to extrajudicial kil ings by security forces.11 The
FMLN performed poorly in March 2018 legislative elections.
Under Sánchez Cerén, El Salvador continued to strengthen its ties with Cuba and Venezuela and
abandoned long-standing ties with Taiwan to establish diplomatic relations with China. Il icit
funds reportedly flowed from Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.
(PdVSA) to its Salvadoran subsidiary (Alba Petróleos) and some FMLN politicians, which
resulted in U.S. sanctions on the company.12 The Trump Administration criticized the Salvadoran
government’s August 2018 decision to abandon relations with Taiwan in favor of China,
particularly for the “non-transparent” way in which the decision took place.13
Bukele Administration
On February 3, 2019, Nayib Bukele, standing for the GANA party, won 53% of the vote, wel
ahead of Carlos Cal eja (ARENA-led coalition), with 31.8%, and Hugo Mártinez (FMLN), with
14.4%. Bukele’s first-round victory occurred amid relatively low voter turnout (44.7%) during an
electoral process observed by the Organization of American States (OAS) and deemed free and
fair.14 The scale of Bukele’s victory demonstrated voters’ dissatisfaction with both major parties.
Bukele led the presidential race from start to finish, despite releasing few specific policy
proposals until late in the campaign and opting not to attend debates. In 2017, the FMLN expel ed

8 “T raducing El Salvador’s T ruce,” The Economist, August 26, 2017.
9 Nelson Renteria, “El Salvador’s top Court Approves Extradition Request for ex-President Funes,” Reuters, March 21,
2019. In October 2018, the attorney general’s office issued another arrest warrant for Funes on charges of involvement
in a massive corruption scheme involving contractors, his family, and the former attorney general .
10 According to the State Department, investors “ generally perceived [the Sánchez Cerén government] as unsuccessful
at improving the investment climate.” U.S. Department of State, 2019 Investment Clim ate Statem ents: El Salvador,
July 11, 2019.
11 Anna-Catherine Brigida, “El Salvador’s T ough Policing Isn’t What it Looks Like,” Foreign Policy, July 6, 2019.
12 Douglas Farah and Caitlyn Yates, Maduro’s Last Stand, National Defense University and IBI Consultants, May
2019; Per U.S. T reasury Department guidance, sanctions on Venezuela’s stat e oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela,
(PdVSA), announced in January 2019 also apply to any subsidiaries in which the company (PdVSA) has a 50% or
greater interest. See https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/licensing_guidance.pdf. Héctor
Silva Ávalos, “ PDVSA Subsidiaries in Central America Slapped With Sanctions,” InSight Crime, March 13, 2019.
13 T he White House, “Statement by t he Press Secretary on El Salvador,” August 23, 2018.
14 Organization of American States (OAS), “OAS Electoral Observation Mission Celebrates Peaceful Election in El
Salvador,” February 4, 2019.
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Bukele from the party for criticizing its leadership. Bukele tried to create his own political party,
but El Salvador’s electoral court did not approve the new party’s registration in time to appear on
the bal ot for the 2019 election. He then became GANA’s presidential candidate.
As a candidate, Bukele communicated directly with potential voters using social media rather
than relying on a party apparatus. He focused on addressing voters’ concerns about corruption,
unemployment, and crime. Bukele pledged to use his experience as a businessman and as a mayor
to attract investment, address the underlying causes of the gang phenomenon, and give
Salvadorans hope so that unauthorized emigration would decline. Despite GANA’s reputation for
corruption, Bukele ran on an anticorruption campaign and cal ed for the establishment of an
international anticorruption commission in El Salvador similar to the U.N.-sponsored
International Commission Against
Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).15 His
Nayib Bukele
opposition to efforts by the National
Born in San Salvador in 1981, Nayib Bukele is the son of the
Assembly to shield civil conflict-era
late Armando Bukele Kattán, a prominent businessperson of
human rights abusers from prosecution
Palestinian descent who backed the FMLN financial y
won domestic and international praise
beginning in the early 1990s. Bukele graduated high school in
from human rights groups.16
the late 1990s and began working in family businesses started
by his father, including a public relations firm that represented
Upon taking office, Bukele appointed a
the FMLN. Bukele was elected mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán
cabinet composed of individuals from a
(2012-2015) and San Salvador (2015-2018) for the FMLN. As
variety of parties. Vice President Felix
mayor, he revitalized the historic center of San Salvador and
engaged at-risk youth in violence-prevention programs.
Ul oa is a lawyer who has worked with
many international institutions on rule-
of-law and election issues. Foreign Minister Alexandra Hil formerly worked at the OAS. Bukele
appointed a navy captain as defense minister and promoted six colonels to run the army while
pushing several generals into retirement.17 Bukele’s minister of justice and security is a close
political al y; his police chief is a career officer who recently oversaw specialized units, including
one implicated in extrajudicial kil ings of gang suspects.18 Bukele kept the same finance minister
and chose an economy minister who used to work with the Inter-American Development Bank.
Other ministers (agricultural and head of the ports) are lifelong friends of Bukele who reportedly
lack experience.19 Critics maintain Bukele has largely relied on his brothers for advice.20
President Bukele has governed much as he campaigned, using social media to make policy
declarations, purge government officials, attack his opponents, and pressure legislators to back his
policies.21 Bukele’s supporters have praised these moves, viewing them as needed steps to
remove corruption and nepotism. Critics have expressed concerns about statements he has made
and actions he has taken to discredit and block access to journalists and human rights groups

15 Melissa Vida, “Why T ackling Corruption Could Also Reduce Violence in El Salvador,” World Politics Review, June
19, 2019; Charles T . Call, International Anti-Im punity Missions in Guatem ala and Honduras: What Lessons for El
American University, June 2019.
16 Due Process of Law Foundation, Three Years After the Annulment of the Amnesty Law, July 8, 2019.
17 “El Salvador: Changing of the Guard,” Latin America Weekly Report, June 20, 2019.
18 Héctor Silva Ávalos, “El Salvador Flirts with ‘Mano Dura’ Security Policies Again,” Insight Crime, June 21, 2019.
19 “Hungry House: Nayib Bukele’s Power Grab in El Salvador,” The Economist, May 6, 2020.
20 Ibid.
21 Patrick J. McDonnell, Alexander Renderos, “ Is El Salvador’s Millennial President a Reformer or an Autocrat?” Los
Angeles Tim es
, February 28, 2020.
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critical of his actions.22 His use of the military to intimidate the legislature in February 2020 and
to detain reported violators of a strict COVID-19 quarantine have prompted rebukes by El
Salvador’s Supreme Court and international condemnation.23 Although Bukele may struggle to
secure legislative support for his security plan and infrastructure proposals (discussed below) this
year, some predict his popularity (92.5% in May 2020) wil help GANA pick up seats in the
February 2021 legislative elections.24
President Bukele has shifted El Salvador’s foreign policy into closer alignment with the United
States and asked the United States for “investments and great relations” rather than just foreign
assistance.25 He has criticized repression in Venezuela and Nicaragua, a significant departure from
the prior government’s position, while also condemning the erosion of democracy in Honduras.
Bukele took responsibility for the June 2019 deaths of two Salvadoran migrants who drowned
while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border rather than criticizing U.S. immigration policies.26
Bukele’s decision to maintain relations with China established by his predecessor was likely
driven by a need for foreign investment, but it remains a concern for U.S. policymakers.27
Security Conditions
El Salvador has been dealing with escalating homicides and generalized crime committed by
gangs, drug traffickers, and other criminal groups for more than two decades. In 2015, El
Salvador posted a homicide rate of 104 per 100,000 people—the highest in the world. Although
the homicide rate has decreased by 65% since then to 36 per 100,000, it remains high by global
standards (see Figure 2).28 In contrast to neighboring countries, El Salvador’s municipalities with
high levels of violence have varied significantly over time and are located al over the country.29

22 Committee to Protect Journalists, “El Salvador Bans 2 Investigative Outlets from Press Conferences at Presidential
Residence,” September 11, 2019; U.S. Department of State, Memorandum of Justification Regarding Ce rtification
Under Section 7045 (a) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act,
2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94), May 18, 2020. Hereinafter: U.S. Department of State, May 18, 2020.
23 U.S. Department of State, May 18, 2020.
24 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Report: El Salvador, generated June 23, 2020; Edwin Segura, “Bukele
Cierre su Primer Año con Alta Aprobación,” La Prensa Gráfica, May 20, 2020.
25 Nayib Bukele, “Nayib Bukele: El Salvador Doesn’t Want to Lose More People to the U.S.,” Washington Post, July
23, 2019.
26 Kirk Semple, “‘It Is Our Fault’: El Salvador’s President T akes Blame for Migrant Deaths in Rio Grande,’ New York
Tim es
, July 1, 2019.
27 Ernesto Londoño, “To Influence El Salvador, China Dangled Money. T he U.S. Made T hreats.” New York Times,
September 21, 2019.
28 U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Study on Homicide, 2019; Chris Dalby and Camilo Carranza,
“InSight Crime’s 2018 Homicide Round-up,” InSight Crime, January 22, 2019.
29 Mario Herrera, Homicides in Central America: Towards a Better Understanding of Territorial Trends, Causes, and
Dynam ics,
Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, April 20 19.
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Figure 2. Homicide Rate in El Salvador: 2004-2019

Sources: Graphic by CRS using United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Victims of Intentional Homicide,
1990-2018,” at https://dataunodc.un.org/content/data/homicide/homicide-rate; U.S. State Department, El Salvador
2020 Crime & Safety Report
, Overseas Security Advisory Council, March 31, 2020, for 2019 data
In recent years, those homicides have included targeted kil ings of security forces by gangs,
extrajudicial kil ings of gang suspects by police, and among the world’s highest rates of femicide
(kil ing of a woman or girl, often committed by a man, because of her gender).30 The 2018 kil ing
of a prominent journalist, Karla Turcios, by her partner prompted the declaration of a national
emergency and captured international attention.31 In recent years, deportees have become targets
of violence, with at least 70 deportees murdered between 2013 and 2018.32
El Salvador has the highest concentration of gang members per capita in Central America. As a
result, gangs have been responsible for a higher percentage of homicides there than in
neighboring countries.33 Although President Bukele has attributed declining homicides to his
military-led security policies, some analysts posit that gangs have deliberately decided to reduce
violence in the territories they control to facilitate extortion and drug distribution (their primary
sources of revenue).34 Gangs general y have not had a major role in transnational drug
trafficking.35 They have carried out periodic violence to demonstrate their power to the
government, including attacks in April 2020 that resulted in more than 60 deaths in four days.36
Some fear that Bukele’s response to that violence, which included authorizing the use of lethal

30 International Crisis Group, El Salvador’s Politics of Perpetual Violence, Report No. 64, December 2017; Anna-
Catherine Brigida, “El Salvador’s T ough Policing Isn’t What it Looks Like,” Foreign Policy, July 6, 2019.
31 Anastasia Moloney, “High-Profile El Salvador Femicide Case Exposes Deadly Gender Violence,” Reuters, January
21, 2020.
32 Anna-Catherine Brigida, “Kicked Out of the U.S., Salvadoran Deportees Are Struggling Simply to Stay Alive,”
World Politics Review, Oct ober 9, 2018.
33 International Crisis Group, Life Under Gang Rule in El Salvador, November 26, 2018.
34 Asmann and O’Reilly, January 2020; T he Global Initiative Against T ransnational Organized Crime/InSight Crime, A
Crim inal Culture: Extortion in Central Am erica
, May 2019.
35 Steve Dudley and Héctor Silva, “ MS13 in the Americas: How the World’s Most Notorious Gang Defies Logic,
Resists Destruction,” InSight Crim e and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies at American University,
February 2018.
36 Marcos Alemán, “ El Salvador’s Jail Crackdown on Gang Members Could Backfire,” AP, April 29, 2020.
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force against gangs and pushing gang inmates into crowded prisons with rival gangs, may prompt
more gang clashes with security forces and hurt the country’s international image.37
Where Did the Gangs in El Salvador Originate?
The major gangs operating in El Salvador (and across Central America) with ties to the United States are the
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and two divisions of the 18th Street gang, the Revolutionaries and the Southerners.
The 18th Street gang was formed in the 1960s by Mexican youth who were not accepted into existing Hispanic
gangs in the Rampart section of Los Angeles. It was the first Hispanic gang to accept members from al races and
to recruit members from other states. MS-13 was created during the 1980s by Salvadorans in Los Angeles who
had fled the country’s civil conflict. Both gangs later expanded their operations to Central America but remain
active in the United States.
The expansion of MS-13 and 18th Street presence in Central America accelerated after the United States began
deporting il egal immigrants, many with criminal convictions, back to the Northern Triangle region of Central
America after the passage of the Il egal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (P.L. 104-208) of
1996. Many observers contend that gang deportees “exported” a Los Angeles gang culture to Central America
(where local gangs were already present). Gangs have recruited new members from among vulnerable youth in
poor neighborhoods and in prisons; forcible recruitment is common. Studies have shown that, as happened in
the United States, gang leaders in Central America have used prisons to increase discipline and cohesion among
their ranks. Estimates of gang membership in Central America vary widely, but al suggest that El Salvador has
the highest concentration of gang members and those dependent on gang revenue in the region. According to a
November 2018 International Crisis Group report, Life Under Gang Rule in El Salvador, the three largest gangs in
El Salvador comprise some 65,000 members and those members support another 500,000 people, largely
through revenue earned from extortion.
For additional information, see CRS Report RL34112, Gangs in Central America, by Clare Ribando Seelke; and
CRS Report R45292, MS-13 in the United States and Federal Law Enforcement Efforts, by Kristin Finklea.
Gang-related violence has fueled most internal displacement in El Salvador, but violence
perpetrated by security forces (police and military) also has been a factor.38 In 2019, El Salvador
recorded 454,000 new internal y displaced persons (IDPs) due to conflict, the most of any country
in Latin America that experienced displacement linked to conflict and violence.39 In January 2020,
the Bukele government enacted a law to deal with internal displacement that was praised by the
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations, but then
the government reportedly cut the 2020 budget for assistance to victims of violence.40
Criminal Justice System
El Salvador has a long history of weak institutions and corruption, with successive presidents and
legislatures al ocating insufficient funding to criminal justice institutions. With a majority of the
National Civilian Police (PNC) budget devoted to salaries, historical y there has been limited
funding available for investing in training and equipment. Corruption, weak investigatory
capacity, and an inability to prosecute officers accused of corruption and human rights abuses
have hindered performance. A lack of confidence in the police has led many companies and
citizens to use private security firms and the government to deploy soldiers to perform public

37 Mary Beth Sheridan and Anna-Catherine Brigida, “Photos Show El Salvador’s Crackdown on Imprisoned Gang
Members,” Washington Post, April 28, 2020.
38 Cristosal, Signs of a Crisis: Forced Internal Displacement as a Result of Violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and
Honduras, 2018
, June 12, 2019.
39 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019, available at
https://www.internal-displacement.org/database/displacement -data.
40 UNHCR, “UNHCR Welcomes new law in El Salvador to Help People Internally Displaced by Violence,” January
10, 2020; CRS interview with Cristosal, May 19, 2020.
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security functions. President Bukele has increased police salaries and sought, but did not receive,
legislative approval of a loan to provide new equipment for police and soldiers.41
The State Department maintained in 2019 that “impunity persisted despite government steps to
dismiss and prosecute” some officials who had committed abuses, partial y due to corruption in
the judiciary.42 Whereas some judges and courts in El Salvador have issued significant decisions,
particularly in opening civil-war era cases of human rights abuses, others have proven subject to
corruption. From January to August 2019, the Supreme Court heard cases against 110 judges
accused of various irregularities, including collusion with criminal groups.43 At President
Bukele’s direction, auditors have been examining the “reserved spending account” that Bukele’s
predecessors used to divert public funds for their own priorities.44
Observers praised the probity section of the Supreme Court’s efforts to identify public officials
who may have used their positions for il icit enrichment and the anti-corruption work of
prosecutors under former Attorney General Douglas Meléndez (2016-2018).45 Under Meléndez,
Salvadoran prosecutors, with U.S. support, brought corruption cases against three Salvadoran
presidents and a former attorney general. Together, those presidents are estimated to have stolen
more than $750 mil ion.46 Meléndez faced death threats throughout his term.
Anti-corruption cases have continued, albeit slowly, under Attorney General Raul Melara, a
lawyer unanimously selected by the National Assembly in December 2018 to replace Meléndez
(who could have served a second term). Melara is a lawyer with ties to ARENA who had no
experience in criminal prosecution. Under Melara, prosecutors raided the offices of Alba
, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company facing U.S. sanctions in May 2019, but
have yet to indict anyone from the company or anyone who received funds from it (a group that
includes Bukele).47 Melara appears to have acquiesced to President Bukele’s limited vision for
the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES), a campaign promise
Bukele fulfil ed through an agreement with the OAS in September 2019.48 Thus far, CICIES has a
very limited staff and budget, and its mandate has been limited to providing technical support to
Salvadoran prosecutors. Civic organizations have complained that CICIES is not empowered, as
CICIG in Guatemala was, to initiate investigations and prosecutions or push for legislative
reforms.49 The attorney general’s office also has announced it wil investigate COVID-19
spending for irregularities.50

41 “El Salvador Standoff Deepens over Loan for Security Forces,” AP, February 9, 2020.
42 U.S. Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practice for 2019: El Salvador, March 2020.
Hereinafter: U.S. Department of State, Hum an Rights, 2020.
43 U.S. Department of State, Human Rights, 2020.
44 U.S. Department of State, May 18, 2020.
45 Several high-profile cases prepared by the probidity section had yet to be approved to move forward by the Supreme
Court. T hose included former FMLN and GANA legislators, as well as former Vice President Oscar Ortiz. U.S.
Department of State, Hum an Rights, 2020.
46 Felipe Puerta, “El Salvador AG’s Office Escalates Efforts Against Corruption,” InSight Crime, October 17, 2018.
47 Héctor Silva Ávalos, “El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele T ainted by Money Laundering Allegations,” InSight Crime,
September 24, 2019. CRS interview with Héctor Silva, June 19, 2020.
48 Due Process of Law Foundation, From Hope to Skepticism: The International Commission Against Impunity in El
Salvador (CICIES),
April 1, 2020.
49 Paola Nagovitch, “Nayib Bukele’s First Year in Office,” Americas Society/Council of the Americas, May 28, 2020.
50 “Fiscalía Investigará Compras y Contrataciones en Emergencia,” La Prensa Gráfica, June 28, 2020.
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Delays in the judicial process and massive arrests carried out during anti-gang sweeps made
under mano dura (heavy-handed) policing efforts have resulted in severe prison overcrowding.51
According to the U.S. State Department, prison capacity has increased in recent years, but
facilities remained at 141% of occupancy as of September 2019.52 In addition to building new
facilities, the government has channeled more prisoners into rehabilitation and job training
programs, some of which have received U.S. support. Nevertheless, many human rights groups
maintain that sanitation and access to medical services have worsened since more restrictive
prison conditions for gang inmates began in 2016.
Bukele’s Security Plan
In June 2019, President Bukele launched the first phase (Preparation) of what he said would be a
seven-phase Territorial Control plan. A year later, he has publicly announced only three of those
seven phases, and the enforcement of a strict national quarantine in response to the COVID-19
pandemic has dominated government efforts and public attention.53 The Bukele government
disbanded the council that the prior government used to discuss security issues with civil society
and the private sector, but its security plan otherwise appears to resemble the focused, municipal-
level efforts of the prior FMLN government’s Safe El Salvador Plan.54
The first phase of the plan involved deploying police and military forces into 17 high-crime
communities and on public transportation and declaring a state of emergency in 28 prisons. The
state of emergency tightened the “extraordinary measures” already implemented in the prisons to
include preventing visitors, blocking communications networks in and around prisons, and
transferring inmates to more secure facilities.55 The Inter-American Commission of Human
Rights has raised concerns about the measures’ impact on inmates’ rights and health.56
President Bukele received legislative approval of a $90 mil ion loan to implement the second
phase of his security plan, Opportunity. This phase has sought to unite the efforts of government
agencies, nonprofits, and donors to provide opportunities for youth to work, study, and engage in
cultural and sports activities as alternatives to gangs. It also includes programs aimed at
reinserting youth who are former inmates into society through their participation in penitentiary
farms or public works projects.
For years, Salvadoran presidents have deployed thousands of military troops to support the
police, but observers have been particularly concerned about President Bukele’s use of the
military. Bukele has tasked thousands of members of the armed forces with supporting his

51 Mano dura approaches have involved incarcerating large numbers of youth (often with tattoos) for illicit association
and increasing sentences for gang membership and gang-related crimes. A m ano dura law passed by El Salvador’s
Congress in 2003 was subsequently declared unconstitutional but was followed by a super m ano dura package of
reforms in July 2004. T hese reforms enhanced police power to search an d arrest suspected gang members and stiffened
penalties for convicted gang members, although they provided some protections for minors. For background, see Sonja
Wolf, Mano Dura: the Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador (Austin, T X: University of T exas Press, 2017).
52 U.S. Department of State, Human Rights, 2020.
53 Paola Nagovitch, “Explainer: Nayib Bukele’s T erritorial Control Plan,” Americas Quarterly, February 13, 2020.
54 Roberto Valencia, “La Fase 2 del Plan Control T erritorial es Parecida a lo que Planteaba el Plan El Salvador Seguro,”
El Faro, November 1, 2019.
55 “Extraordinary measures,” which began as a temporary measure in 2016 but became permanent through legislation
passed in 2018 enable the movement of gang leaders to maximum -security prisons, cutting off cell phone service
around prisons and restricting visitors to those facilities.
56 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), “IACHR Presents its Preliminary Observations Following
its in loco Visit to El Salvador,” press release No. 335/19, December 27, 2019.
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security plan. In August 2019, Bukele announced phase three (Modernization) of his plan, which
has not yet been implemented. In February 2020, the National Assembly refused to approve a
$109 mil ion loan to equip the police and military, even after Bukele had those forces surround
the legislative palace—a move the Supreme Court and international observers rebuked.57 Bukele
has also defied a Supreme Court order to stop using security forces to detain those accused of
violating a national quarantine and force them to stay in “containment centers.”58
Economic and Social Conditions
El Salvador has faced significant economic challenges that may be exacerbated by the economic
effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (see the text box “COVID-19 in El Salvador”). According to
the International Monetary Fund (IMF), El Salvador posted an economic growth rate of 2.5% in
2019. The IMF initial y predicted similar growth of about 2.5% this year but later revised its
forecast to a contraction of 5.4%, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.59
Economists have identified a lack of public and private investment in the economy as a primary
reason for El Salvador’s moderate growth rates. According to El Salvador’s Central Bank, net
inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) stood at $849 mil ion in 2018, with a total stock of
$9.7 bil ion. Experts maintain El Salvador needs to attract more than $1.2 bil ion annual y in
order to bolster growth.60 Despite El Salvador’s relatively low inflation and stable, dollarized
economy, FDI in El Salvador has been lower than the average among Central American countries
for several years. Low levels of FDI have been attributed to the country’s political polarization,
complicated regulations and bureaucracy, security chal enges, and ineffective justice system.61
El Salvador’s executive and legislature have often clashed over how to respond to the country’s
social and infrastructure needs and significant financing gaps. The government has often swapped
short-term debt for longer-term debt rather than implement unpopular fiscal reforms. The
legislature has been reluctant to approve multilateral financing requests from the executive
branch. In addition, long-standing government practices—including cash payments to officials
and a shielded presidential spending account—have exacerbated fiscal woes.
Since 2017, the IMF has credited the Salvadoran government with taking steps to improve the
country’s fiscal situation and implementing “pro-growth reforms.”62 A 2017 pension reform
helped ease the financial burden on that system by raising both employee and employer
contributions. The IMF also credits a fiscal responsibility law with helping rationalize public
spending. After President Bukele took office, IMF officials urged him to back a broader fiscal
pact that could include excise taxes on luxury goods, better targeted social programs, a property
tax, and a reduction in the size of some public agencies.63 As part of a COVID-related emergency

57 WOLA, Political Crisis in El Salvador Should be Solved Through Dialogue, Not Through Power Plays and Military
Deploym ents
, February 10, 2020.
58 Marcos Aleman and Christopher Sherman, “El Salvador Quarantine Centers Become Points of Contagion,” AP, May
17, 2020.
59 IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2019; World Economic Outlook Database, April 2020.
60 United Nations, 2019 World Investment Report. “El Salvador: Bukele’s Economic Challenge,” Latin News
Caribbean & Central Am erica
report, June 2019.
61 U.S. Department of State, Investment Climate Report for 2019. July 11, 2019.
62 IMF, El Salvador: 2018 Article IV Consultation, Country Report No. 18/151, June 2018.
63 IMF, El Salvador: Staff Report for the 2019 Article IV Consultation , May 7, 2019.
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program with the IMF (discussed below), the government has pledged to reduce its fiscal deficit
in 2021-2023, necessitating a balance of tax increases and austerity measures.64
In recent Ease of Doing Business reports, the World Bank has also credited El Salvador with
implementing reforms to ease the process for businesses to obtain permits for new construction
and pay taxes online, to increase access to electricity, and to speed up border crossings.
Nevertheless, El Salvador fel from 73 of 190 countries ranked in 2018 to 85 in the 2019 report
and 91 in the 2020 edition, as other countries reported more progress.65 The State Department has
cited the country’s “discretionary application of laws/regulations, lengthy permitting procedures,
and customs delays,” as hindering the business environment.66 Upon taking office, President
Bukele vowed to improve the business climate and create 100,000 jobs a year as compared with
the fewer than 10,000 jobs created annual y during Sánchez Cerén’s term. Each year, the country
would need to create some 50,000 jobs to keep up with the growing labor force.67
Insecurity and corruption are barriers to growth in El Salvador. A 2017 study by the Inter-
American Development Bank (IDB) estimated the costs of crime and violence in El Salvador
could reach 5.9% of GDP.68 In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for
2019, El Salvador ranked last out of 141 countries evaluated for estimates of business costs due to
organized crime and high homicide rates. Its overal ranking its overal ranking stood at 103rd.69
Crimes against smal - and medium-sized enterprises, which employ 55% of El Salvador’s labor
force, are of particular concern.
According to a study by El Salvador’s INCAE business school, corruption has increased
transaction costs and reduced the effectiveness of the state.70 As an example, in 2019, prosecutors
charged former president Funes with paying a company over $100 mil ion for a hydroelectric
plant that it never completed in a region where access to water is vital.71 In addition to raising the
costs of public works projects, corruption has reduced resources available to respond to natural
disasters and other chal enges. As previously mentioned, former president Francisco Flores
(ARENA, 1999-2004) al egedly embezzled donations destined for earthquake relief.
A lack of competitiveness in export sectors has continued to restrict growth. El Salvador’s labor
force has lacked adequate education and vocational training to align with labor force needs,
including English-language skil s.72 In addition, the country has had logistical and physical
infrastructure deficiencies, including no direct access to Caribbean ports. El Salvador’s smal size
and high levels of informality (percentage of businesses that do not pay taxes, provide benefits to
employees, or register with the government) have also reduced its competitiveness.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bukele had received loans and foreign cooperation (including
through the Mil ennium Chal enge Cooperation) to fund infrastructure projects. Selected

64 “El Salvador: Bukele Announces More Coronavirus Stimulus Measures,” May 19, 2020.
65 World Bank, Ease of Doing Business: Reforming to Create Jobs, 2018; Ease of Doing Business: T raining for
Reform, 2019; Doing Business 2020, at https://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings.
66 U.S. Department of State, Investment Climate Report, July 11, 2019.
67 “El Salvador: Bukele’s Economic Challenge,” Latin News Caribbean & Central America report, June 2019.
68 Laura Jaitman, The Costs of Crime and Violence: New Evidence and Insights in Latin America and the Caribbean ,
International Development Bank, 2017.
69 World Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report, 2019.
70 INCAE, Corrupcion en América Latina y sus Soluciones Potenciales, February 20, 2019.
71 David Marroquín and Xiomara Alfaro, “Fiscalía Presenta Nuevos Cargos Contra Expresidente Funes por Desviar
Fondos para presa El Chaparral y Divulgar Información confidencial,” El Salvador.com, January 4, 2019.
72 U.S. Department of State, Country Strategy: El Salvador, August 2018.
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initiatives included a new Pacific railway line, a doubling in the capacity of the Acajutla port, and
an upgrade of the cargo terminal at the international airport.73 Bukele has supported public-private
partnerships. He has sought international investment for those infrastructure projects, as wel as a
tourism hub cal ed “Surf City.”74 During a state visit to China in December 2019, Bukele received
pledges that China would support several infrastructure projects (including a new stadium and
water treatment plant), but details of those pledges were not publicly announced.75
Social development indicators in El Salvador have been better than in neighboring Honduras and
Guatemala, yet chal enges exist, particularly in rural regions. Under successive FMLN
Administrations, poverty dropped from 50.1% in 2009 to 44.5% in 2014 to 26.3% in 2018;
extreme poverty dropped from 17.1% to 11.7% to 5.7%.76 Income inequality has also declined
due to growth in the income of the poorest 20% of the population aided by remittances.77
According to World Bank data, most social development indicators in El Salvador improved from
2010 to 2017, but some health and education indicators worsened.78 The mortality rate for
children under the age of five fel from 19 per 1,000 live births in 2010 to 15 per 1,000 in 2017.
By 2017, skil ed health professionals attended nearly al births in El Salvador and the percentage
of children underweight for their age fel to 5%. Despite this progress, immunization rates for
children under the age of two fel to 85% (from 92% in 2010) and primary school completion
rates declined to 85% (from 92% in 2010). Per-capita spending on social programs has been
higher in El Salvador than in Guatemala and Honduras but lower than the regional average for
Latin America.79 Gang-related intimidation and teen pregnancies have contributed to poor youth
attendance in school.80 El Salvador has had the highest percentage of youth aged 15-24 who are
not employed, in school, or in vocational training (28.4%) in Central America.81
According to the 2019 World Risk Index, El Salvador has been among the 20 countries in the
world most at risk from natural disasters, due to frequent exposure and weak response capacity.82
The Central American Dry Corridor, which encompasses 58% of El Salvador, 38% of Guatemala,
and 21% of Honduras, is extremely susceptible to irregular rainfal . Food insecurity, often caused
by drought or other natural disasters (such as earthquakes and hurricanes), has become a major
social issue and driver of emigration from El Salvador.83 As an example, the World Food Program
estimated that more than 330,000 Salvadorans are facing food insecurity due to the combined
impact of Tropical Storm Amanda and COVID-19.84 Although some families may benefit from

73 “How Is El Salvador Advancing Its Infrastructure Projects?” Bnamericas, October 7, 2019.
74 María Eugenia Brizuela de Ávila and Domingo Sadurní, Nayib Bukele’s First Six Months, Atlantic Council, August
2019. T he lack of roads and sewage treatment facilities in the coastal region of El Salvador are barriers to tourism that
the government aims to address.
75 “El Salvador to Get Major Chinese Infra Investments,” Bnamericas, December 4, 2019.
76 Data are available at U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, https://estadisticas.cepal.org/
cepalstat/WEB_CEPALST AT /estadisticasIndicadores.asp?idioma=i
77 T he World Bank, “El Salvador: Overview,” updated April 4, 2019.
78 T he data are available at http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/reportwidget.aspx?Report_Name=
79 Bartenstein and McDonald, op. cit.
80 USAID El Salvador, “Education Fact Sheet,” at https://www.usaid.gov/el-salvador/education.
81 Data are from the International Labour Organization (ILO), ILOSTAT, accessed in June 2019.
82 Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft and the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV), World Risk
, 2019.
83 Nina Lakhani, “Living Without Water: the Crisis Pushing People out of El Salvador,” The Guardian, July 30, 2019.
84 World Food Program, “ T ropical Storm Amanda Severely Impacts Food Security of 340,000 Salvadorans,” June 9,
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remittances sent by relatives living abroad, they are often saddled with debts owed to smugglers,
an increased work burden (especial y in agriculture), and emotional trauma.85 Additional y,
households that receive remittances from relatives in the United States are often better able to
deal with food insecurity and natural disasters, but observers maintain they have been targets for
extortion by gangs and corrupt police.86
COVID-19 in El Salvador
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested El Salvador’s public health infrastructure. In 2019, the Global Health Security
Index ranked El Salvador roughly average (65 of 195 countries ranked) and in the top third of Latin American
countries (9 of 33 countries ranked) with respect to its preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks. El Salvador
ranked highest in the strength of its laboratory and surveil ance systems, average in the strength of its health
system and ability to respond to outbreaks, and lowest in its ability to prevent outbreaks.
Before El Salvador confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, the legislature declared a state of
emergency, which President Bukele has twice extended by decree, al owing the government to impose a series of
measures intended to slow the spread of the virus. Those measures include closing the international borders to
most foreigners, shuttering schools and canceling large gatherings, and requiring a 30-day quarantine for returning
citizens. Initial y praised for his government’s quick response, Bukele has subsequently received significant criticism
from Human Rights Watch and others for his authoritarian approach to the pandemic, which has included ignoring
several Supreme Court rulings and laws.
President Bukele has used security forces to enforce a harsh quarantine and curfew measures that restricted
freedom of movement, stifled information about the virus, and sought to silence critics of his COVID-19 response.
Human rights groups have asserted that there have been thousands of arbitrary detentions among the roughly
14,000 people placed in “containment centers,” some for violating quarantine measures. The centers are
reportedly crowded and unhygienic; COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in some of them. As of June 28, 2020, El
Salvador had confirmed 6,183 cases of COVID-19 and recorded 164 deaths.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast an economic contraction of 5.4% in 2020, due to the
combined impact of the quarantine on output and a recession in the United States—El Salvador’s top export
market and source of investment, tourism, and remittances. Although President Bukele secured legislative
approval of more than $3 bil ion in relief funds, largely in the form of multilateral loans, to address the economic
impact of COVID-19, legislative-executive relations have remained strained over oversight of those funds and the
reopening of the economy. Funds that have been approved aim to provide support for municipalities and to cover
government spending; help smal - and medium-sized enterprises pay wages and support the self-employed, and
provide food for nearly 2 mil ion families. The first COVID-related corruption scandal emerged after the
government reportedly purchased masks at inflated prices from a company owned by a public official from
Bukele’s party; the official has since been dismissed.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided $6.6 mil ion worth of assistance to help El Salvador
respond to the health, humanitarian, and economic effects of the pandemic. El Salvador has also received support
from international financial institutions, including a $20 mil ion loan from the World Bank, $389 mil ion of financing
from the IMF, and a $250 loan from the International Development Bank, among other financing and support.
Sources: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Economist Intel igence
Unit, Global Health Security Index, 2019; Whitney Eulich, “In El Salvador, Quick COVID-19 Response Fuels
Fears of an Iron Fist,” Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 2016; Human Rights Watch, El Salvador: Broad
Powers Limit Accountability
, June 9, 2020; IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2020; EIU, “El Salvador: Bukele
Announces More Coronavirus Stimulus Measures,” May 19, 2020; “El Salvador: First Irregularities Linked to
Pandemic Procurement, Latin News Weekly Report, June 25, 2020; U.S. Department of State, “U.S.
Government Support to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico During the COVID-19 Pandemic,”
June 11, 2020; IDB, “IDB Approves Loan to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic in El Salvador,” May 28, 2020.

85 World Food Program et al., Food Security and Migration, August 2017.
86 International Crisis Group, El Salvador’s Politics of Perpetual Violence, December 2017.
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Human Rights
Violence and human rights abuses have been prevalent for much of El Salvador’s modern history.
Since the Supreme Court did not overturn a 1993 amnesty law until July 2016, Salvadoran
authorities have relatively recently begun to investigate mass atrocities committed during the civil
war (1980-1992).87 Prior to Bukele’s inauguration, the National Assembly had been considering
the enactment of a new amnesty law—a move opposed by Bukele, U.N. officials, and others—
which would have provided impunity for past crimes, including emblematic cases such as El
Mozote (a massacre in which U.S.-trained military forces kil ed almost 1,000 civilians).88 In
February 2020, Bukele vetoed another similar piece of legislation.89
In addition to past crimes, many of the most serious human rights abuses in El Salvador today
have related to gender and intrafamilial violence, gangs and criminal groups, and the excessive
use of force by security forces. Some of the tactics security forces employed in atrocities
committed in the 1980s, such as sexual violence, continue to be used against women and children
today. The Salvadoran government’s ability to address these chal enges has been hindered by
resource constraints, political polarization, and corruption.
Recent Human Rights Violations
Since the end of the civil war, El Salvador has had a relatively free press and civil society.
Nevertheless, journalists and some nongovernmental organizations focused on transparency have
been harassed for reporting on corruption, police abuses, gangs, and drug trafficking.90 As
previously discussed, international organizations have expressed concern about a deterioration in
freedom of the press in El Salvador under President Bukele.91 Employees of a Human Rights
Observatory created at the Central American University (UCA) to monitor and analyze data on
recent human rights violations have reported harassment in retaliation for their work.92
Indigenous rights and land conflicts have not been as common in El Salvador as in neighboring
countries, likely because only 0.2% of the population identified as Amerindian in 2007 (the most
recent year available). Although a 2014 constitutional amendment recognized indigenous rights,
no laws have ensured that indigenous people benefit from natural resource development that
occurs on land historical y held by indigenous communities. Stil , land rights advocates have
praised El Salvador’s decision to ban al metal mining to protect communities’ water sources.93
Women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people have
often been targets of gang violence.94 Gang initiations for men and women have differed.

87 Jason Motlagh, “Inside El Salvador’s Battle with Violence, P overty, and U.S. Policy,” National Geographic, March
88 Nelson Renteria, “El Salvador Wartime Parties Suspend Controversial Amnesty Bill,” Reuters, May 23, 2019. For
background on El Mozote, see https://www.cristosal.org/el-mozote.
89 Marcos Alemán, “ El Salvador reconciliation law vetoed over impunity fears,” AP, February 29, 2020.
90 Committee to Protect Journalists, “El Salvador: Online Att acks and T hreats Against Salvadoran Investigative News
Site,” July 25, 2019.
91 U.S. Department of State, May 18, 2020.
92 Ibid.
93 Sarah Sheets, “ El Salvador’s Mining Ban: Land Rights, Development, and Democracy in Latin America,” May 2,
94 KIND, Neither Security nor Justice: Sexual and Gender-based Violence and Gang Violence in El Salvador,
Honduras, and Guatem ala
, May 4, 2017.
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Whereas men may be subject to a beating, women often may be forced to have sex with various
gang members. Female gang members have tolerated infidelity from their partners, but women
may be murdered if they are unfaithful. Non-gang-affiliated women and girls have been murdered
as a result of turf battles, jealousy, and revenge. Those who have refused to help gangs or reported
crimes are particularly vulnerable, as are those who are related to, or have collaborated with, the
police. Harassment by gangs has led thousands of youth to abandon school. In August 2017,
prosecutors from a newly established specialized unit of the attorney general’s office filed
charges against eight gang members for murdering three transgender people.
Gang-related violence has been part of a broader spectrum of violence in El Salvador that often
affects women and children. Child abuse and spousal rape have been major problems. For years,
El Salvador has had one of the highest rates of femicide (kil ing of women) in the world.95
Femicides have been linked to domestic disputes, gangs, and other crimes such as human
trafficking; they resulted in the deaths of some 551 women in 2017.96 A 2019 survey of
Salvadoran women deported from the United States found that violence, often gender-related,
was the second-most frequent reason cited for having migrated to the United States.97 El Salvador
has had a total ban on abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, and women in El Salvador have
been imprisoned after suffering miscarriages that authorities have deemed il egal abortions.98
Human rights groups and journalists have warned the Salvadoran government that its aggressive
anti-gang policies have exacerbated human rights abuses committed by underpaid and il -trained
security forces, some of which the State Department and U.N. entities have documented.99 In
2018, El Salvador’s attorney general secured convictions for four police officers for aggravated
homicide of gang suspects and six others for participating in a death squad. Critics maintain that
much more progress needs to be made in reducing impunity for crimes committed by police and
military forces. As an example, five officers accused of committing an extrajudicial kil ing wel -
documented by investigative journalists at a farm in 2015 have been acquitted twice despite
forensic evidence and witness testimonies against them.100 Experts have expressed concern that
these types of kil ings may increase now that President Bukele has authorized kil ings of gang
members for “self-defense” by security forces and the subjection of gang inmates to abuses.101
Confronting Past Human Rights Violations
In 2013, 20 years after a U.N. Commission released its report on the war in El Salvador, Amnesty
International issued a statement lamenting that the perpetrators of crimes identified in that report

95 Small Arms Survey, A Gendered Analysis of Violent Deaths, Research Note 63, November 2016; Sophie Huttner,
“El Salvador’s Femicide Crisis,” The Yale Review of International Studies, Winter 2019.
96 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: El Salvador, 2018.
97 David Bernal, “El Salvador: Inseguridad es la Segunda Razón por la que Emigran las Mujer es,” La Prensa Gráfica,
March 8, 2019.
98 Rhodri Davies, “T he ‘Vicious Cycle’ Driving T een Pregnancy in El Salvador,” Al Jazeera, July 22, 2019.
99 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: El Salvador, 2018; OHCHR, “El Salvador
End of Mission Statement of the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions,”
February 5, 2018.
100 Daniel Alarcón, “T he Executioners of El Salvador,” New Yorker, August 4, 2015; U.S. Department of State,
Country Reports on Hum an Rights Practices: El Salvador, 2020.
101 Parker Asmann, “Coronavirus May Be Providing Cover for Police Abuses in El Salvador,” InSight Crime, May 14,
2020; Eric L. Olson, “Bukele’s COVID-19 Response Is Undermining the Rule of Law in El Salvador,” World Politics
, May 14, 2020.
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had not been brought to justice in El Salvador and that survivors had not received reparations.102
In October 2013, then-President Funes signed a decree creating a program to provide reparations
to the victims of the armed conflict. It is unclear how much funding has been budgeted for that
program and how many people it has assisted thus far.
In September 2017, then-President Sánchez Cerén launched a commission to help people find out
what happened to their family members who disappeared.103 The commission, which received $1
mil ion in U.S. support in FY2020, is modeled after the government-sponsored national search
commission that has located children who went missing during the conflict. Critical to the
commission’s success may be its ability to access Salvadoran military records and some classified
U.S. documents from the period of the conflict.
After the Supreme Court overturned the 1993 Amnesty Law in July 2016, then-Attorney General
Meléndez created a smal group of prosecutors to investigate past crimes. It has received
technical assistance funded by USAID and implemented by experts from the Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights.104 The group has provided complementary assistance to civil
society organizations engaged in investigating historic crimes and carrying out transitional justice
programs. In 2017, a Salvadoran judge ordered the case of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar
Romero reopened. In October 2018, the judge issued a warrant for the arrest of a former military
officer suspected of carrying out the kil ing whose whereabouts are unknown.105 The case against
the intel ectual authors of the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her
daughter also has been reopened but has proceeded slowly.106
Private human rights attorneys have reopened the emblematic case against 17 surviving military
officers charged with involvement in the El Mozote massacre carried out by an elite Salvadoran
army battalion in December 1981 in Morazán that resulted in almost 1,000 deaths.107
Investigators have encountered difficulties, with the military refusing to turn over its historical
records on its operations in that region.108 Stil , the case has been before a provincial criminal
court whose judge expanded the case to include additional crimes of torture, forced displacement,
and forced disappearance in July 2019.109
Some observers have expressed skepticism that this and other emblematic cases wil be solved.
Parties on both the left and the right have felt vulnerable to political or legal attack about abuses
that took place during the war and might prefer that the crimes of the past remain unexamined.
Despite President Bukele’s opposition, the National Assembly, which is stil dominated by
ARENA and the FMLN, have twice sought to replace the 1993 amnesty law (as required by a

102 Amnesty International, “El Salvador: No Justice 20 Years on from UN T ruth Commission,” press release, March 15,
103 T his paragraph draws from Geoff T hale, “ T racking El Salvador’s Progress in Historic Human Rights Cases,”
WOLA, October 27, 2017.
104 See “Rights and Dignity Project” on USAID/El Salvador, Country Fact Sheet, July 2019.
105 Nelson Rentería, “El Salvador Issues Arrest Order for Archbishop Romero’s Killer,” Reuters, October 23, 2018.
106 T im Muth, “Jesuit Murders Legal Update,” El Salvador Perspectives, April 12, 2018.
107 Elisabeth Malkin, “Survivors of Massacre Ask: ‘Why Did T hey Have to Kill T hose Children?’” New York Times,
May 26, 2018. For historical background, see Mark Danner, “T he T ruth of El Mozote,” The New Yorker, December 6,
108 Cristosal, “Attorney General’s Office Must Investigate What Munguía Payés [Minister of Defense] Did to Declare
T hat Information on El Mozote Is Non-Existent,” October 16, 2017.
109 Marcos Alemán, “El Salvador Judge Gives new Charges for El Mozote Massacre,” Washington Post, July 18, 2019.
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Supreme Court order) with a law promising reconciliation but aimed at protecting immunity from
U.S. Relations
U.S. relations with El Salvador remained cordial during the Sánchez Cerén government (2014-
2019) and have strengthened under the Bukele administration. As president-elect, Nayib Bukele
promised to improve El Salvador’s image abroad to attract investment; tackle root causes of
migration; and align his country’s foreign policy with the United States. Bukele reiterated those
pledges and his desire to repair relations with the United States that, in his view, had “eroded”
under FMLN rule during a July 21, 2019, joint press conference in San Salvador with Secretary
of State Pompeo.110 Rather than criticizing U.S. immigration policies or foreign aid cuts,
President Bukele said he aimed to bolster bilateral efforts to tackle irregular migration and crime
and to attract U.S. investment. Migration could remain an irritant in bilateral relations, however,
given Bukele’s intention to advocate for Salvadoran migrants in the United States and the
potential for his government to receive U.S. pressure to implement the Asylum Cooperation
Agreement (ACA) signed in 2019 (See “Asylum Processing Capacity in El Salvador and the
U.S.-El Salvador Asylum Cooperation Agreement” below).111
Congress has played a key role in appropriating bilateral and regional aid to El Salvador,
overseeing implementation of U.S. assistance programs, and establishing and overseeing U.S.
immigration policy, including the future of temporary protected status (TPS) for Salvadorans.112
In May 2020, Members of Congress sent a letter to President Bukele urging him not to take
actions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that could “jeopardize the human rights of the
Salvadoran people.”113 Congress is likely to monitor how the Salvadoran government moves to
improve the investment climate in El Salvador, address gangs while respecting human rights,
prevent emigration, and combat corruption.
U.S. Foreign Assistance
U.S. assistance to El Salvador has been guided by the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central
America, which was designed to promote economic prosperity, strengthen governance, and
improve security throughout the region.114 Congress appropriated more than $3.1 bil ion to
support implementation of the strategy from FY2016 to FY2020, including at least $411 mil ion
for El Salvador, either as bilateral assistance or through the Central American Regional Security

110 U.S. Department of State, “Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele at a Press
Availability,” July 21, 2019.
111 Section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) INA authorizes the executive branch to enter into
“bilateral or multilateral agreement[s] for the removal of asylum seekers to third countries. Such agreements are
typically known as “safe third country agreements” (ST CAs). In 2019, the Department o f Homeland Security (DHS)
started negotiating and/or implementing agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which allow DHS to
transfer some asylum seekers to those countries instead of evaluating their claims for asylum in the United States. DHS
has opted to refer to these “Safe T hird Country Agreements” (ST CAs) with the Northern T riangle Countries as
“Asylum Cooperative Agreements” (ACAs).
112 See CRS Report RS20844, Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues, by Jill H. Wilson; CRS
Report R46419, Im m igration Legislation and Issues in the 116th Congress, coordinated by Andorra Bruno.
113 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, “ Engel & Sires Urge Salvadoran President to
Respect Democratic Norms,” April 29, 2020.
114 T his section draws from CRS Report R44812, U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for
, by Peter J. Meyer.
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Initiative (CARSI) (see Table 1). From FY2016 to FY2018, this assistance was subject to two
sets of conditions in an attempt to bolster political wil in the region and improve the
effectiveness of U.S. programs. For FY2019 and FY2020, the assistance was subject to one set of
conditions that included selected criteria drawn from the two prior sets of conditions from
FY2016 to FY2018.115 In March 2019, the Trump Administration suspended most foreign
assistance to El Salvador (as wel as to Guatemala and Honduras) due to continued unauthorized
Prior to the Trump Administration’s aid suspension, U.S. foreign assistance had supported a range
of development efforts in El Salvador. Bilateral assistance funded programs to improve
educational and vocational opportunities for at-risk youth, facilitate economic reforms, boost
private-sector productivity, and promote government accountability and transparency.117 El
Salvador also received assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative
(CARSI) to support justice sector reform, including support for the attorney general’s office,
police unit vetting, border and port security, anti-gang efforts, drug interdiction, human rights
monitoring and protection efforts, and violence prevention programs.118
Table 1. U.S. Assistance to El Salvador: FY2016-FY2021
(appropriations in mil ions of current dol ars)
FY2018 FY2019
Foreign Assistance Account
(enacted)d (request)e
Bilateral Aid, Subtotal
Development Assistance
International Military Education and
Foreign Military Financing
Central America Regional
Security Initiative (CARSI),

Economic Support Fund
International Narcotics Control and
Law Enforcement
Sources: U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justifications for Foreign Operations, FY2018-FY2021; the
explanatory statement accompanying P.L. 116-94; U.S. Department of State, CN 18-101, May 18, 2018; USAID,

115 As an example, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94) required the Secretary of State to
certify that the government of El Salvador was meeting nine criteria prior to the disbursement of 50% of the funds to
the central government. The conditions include combating corruption and impunity; implementing reforms, poli cies,
and programs to increase transparency and strengthen public institutions, protecting the rights of civil society,
opposition political parties, and the independence of the media; providing effective and accountable law enforcement
and security for it s citizens, and upholding due process of law, among others. T he State Department issued the required
report on May 18, 2020 despite expressing some concerns about the Bukele government’s “use of the National Civilian
Police and armed soldiers to pressure and intimidate El Salvador’s legislature to approve funding.” U.S. Department of
State, “ Memorandum of Justification Regarding Certification Under Section 7045 (a) of the Department of State,
Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94),” May 18, 2020.
116 Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Department Press Briefing,” June 17, 2019.
117 See, for example, USAID, USAID/El Salvador Country Fact Sheet, July 2018,
118 See, as an example, USAID, CN #134, June 22, 2018; U.S. Department of State, CN 18-101, May 9, 2018.
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CN #134, June 22, 2018; USAID, CN #192, August 16, 2019; CN 19 -277, August 19, 2019; USAID, CN #197,
August 27, 2019; USAID, CN# 189, June 3, 2020; USAID, CN #190, June 3, 2020.
Notes: CARSI = Central America Regional Security Initiative; NA = Not available. El Salvador receives additional
assistance from other U.S. agencies, such as the Inter-American Foundation and the Department of Defense. The
Department of Defense (DOD) provides security cooperation to train and equip the Salvadoran defense ministry
in border and maritime interdiction capabilities with its 10 U.S.C. §333 appropriations.
a. The Trump Administration withheld some assistance appropriated for El Salvador in FY2017,
b. Congress appropriated $57.7 mil ion of bilateral aid for El Salvador in FY2018 and the State Department and
USAID initial y al ocated an additional $33.6 mil ion of CARSI assistance to El Salvador. In 2019, however,
the Trump Administration reprogrammed much of that aid to other countries.
c. Congress appropriated most foreign assistance for Central America as regional funding in FY2019, giving the
State Department flexibility in al ocating the resources. These are preliminary al ocations.
d. Like previous years, Congress appropriated CARSI aid for the entire Central American region in FY2020.
Al ocations for El Salvador are not yet available.
e. The Trump Administration is requesting $376.9 mil ion for Central America in FY2021, but did not request
any bilateral assistance for El Salvador. El Salvador could receive funds requested through regional accounts.
Suspension of Assistance
In March 2019, the Trump Administration announced its intention to end foreign aid to the
Northern Triangle due to the continued northward flow of migrants and asylum-seekers from the
region. This announcement prompted a thorough review of U.S. assistance programs to Northern
Triangle countries. Following that review, the State Department continued to fund programs
implemented by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security aimed at helping the
Salvadoran government counter transnational crime and improve border security as wel as vetted
units working with U.S. law enforcement agencies.119 By June 2019, however, the Administration
had suspended or reprogrammed to other countries and priorities the vast majority of
development assistance for El Salvador and the other Northern Triangle countries. Due to that
decision, many development projects administered by USAID ended early or were scaled back
dramatical y.
The Trump Administration asserted that it would not lift the aid suspension until the Salvadoran
government took concrete actions to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border.120
The Sánchez Cerén government expressed concern regarding the potential aid cuts, noting that
joint security efforts had resulted in significant progress over the past three years.121 President
Bukele refrained from publicly criticizing the decision, maintaining that his government is more
interested in investment than “handouts.”122 In 2019, President Bukele signed an ACA agreement
with the Department of Homeland Security, along with arrangements formalizing a border
security cooperation program and a biometric data-sharing program.123 After those agreements
had been signed, the Administration announced it would begin to restore some targeted aid to El
Salvador (as wel as Guatemala and Honduras).

119 U.S. Department of State, “ Estimated FY2017 and 2018 Levels for Northern T riangle Assistance,” document
provided to Congress, June 2019.
120 Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Department Press Briefing,” June 17, 2019.
121 Kevin Sieff, “U.S. Officials Said Aid to El Salvador Helped Slow Migration. Now T rump is Cancelling It,”
Washington Post, April 1, 2019.
122 U.S. Department of State, “Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele at a Press
Availability,” July 21, 2019.
123 U.S. DHS, “Fact Sheet: DHS Agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras,” October 28, 2019.
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As of June 12, 2020, the Administration had informed Congress of its intention to release more
than $705 mil ion of new and previously suspended assistance for programs intended to deter
migration, advance U.S. national security interests, implement the ACA, respond to the COVID-
19 pandemic, and address other health and humanitarian needs. That total includes roughly
$177.8 mil ion for El Salvador.124
FY2020 Appropriations and FY2021 Budget Request
The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94), states that the Administration
should provide “not less than” $519.8 mil ion in assistance for Central America (including $72.7
mil ion for El Salvador) but provides flexibility for reprogramming assistance within that region.
The act also states that the Administration should provide “not less than” $527.6 mil ion
appropriated in FY2019 (P.L. 116-6) for Central America.
The Administration’s FY2021 budget proposal does not request any foreign aid specifical y for El
Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.125 The Administration has requested nearly $377 mil ion for
the Central American region, however, some of which could be al ocated to the Northern Triangle
countries. The Administration asserts that any assistance is dependent on the Northern Triangle
governments continuing to take action to stem migration to the United States.126
COVID-19 Assistance and Humanitarian Aid for Tropical Storm Amanda
The U.S. government has provided humanitarian and emergency food assistance to help respond
to Tropical Storm Amanda (June 2020) and health and other assistance to support the Salvadoran
government’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has wrought.
Humanitarian funding has been drawn primarily from the global humanitarian accounts in annual
Department of State/Foreign Operations appropriations legislation. As of June 2020, USAID has
provided $3.1 mil ion in emergency shelter materials, hygiene kits, and food assistance to help
the Salvadoran government and relief agencies supported the more than 150,000 people affected
by the storm.127 Separately, the U.S. government has provided $6.6 mil ion to help address the
COVID-19 pandemic: $2 mil ion for risk communications, water, hygiene, and sanitation; $2.6
mil ion in health assistance; and $2 mil ion to provide access to credit and jobs.128 This assistance
is being provided in addition to donations, including 250 portable ventilators, mentoring and
advice provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and food aid and hygiene kits
provided for returned migrants implemented by the International Organization for Migration.

124 T he El Salvador assistance by fiscal year is $31.2 million (FY2017), $1 million (FY2018), $122.4 million
(FY2019), and $23.2 million (FY2020). U.S. Department of State, “State Department and USAID Migration Related
Assistance Programming,” document provided to Congress, November 2019; and “ Assistance to El Salvador,
Guatemala, and Honduras by Goal, Bureau, and Program,” document provided to Congress, June 2020.
125 U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification, Department of State, Foreign Operations, and
Related Program s, Fiscal Year 2021
, February 10, 2020.
126 U.S. Department of State, FY2021 budget briefing document, provided to CRS, February 2020.
127 USAID, “USAID Provides Humanitarian Assistance for People Affected by T ropical Storm Amanda in El
Salvador,” June 18, 2020.
128 U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Government Support to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico During the
COVID-19 Pandemic,” June 11, 2020.
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Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Investment Compact
El Salvador signed a second $277 mil ion compact with the United States on September 30, 2014,
to focus on improving transportation infrastructure, employment opportunities, and the
investment climate. The Salvadoran government committed to match that contribution with $88
mil ion in complementary investments. In response to some lingering concerns expressed by
Mil ennium Chal enge Corporation board members, the Salvadoran government designed a
Priority Action Plan that was then agreed to by both governments to be completed prior to the
compact’s signing. The compact entered into force in September 2015 and is scheduled to end in
September 2020. The MCC has conducted ongoing monitoring and evaluation, which is reported
on a quarterly basis.129
Key compact projects include the following:
Investment Climate Project ($40.7 million MCC funds/$50 million
Salvadoran funds) to help the government develop and implement regulatory
improvements and to better partner with private investors to build infrastructure
and provide public services.
Human Capital Project ($100.4 million MCC funds/$15 million Salvadoran
funds) to support full-day schooling; reforms to the policies and operations that
govern teacher training and student assessment; and a new technical, vocational,
education, and training system that is aligned with labor market demands.
Logistical Infrastructure Project ($105.6 million MCC funds/$15.7 million
Salvadoran funds) to widen the part of El Salvador’s coastal highway that
connects the airport and the ports of La Unión and Acajutla and improve border
crossing facilities into Honduras at El Amatil o.
Migration Issues
Migration has been a major issue in U.S. relations with El Salvador. As of 2017, some 1.4 mil ion
people born in El Salvador resided in the United States, and an estimated 600,000 of them (50%)
were in the country without authorization.130 In 2019, remittances sent from Salvadorans abroad
were equivalent to 21% of El Salvador’s GDP, according to the World Bank.131 Recent
unauthorized migration from El Salvador has been fueled by a combination of poverty, natural
disasters, poor security conditions, and a desire for family reunification.132
Recent Migration Flows
The number of migrants and asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S. border from El Salvador has
fluctuated in recent years, with a record number of Salvadorans apprehended in FY2019 after two
years of declining apprehensions (see Figure 3). Although on a smal er scale than migrants from
Honduras and Guatemala, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has apprehended

129 T he most recent report is available here: https://assets.mcc.gov/content/uploads/El-Salvador-II-Results-
130 U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey, accessed July 2019; Jeffrey S. Passel and D’vera Cohn,
U.S. Unauthorized Im m igrant Total Dips to Lowest Level in a Decade, Pew Research Center, November 27, 2018.
131 See https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.T RF.PWKR.DT.GD.ZS.
132 Cecilia Menjívar and Andrea Gómez Cervantes, El Salvador: Civil War, Natural Disasters, and Gang Violence
Drive Migration
, Migration Information Source, August 29, 2018.
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increasing numbers of family units from El Salvador, many of whom are seeking humanitarian
protection. These increases have occurred despite bilateral efforts to combat human trafficking
and alien smuggling, campaigns to warn potential migrants about the dangers of the journey, and
Trump Administration policy changes to tighten migrant access to the asylum system.
In 2018, U.S. and Salvadoran officials cited reductions in crime rates as a major reason why
il egal emigration from El Salvador to the United States declined from FY2016 to FY2018.133
Although the number of single adults and unaccompanied children apprehended remained lower
in FY2019 than in FY2016, the number of family units who were apprehended exceeded 56,897
during FY2019 as compared to 27,144 for al of FY2016.
Figure 3. U.S. Apprehensions of Salvadoran Nationals: FY2009-FY2020 (May)

Sources: Graphic by CRS using data from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, “U.S. Border Patrol Southwest
Border Apprehensions,” press releases, at https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration/usbp-sw-
Notes: Unaccompanied children = children under 18 years old without a parent or legal guardian at the time of
apprehension. Family units = total number of individuals (children under 18 years old, parents, or legal guardians)
apprehended with a family member. Family unit data is not available prior to FY2014.
Human Trafficking and Alien Smuggling
Human trafficking and alien smuggling have persisted in El Salvador despite government efforts.
Since taking office on June 1, 2019, through May 2020, the Bukele government arrested more
than 150 alien smugglers and dedicated three times the number of prosecutors to combat that
crime than the prior government.134 Human traffickers have preyed on irregular migrants, some of
whom have paid to be smuggled while on their journey or upon arrival in the United States, as
wel as on migrants from other countries who transit El Salvador.135 In 2019, El Salvador received

133 See the comments of El Salvador’s then-Vice-President Oscar Ortiz at U.S. Department of State, “ Remarks at the
Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America,” October 11, 2018; U.S. Department of State, Progress
Report for the United States Strategy for Central Am erica’s Plan for Monitoring and Evaluation
, May 2019.
134 Ibid.
135 U.S. Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Trafficking in Persons, June 2019.
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a Tier 2 (mid-level) ranking by the State Department for its efforts to protect human trafficking
victims (especial y girls); prosecute cases, including a government official complicit in human
trafficking; and prevent future trafficking.136 El Salvador received the same ranking in 2020, with
progress made in increasing arrests and convictions and passing a law to provide two years
residency to foreign TIP victims. According to the State Department, areas for improvement
include identifying victims, using victim-centered approaches during criminal proceedings, and
providing adequate services to victims.137
Removals, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals
The United States and Mexico have returned about 37,300 Salvadorans, including 6,600 children,
to El Salvador in 2019, a 40% increase from 2018.138 Of those, U.S. deportees totaled nearly
19,500 individuals. Salvadoran officials have long expressed concerns about their country’s
ability to absorb deportees, as it is often difficult for those returning to the country to find
employment and a safe place to live. El Salvador has received some USAID assistance to
improve its reception center and to reintegrate deportees into their communities, but services
remain limited, particularly at the municipal level.139 Between January and March 2020, El
Salvador received about 5,960 deportees from the United States and Mexico.140 El Salvador
continued to receive roughly three flights with deportees each week through late March. Since the
impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has received fewer deportees, nearly 1,400
individuals through mid-May 2020.141
Deportees have become targets for extortion and violence. In 2018, an investigative report cited at
least 70 deportees murdered between 2013 and 2018.142 A Human Rights Watch report published
in February 2020 cited a higher figure, identifying 138 cases of Salvadorans kil ed since 2013
after deportation from the United States and 70 cases of deportees being victims of torture or
other violence, often perpetrated by gangs.143 In some cases, the perpetrators of these violent
crimes had harassed the deportees prior to their initial departure.
The Bukele administration has advocated for Salvadoran migrants in the United States, including
the up to 251,000 nationals who have temporary protected status (TPS).144 TPS is a form of

136 U.S. Department of State, Memorandum of Justification Regarding Determination under Section 7045(a) of the
Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2019 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94), May
7, 2020.
137 U.S. Department of State, 2020 Country Reports on Trafficking in Persons, June 2020.
138 International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Iniciativa de Gestión de Información de Movilidad Humana en el
T riángulo Norte (NT MI),” at https://mic.iom.int/webntmi/el-salvador/, accessed May 27, 2020.
139 Government Accountability Office (GAO), USAID Assists Migrants Returning to Their Home Countries, but
Effectiveness of Reintegration Efforts Rem ains to be Determ ined,
November 2018. USAID, “ Return and Reintegration
in the Northern Triangle: El Salvador,” 2018; Olivia P. T allet and Marie de Jesus, “Strangers in T heir own
Homelands,” Houston Chronicle, November 27, 2017.
140 USAID, IOM, “Retornos al T riángulo Norte de C.A.,” January -March 2020.
141 CRS electronic correspondence with DHS, May 21, 2020.
142 Anna-Catherine Brigida, “Kicked Out of the U.S., Salvadoran Deportees Are Struggling Simply to Stay Alive,”
World Politics Review, October 9, 2018.
143 Human Rights Watch, Deported to Danger: United States Deportation Policies Expose Salvadorans to Death and
, February 5, 2020.
144 Data provided to CRS by USCIS. T hese data reflect individuals with an approved T PS application as of November
29, 2018; the data include some individuals who have since adjusted to another status (excluding those who became
U.S. citizens), may include individuals who have left the country or died, and do not necessarily include all nationals
from the specified countries who are in the United States and are eligible for th e status. T he Salvadoran government has
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temporary protection from removal for foreign nationals from countries that DHS designates as
unsafe for return because of armed conflict, natural disaster, or other extraordinary conditions.145
Congress original y designated El Salvador for TPS in 1990, but the designation expired 18
months later. In March 2001, following three earthquakes in El Salvador, the George W. Bush
Administration designated the country for TPS. That designation was extended by multiple
administrations until January 2018 when the Trump Administration—arguing that conditions that
original y warranted the designation no longer exist—announced it would terminate TPS for El
Salvador, effective September 19, 2019. A court injunction, however, al ows Salvadorans and
nationals of three other countries whose TPS designation was terminated to continue living and
working in the United States beyond the expiration date set by the Administration pending the
outcome of the case.146 On June 4, 2019, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act
of 2019 (H.R. 6), which would provide a path to permanent resident status for some TPS
Some reports have predicted that the end of TPS could have negative consequences for the
Salvadoran economy (declining remittances, increasing fiscal demands by repatriated
individuals), although the IMF has maintained that the overal economic impact may be
minimal.148 The government nevertheless has been working with USAID, other donors, and the
private sector to reintegrate former TPS beneficiaries who may return voluntarily or face
removal.149 The State Department also has been preparing to be able to provide consular services
to the U.S. citizen children of TPS beneficiaries (estimated to number more than 190,000) who
may return to the country.150
Salvadoran officials have been concerned about the future of some 26,500 young Salvadorans
currently protected from deportation through their participation in the Deferred Action for Child
Arrivals (DACA) initiative.151 On September 5, 2017, DHS announced its decision to rescind the
DACA initiative. However, in the case DHS v. Regents of the University of California, the
Supreme Court held in a five-to-four decision that the reasoning the DHS offered in support of its

estimated that some 195,00 Salvadoran citizens currently have T PS. Government of El Salvador, “Salvadoran
Population in the United States Under T emporary Protected Status (T PS),” July 2019.
145 For more information, see CRS Report RS20844, Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues, by Jill
H. Wilson.
146 T o comply with the court order, DHS issued an extension of T PS-related documentation through January 2, 2020,
for El Salvador and three other countries. T his date could change, depending on the outcome of the case. See U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “ Continuation of Documentation for
Beneficiaries of T emporary Protected Status Designations for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador ,” 84 Federal
7103-7109, March 1, 2019. For more information on the lawsuit, see CRS Legal Sidebar LSB10215, Federal
District Court Enjoins the Departm ent of Hom eland Security from Term inating Tem porary Protected Status
, by Hillel
R. Smith.
147 For more information on T PS and potential legislative measures to alter the program, see CRS Report RS20844,
Tem porary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues.
148 See, for example, Eric L. Olson and John Wachter, What if They Return? How El Salvador, Honduras, and the
United States Could Prepare for an Effective Reintegration of TPS Beneficiaries,
Woodrow Wilson Center Latin
America Program and Seattle International Foundation , 2019. IMF, El Salvador: 2018 Article IV Consultation , Country
Report No. 18/151, June 2018.
149 Olson and Wachter, op. cit.
150 U.S. Department of State, Country Strategy: El Salvador, August 2018.
151 Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) is a program the Obama Administration implemented in 2012 to
provide temporary relief from removal and work authorization to certain unlawfully present individuals who a rrived in
the United States as children. See CRS Report R44764, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Frequently
Asked Questions
, by Andorra Bruno.
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decision to rescind the DACA initiative was inadequate and therefore violated the Administrative
Procedure Act.152 The Supreme Court’s decision means that, at least for the time being, the
DACA initiative wil remain in place, offering the prospect of continued relief from removal and
work authorization to the approximately 650,000 current DACA recipients and apparently also to
eligible childhood arrivals who have not previously enrolled in the program.
Asylum Processing Capacity in El Salvador and the U.S.-El Salvador Asylum
Cooperation Agreement

El Salvador has not received large numbers of asylum requests, and many humanitarian
organizations assert that the country’s high levels of violence, poverty, and gang-related crime
have made it more of a source than a destination country for asylum seekers.153 Nevertheless, in
1983, El Salvador became a state party to the Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. It
enacted a law on refugee status determination in 2002 that UNHCR maintained was in line with
the Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.154
El Salvador’s 2002 law created a Commission for the Determination of Refugee Status (CODER)
comprising personnel delegated from the Ministries of Interior (which deals with migration) and
Foreign Affairs. CODER does not have dedicated staff but meets periodical y to make
determinations regarding asylum claims.155 If CODER has a budget, it is very smal , according to
several domestic and international humanitarian organizations. CRS was unable to determine how
many applications CODER has processed annual y, but U.N. data revealed 18 applications
pending as of 2018 and 48 refugees in the country.156 According to the State Department’s
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2019, El Salvador received 10 asylum
applications between January and August of that year, down from 31 in 2018.
Although it is unclear exactly when negotiations for an ACA with El Salvador began, it was likely
after June 2019, when President Nayib Bukele took office. The United States and El Salvador
signed an agreement on September 20, 2019.157 Negotiating teams from both countries have since
met to develop an implementation plan, as required by Article 7(5) of the agreement. That plan
has yet to be finalized,158 after which it can enter into force through an exchange of [diplomatic]
notes indicating compliance with the necessary domestic legal procedures.159 The Attorney
General and the DHS Secretary must determine that the other party (in this case El Salvador) has
“full and fair” procedures to grant “asylum or equivalent temporary protection.”

152 See CRS Legal Sidebar LSB10497, Supreme Court: DACA Rescission Violated the APA, by Ben Harrington.
153 International Rescue Committee, “US-El Salvador “Cooperative Agreement” Would Send Asylum-Seekers Into
Harm’s way,” September 19, 2019.
154 Diana Goldberg, “New Refugee law in El Salvador Marks Important Step Forward, says UNHCR,” July 26, 2002.
155 CRS was unable to obtain budget information for CODER from the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington D.C.
Information based on CRS interview with former member of CODER who works at Cristosal, a humanitarian
organization that has represented asylum-seekers before CODER. CRS interview with Cristosal official, May 19, 2020.
156 UNHCR, “El Salvador Fact Sheet,” May 2019.
157 Colleen Long and Astrid Galvan, “ US, El Salvador Sign Asylum Deal, Details to be Worked out,” AP, September
20, 2019. DHS, “Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the
Republic of El Salvador for Cooperation in the Examination of Asylum Claim s,” September 20, 2019. Hereinafter:
Agreement on Asylum, September 2019.
158 CRS electronic correspondence with DHS, May 21, 2020.
159 See CRS Legal Sidebar LSB10402, Safe Third Country Agreements with Northern Triangle Countries: Background
and Legal Issues
, by Ben Harrington; INA §208(a)(2)(A).
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Under Article 1 of the agreement, the Salvadoran government could respond to a person
transferred into its custody seeking protection with an asylum designation consistent with its
obligations as a state party to the Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, or with “any other
equivalent temporary protection available under Salvadoran migration law.”160 Such temporary
protection might include, as an example, temporary residency.161 It is unclear whether temporary
residency would guarantee an individual access to education, employment, and housing, as an
asylum designation is supposed to do.
Security Cooperation
Although El Salvador is not a producer of il icit drugs, it does serve as a transit country for
narcotics, mainly cocaine and heroin, cultivated in the Andes and destined for the United States.
In August 2019, President Trump included El Salvador on the annual list of countries designated
as “major” drug-producing or “drug-transit” countries for the ninth consecutive year.162 A
country’s inclusion in the list, however, does not mean that its antidrug efforts are inadequate.
From January through October 2019, Salvadoran officials seized around 97 kilograms of cocaine,
a decline from 2018 that the State Department attributes to Salvadoran Navy efforts that have
pushed maritime trafficking out of Salvadoran waters.163 The government seized some $208,800
in bulk cash and arrested more than 3,000 individuals on drug trafficking-related charges. U.S.-
Salvadoran efforts have improved due to the creation of a vetted Sensitive Intel igence Unit
within the police that liaises with the Attorney General’s office. In July 2019, President Bukele
signed a five-year extension of the Cooperative Security Location agreement al owing U.S. naval
aircraft that combat drugs to be based at Comalapa Airport through 2025. According to the State
Department, El Salvador needs to maintain funding for its police and the Attorney General’s
office if it is to maintain successful antidrug efforts.
Corruption: Sanctions?
In June 2017, some Members of Congress asked the Treasury Department to consider making José Luis Merino, a
high-ranking FMLN party official and deputy minister of foreign affairs, subject to U.S. sanctions under the Foreign
Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.164 Over the past decade, Merino has amassed a fortune and served as the
intermediary between Venezuela, ALBA Petróleos, and the party. He also reportedly has ties with the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerril as and drug traffickers.165 In August 2018, some Members of Congress
asked the Treasury and State Departments to examine whether Merino and a business executive named José
Aquiles Enrique Rais López could be subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act for engaging in
corruption.166 In April 2019, pursuant to the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act ( P.L. 115-232), the State
Department sent a report to Congress identifying officials from the three Northern Triangle countries, including

160 Agreement on Asylum, September 2019.
161 CRS interview with State Department official, May 12, 2020.
162 White House, “Presidential Determination on Major Drug T ransit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for
Fiscal Year 2020,” August 8, 2019.
163 U.S. Department of State, 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 2020.
164 Héctor Silva Avalos, “ US Congress Members Request Investigation of El Salvador Official Linked to Organized
Crime,” InSight Crim e, June 23, 2017.
165 Venezuela Investigative Unit, “Venezuela and El Salvador: Exporting Aid and Corruption,” May 25, 2018.
166 Office of U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, “ Bipartisan Group in Congress Urges T rump Administration to Utilize
Global Magnitsky Sanctions in Central America,” August 2, 2018.
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nine Salvadorans, known to have committed corruption or to have benefited from il icit campaign funding.167 None
of these individuals have been made subject to U.S. sanctions.
Gangs and Citizen Security
U.S. agencies have engaged with El Salvador and other Central American governments on gang
issues for more than a decade, with some regional efforts housed in the U.S. Embassy in San
Salvador.168 On the law enforcement side, U.S. funds have supported vetted police units working
on transnational gang cases with U.S. law enforcement. In cooperation with vetted law
enforcement units in El Salvador, U.S. law enforcement has brought criminal charges against
thousands of MS-13 members in both countries.169 Since 2012, anti-gang cases have been
bolstered by the establishment of an electronic monitoring center in San Salvador and efforts to
target the financing of MS-13, designated by the Treasury Department as a Transnational
Criminal Organization subject to U.S. sanctions pursuant to E.O. 13581.170
Ensuring that anti-gang efforts are not carried out using police tactics that violate human rights
and supporting efforts to have civilian police rather than military forces in public security efforts
are major goals of U.S. programs.171 The State Department has donated body cameras and other
equipment to the internal affairs unit within the police that investigates reported abuses.172
According to a September 2018 Government Accountability Office report, U.S. police training in
El Salvador and the other northern triangle countries had not established consistent human rights-
related objectives in its police professionalization programs.173
USAID has used CARSI funds to implement a variety of crime- and violence-prevention
programs. USAID interventions have included primary prevention programs that work with
communities to create safe spaces for families and young people, secondary prevention programs
that identify the youth most at risk of engaging in violent behavior and provide them and their
families with behavior-change counseling, and, most recently, “tertiary” prevention programs that
seek to reintegrate juvenile offenders into society. Youth in violent communities are also some of
the beneficiaries of the 22,000 jobs USAID’s economic programs have helped generate.174 Due to
the aforementioned sanctions on MS-13, the State Department and USAID had to obtain a waiver

167 U.S. Department of State, Report to Congress on Narcotics Trafficking, Corruption, and Illicit Campaign Finance
in Honduras, Guatem ala, and El Salvador
, April 3, 2019. The Salvadorans listed include Carlos Mauricio Funes
Cartagena, Elias Antonio Saca, Luis Antonio Martinez Gonzalez, Elmer Charlaiz, Julio Rank, Cesar Funes, Francisco
Rodriguez Arteaga, Pablo Homez, and Joege Herrera Castellanos.
168 Between FY2008 and FY2016 (the last year a line item specified funds for anti-gang efforts in Central America),
Congress provided nearly $50 million to support a variety of anti-gang efforts in the Northern Triangle countries.
169 See, as an example, U.S. DOJ, “16 Ms-13 Gang Members Indicted for Assault and Drug T rafficking,” September
14, 2018.
170 U.S. Department of the T reasury, “ Treasury Sanctions Latin American Criminal Organization: Designation T argets
Latin American Gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), October 11, 2012.
171 U.S. Department of State, Integrated Country Strategy: El Salvador, August 2018.
172 Danielle Mackey and Cora Currier, “El Salvador is T rying to Stop Gang Violence, but the T rump Administration
Keeps Pushing Failed “Iron Fist” Policing, The Intercept, October 2, 2018.
173 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Central American Police Training: State and USAID Should
Ensure Hum an Rights Content Is Included as Appropriate, and State Should Im prove Data
, GAO-18-618, September
174 USAID, “USAID/El Salvador Country Fact Sheet,” July 2018.
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from the Treasury Department to carry out programs involving former or inactive MS-13
members; the agencies reportedly did not receive a license for those programs until 2017.175
Trade Relations
In December 2004, El Salvador became the first country to sign the CAFTA-DR trade agreement
and to pass its required legislative reforms, implementing CAFTA-DR on March 1, 2006.176
CAFTA-DR has eliminated tariffs on al consumer and industrial goods and is scheduled to phase
out tariffs on nearly al agricultural products this year. Since CAFTA-DR’s implementation, the
volume of U.S.-Salvadoran trade has tended to follow trends in growth rates in the United States,
with a variety of factors inhibiting the performance of Salvadoran exports vis-à-vis the other
CAFTA-DR countries. Those factors have included a continued dependence on the highly
competitive apparel trade, low levels of investment, public security problems, and broader
governance concerns.
The United States has been El Salvador’s main trading partner, purchasing 42% of its exports and
supplying 31% of its imports in 2019.177 Salvadoran exports to the United States, valued at $2.5
bil ion in 2019, have included apparel, electrical equipment, sugar, and coffee. El Salvador’s top
imports from the United States, valued at $3.5 bil ion in 2019, include petroleum products,
cereals, textiles, and plastics electrical machinery, nuclear reactors and parts, plastics, and cereals.
In 2019, the United States ran an $889 mil ion trade surplus with El Salvador.
In 2017, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer asserted that CAFTA-DR and other trade
arrangements throughout Latin America needed to be “modernized,” but the Trump
Administration has not sought to renegotiate the agreement.178
Human Rights Cases: Former Salvadoran Officials Tried in the
United States
Although the amnesty law made bringing cases against human rights abusers from the war era
nearly impossible to do in El Salvador, some former Salvadoran military leaders who have
resided in the United States have faced judicial proceedings regarding their immigration statuses.
In recent years, the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit within the Bureau of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
has conducted investigations focused on past human rights violations in El Salvador.179
 In February 2012, an immigration judge ruled that former Salvadoran Defense
Minister Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova could be removed (deported) from the
United States based on his role ordering the torture of Salvadoran citizens, the
1980 kil ings of four American churchwomen, and the 1981 kil ings of land

175 Danielle Mackey and Cora Currier, “El Salvador is T rying to Stop Gang Violence, but the T rump Administration
Keeps Pushing Failed “Iron Fist” Policing, The Intercept, October 2, 2018.
176 CRS In Focus IF10394, Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR),
by M. Angeles Villarreal.
177 T rade data contained in this section are from T rade Data Monitor.
178 Isabelle Hoagland, “Lighthizer Says a Slew of Latin American Free T rade Deals Must be ‘Modernized’ after
NAFT A,” Inside U.S. Trade, October 3, 2017.
179 For an update on pending cases, see http://www.cja.org/article.php?list=type&type=199.
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reformers. That decision was upheld in March 2015, and Vides Casanova was
deported to El Salvador on April 8, 2015.
 In September 2012, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, one of the officials
named by a Spanish judge as responsible for the aforementioned Jesuit murders,
pled guilty to immigration fraud. Montano had hidden his military past when
applying for TPS in the United States. In August 2017, a federal judge approved
a lower court ruling that Montano could be extradited to Spain to face charges for
his role in the 1989 kil ing of six Jesuit priests, most of whom were Spanish.
Extradited to Spain in November 2017, Montano’s trial began in June 2020.180
 In February 2014, a federal judge determined that a former Salvadoran defense
minister, General José Guil ermo García, could be removed based on his role in
brutal human rights violations. The judge ruled that he “assisted or otherwise
participated” in 11 violent incidents, including the 1980 kil ing of Archbishop
Óscar Arnulfo Romero. He was deported to El Salvador in January 2016.
 In February 2017, the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas filed a civil
lawsuit against Arnoldo Antonio Vasquez, a Salvadoran who the U.S. government
said misrepresented his past in order to obtain U.S. citizenship. According to
ICE, Vasquez failed to acknowledge his involvement as a military officer in
extrajudicial kil ings that took place in San Sebastian, El Salvador in 1988. Citing
a lack of sufficient evidence, the judge ruled against denaturalization.181
Nayib Bukele’s first-round presidential victory in February 2019 elections demonstrated popular
disenchantment with the FMLN and ARENA parties that have governed during the postconflict
period. The scale of Bukele’s victory, combined with his continued popularity, have given him a
strong governing mandate, but his
party lacks support in the National Assembly. Aside from initial support for Bukele’s security
plan, it remains to be seen whether legislators wil back his reformist agenda and investors wil
respond to his pledges to adopt a probusiness agenda and improve the country’s security
Analysts predicted that U.S.-Salvadoran relations would improve under a Bukele administration,
with leaders from both countries pledging to focus on combating gangs, drug trafficking, and
il egal immigration. Tensions could occur, however, should U.S. assistance to El Salvador be
permanently suspended or TPS be terminated for Salvadorans. Although President Bukele has
expressed a desire to collaborate with the United States rather than seek investment or foreign
assistance from China, he may have limited room to maneuver given the country’s economic and
security chal enges.

180 Héctor Silva Ávalo, “El Salvador: Unwilling to Face Up to the Past ,” AULA Blog, June 16, 2020.
181 ICE, “Denaturalization Lawsuit Filed Against Alleged Human Rights Abuser Originally From El Salvador Residing
in North T exas,” press release, February 10, 2017; United States District Court Eastern District of T exas Sherman
Division, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-101, March 28, 2019.
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Author Information

Clare Ribando Seelke

Specialist in Latin American Affairs

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
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