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Country Reports
EL SALVADOR, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


“There are no mines now in El Salvador,” said Mauricio Granillo Barrera, El Salvador’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.[1] Though over 20,000 antipersonnel landmines still threatened the country after its twelve-year civil war ended in 1992, El Salvador, today, exemplifies a successful mine clearing program, as the country’s terrain is, by all accounts, mine free.

Mine Ban Policy

El Salvador signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty on 4 December 1997. It deposited its instrument of ratification with the United Nations in New York on 27 January 1999. El Salvador has not yet passed any domestic legislation implementing the ban treaty.

After clearing its own terrain of mines, El Salvador has played an active role in backing the international effort to ban landmines. In September 1996, El Salvador joined with other Central American nations in declaring the region a mine free zone in a joint statement signed by each nation’s foreign minister, committing to no production, trade or use of antipersonnel mines. During the Ottawa Process, El Salvador endorsed the pro-ban treaty June 1997 Brussels Declaration, and was a full participant in the Oslo negotiations in September. El Salvador also voted in favor of all three pro-ban U.N. General Assembly resolutions in 1996, 1997 and 1998, as well as the pro-ban resolutions of the Organization of American States (OAS). It is one of the few hemispheric countries that has reported to the Landmine Register of the OAS.

El Salvador is not a party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), nor is it a member of the Conference on Disarmament.


Though the government of El Salvador extensively used U.S.-provided landmines during its 12-year-war against leftist guerrillas, it never produced its own landmines. The guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) made significant numbers of homemade antipersonnel landmines throughout the war. Most were made of homemade or store-bought materials including plastic construction tubing, potassium nitrate and sulphur (to make gunpowder) and flashlight batteries. Though some of the FMLN’s devices such as minas abanicos or “fan mines” operated similar to Claymore mines and were detonated by remote control in ambushes, other devices such as minas de chuchitos or clothespin mines along with minas de pateos or “foot removers” were detonated indiscriminately either by a trip wire or by the pressure of a foot.[2]


The Salvadoran military imported from the United States about 37,000 antipersonnel mines including M18A1 Claymore mines and M14 blast mines during the conflict.[3] El Salvador has never exported antipersonnel mines. Most of the FMLN’s mines were homemade, but they may have received mines from other sources as well.


El Salvador apparently has no antipersonnel mines. From March 1993 though January 1994, El Salvador’s Division of Arms and Explosives of the Civil National Police destroyed the remaining antipersonnel landmines that were in the stocks of the Salvadoran armed forces. El Salvador reported the destruction of these mines to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States in April 1997.[4] It is not certain if Claymore mines were included in the destruction.


Throughout the conflict, both the Salvadoran military and the guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front used landmines, though the FMLN used them far more. The Salvadoran military used antipersonnel landmines for perimeter defense of military bases. Military units also sometimes used landmines to protect temporary field positions and encampments. But the FMLN made much more widespread use of antipersonnel landmines. While the FMLN used landmines not long after the beginning of the civil war in 1980, the guerrillas greatly escalated their use of landmines in the mid-1980s and continued to make use of them until the end of the war in 1992. The FMLN first changed tactics in the mid-1980s to heavily rely on landmines in order to deter massive counterinsurgency sweeps involving thousands of Salvadoran military troops at a time through guerrilla-dominated terrain.

Landmine Problem

Today, El Salvador is mine free. There is still a slight danger from unexploded ordnance in some remote areas of the country. When El Salvador’s twelve-year irregular war finally ended in December 1992, an estimated 20,000 landmines were still in the ground. The FMLN used mines in over two-thirds of the country, mainly on volcanos, in the provinces of Chalatenango, Morazan, Usulutan, San Miguel, San Vicente, Cabanas, Cuscatlan and San Salvador and Santa Ana. The most densely mined areas included the Guazapa volcano and the San Miguel volcano. The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs identified 19 specific mined areas comprising 425 minefields and covering 436 square kilometers of land.[5]

Mine Clearance and Mine Awareness

In May 1992, before the civil war even ended, representatives of the Salvadoran military and the FMLN agreed under the auspices of the United Nations to establish a joint committee to begin a demining and mine awareness projects. UNICEF spent U.S.$287,000 on an extensive mine action campaign involving posters, advertisements and other forms of outreach as well as training. Fourteen UNICEF educators trained over 3,600 teachers, health care personnel and community leaders to reach an estimated 300,000 people or about 44 percent of the population at greatest risk of landmines.[6]

In 1993, the government of El Salvador hired a private Belgian firm, International Danger and Disaster Assistance. At a cost of $4.8 million provided by foreign donors, the firm, in coordination with the United Nations, trained a joint team of 210 deminers comprised of former FMLN combatants and Salvadoran military engineers.[7] The firm handed over its mine detection gear to the Salvadoran military upon fulfillment of its contract. A total of 1,240 Salvadoran military engineers and 240 former FMLN combatants executed the demining.[8] Many former combatants identified mines that they had each previously planted. By January 1994, the joint effort had cleared 9,511 mines from 425 different minefields.

Landmine Casualties

No accidents involving landmines have been reported since 1994, though some accidents from unexploded ordnance have occurred. From January 1994 through mid-1995, 271 people including 42 children were injured from unexploded ordnance.[9]

There are to date no comprehensive estimates of the number of landmines casualties from El Salvador’s civil war, though at least 75,000 people were killed during the war. According to one estimate, over 300,000 young children and adolescents were left disabled.[10] Landmines began to take a serious toll on combatants and civilians alike by the mid-1980s. In just the first of 1986, for example, the Salvadoran military suffered between 64 and 125 casualties each month from landmines, while civilians casualties were running slightly lower at between 19 and 25 victims a month.[11] During the final year of the war at least 576 people were injured from either landmines or unexploded ordnance in 107 separate incidents.[12] Most soldiers and civilians alike were injured by mines planted by the FMLN.[13]

Survivor Assistance

El Salvador has only recently requested assistance from outside donors as well as from multilateral organizations to develop a comprehensive landmine victims’ assistance program. On 11 January 1999 in Mexico City, representatives of Canada, Mexico and the Pan-American Health Organization signed a Memorandum of Understanding on a Joint Program for the Rehabilitation of Mine Victims in Central America.[14] The initiative includes a comprehensive effort by the Pan-American Health Organization, which is being financed by an initial grant of 3.5 million Canadian dollars, to assess the needs of war victims and to begin to address them in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. According to Hernan Rosenberg of the Pan-American Health Organization, the program will unfold in each country in four stages: assessing the number of victims; assessing individual’s specific prosthetics and rehabilitation needs; providing for treatment and rehabilitation; and promoting victims reincorporation back into the workforce.[15]

A number of private groups have long attempted to address these concerns. They include the Association of Mine Victims and the General Secretary of the Family. In 1992, a German non-governmental organization, Medico International, and the Los Angeles-based Medical Aid to El Salvador founded Promoter of the Organization of Disabled Persons in El Salvador (PODES) “to provide job training and rehabilitation to those disabled during the war.”[16] A U.S.-based NGO, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, also supports PODES with technical support, training and funding.[17] PODES currently serves more than 900 patients, produces approximately 200 orthopaedic devices each year and services a similar number. PODES employs 23 people, 19 of whom are disabled.

One small craft shop that began while the civil war was still being waged in the late 1980s was founded by David Wiesenfeld, a former firefighter from California. The shop employed, at first, wounded soldiers, nearly all of whom were landmine victims, to make commemorative plaques for retail sale primarily to embassies. In 1992, shortly before the war ended, Wiesenfeld was among the first to reach out to the FMLN. Soon his shop was the one of the first anywhere in El Salvador to begin integrating ex-guerrillas with ex-soldiers. Within a year, more than a dozen war victims from both sides were fully employed at the shop. Unfortunately, while the work of the shop went on, its founder, David Wiesenfeld, was later murdered in a car-jacking in San Salvador. This tragic event only underscores the post-war problem which persists in El Salvador even after its successful mine clearance and awareness campaign: the proliferation of small arms.[18]


[1]Interview with Mauricio Granillo Barrera, Ambassador of El Salvador to the Organization of American States, Washington, D.C., 16 February 1999.

[2]Land Mines in El Salvador and Nicaragua: The Civilian Victims, Americas Watch, December 1986, p. 25-16.

[3] Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, The Human Rights Watch Arms Project and Physicians for Human Rights, New York, October 1993, p. 185-186.

[4] Seguridad Hemisferica, Cuadro Resumen: Minas Terrestres Antipersonales, Al 1 de mayo de 1998, “El Hemisferico Occidental como Zona Libre de Minas Terrestres Antipersonales,” AG/RES. 1411 (XXVI-O/96) y AG/RES. 1496 (XXVII_O?97) parrafo resolutivo 4, Organizacion de los Estados Ameicanos, Washington, D.C. de los Estados Ameicanos, Washington, D.C.

[5] Antipersonnel Mines in Central America: Conflict and post-conflict, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, January 1996, p. 13.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] United Nations, Landmine Country Report for El Salvador, May 1995.

[9] Antipersonnel Mines in Central America, p. 14.

[10] United Nations, Landmine Country Report for El Salvador, May 1995.

[11] Land Mines in El Salvador and Nicaragua, p. 22.

[12] “Clearing the Minefields,” UNICEF, May 1995, in Antipersonnel Mines in Central America, p. 13.

[13] Land Mines in El Salvador and Nicaragua, p. 2.

[14] Carta de la Mision Permanente de Mexico y la Mision Permanente de Canada al Presidente del Consejo Permanente de la Organizacio de los Estados Ameicanos, Washington, D.C., a 3 de febrero de 1999. This letter builds upon the Organization of American States resolution, AG/RES. 1568 (XXVIII-O/98), “Support for the Mine-Clearing Program in Central America,” adopted on 2 June 1998.

[15] LM Researcher interview with Hernan Rosenberg, Pan-American Health Organization, Washington, D.C., 18 February 1999.

[16] “VVAF and PODES: Working Together in El Salvador”, VVAF Web Site, see http://www.vvaf.org/assistance/elsalvador.html

[17] Ibid.

[18] Based on observations by foreign journalists including Frank Smyth in San Salvador from 1988 through 1996.