Chalatenango Department

Flag of Chalatenango
Location within El Salvador
Location within El Salvador
Coordinates: 14°10′23″N 89°04′34″W / 14.17306°N 89.07611°W / 14.17306; -89.07611
Country El Salvador
Current status14 February 1855
 • GovernorAmílcar Iván Monge Monge (NI)
 • Total779 sq mi (2,017 km2)
 • Rank5th
Highest elevation
8,960 ft (2,730 m)
 (2007 census)
 • Total192,788
 • Rank10th
 • Density250/sq mi (96/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (CST)
ISO 3166 codeSV-CH

Chalatenango (Spanish pronunciation: [tʃalateˈnaŋɡo]) is a department of El Salvador located in the northwest of the country. The department's capital city is the city of Chalatenango, which shares the same name as the department. Chalatenango covers a land area of 779 sq mi (2,017 km2) and contains over 192,000 inhabitants. Chalatenango's maximum elevation, located at Cerro El Pital (the country's highest point), is 8,960 feet (2,730 m).

Amílcar Iván Monge Monge of Nuevas Ideas has been the governor of Chalatenango since 2020.[1]


The name Chalatenango derives from the Nawat words chal or shal meaning "sand", at meaning "water" or "river", and tenango meaning "valley".[a] In its entirety, "Chalatenango" means "valley of sandy waters".[3]


The indigenous peoples of the Americas had lived in the region of the modern-day Chalatenango department for over one thousand five hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s. The indigenous people of the area lived in densely populated communities and cultivated maize.[4] From 1524 to 1539, the Spanish conquered the territories of modern-day El Salvador, including Chalatenango.[5]

In 1790, Francisco Luis Héctor de Carondelet, the colonial intendant of the Intendancy of San Salvador, recruited laborers from the Spanish regions of Asturias, Cantabria, and Galicia to work in the production of indigo in the modern-day region of the Chalatenango department. The laborers were recruited due to a decrease in the indigenous population in the area.[6][7] As a result, Chalatenango saw a significant increase of a lighter-skinned populace compared to the rest of El Salvador.[6]

Chalatenango was made a department in 1855.[7]

During the 1700s and 1800s, Chalatenango was mostly dependent on indigo production, however, the fall of indigo prices in the 1860s led to the department falling into a state of impoverishment.[8] Since then, Chalatenango was one of the country's poorest departments,[9][10] as most impoverished peasant farmers in El Salvador lived in the department, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.[11] In 1961, 56 percent of the urban population was literate, while only 27 percent of the rural population was literate. During the 1970s, Chalatenango only had one hospital, and only 57 percent of the population had access to any type of medical clinic; only one third of households had running water and only 16 percent had access to electricity.[12] In 1971, the local minimum wage in Chalatenango was SVC₡1.00 to 2.50 per day, compared to the national minimum wage of SVC₡‎2.75 per day,[13] and in 1975, Chalatenango had an unemployment rate of 40 percent, the highest of any department.[14]

The Chalatenango department was a military stronghold for the Farabundo Martí Popular Liberation Forces (FPL) and the People's Revolutionary Bloc (BPR), two Marxist armed organizations, during the 1970s due to the department's mountainous terrain.[15][16][17] The department continued to be a military stronghold for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a left-wing guerrilla group which the FPL was a founding member of, during the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992).[7][18] Due to its nature as a guerrilla stronghold, several military operations conducted by both sides of the civil war occurred in Chalatenango.[19] During the civil war, many refugees fled south to the shore of Lake Suchitlán or left the department entirely for either Honduras or the United States. Many mayors in northern Chalatenango also fled their municipalities, leaving them to be effectively controlled by the FMLN; during and after the civil war, references were made by locals that there were "two Chalatenangos", one under government control and one under guerrilla control.[20] By 1983, the FMLN held 15 of the department's 13 municipalities.[16] Several civil war massacres occurred in Chalatenango, including the 1980 Sumpul River massacre[21] and the 1982 Santa Rita massacre.[22]

From 1992 to 1995, following the conclusion of the civil war, the Municipalities-in-Action (MEA) program listed 20 out of the department's 33 municipalities as "reconstruction municipalities" as they were severely damaged during the civil war, most of which were located in territories controlled by the FMLN. The MEA allocated SVC₡‎85 million (equivalent of USD$9.75 million) to Chalatenango to help built schools, clinics, roads, and water systems, the highest amount given to any department.[23]


Chalatenango covers a land area of 779 sq mi (2,017 km2).[24]


Historical population

The population of Chalatenango increased by over 50 percent between 1770 and 1892, compared to national figure of 32 percent; the department's population in 1892 totaled around 54,000 people.[25] By 1971, the department's population had increased to 172,075, but by then, its population growth had fallen to 2.3 percent per year, the lowest of any department. During the 1970s, Chalatenango had the highest rate of internal migration at –16.1 percent.[26] In 2007, Chalatenango had a population of 192,788, the fourth smallest department by population.[27]


  1. Central Chalatenango
  2. Northern Chalatenango
  3. Southern Chalatenango


The Chalatenango department consists of 33 districts, the most of any department in El Salvador. The 33 municipalities are often grouped into three zones: north, central, and south. The department's 33 municipalities, listed in alphabetical order, are:[28]

On 13 June 2023, 67 of the 84 deputies of the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador voted in favor of a bill proposed by President Nayib Bukele to reduce the total number of the country's municipalities from 262 to 44. As a result, Chalatenango's 33 municipalities will be consolidated into only 3 departments, known as Chalatenango Norte, Chalatenango Centro, and Chalatenango Sur; the current municipalities will remain extant as districts, and the change will go into effect on 1 May 2024.[29]


The department heavily relies on agriculture to sustain its population. Crops such as maize, beans, and vegetables are cultivated on around 3.5 percent of the department's land, meanwhile, cattle are raised on around 35 percent of its land.[30]


Chalatenango has two main roads which travel through the department. The first, the Northern Trunk Highay (CA4), connects San Salvador, the country's capital city, in the south with the Honduran border in the north. The second, the Longitudinal Trunk Highway (CA3), connects the departments of Santa Ana in the west and Cabañas in the east.[9][31] Other highways include the Arcatao Highway (CHA07) connecting the city of Chalatenango with Arcatao, the La Montañona Perimeter Ring (CHA07) connecting the Concepción Quezaltepeque with Ojos de Agua via the city of Chalatenango, and the Dulce Nombre de MaríaSan Fernando Road (CHA13) which connects the two aforementioned municipalities.[31]


Chalatenango used to be under in influence of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) criminal gang, specifically its Fulton Locos Salvatruchos cell,[1] until May 2023 when the Salvadoran government began the Siege of Nueva Concepción, an operation in Nueva Concepción (the gang's primary stronghold) to extract and arrest as many gang members as possible as a part of the country's gang crackdown.[32] The Texis Cartel [es] also operated out of Chalatenango. Common crimes which were committed in Chalatenango included arms trafficking, drug trafficking (such as cocaine and marijuana), human trafficking, and extortion.[1]

See also


  1. ^ "Tenango" is also a Nahuatl suffix meaning "place of".[2]



  1. ^ a b c InSight Crime 2021.
  2. ^ Nash 2001.
  3. ^ "Historia de Chalatenango" [History of Chalatenango]. Chalatenango Municipal Government (in Spanish). c. 2016. Archived from the original on 3 February 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  4. ^ Pearce 1986, pp. 12–13.
  5. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 14.
  6. ^ a b Muñoz Borrero & Moreno 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Pearce 1986, p. 45.
  8. ^ Pearce 1986, pp. 45–46.
  9. ^ a b van der Borgh 1997, p. 53.
  10. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 133.
  11. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 32.
  12. ^ Pearce 1986, pp. 50–52.
  13. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 63.
  14. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 61.
  15. ^ Rabasa 2007, p. 40.
  16. ^ a b Reveal Digital 1983, p. 10.
  17. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 136.
  18. ^ Ebiner 2019, p. 188.
  19. ^ Pearce 1986, pp. 226–227.
  20. ^ van der Borgh 1997, p. 54.
  21. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 197.
  22. ^ Betancur, Figueredo Planchart & Buergenthal 2001, p. 61.
  23. ^ van der Borgh 1997, p. 52.
  24. ^ Government of El Salvador 2008, p. 29.
  25. ^ Pearce 1986, p. 46.
  26. ^ Pearce 1986, pp. 49–50.
  27. ^ Government of El Salvador 2008, pp. 29–30.
  28. ^ Pearce 1986, pp. 47–49.
  29. ^ García 2023.
  30. ^ van der Borgh 1997, pp. 53–54.
  31. ^ a b "Principales Carreteras de Chalatenango" [Primary Highways of Chalatenango]. (in Spanish). 2 February 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  32. ^ Maldonado 2023.


  • Betancur, Belisario; Figueredo Planchart, Reinaldo; Buergenthal, Thomas (26 January 2001). "From Madness to Hope: the 12–Year War in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador" (PDF). The Commission on the Truth for El Salvador. Retrieved 22 May 2021.
  • "Chalatenango, El Salvador". InSight Crime. 22 March 2021. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  • Ebiner, Joshua S. (May 2019). "Making Peace, and Peace Talks, Last: Factors Behind the Successful Resolution of the Salvadoran Civil War". St Antony's International Review. 15 (1): 183–198. JSTOR 27027761.
  • García, Jessica (13 June 2023). "Asamblea Aprueba Reducir de 262 a 44 el Número de Municipios en El Salvador" [The Assembly Approves to Reduce the Number of Municipalities in El Salvador from 262 to 44]. El Diario de Hoy (in Spanish). Retrieved 13 June 2023.
  • Maldonado, Carlos S. (17 May 2023). "Nayib Bukele Doubles Down on His Anti-Gang Offensive After an Officer was Murdered in El Salvador". El País. Mexico. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  • Muñoz Borrero, Eduardo & Moreno, Fray Agustin (2013). "François Louis Hector de Carondelet" [Francis Louis Hector of Carondelet]. Noyelles sur Selle, Carondelet (in French). Archived from the original on 16 November 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  • Nash, June C. (2001). Mayan Visions: The Quest for Autonomy in an Age of Globalization. Chiapas, Mexico: Psychology Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780415928618.
  • Rabasa, Angel (2007). "Chapter Five: El Salvador (1980–1992)". Money in the Bank--Lessons Learned from Past Counterinsurgency (COIN) Operations: RAND Counterinsurgency Study–Paper 4: 39–48. JSTOR 10.7249/op185osd.12.
  • Pearce, Jenny (1986). Promised land: Peasant Rebellion in Chalatenango, El Salvador. London: Latin America Bureau. ISBN 0906156211. OCLC 1151063083. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  • van der Borgh, Chris (December 1997). "Decision-Making and Participation in Poverty Alleviation Programmes in Post-War Chalatenango, El Salvador". European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (63): 49–66. JSTOR 25675752.
  • "VI Censo de Población y V de Vivienda 2007 – Población, Viviendas, Hogares" [VI Census of Population and V of Housing 2007 – Population, Housing, Households] (PDF). Government of El Salvador (in Spanish). Ministry of the Economy of El Salvador. April 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 June 2021. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  • "Voz Fronteriza". Vol. 8, no. 4. San Diego, California: Reveal Digital. April 1983. pp. 1–16. JSTOR 28456744.

External links

  • Atlas Geográfico Universal y de El Salvador. Editorial Oceano. Edición 1995 ISBN 84-494-0135-6
  • Sitio web del departamento de Chalatenango
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