What Caused The Soccer War?

Nationalism, Overpopulation, and Land in Central America: What Caused the Soccer War?

Reviewed by Jonah Belser
June 10, 2014

In this paper, the author, Notre Dame undergraduate Chris Newton, seeks to understand the primary cause behind the so-called “Soccer War”, which erupted between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. He analyzes three competing theories that understand nationalism, overpopulation, and land monopolization, respectively, as the factors that best explain why these two Central American countries went to war. “By 1969,” the author writes, “300,000 Salvadoran migrants had come to reside in Honduras,” whose government coerced the migrants to leave the country. Each theory supplies a different explanation for why El Salvador initiated a war in response to the forcible return of these migrants.

The author recognizes that El Salvador experienced rapid population growth during the first half of the twentieth century, and that food production struggled to keep up with population growth in both El Salvador and Honduras. However, in pre-colonial times, Central America was able to sustain dense populations, which undercuts the overpopulation theory. Rather, it was the “extreme concentration of land ownership” that began with the Spanish conquest, and that continues to favor profitable agricultural exports over domestic food production, that failed to sustain the peasantry and led to their mass exodus from the country.

Since there was little farmable land in El Salvador, Salvadoran peasants migrated to Honduras. However, with land scarce in Honduras, the Honduran government began evicting the migrants back to El Salvador in 1969. Drawing upon government accounts, the author deduces that domestic pressure from large landowners as well as a lack of arable land for returning peasants made the Salvadoran government feel compelled to take drastic action against Honduras. If overpopulation were the primary cause of war, the land shortage in El Salvador would have been a consequence of overpopulation. However, in reality, the land shortage was “artificial,” in that it was induced by concentration in the hands of elites.

Therefore, land monopolization is the primary cause of the Soccer War. Finally, while popular nationalism among Salvadorans and Hondurans played a role in the rioting that took place around the World Cup, nationalist sentiment did not strongly influence Salvadoran leaders’ decision to invade Honduras.

See the full article here!

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