El Salvador is divided into fourteen administrative divisions
called departments, the equivalent of states in the United States
fig. 1). Each department is administered by a governor
appointed by the president. An alternate for each governor is
also designated. Governors must be Salvadoran by birth, over
twenty-five years of age, and residents of their department for
at least two years prior to their appointment.
Below the departmental level, El Salvador is divided into 261
municipalities (or municipios, the equivalent of counties
in the United States). Each municipio is governed by a
municipal council composed of a mayor (alcalde), a legal
representative (sindico), and two or more council members
(regidores). The number of regidores is determined
by the population of the municipio. Members of the
municipal councils must be more than twenty-one years of age and
residents of the municipio in which they serve. Directly
elected, municipal officials serve three-year terms and may be
reelected. Municipios are not all of equal size but are
required to have a population of at least 10,000; municipal
boundaries are determined by the Legislative Assembly.
The powers of local government are circumscribed by those of
the central government. Because department governers are
appointed by the president, their independence is questionable.
Despite their status as elected representatives, the powers of
municipal officeholders are also limited in certain key areas.
The most glaring example is taxation. Although the municipal
councils are allowed to suggest local taxes and tax rates, only
the Legislative Assembly has the power to actually levy taxes.
Therefore, all funds utilized by the councils are appropriated
and disbursed by the assembly, although such funds are earmarked
in the budget and are not incorporated into the central
government's general fund. Among the duties relegated to the
municipal councils under the Salvadoran Municipal Code are the
holding of town meetings (cabildos abiertos) at least once
every three months. The council is enjoined from acting against
the majority opinion expressed at the cabildos abiertos.
The municipal councils also grant legal recognition
(personalidad juridica) to communal associations in their
municipios. The councils are required to meet periodically
with representatives of the communal associations and to consult
with them on the appointment of representatives to advisory and
other local commissions. The councils also issue local ordinances
Data as of November 1988