Soccer War: A Clash Between Two Teams
By Julia Melvin and Jordan Griebner
Period 8
October 1, 2009



The conflict between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 had a major impact on Central America. The war lasted only four days, but a total of two thousand civilians died. It was a guerrilla war, as both army bases and civilians were targeted in violent acts. In addition, many civilians sparked the war as they participated in violent riots and forcefully pushed Salvadorian refugees back into El Salvador. The war, although not technically an interstate war, occurred within two neighboring countries within Central America. The Soccer War can be considered a total war as both countries were completely involved and many of the victims were civilians rather than soldiers. Although the war between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 was short lived, lasting only four days, there were significant causes, consequences, and results that lasted for years to come.

There were a significant amount of causes and origins of the war between Honduras and El Salvador. One of the main long-term causes was the ongoing rivalry between the two countries in their economic standards and cash crop. El Salvador’s “population density of 400 persons per square mile is second only to Haiti’s in the southern hemisphere.”[1] El Salvador’s “population grew faster than its food supply…[and] landlessness left the vast majority of El Salvador’s people perilously vulnerable to illness and starvation.”[2] Many Salvadorans were living in their neighboring country of Honduras as ‘illegal’ immigrants and by 1969 more than 300 thousand peasants were living in Honduras. Many of these immigrants found work in Honduras with the banana crop industry. However, resentment developed among Hondurans especially because the borderlines between the two countries were poorly defined and were the subject of endless territorial claims. Attempts had been made to control the problem of immigration, but a two-year old accord ended in February of 1969 and was not renewed. Many of the “little countries of Central America had been seeking to bind themselves closer through their common market”.[3] The treaty[4] set up a system of trade between several countries including El Salvador and Honduras. Thirty percent of all Central American trade was controlled by El Salvador, and they controlled fifty percent of all Honduran trade in Central America by 1965. Therefore, Honduras began to feel a deep resentment towards El Salvador because Honduras had a poor economy that was worsening, while El Salvador became more industrialized. Continued “tensions between the two countries escalated in April and May 1969, when the Honduran government implemented an agrarian-reform plan that included a provision for expelling thousands of Salvadorian ‘illegals’”.[5] More than a hundred thousand families were forcefully sent back to El Salvador. Unfortunately immediately after that, the Honduras and El Salvador soccer teams played each other in a series of three games for the World Cup. El Salvador lost the first game by one point in overtime and Honduras won the second game, but there was major rioting and violence since the games had been so close. In the third and final game, El Salvador won by one point, and major acts of violence including murders and riots took place in the streets. Media “concomitantly sensationalized accounts of brutality between these two countries during the World Cup soccer match…this exaggerated form of journalism created a nationalistic hysteria that resulted in numerous conflicts between the people of these two nations.”[6] Shortly after, the so-called Soccer War began.


On July 13th and 14th 1969, Honduran fighter aircrafts made the first incursion of the war in El Poy, El Salvador. Later that day, El Salvador planes responded by attacking a Honduras airport that utilized both civilian and military aircrafts. The next morning, Honduran warplanes that consisted of, T-28s, F-51s, and Corsairs, raided the San Salvador airport, the oil refinery and industrial complex at the town of Acajutla, Salvador’s main port for petroleum. “Hours after the Salvadoran planes struck Honduras, Salvadoran troops crossed the border and invaded the neighboring country”
[7]in Nueva Ocotepeque and the easternmost frontier. El Salvador wasn’t able to retaliate with the plan to capture the capital of Honduras because it didn’t receive assistance from the Organization of American States and didn’t have enough resources to do it on its own. Both armies contained about five thousand men equipped with World War II vintage American weapons, “and did not have the support of tanks, or any other armored equipment.”[8] Not only was the Honduran army
“lacking in arms and equipment, but it was ill organized and filled with corruption”.[9] Honduras had definite control over the sky where as, El Salvador had superiority on the ground because "they seemed to have an edge in organization and fighting ability."[10] Honduras’s rough landscape and terrain may have been a factor in delaying the establishment of effective positions by the Hondurans. Near the end of this short war, both countries began to run low on ammunition and both asked for assistance from the United States, who denied both requests. El Salvador also began to run low on fuel because Honduras had bombed over half of their petroleum tanks. Since both countries were denied assistance and didn’t have enough resources to go on fighting, the war ended only four days later but lead to devastating consequences to both society and the economy that had a lasting impact.

The Soccer War has been called the “most important serious armed conflict between Latin American states in more than thirty years and lasted only four days due to the quick intervention of the Organization of American States
[11] to arrange a cease-fire”[12]. The OAS and the United States “brought heavy diplomatic pressure to bear on both governments in an effort to affect a cease-fire”[13]. These peacemakers evolved a four point program: cease-fire, troop withdrawal, protection for citizens of both countries, and OAS supervision of both troop withdrawals. Honduras accepted all of these points while El Salvador accepted only a portion of them because “El Salvador did not want to withdraw the troops until the rights of Salvadorans were secure.”[14] However, the pressure was too strong and El Salvador agreed to remove its troops on July 29th. Both countries agreed to a cease fire on July 18, however, as of 1979, a “more permanent settlement has yet to be achieved…the two countries have never resumed diplomatic relations, and there are only minimal exchanges of sort between them”[15]. In fact, there continued to be border disputes until 1998, nearly 30 years after the war. In the sense of disruption of human life, “the war cost more than either side could afford…the hundreds of thousands of dispossessed were the real casualties of the war”[16]. It is estimated that while only roughly 250 combat troops were killed, some 2,000 civilians lost their lives in the conflict. Anderson argues that “the real tragedy of the conflict lies in the massive disruption of the lives of simple peasants in both countries.”[17] El Salvador’s social problems began to worsen because they were unable to provide for the thousands of citizens who had returned from Honduras. Also, El Salvador lost access to the Honduran Market for the next decade, which while it was a small market; it was one that had been an important consumer of Salvadoran goods. The result of the war for El Salvador was a “decade of unparalleled civil strife, to which there is no end in sight because the war not only injured the economy but also turned the country in upon itself”[18]. For Honduras the war “created a series of ironies… at first the economy faltered, but this led to redouble efforts to find new sources of imports and new products to export and by the end of the decade, the country had made some real progress”[19]. Although this war may have seemed like small dispute between two harmless countries, there were devastating consequences that lasted for years after these four short days.

The war between Honduras and El Salvador 1969 was an important part of history in the nature of 20th century wars. This war proved that not just large countries inflict conflicts, but smaller country disputes can be just as destructive. If the Soccer War had continued and not been stopped by the OAS, it could have spread to the neighboring Central American countries, creating larger, more devastating war. Despite the fact that this war was brief and was between two smaller countries, its causes were consequential and the effects were substantial. The Soccer War illustrates a momentary clash about borders between two nations and can be used as a warning that a similar discord can happen again, but on a much larger scale.

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[1]Mallin, Jay. "Salvador-Honduras War, 1969." Air Power. N.p., 31 Aug. 2004. Web.
23 Sept. 2009. <http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/
1970/mar-apr/mallin.html>. Jay Mallin, a graduate of Florida Southern
College, is a research scientist at the Center for Advanced International
Studies in Miami. In 1969 he covered the Salvador-Honduras War for Time
Magazine. This document originated from the Air University Review in
March-April 1970.
Jay Mallin is a research scientist at the Center for Advanced International Studies at the University of Miami. He covered the Soccer War for Time Magazine.

[2]Pearcy, Thomas. "History of Central America: El Salvador." Daily Life Online.
Greenwood Press, 2005. Web. 28 Sept. 2009.
<http://dailylife.greenwood.com/dle.asp>.

[3] Mallin
[4] Signed in 1960 between Guatemala, El Slavador, Honduras, and Nicaragua at Managua on December 13. It set up a system of trade through the Central American Common Market.
[5]Boland, Roy. "El Salvador: Pre Columbian History." Daily Life Online. Greenwood
Press, 2000. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <http://dailylife.greenwood.com/
dle.asp>.

[6]Overall, Mario. "The 100 Hour War." The Latin American Aviation Historical
Society. N.p., 11 Mar. 2004. Web. 23 Sept. 2009.
<http://www.laahs.com/artman/publish/article_19.shtml>. This website
provides a detailed explanation of the war. It talks about the actual
fighting during the war and weapons used.

[7] Jay Mallin
[8] Mario Overall
[9]Anderson, Thomas. The War of the Dispossessed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1981. Questia Online Library. Web. 28 Sept. 2009.
<http://www.questiaschool.com/read/105732011>. 116

[10] Jay Mallin
[11] Organization of American States is abbreviated OAS. It is the world’s oldest regional organization. The Organization has four main pillars: democracy, human rights, security and development.
[12]Durham, William. Scarcity and Survival in Central America. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1979. Print.

William Durham is a professor at the Stanford University and specializes in anthropological sciences.
[13] Jay Mallin
[14] Anderson 118
[15] Durham 166
[16] Anderson 172
[17] Anderson 128
[18] Anderson 173
[19] Anderson 174