The population of El Salvador increased from 1.9 million inhabitants in 1950 to 4.7 million in 1984. El Salvador has lacked authoritative demographic data for many years because between 1992 and 2007 a national census had not been undertaken. Before the 2009 census, patterns in population growth led many officials (including within the Salvadoran government) to estimate the country's population size at between 7.1 and 7.2 million people. However, on May 12, 2008, El Salvador's Ministry of Economy released statistics gathered in the census of the previous May. These data present a surprisingly low figure for the total population — 7,185,218. Challenges to the 2009 census on a number of grounds are forthcoming.
85% of Salvadorans are mestizo (mixed Native American and European origin). 12% report their race as being white; this population is mostly of Spanish descent, including people of French, German, Swiss, English, Irish Italian and Central European descent. El Salvador is 1% indigenous, mostly Pipil, Lenca and Kakawira (Cacaopera). Very few Native Americans have retained their native customs, traditions, or languages, especially in the wake of the deliberate 1932 massacres in which the Salvadoran military murdered somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 peasants.
El Salvador is the only Central American country that has no visible African population because of its lack of an Atlantic coastline and attendant access to the slave trade which occurred along the east coast of the continent. In addition, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez instituted race laws in 1930 that prohibited blacks from entering the country, and it was not until the 1980s that this law was removed.
Among the immigrant groups that have been reaching El Salvador, Palestinian Christians stand out. Though few in number, their descendants have attained great economic and political power in the country, as evidenced by ex-president Antonio Saca — whose opponent in the 2004 election, Schafik Handal, was likewise of Palestinian descent — and the flourishing commercial, industrial, and construction firms owned by this ethnic group.
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