Written By Aarav Kumar (Grade 7)
At the eleventh minute of extra time, Mauricio Rodríguez of El Salvador scored a decisive goal against Honduras, paving the way for his country’s entry into the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The same day, El Salvador cut off diplomatic ties with Honduras, and within three weeks, the two countries were at war. Thus began the Football War, a conflict only four days long, that left lasting consequences on the two belligerents, in the economic and social spheres.
Despite its nickname, the roots of this conflict go far beyond football. El Salvador had an area five times smaller than Honduras, but also had a population forty percent larger than that of its neighbour, along with a much more powerful military. Fueled by the lack of opportunities, countless illegal migrants from El Salvador crossed into Honduras, seeking to take advantage of the arable land. Both countries were controlled by an oligarchic landowning elite, leaving the average landowner in a dire state. Tensions arose between the migrants, Honduran peasants and the multinational corporations operating in Honduras. Under pressure from the oligarchs and the companies, the Honduran government passed a controversial land reform law, that led to thousands of migrants being deported to El Salvador, regardless of the status of their residency. Adding to the tensions were long-standing border disputes over the Gulf of Fonseca. Tensions finally came to a head when, in 1969, the two nations were scheduled to play three matches as part of a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
When the El Salvadorian team visited Honduras, they were kept awake at night by hardcore fans of the Honduran team. They lost the match the next day. An 18-year-old girl from El Salvador, horrified by the defeat, shot herself. Riots erupted, and the media and the government labelled her as a martyr. They used her case to foster hatred against Honduras. When the Honduran team came over, the same treatment was meted out to them. Finally, in the final qualifier held in Mexico City on 27 June 1969, El Salvador defeated Honduras, thus qualifying for the World Cup. The government used this opportunity to sever ties with Honduras. Border skirmishes intensified, and on 14 July, El Salvador launched an attack on its neighbour. Bombers targeted strategically important Honduran sites, and the army reached striking distance of the capital, Tegucigalpa. Honduran leaders appealed to the Organization of American States to negotiate a ceasefire, and so it did. The war ended on 18 July, after 3000 deaths, but El Salvador only withdrew its troops in August.
The war ultimately had no benefit for either of the belligerents. El Salvador was overwhelmed by the huge numbers of migrants flooding its land. Eventually, the resultant social unrest led to a civil war. Border issues remain unsolved till this date, and all negotiations have been fruitless. This war was not caused by one goal; it was the result of an inherently flawed system that created unrest. The poor suffered most of the losses, both in life and in property. In the end, the only lesson one can learn from this war is the futility of conflict.
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