Background on El Salvador
Situated on the Pacific coast of
Central America, El Salvador has Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the
north and east. It is the smallest of the Central American countries, with an
area equal to that of Massachusetts, and it is the only one without an Atlantic
coastline. Most of the country is on a fertile volcanic plateau about 2,000 ft
(607 m) high.
The Pipil Indians, descendants of the
Aztecs, likely migrated to the region in the 11th century. In 1525, Pedro de
Alvarado, a lieutenant of Cortés's, conquered El Salvador.
El Salvador, with the other countries
of Central America, declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821, and
was part of a federation of Central American states until that union dissolved
in 1838. For decades after its independence, El Salvador experienced numerous
revolutions and wars against other Central American republics. From 1931 to
1979 El Salvador was ruled by a series of military dictatorships.
In 1969, El Salvador invaded Honduras
after Honduran landowners deported several thousand Salvadorans. The four-day
war became known as the “football war” because it broke out during a soccer
game between the two countries.
the 1970s, discontent with societal inequalities, a poor economy, and the
repressive measures of dictatorship led to civil war between the government,
ruled since 1961 by the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN), and
leftist antigovernment guerrilla units, whose leading group was the Farabundo
Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The U.S. intervened on the side of the
military dictatorship, despite its scores of human rights violations. Between
1979 and 1981, about 30,000 people were killed by right-wing death squads
backed by the military. José Napoleón Duarte—a moderate civilian who was
president from 1984 to 1989—offered an alternative to the political extremes of
right and left, but Duarte was unable to end the war. In 1989, Alfredo
Cristiani of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) was
elected. On Jan. 16, 1992, the government signed a peace treaty with the
guerrilla forces, formally ending the 12-year civil war that had killed 75,000.
1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, leaving 200 dead and over 30,000
homeless. In Jan. and Feb. 2001, major earthquakes struck El Salvador, damaging
about 20% of the nation's housing. An even worse disaster befell the country in
the summer when a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country's crops, causing
famine in the countryside.
2004, Antonio Saca of ARENA was elected president. The nation implemented a
free-trade agreement (CAFTA) with the U.S. in March 2006, the first Central
American country to do so.
Funes, a former journalist and member of the FMLN party, was elected President
in March 2009, ending two decades of conservative rule in El Salvador.