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El Salvador Modern History

After a military coup in 1931, an uprising broke out under Communist leader Farabundo Martí. It was brutally fought and dictatorship prevailed until 1944. The years until 1979 were marked by military coups and elections. The large social divisions and the lack of democracy contributed to the formation of the guerrilla FMLN in 1980. During the civil war that followed, more than 75,000 people were killed. In 1992, a peace agreement was signed. The right-wing Arena ruled the country until 2009, but then the FMLN, which is now a political party, took over the presidential power.

During the 1930s international economic depression, coffee prices dropped dramatically, which hit El Salvador's coffee-based economy hard. At the same time, the emerging working class in the cities had begun to question the prevailing state of governance with one-sided presidents supported by wealthy merchants and big-money owners. The working class demanded democracy and social reform. The first reasonably free election in the country's history was held in 1931. Victory made Labor Party leader Manuel Araújos, but he was already overthrown by the military that year.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing El Salvador. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The military coup became the start of an uprising led by Farabundo Martí, leader of the newly founded Communist Party. The military fought back brutally. Over a couple of weeks in 1932, 10,000 to 30,000 people were killed, including Martí. The victims were mainly peasants, seasonal workers and indigenous peoples.

A strict dictatorship prevailed in 1931–44 under General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez. The years that followed were marked by military coups, dictatorships, repression and elections with widespread cheating. Military Party National Reconciliation Party (PCN) had the power from its creation in 1961 to 1979.

During the 1960s and 1970s, El Salvador experienced a period of growth that mainly came to benefit the country's small economic elite. The development was stimulated by the formation of a common Central American market, which also laid the foundation for the Salvadoran industry.

Contemporary History of El SalvadorSoccer War

The golden years ended with a six-day war between El Salvador and Honduras in July 1969. The war is sometimes called the "football war" when it started in conjunction with three World Cup qualifiers in football between the countries. The background to the conflict was that Honduras, after a land reform, expelled 300,000 Salvadorans who sought refuge in neighboring countries in search of land. When forced to return home, the social unrest in El Salvador grew and support for the government fell. The government decided to invade Honduras. About 2,000 people lost their lives in the war, most of them civilian Hondurans. El Salvador withdrew only after the regional organization OAS threatened with financial sanctions.

Honduras expulsion of the Salvadorans and the international economic crisis in the early 1970s led to a deep recession in the country. The social and economic gaps increased and more and more people in the countryside became landless. In 1975, 40 percent of the rural population lacked their own land. Discontent grew and the demands for change were heard from several directions, including from the Catholic Church. The Christian Democrats (PDC) won the elections in 1972 and 1977, but the PCN retained power through electoral fraud. Popular mass organizations grew and smaller guerrilla groups were formed in the mountains. The military responded by supporting death patrols and right-wing groups. Trade union leaders, peasant leaders and priests were threatened, beaten, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Political murders came into everyday life.

In the fall of 1979, the government collapsed in a coup. Power was taken over by a reform-friendly junta with both civilian and military members. With the support of the military, the state took control of a quarter of all agricultural land and the country's banks. In the government sat PDC leader José Napoleón Duarte, who in 1980 was allowed to be elected interim president.

The FMLN is formed

In 1980, five guerrilla groups formed the umbrella organization Fronten Farabundo Martí for national liberation (FMLN). The guerrillas rejected the junta's reform and launched an offensive in 1981 to overthrow it. The offensive failed and the civil war continued until 1992. During periods, the guerrillas controlled smaller parts of the country where it built up alternatively controlled communities.

The 1984 presidential election was won by the PDC. The party implemented a series of social and economic reforms. At the same time, peace negotiations with the guerrillas began, but they did not produce any results.

The civil war put great strain on the economy. The guerrilla engaged in economic sabotage and foreign investment failed. Through massive US aid, El Salvador stayed afloat, and the army was able to hold the guerrilla bar. The United States wanted to avoid at all costs a revolution similar to that of Nicaragua in 1979.

In the 1989 presidential election, the right-wing party won the Republican National Alliance (Arena) and its candidate Alfredo Cristiani, who had succeeded in fading the party's ultra-conservative stamp. The guerrilla responded with an offensive that could only be stopped by the military bombing San Salvador's suburbs.

Peace agreements are signed

After the offensive, it was clear to both the government and the guerrillas that no one could win the war. Peace negotiations were resumed and with the help of the UN, a peace agreement was signed in January 1992. The peace agreement meant that the military would be more than halved, a new civilian police force built up with as many members of the army as the guerrillas, and the FMLN converted into a political party. The electoral system and the judicial system would be reformed and a previously started land reform resumed (see Agriculture and Fisheries).

Over 75,000 people had died during the civil war. Both the guerrillas and the government side had been guilty of human rights violations. In 1993, a UN-led Truth Commission concluded that government-controlled forces, including death squads, had accounted for 85 percent of all abuses. About 200 soldiers were named. Among other things, the FMLN was accused of kidnapping and executions by eleven mayors and three US Navy soldiers. One week after the Commission presented its report, the government enforced an amnesty for the crimes committed. Only after international pressure was a large group of senior officers forced to resign (see also Democracy and Rights).

In the 1994 elections, Arena not only won the presidential post, but also won twice as many seats as the FMLN in parliament. Arena's candidate, lawyer Armando Calderón Sól, was elected president.

Increased violence

During the latter part of the 1990s, violence and crime increased throughout the country. Many of the young Salvadorans who had fled to the United States during and shortly after the war were drawn into the North American gang culture. Salvadoran youth gang terrorized suburban residents in several US cities. After the end of the war, the United States began to expel the Salvadorans who had committed crimes. Many of them belonged to the violent youth gang that is now spreading to El Salvador (see also Social conditions).

Many voters thought that the authorities stood in the way of increasing crime, while the government's sale of state-owned enterprises was considered to favor an already wealthy upper class. As the dissatisfaction with Arena grew, support for FMLN increased. In the 1997 elections, the FMLN became equally strong with the Arena in Parliament and also won the mayor's post in San Salvador. Still, Arena's candidate, philosophy professor Francisco Flores, won in the 1999 presidential election.

Flores continued the arena's traditional policy, but the fact that the FMLN became a force to be reckoned with was clear when the party won the parliamentary majority in the 2000 election.

With the support of the smaller parties PCN and PDC, Arena could still introduce the US dollar as a parallel currency to the Salvadoran colón in January 2001. With the currency reform, the government hoped that interest rates and inflation would fall and that foreign investment would increase (see Economic overview)..

natural disasters

The years around the turn of the millennium, the country was hit by two natural disasters. Hurricane Mitch caused great havoc as it advanced across Central America in October 1998. In El Salvador, 374 people lost their lives. Three years later, the country was shaken by two powerful earthquakes that claimed more than 1,100 lives, injuring thousands of people and causing great material damage. Over one million Salvadorans became homeless.

In the parliamentary elections in 2003, the FMLN retained its parliamentary majority and the mayor's post in San Salvador. But in the March 2004 presidential election, Arenas' candidate, this time Antonio Elías Saca, former president of the Anep business organization, again triumphed.

The election result led to internal conflicts within the FMLN. The party lost its majority when seven of its members, a series of mayors and hundreds of party members formed a new party, the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR).

In October 2005, Hurricane Stan advanced over El Salvador at the same time as the volcano Ilamatepec outside Santa Ana erupted. 72 people lost their lives and large parts of the coffee harvest were destroyed. President Saca's firm actions in connection with the natural disasters helped to strengthen his position. His successes included his reform package for the health and education sectors. In addition, in 2006, Saca concluded negotiations with the United States on the Central American Free Trade Agreement DR-Cafta, which his predecessor Francisco Flores had initiated.

The March 2006 parliamentary election was a success for Arena while FMLN backed down. However, the FMLN retained the mayor post in San Salvador.

FMLN to power

Ahead of the 2009 presidential election, FMLN appointed a well-known journalist and television program director, Mauricio Funes, as its candidate. Funes lacked links to FMLN's hard-line left-wing ideology, which contributed to a rapid recovery for the party. The election became a historic victory for the former left-wing guerrillas: Funes already won the first round of elections (see Calendar).

For Arena, the loss of elections meant a severe setback. The party also lost its majority in Parliament, although it retained control there through its support parties. But the loss led to internal fragmentation and several MPs jumped off and formed a new party, the Great National Alliance (Ghana), which came to support the FMLN on several issues.

Also in the FMLN a serious crack soon occurred. The reformist Funes often ended up on a collision course with more radical groups within the party, and he repeatedly had to seek support from the right-wing parties in parliament to get through his proposals. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, Arena remained the largest party.

Arm rest between gangs

In the same year, a bishop and a former MP for the FMLN initiated a ceasefire between two of the country's criminal youth gangs. The members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 were promised better terms for imprisoned members and some efforts to offer members out in the community a way out of crime. The murder rate then dropped significantly. But from the end of 2013 there was again an increase in the number of murders. In addition, mass graves of dead youths had been found, prompting speculation that the youth gang had "disappeared" to hide what was in fact murder.

Button wins in the 2014 elections

In the 2014 presidential election, FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who was Fune's vice president, won. Sánchez Cerén was also commander of the FMLN during the war and thus became his historian as no previous guerrilla leader had led the country. Sánchez Cerén

came close to victory in the first round of elections but in the second round the result was so steady that it took four days before the electoral authority could announce that Sánchez Cerén had won. He received only a 0.22 percentage point margin, or just under 7,000 votes, more than Arena's candidate Norman Quijano. Arena claimed that cheating had occurred and demanded that the election be redone, but the Election Tribunal determined the result.

Sánchez Cerén, upon his entry, did not want to be felt in a settlement with the criminal youth gang that the representative entered into. Instead, Sánchez Cerén took a tougher stance on security issues. Among other things, stricter restrictions were imposed in prisons, such as mobile bans and restricted visits, to reduce crime organized by interns. In addition, a "security tax" was introduced on telecom traffic and on corporate profits over half a million dollars.

Like the representative, Sánchez Cerén found it difficult to effectively run his policy because the FMLN lacked control in Parliament. The opposition with Arena in the lead slowed down many initiatives and the result was often a political deadlock.

 
 

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