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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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)..
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
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
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
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
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.