About El Salvador

Originally populated by the Pipil and Lenca Indians, El Salvador was colonized by the Spanish in the 1520s. In the centuries that followed, a small landowning elite controlled the country while the large majority of the population worked as subsistence farmers or in deplorable conditions harvesting major export crops such as indigo, coffee and sugarcane. Though El Salvador officially became and independent nation in 1839, this did nothing to distribute wealth or facilitate land reforms.

In 1932 indigenous peasants revolted to demand the right to own land. The rebels were massacred by the military regime controlling the government – leaving an estimated 30,000 dead. The startling inequalities and a general lack of opportunity characteristic of the colonial era persisted. By the 1970s many groups, including rural peasants, students, labor unions, and teachers- began to demand their rights and organize in opposition to the government.

This time, however, the protest and the violent oppression that followed led to a twelve year civil war. The brutal war, which was fought between FMLN guerilla forces and the US-backed Salvadoran military, lasted from 1980 until 1992. During the civil war, over 75,000 civilians were tortured, killed and/or disappeared.

After the signing of the peace accords in 1992, thousands of Salvadoran refugees returned to their homes or to newly populated communities to begin to rebuild their lives. Following the war, the right-wing party ARENA controlled the government for 20 years. They established neo-liberal economic policies and an entrenched bureaucracy that continue to have a negative impact on  the majority of the Salvadoran population. In 2009, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN, which was converted into a political party after the war, became the first progressive president of El Salvador.

Despite the election of a more progressive president, El Salvador continues to battle many obstacles including:

  • Environmental degradation caused by deforestation, pesticides, and mining threaten the water and soil on which Salvadorans rely for food
  • CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), signed with the US in 2005, which has flooded Salvadoran marketed with cheap consumer goods and is thus weakening El Salvador’s agricultural sector
  • Mass immigration to the United States because of a lack of economic opportunity has weakened the domestic workforce
  • High rates of violence, perpetuated by gangs and other nefarious forces, leave the rest of the population living in fear
  • Fighting for women’s rights and opportunities. El Salvador currently has the highest per capita rate of femicide – murders of women specifically because they are women.

Read the extended Recent History and Current Issues Affecting El Salvador.