Early period up to the 17th century
Traces of settlement from the second millennium BC have been discovered in the area of today’s El Salvador. Around 900 AD the area was part of the great Mayan Empire, which stretched from what is now southern Mexico via Belize and Guatemala to El Salvador.
In 1524 the Spanish conquered the country under Pedro de Alvarado (1485-1541). It was a Spanish colony (affiliated to Guatemala) for around 300 years. The local population was forced to do forced labor. Alvarado founded the “City of the Redeemer”, San Salvador, a year later. Large plantations for the production of indigo, a coveted dye in Europe, were systematically created in the 17th century.
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The 19th century
In 1821 Guatemala and with it today’s El Salvador became independent of Spain. After a temporary connection to Mexico, the country joined the Central American Federation in 1823. The Federation broke up about 20 years later; from it emerged the independent republics of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (1841).
In the mid-19th century, a synthetic dye was developed and the indigo market collapsed. El Salvador changed the cultivation completely to coffee. The entire economy was based on the large plantations, which had been in the hands of a small but rich and powerful section of the population since colonization (one speaks of the oligarchy of the “14 families”). This conservative upper class faced liberal urban traders and intellectuals who were able to prevail under General Francisco Men¨¦ndez (1830 to 1890) in 1885, with repeated political upheavals, mostly through military coups.
The 20th century
According to AbbreviationFinder, the global economic crisis in the late 1920s and the associated drop in coffee prices was devastating for the economy in El Salvador and, as a result, for the country’s population. Unemployment soared, and countless smallholders were on the brink of ruin. The Communist Party was founded in 1930 under August¨ªn Farabundo Mart¨ª. The social unrest was brutally suppressed after a military coup led by Hern¨¢ndez Mart¨ªnez in 1932, driven by the oligarchy. Over 20,000 peasants were murdered by the military (dating back to El Salvador’s history as La Matanza, “the carnage”).
In the decades that followed, the military remained in power and dominated the political scene. Elections were held, but the results were controlled. The implemented agricultural reforms could not hide the fact that efforts were made to maintain the prevailing social conditions. Several dictatorial rulers took turns as strikes and militant attacks by leftist guerrilla groups increased. Right-wing “death squads”, which were tolerated by the government, also caused terror in the country.
In 1979 the conflict escalated: when Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered by right-wing extremists, the open civil war began between the FMLN (“Frente Farabundo Mart¨ª para la Liberaci¨®n Nacional”), a group of five Marxist-oriented guerrilla groups, and government forces by the United States were supported. Countless citizens of the country lost their lives in the clashes or fled abroad. The President Napole¨®n Duarte, who ruled from 1980 to 1989, failed to mediate between the left-wing opposition and the right-wing wing, ie the conservative military and the still large landowners, through reform programs and compromise proposals. In 1986, the devastation and destruction caused by a severe earthquake were added to the domestic political problems.
In 1989 Alfredo Christiani became the country’s new president from the right-wing liberal ARENA (“Alianza Republicana Nacionalista”) and took over the unresolved conflicts from his predecessor Duarte. It was not until 1992, when the Cold War ended, that the United Nations brokered a peace agreement that included democratization of the army, land reforms and respect for human rights. Around 80,000 people died in the conflict. As a result of the agreement, a general amnesty for civil war criminals was enacted in 1993, with a UN report blaming around 85% of the crimes committed in the past twelve years by official forces. After the peace agreement, El Salvador increasingly received development aid from abroad to stabilize the domestic political and economic situation.
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After the civil war
After the 1999 elections, the ARENA party candidate, Francisco Flores, who had studied politics in Oxford and Harvard, became president. In 2000 the general amnesty for war criminals was lifted again, which meant that crimes from the civil war period from 1980 to 1992 could now be brought to justice. To stabilize the economy, the US dollar was introduced as a second currency and the domestic currency (Col¨®n) was linked to it at a fixed exchange rate. ARENA candidate El¨ªas Antonio Saca Gonz¨¢lez won the 2004 presidential election. Saca continued his predecessor’s neoliberal economic policies. In 2009, he was replaced by Mauricio Funes, who is close to the FMLN and pursued a socially emphasized agenda. S¨¢nchez Cer¨¦n has been President since 2014;
El Salvador continues to suffer from the aftermath of the civil war. Poverty prevails in the countryside and on the outskirts of cities, and almost half of the working population has no permanent job. The crime rate is extremely high: the statistics show more than ten murders and hundreds of robberies every day. This makes the country one of the highest murder rates in Latin America. Due to the difficult economic and security situation, more and more residents are leaving the country. With a population of approximately 6.7 million people, approximately 2.6 million legally or illegally live abroad, especially in the United States. As a result, almost a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from money returns from Salvadorans living abroad.