Country in Central America, bounded north and east by Honduras, south and southwest by the Pacific Ocean, and northwest by Guatemala.
El Salvador is a presidential democratic republic, with a multiparty system. The 1983 constitution, amended in 1985, provides for a president elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, assisted by an appointed vice-president and a council of ministers. The presidential election is held on a fixed date every five years and if a candidate does not receive over 50% of the vote a run-off race is held 30 days later between the two candidates with the highest shares of the vote. There is a single-chamber legislature, the legislative assembly, which comprises 84 members, elected by universal suffrage for a three-year term under a proportional representation system: 64 from 14 multi-member seats and 20 from a national constituency.
The original inhabitants of the area were Indians, who arrived from Mexico around 3000 BC. From the period of the Maya Indians, AD 100-1000, remain huge limestone pyramids built by them in western El Salvador. The Pipil Indians were in control of the area at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1525. El Salvador and other Central American Spanish colonies broke away from Spanish rule in 1811 and, after a decade of internal fighting, an Act of Independence of Central America was signed in 1821. It was part of the United Provinces of Central America between 1823 and 1838, when it became an independent republic.
Power held by army and oligarchy
The history of El Salvador has been marked by a succession of military revolts, with periods of tyrannical rule, violence, and political assassinations. An effort to form a Greater Republic of Central America, with Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, failed in the 1890s. The economy became based on coffee production for export and economic and political power became concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy of a small number of coffee planters, who ruled with the military. After relative stability from 1900, General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, who ruled 1931-44, brutally crushed an indigenous peasant uprising led by Farabundo Martíin 1932, and killed over 30,000 in what became known as ‘the massacre’ (La Matanza). A more orderly form of political succession was established after 1871. Yet governments tended to be dominated by the same economic interests, families, and clans, and the military played a key political role.
Guerrilla movement formed
After a coup in 1961 the conservative National Conciliation Party (PCN) was established, winning all the seats in the national assembly. The PCN stayed in power, with reports of widespread human-rights violations, until challenged in 1979 by a socialist guerrilla movement, the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN), which launched a civil war that was to last for 12 years. In October 1979, a civilian-military junta deposed President Carlos Humberto Romero, who had been in power since 1977.
Death squads operate
In 1980 the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, a champion of human rights, was shot dead in his cathedral. The murder of three US nuns and a social worker prompted US president Jimmy Carter to suspend economic and military aid. In 1980 José Napoleón Duarte, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), which headed a centrist coalition returned from exile and became president. The conservative US administration of Ronald Reagan supported him, as an anticommunist, and encouraged him to call elections in 1982. The left-wing parties refused to participate, and the elections were held amid great violence, at least 40 people being killed on election day. Although Duarte's Christian Democrats won the largest number of assembly seats, a coalition of right-wing parties blocked his continuation as president. A provisional chief executive, Álvaro Alfredo Magaña Borja, was selected from a list of candidates acceptable to the military, serving until the 1984 elections, which Duarte won in a run-off against Roberto d'Aubuisson, of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA), who was suspected of having links with the death squads which killed Archbishop Romero.
In 1984 the president's daughter was abducted by guerrillas, forcing him to negotiate with them, in the face of criticism from opposition parties and the military. In 1985 the anti-imperialist PDC won a convincing victory in the assembly, with 33 seats. The right-wing National Republic Alliance (ARENA) and PCN won 13 and 12 seats respectively, fighting the election on a joint platform. The guerrilla war continued; in August 1987 they agreed to meet and discuss the Regional Peace Plan of the Contadora group with Duarte, but the peace initiative collapsed.
Peaceful transfer of power
The election in 1989 of Alfredo Cristiani of D'Aubuisson's ARENA party saw El Salvador's first peaceful transfer of power between elected civilian leaders, although there were allegations of ballot-rigging. Cristiani took a hard line against the FMLN rebels, and many activists in trade-union, cooperative, and human-rights organizations were arrested. The guerrillas mounted a surprisingly effective offensive in the wealthy suburbs of San Salvador but subsequently agreed to peace talks. In 1990 a consistently high level of ‘disappearances’ was denounced by the country's Human Rights Commission. In the 1991 general election ARENA claimed 43 assembly seats and continued in power.
Peace accord signed
A peace accord, initiated by the United Nations (UN) and signed by the government and the FMLN in December 1991, came into effect in February 1992 and the cease-fire held. The FMLN subsequently became a political party and the military was purged of officers accused of human rights abuses, was halved in size, and prohibited from playing an internal security role. Evidence of human-rights violations by senior officials during the civil war was published in a report by a UN-sponsored Truth Commission in 1993. Although a government amnesty cleared those implicated, President Cristiani later carried out a purge of the country's top military leaders. It was estimated that the civil war had claimed some 70,000 lives 1979-91. It had also badly affected agriculture, leading to rural mass unemployment and mass emigration, particularly to the United States.
ARENA dominated the country's politics from 1989, but became more moderate, attracting business support, and its presidents implemented policies of economic liberalization. In the 1994 presidential election Armando Calderón Sol of ARENA won a clear majority, after an inconclusive first round. In the 1999 elections, he was succeeded by Francisco Flores Pérez. In general elections in March 2000, the FMLN displaced the ruling ARENA as the largest party in Congress, but did not win an overall majority.
Trade agreement and protests
In June 2000, El Salvador, together with Guatemala and Honduras, signed a free-trade agreement with Mexico, eliminating duties on 65 % of Mexican exports and on 80% of the exports of the other three countries to Mexico, over 12 years. As from January 2001, El Salvador adopted the dollar as its currency, phasing out the colon.
In October 2000, more than 2,000 protesters, armed with machetes and home-made bombs, held 500 government employees and legislators for several hours in the capital. The demonstrators, who were a mixture of ex-paramilitaries and peasants, demanded that President Flores reform the economy to reduce poverty. Police responded by firing tear gas and the hostages were released after several hours.
A powerful earthquake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, struck El Salvador on 13 January 2001, triggering landslides across the region. Over 1,000 people were killed. Over 800 aftershocks, some measuring 5 on the Richter scale, followed over the next two days. A second earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale followed exactly one month later, centred on San Vicente, 65 km/40 mi east of San Salvador. A further 300 people were killed, and over 1 million people, a sixth of the population, were now homeless.
Further victory for ARENA
Tony Saca of ARENA won the March 2004 presidential election, with a record 58% of the vote, and embarked on a pro-business and pro-US programme.
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