conquistador, Pedro de Alvarado, marched into what is now El Salvador
in 1524. Over the next 20 years, his troops would defeat an unusually
strong Indian resistance to the conquest.
The Spanish ran the country from neighbouring Guatemala for almost
300 years, until El Salvador won independence, along with the rest of
Central America, in 1821. Its early wealth was based on indigo and
cocoa but big coffee growers held most political and economic power
The army crushed a peasant revolt against landowners in 1932, killing between 10,000 to 30,000 in less than a week.
After decades of rightist military governments, young officers
staged a coup in October 1979 and formed a junta with leftist
civilians. The junta was taken over by right-wing officers and
far-right death squads murdered thousands of suspected leftists.
Left-wing guerrillas, active since the early 1970s, fought back.
In 1989, the rebels mounted their biggest offensive, taking large
parts of the capital before retreating in the face of superior air
power. Although unable to seize power, they showed that the army was
unable to win the war.
The U.S. government poured about $6 billion of economic and military
aid into El Salvador during the civil war, to defeat the Farabundo
Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas. It then saw as a spearhead
for the Soviet Union in Central America. U.S. aid was severely
criticised due to notorious human rights abuses by the Salvadoran
security forces, such as the torture and murder of thousands of
With the end of the Cold War and the departure of U.S. President
Ronald Reagan in 1989, the United States government backed a negotiated
settlement to the war and pushed the government into making
Both sides accepted United Nations mediation and peace accords were
signed in January 1992. Some 75,000 people died in the 12-year internal
U.N. peacekeepers oversaw rebels demobilisation; cuts in the armed
forces and sweeping political reforms. More than 100 officers were
purged for their involvement in human rights atrocities.
In general elections in 1994, the right-wing Nationalist Republican
Alliance (ARENA) won 39 of the 84 seats in the National Assembly. The
left-wing FMLN won 21 and the Christian Democratic Party 18. Armando
Caldern Sol, the ARENA candidate, was elected president with 68.2
percent of the votes against 31.6 percent for the FMLN candidate.
However, ARENA lost its congressional majority to its rival.
Francisco Flores was elected president in March 1999, in a third consecutive presidential victory for ARENA.
The FMLN was rift by internal divisions after the 1994 election and again after the 1999 poll.
On January 13, 2001, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter
scale hit Central America, with strongest impact in Santa Tecla, La
Libertad, Usulutn and other areas south and west of San Salvador.
A similar-scale earthquake in 1986 killed 1,500 people, injured more than 20,000 and left 300,000 homeless.