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In the pre-colonial era, El Salvador (the Redeemer) was a transition area between the great pre-Colombian civilisations of the Aztecs and Mayans in the north and the civilisations in the south. Around 1200, several cities were founded, of which Cuzcatlán (south-east of San Salvador) became the largest city-state with the arrival of the Spaniards in 1524.

From the 16th century onwards, the Spaniards conquered Central America. During the colonisation, today's El Salvador belonged for a long time to the province of Guatemala. In 1786 San Salvador gained a degree of autonomy. Central America and Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821. In 1823 the country joined the Federation of States of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador), which, however, was not long-lived due to mutual disagreements and was dissolved in 1838. El Salvador became an independent republic. There was no peace in the region; during the first century of independence the country fought several wars with neighbouring countries, mostly with the aim of restoring 'the Federation'.

After independence, El Salvador was formally a democracy, but in reality the large landowners gained much power. Many small communities were forced to join the large coffee plantations (fincas) of the 'Fourteen Families'.

In 1912, the government established the notorious National Guard (Guardia Nacional), which would play an important role in the suppression of the farmers.

Almost all presidents in this period were army officers. The elections of 1931, organized by President Pío Romero Bosque, were the most free elections until then. The winner was Arturo Araujo, who, however, was succeeded by dictator Maximiliano Hernánez Martínez in a military coup after only a few months in office (March to December 1931).

Since 1932, the military held the most important government posts. This lasted until the signing of the peace accords in 1992. This period was characterised by military coups and dictatorial regimes. In the civil war that raged in the 1980s between the military and the guerrilla movement, tens of thousands of people were killed. The most famous victim was Archbishop Oscar Romero. Successive military dictatorships ensured that the interests of the wealthy coffee elite remained paramount. El Salvador's fourteen richest coffee-producing families (los catorce) benefited from cheap labour and large land holdings and not from democratisation.

In 1990, under the auspices of the UN, a peace agreement was reached between the guerrilla movement and the Salvadoran government, which was signed in Mexico in 1992. This officially ended the civil war. In the 1994 elections, for the first time in Salvadoran history, all political parties participated. Politics in the 1990s was characterised by a strong polarisation between the former guerrillas on the left (FMLN), and the ex-military on the right of the political arena (ARENA). The 2004 presidential elections took place without major incidents. An ARENA government led by Tony Sacadie was formed, consisting mainly of a 'new guard' of young people. In March 2006 El Salvador became the first Central American country to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. In March 2009 Mauricio Funes of the FMNL won the presidential elections. In July 2009, he was sworn in as the first left-wing president in twenty years. In March 2012, Funes loses slightly in the parliamentary elections. Presidential elections were held on 2 February 2014, with no clear winner, followed by a second round on 9 March, narrowly won by Vice President Sanchez Ceren. He is sworn in in June 2014. In May 2015, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified by Pope Francis. In January 2017, the police announced that, for the first time in history, there had been 24 hours without a murder.

The young, independent politician Nayib Bukele won the 2019 presidential election promising to usher in a "new era" for El Salvador. During his five years in office, he vowed to tackle gang violence and corruption, and promote better relations with the United States.

A political crisis in El Salvador occurred on 1 May 2021, when the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador voted to oust several Supreme Court judges and the Attorney General of El Salvador, both of whom were outspoken opponents of Nayib Bukele's presidency.


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Last updated April 2024
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