El Salvador Civil War
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The El Salvador Civil War was predominantly fought between the Salvadoran military dictatorship and a unified leftist opposition guerrilla movement known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) between 1980 and 1992.
Origins of the war lie in the early 1970s. Salvadoran industry and economy was devastated by the Football War with Honduras in 1969. In such an impoverished climate, opposition parties and guerrilla armies formed to challenge the military regime of the time. The government stayed in power throughout the 1970s only through fraudulent elections, leading in 1977 to mass riots and suppression that left 7,000 people dead. In this unstable environment the United States government supported a coup d'état in 1979 that installed another right-wing military junta. However, criticism and unrest continued.
The most high-profile critic of the military dictatorship was Archbishop Óscar Romero. Romero was shot dead by agents of the government while officiating mass on March 24 1980. Romero's death was a spark for a full scale civil war. The country's opposition united and in October five anti-government organizations formed a major military resistance known as the FMLN.
The civil war quickly became very bloody and destructive. Infrastructure collapsed as the FMLN seized portions of the country and launched major unsuccessful offensives in January 1981 and again in April 1982. Government bombing and repression in the countryside killed thousands. Priests and nuns were among those targeted. In 1981 Mexico and France recognised the FMLN and called for settlement. However the United States under the Reagan administration opposed any left-wing influence in Latin America and massively increased its aid to the Salvadoran Army.
During the war several attempts were made at elections, but these were marred by paramilitary violence and/or FMLN boycott. In 1986 the aftermath of a strong earthquake brought three years of relative peace and negotiations. But in November 1989, the FMLN launched a new offensive, capturing parts of the San Salvador. In response government forces bombed heavily populated areas of the capital.
By 1991, however, a new willingness towards co-operation was emerging. A truce was declared in April and negotiations concluded in January 1992. A new constitution was enacted, the Armed Forces regulated, a civilian police force established and the FMLN became a legal political party.
In total the civil war killed 75,000 people, left 8,000 more missing and a million homeless with another million exiled.