In 1838 the federation of Central America was dissolved and
El Salvador, along with many other Central American countries, gained full
independence. Continuing in the tension between the indigenous people and upper
classes, the government adopted a one-side constitution favoring the wealthy land
owners. For the rest of the 1800s the constitution was continuously amended, but
always maintaining power in the hands of the wealthy land owners. This subjugated
both the indigenous people as well as the middle classes.
The most obvious alteration of these disagreements and the importance of arable
land came with the shift of exporting indigo to exporting coffee. As indigo was
no longer demanded coffee became the country's most valuable crop and the wealthy
land owners abandoned some lands and took others in order to control the most favorable
lands to grow the crop of importance at the time. This releasing and taking of land
truly magnified the power the land owning class held.
The next example of power being held firmly and solely at the top of the economic
scale came in 1931 when General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez took power in a coup.
Hernandez Martinez suppressed the people to the point that the indigenous people,
along with others rose up to fight the dictator. With no true support, money, weapons,
or power, the reaction brought about by Hernandez Martinez became known as "la
matanza" (the slaughter), killing nearly 30,000 people.
Despite Hernandez Martinez's removal from power in 1944, the country has retained
little stability from 1931 to 1980. The country was ruled over by military dictator
after military dictator, some of whom came to power through coups, others of whom
came to power through unfair elections. This instability peaked in the 1970s when
Jose Napoleon Duarte lost a presidential bid, which many claim was rigged and hence
revolts began. After Napoleon Duarte was exiled by the government democratic methods
of change were almost wholly pushed aside for a military uprising.
In 1979 a new government took power, with whom no group truly agreed, leading to
civil war. This civil war crossed borders as the domestic groups were divided by
political leanings and hence foreign powers tried to encourage their political leaning
groups, essentially becoming a communist or anti-communist revolution from an outside
perspective. This civil war lasted until the early 1990s, when peace was finally
The peace that prevailed from the war removed power from the military and put that
power into the hands of the people to a greater degree. Trials also began against
individuals from all groups who proved themselves to be inhuman and violators of
numerous human rights during the wars, however few of these people have actually
be tried or imprisoned for these crimes. This peace settlement also shifted land
ownership in many ways.
Since the end of civil war the government has been working on de-militarizing and
has privatized numerous institutions and companies. Although progress has been made
in these areas, the economy and culture has been strained by the return of numerous
Salvadorans who fled during the war. This has led to greater unemployment and the
opportunity to find work as drug traffickers, an industry that is sadly growing
as the country sits between the source of these drugs (South
America) and the users demanding the product (primarily the
United States and Canada).