Republic of Central America, SW of Honduras, on the Pacific Ocean. San Salvador is its capital. Conquered by the Spaniards under Pedro de Alvarado in 1524, it came under the control of Guatemala, and in 1821 it became part of the short-lived Mexican Empire of Agustin de Iturbide, following its independence from Spain in 1822–23. A member of the Central American Confederation from 1823 to 1839, it was later disturbed by interference from Guatemala and Nicaragua. The country was ruled by a dictatorship from 1931 to 1944. It was at war with Honduras for four days in 1969. The country has been plagued recently by severe political instability, government corruption and repression, rebellion, and guerrilla warfare.
It is the smallest, most densely populated, and one of the poorest of the republics of Central America. In 1979, General Carlos Humberto Romero was overthrown by a military junta. Murders and other terrorism continued, and the unrest erupted into a full-scale civil war between the government and guerrillas of the leading opposition group, the FMLN. In 1990, Jose Napoleon Duarte, a Christian Democrat, became president under the junta and called for elections, which he won in 1984. The guerrilla war between FMLN rebels and right-wing death squads continued and got worse after the election in 1989 of President Alfredo Cristiani, leader of the right-wing ARENA party. In 1991, however, the government, with help from the United Nations, negotiated with the FMLN, and in 1992 a peace treaty with the rebels was signed, ending the bloody 12-year civil war that killed more than 70,000 people. The FMLN demobilized and participated in the postwar 1994 elections, and ARENA retained power. The violence from both right and left had subsided, and the government instituted a major land reform program. Economic growth has been slowed by natural disasters—Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and two earthquakes in 2001.