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Causes of the Salvadoran Civil War

Avantika Rastogi
Mr. Soria

World History
April 25,l 2016
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Causes of the Salvadoran Civil War
Causes for Civil War and Failed Revolution in El Salvador The civil war in El
Salvador exhibited many classic hallmarks of a left-wing guerrilla movement fighting to
overthrow a repressive authoritarian government. The military had been in power since
1931, ever since then there has been great political instability and the government and
military have been abusing human rights. Guerrilla warfare was always a growing
problem in South America and Latin countries in general, but the fact that the
government was unable to control the guerrilla groups was a big factor in the civil war.
Along with the guerilla warfare there was a profound economic inequality, which
evidently was caused by an unsuccessful form of government taking power. Guerrilla
revolutionaries failed to take power from the government which was the reason there
was no revolution in El Salvador, with a revolution a new form of government could have
changed El Salvador for the better. As guerilla violence increased the displacement of
peasants did as well. Because of this it is obvious that the war was started because of
the repressive and crumbling military government and their abuse of humans rights.
The military had been in control of El Salvador since 1931. shortly after they
came to power a peasant rebellion took place and the government responded by killing
over 100,000 civilians. This is one of many examples of the abuse of human rights in El
Salvador. The methods of taking and keeping control were extremely outdated. The
government hid this from the higher class by using propaganda and censoring
newspapers. These events caused a distinct tension in the country. When the JRG
(Revolutionary Government Junta) held a coup many of the lower class civilians were
obviously in favor. The JRG had forward thinking, left-wing ideas which were conflicting

with many of the upper and middle class citizens. Although the government had little
control over the tension caused, there were many
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preventative actions that could have been taken in order to stop a coup, which the
Salvadoran government failed to take. It is safe to say that the out-dated military regime
had a large part to play in the Salvadoran Civil War.
A single guerrilla coalition known as the FMLN( Farabundo Marti National
Liberation Front) was formed on October 1980. Many peasants supported the FMLN
because it opposed the Salvadoran government which was corrupt and unfair and would
only support the elite. The Salvadoran government became notorious for human rights
abuses and for causing the deaths of many innocent people. If they were aware of a
town that supported the FMLN they would come and bomb the town. Any person who
opposed the government faced the danger of being killed. On the other hand, the FMLN
would also do the same thing with people that supported their opposing side which was
the Salvadoran government and army. The FMLN is one of the main political parties in El
Salvador during the civil war, it is supported by the guerrilla warfare which is also
supported by the lower class.The FMLN also received support of other communist
countries such as the Soviet Union and Cuba. This caught the attention of the United
States and led the U. S. to help the Salvadoran government with military aid. The U. S.
would send different weapons to the Salvadoran army and would even train them in the
School of the Americas in Georgia. These leaders were trained how to use the weapons
that were being sent. During the Civil War in El Salvador, the FMLN took control over
Morazn and Chalatenango. These sections remained under their control throughout the
civil war. The FMLN would train females and males of different ages in their camps
which were located in the mountains and jungles. They would teach them military
techniques and anyone who would not cooperate with them would get killed. They would

recruit soldiers by stopping buses and would force older boys and men to be part of their
side. This also applied to the Salvadoran army. When guerrilla
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movements started occurring the government should have taken action in order to
prevent people from resorting to violence as the only solution.
The military regime was allies with the elite which had the power. They needed
the military in order to control peasants that wanted to revolt due to the inequality that
existed among social classes and the economy which was dominated by the wealthy.
Each year the number of peasants who lost their lands increased. For example, in 1975,
41% of the population owned no land because the wealth was concentrated in the hands
of those families who could effectively produce cash crops with large scale farming.
The majority of the people who lived in the countryside were excluded from political
participation. Economic inequality was rampant throughout Latin America, although it
seems like an unpreventable issue, the government has a lot of control over how money
gets distributed throughout the classes. If the government had been more stable and
had the ability to provide financial aid to the lower classes the economic gap between
the classes would have been much smaller thus decreasing the inequality.
Unlike the surrounding countries, El Salvador did not experience a revolution.
Because the guerrilla revolutionaries failed to seize power, the war in El Salvador can be
termed less a revolution and more of an extended rebellion (Gettleman). Because the
left-wing party only had support of the peasants, they were unable to win over the larger
part of the population. A guerrilla movement is fueled by popular support and without
this, the left-wing party was unable to take control. This caused the civil war almost
directly because the peasants were still incredibly unhappy with their current situation
and the fact that the FMLN was not able to gain power was also upsetting causing even

more tension between classes. The failed revolution just increased tensions and
therefore helped light the fuse of the Salvadoran Civil War.

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The Salvadoran army made an effort to contain the insurgency by using a
scorched earth policy. This tactic effectively destroyed the homes of several lower class
civilians and displaced them (Gettleman). These civilians were obviously not happy with
the situation because it destroyed entire communities. This scorched earth policy was
completely unnecessary and it did not even work in the long haul. The government was
at fault for displacing the large amounts of lower class civilians. This helped the
popularity of the FMLN and the left-wing party in general.
It is obvious that the war was started because of the repressive and crumbling
military government and their abuse of humans rights. Many of the governments outdated and badly thought out ideas caused the civil war. This included displacement of
peasants and the overall lack of control over civilians. The instability of the government
and the economic instability had an incredibly large role in the civil war. Failure to
produce revolution is similarly determined by the inability of the guerrillas to capture
popular support for their cause, foreign opposition to the revolution, as well as reform of
the old regime.

Bibliography
Gettleman, Marvin E. El Salvador: Central America in the New Cold War. New York:
Grove Press, 1981.
Montgomery, Tommy Sue. Revolution in El Salvador. Boulder: Westview Press, 1982.
Weinberg, Stephanie, El Salvador Civil War. [article on-line]. Washington, D.C.: Trade
and Environment Database, Case 22, May 1997, The Inventory of Conflict and
Environment, accessed 15 March 2016; available from
http://www.american.edu/TED/ice/elsalv.htm; Internet.
Wickham-Crowley, Timothy. Guerrillas and Revolution in Latin America: A Comparative
Study of Insurgents and Regimes Since 1956. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press,
1992.