Free El Salvador Research Paper Sample
According to Aleman and Arce (Yahoonews.com), El Salvador had more murder victims in March than any other month in the last ten years. This is a direct result of gang violence and it is feared more violence is looming on the horizon. Aleman and Arce (Yahoonews.com) wrote, “Data from the National Civil Police show 481 homicides recorded last month, or more than 15 a day. April's start is no better, with 73 killings reported in the first five days. At this rate, El Salvador is on pace to surpass Honduras as the deadliest peace-time country in the world.” Salvadoran officials claim the issue is gangs are using deadly force to twist the government’s arm into negotiating on the problems that accumulated through a two-year truce that unraveled last year. They also feel it could be a response towards how President Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s new government had dealt with the country’s two major gangs in Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street. One thing, however, is certain and that is El Salvador has been a country that has been through many tough times. Civil war and natural disasters have torn this country asunder, but with assistance from other countries, El Salvador is continuing the long path to recovery to become a successful democracy and nation.
Implemented in November of 1983, the constitution of El Salvador states the nation is a republic. Executive power lays in the hands of the president, who is elected by direct popular vote for a term of five years (Encyclopedia of the Nations, web). The president must have been
born in El Salvador and his or her parents must have been as well. He or she must also be over 30 years of ages and cannot serve consecutive terms in office. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, enforces the laws, creates a yearly budget, drafts international treaties and conventions, selects diplomatic officials and oversees the police force (Encyclopedia of the Nations, web).
According to the Encyclopedia of the Nations, (Encyclopediaofthenations.com), the National Assembly is the legislative branch of government and is composed of 84 members placed in positions on the basis of population size of their districts. They are selected for three years in office and must be 25 years old. “The Assembly levies taxes, contracts loans and arranges for their payment, regulates the money supply, approves the executive budget, ratifies treaties and conventions, declares war, and suspends or reestablishes constitutional guarantees in national emergencies. The deputies, the president's ministers, and the Supreme Court all may propose legislation. The Assembly approves legislation and is technically empowered to override a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote.” (Encyclopediaofthenations.com).
Voting for both genders was instituted in 1950. Unfortunately, however, voting in El Salvador “has been a source of controversy” (Encyclopediaofthenations.com). In the 1980’s the government enabled voting to be compulsory, gang members and guerrillas told citizens not to vote because it would support the government. Therefore, “the Salvadorans were confronted with a dilemma: vote, and face the wrath of the guerrillas, or refuse to vote, and immediately become suspected of leftist sympathy. At times, voting was not secret. Current practices suggest a more confidential and voluntary system is developing” (Encyclopediaofthenations.com). Also, El Salvador’s two main political parties are the FMLN and Arena.
According to The Washington Post (Washingtonpost.com), “Two volcanic ranges, running roughly west to east, segment the country, but in between are broad, fertile valleys, such as that of the Lempa, the principal river.” As there is a large amount of arable land and several fairly large lakes, agriculture has been the economic backbone of the nation, until recent decades. It is also important to note that “El Salvador is the smallest Latin American republic and the most densely populated; overpopulation is a critical problem. The vast majority of the population is of mixed indigenous and European descent” (Washingtonpost.com). The official language of the country is Spanish and it has long been a bastion for the Roman Catholic faith.
Throughout its history, El Salvador’s economy has been agriculturally based, but services and industry have been making large strides. According to The Washington Post (Washingtonpost.com), “El Salvador's economy was adversely affected by its 12-year civil war. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, attempts were made to revive the country's economic life, and the economy had recovered by the beginning of 2001, when El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency.” Nearly 50 percent of El Salvador’s acreage is dedicated to crops or for pastures and it’s major agricultural exports are corn, rice, beans, oilseeds, sorghum, coffee and sugar. “Food and beverage processing is important and petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, furniture, and light metals are among El Salvador's leading manufactures. The Inter-American Highway crosses El Salvador and forms the heart of an excellent transportation system that links San Salvador with the ports of La Unión, Acajutla, and La Libertad and the inland cities of San Miguel and Santa Ana” (Washingtonpost.com). The nation’s other top exports are coffee, sugar, shrimp, textiles and chemicals, with its leading imports as raw materials, consumer and capital goods, fuel, food, petroleum and electricity. Its largest trading
partner is the United States (Washingtonpost.com). “However, in the late 1990s, these accomplishments had been offset by high oil prices, natural disasters, and a decline in the number of maquiladoras (manufacturing plants that import and assemble duty-free components for export). These factors prevented El Salvador from paying off its external debt, and the country continues to rely partly on foreign aid” (Washingtonpost.com). It is also important to note, the economy is heavily influenced by the more than one million Salvadorans residing in the United States, that send money back home to their families to survive upon. Economically, the nation is struggling, but the president has introduced social welfare projects that should remove some of the strain on Salvadoran families.
Once the Spanish were in control they named their latest acquisition El Salvador or “the savior” (PBS, web). Since El Salvador lacked gold and silver, land was their only real natural resource, which the Spanish took full advantage off. This was essentially the undoing for the Pipil civilization. It was also at this time that intermarriages between the Spanish and the native
populations commenced and formed the basis for the interracial society that remains in El Salvador today. The Spanish also established the behavior of exporting only one single lucrative export. At first it was cacao and then indigo (PBS.com).
After gaining its independence from Spain in 1821, El Salvador briefly became part of the Mexican empire and when that ended in 1823, the county became a member of the Central American Federation. In a power struggle with Guatemala, El Salvador moved the federal capital to San Salvador and after this organization became extant, became a republic. El Salvador, however, was continually bullied by the dictators Rafael Carrera and Justo Rufino Barrios of Guatemala and Jose Santos Zelaya of Nicaragua (Washingtonpost.com).
It was during the second half of the 19th century that coffee exportation became a crucial element in the Salvadoran economy, “signaling the beginning of El Salvador’s modern history” (PBS, web). As coffee growers snatched up all the available land, this displaced the indigenous people and created a large chasm between the rich and the poor. It also was the beginning of what El Salvador is still experiencing as a class system between the land and the landless, has always been an issue. As has discrimination amongst these classes (PBS.com).
When the price of coffee plummeted in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, coffee farmers were desperate to survive. They began to organize under labor leaders such as Agustin Farabundo Marti. This is significant as it was the first instance of an opposition party arising in El Salvador. When Marti led an opposition group composed of the rural poor against the government in 1932, the army killed more than 30,000 people. Their primary targets were the indigenous populations and this violence is referred to as the “la matanza” (PBS.com). “For the following 50 years, every president was a military officer and the military dominated the
country. A small land-owning elite controlled the economy and the mostly rural majority lived in poverty as agricultural laborers” (PBS.com). Also, “in the 1960s, on the heels of revolution in Cuba, the United States encouraged reform in El Salvador by creating the “Alliance for Progress.” The Alliance supported the formation of opposition political parties and urged land reform – a reform resisted by both the socio-economic elite and the military rulers” (PBS.com).
As these opposition groups developed and grew in strength so did the repressive tactics on the part of the government. “Death squads” began assassinating “subversives” in an effort to curtail antigovernment activities and protests. Unarmed antigovernment demonstrators were fired upon by the military on two separate occasions” (PBS.com). The government also manipulated the ballot box to its advantage during presidential elections. By the beginning of the 1970s, guerilla organizations began to amass as they felt the only way their situation could be altered was through armed conflict. In the presidential election of 1972, a center-left coalition reportedly won, until the government implemented a three-day censure on any news and then immediately claimed Colonel Molina had won the election (PBS.com).
When the same thing happened in the presidential election of 1977, people gathered in the main plaza of San Salvador in protest. That is when the government went on the offensive and started firing on the civilians. A short time later, Father Rutilio Grande, a rural priest, was murdered. “In a response, Monsignor Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador called for an investigation, urged popular demonstrations and led a memorial mass attended by more than 100,000 people” (PBS.com).
As the situation in El Salvador became evident to the rest of the world, the United States stepped in to aid the government to quell the unrest. “In 1980, after President Carter announced a
$50 million aid package to support reforms – including $5 million in military aid – Archbishop Romero urged the U.S. to cease all military assistance to El Salvador” (PBS.com). Thirty days after his request, Archbishop Romero ended a Sunday sermon with, “I beseech you, I beg you, order you in the name of God stop the repression” (PBS.com). The next day, Romero was murdered and within six months civil war between the FMLN, a leftist opposition party and the government had commenced.
For twelve years civil war gripped El Salvador. The government, fueled by aid and munitions from the United States fought not only the guerilla forces of the FMLN, but the civilian population as well. Death squads killed mothers and their children, with the government also recruiting children as soldiers. The United Nations estimates more than 75,000 people were killed in one of the bloodiest wars ever witnessed in the Americas. Hundreds of thousands of people just went missing with no trace of them ever being revealed and many Salvadorans migrated to the United States. “The country’s infrastructure had crumbled, and the nation appeared to be no closer to its goals of peace, prosperity and social justice than when the process began. Then in 1989, the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America shocked the international community into action” (PBS.com).
As the war dragged on in El Salvador, the United States Congress did not agree with the State Department’s assessment that the situation in that country was improving. The Speaker of the House, Tom Foley, developed a special task force to examine El Salvador’s murder victims. Joe Moakley, of Massachusetts was appointed to oversee the process and during his time in El Salvador, discovered severe issues with the Salvadoran military and their repressive tactics. This was when Moakley brought these concerns to the government and claimed the course of action
the United States was pursuing in El Salvador was incorrect. Moakley’s research unearthed the information that the Salvadoran government was responsible for the deaths of the Jesuits and that there were members of the United States government that knew this without ever revealing that data. Moakley’s report was the catalyst for the international community to terminate the war. This was when the FMLN and the government invited the United Nations to step in and aid the peace process. These negotiations ended in January 1992 when the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed. From then on the FMLN was recognized as a political party and a civilian police force was established (PBS.com). Nearly every segment of the accords has been followed and it is considered to be one of the most successful peace treaties brokered by the United Nations (PBS.com).
Although the war has long been over, El Salvador has struggled to right the ship. That, however, is not entirely the nation’s fault. As the economy began to grow in 1990s and beyond El Salvador was hit by hurricanes, which impeded much of its progress and left many of its populace dead or homeless. Thankfully many of the reforms outlined in the Peace Accords were instituted yet many Salvadorans do not feel their lives have improved in the aftermath of the civil war. “Half of the six million Salvadorans are unemployed. Poverty and the proliferation of guns have led to high homicide rates – 12 times higher than murder rates in New York” (PBS.com). As a result of no environmental protection regulations, El Salvador is highly polluted with garbage removal and sewage issues. “Less than three percent of the country remains forested due to the heavy cultivation of coffee and sugar” (PBS.com). “El Salvador has the highest level of environmental damage in the Americas, leaving its lush, volcanic beauty and the health of its residents in jeopardy. The disastrous flooding from Hurricane Mitch in 1998 was primarily a
result of erosion due to deforestation” (PBS.com). Also, most the nation’s rivers are highly polluted and environmental experts feel the country could have no potable drinking water within the next two decades (PBS.com).
Then there is the gang violence. The president, a former guerilla leader during the civil war, is taking a hardline policy against the gangs and placed many of their members in a maximum security prison. Some Salvadorans contend the problem is reprisals for this policy of the presidents and that the rate of homicides in El Salvador remained the same during the two year truce. It was just the bodies of the dead were hidden from view. No matter what the cause, the Red Cross will be sending in a team over the coming weeks to see if they can help solve the problem. They are already working in some of the more gang-dominated areas of the country to diminish the number of homicides, as El Salvador is swiftly becoming one of the most dangerous places in the world that is not a war zone (Aleman and Acre, Yahoonews.com).
Despite a myriad of issues that it must overcome or rectify, El Salvador has pursued a path set out for it in the Peace Accords. The FMLN is now a leading political party, with the president as a member. “Land has been transferred to the citizens, human rights violation investigated, death squads have been dismantled and a national civilian police force has been put into place” (PBS.com). If the nation can turn its economy around with the help of the international community it will go a long way to improving the continued violence within its borders. People would not be so easily swayed to pursue a life of crime to put food on the table or provide for their families. The system is in place and it can work, but certainly the economic policies must improve in order for El Salvador to move forward. It will be difficult, but not impossible, as the intent is there and the help is for El Salvador as well.
Aleman, Marcos and Alberto Arce. “Homicides in El Salvador reach record as gang violence
grows.” Yahoo News. April 9, 2015. Web. April 11, 2015.
“El Salvador.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web. April 11, 2015.
“El Salvador” Encyclopedia of the Nations. n.d. Web. April 11, 2015.
“El Salvador.” The Washington Post. 2015. Web. April 11, 2015.
“El Salvador country profile – overview.” BBC News. February 3, 2015. Web. April 11, 2015.
“Enemies of War: El Salvador”. PBS. n.d. Web. April 11, 2015.
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