El Salvador Table of Contents
Voter casting his ballot
SINCE THE REFORMIST COUP of 1979, El Salvador has experienced wrenching political turmoil as numerous actors, movements, and forces contended for the right to shape the country's future. By the late 1980s, the most extreme of these forces--the oligarchic elite and the Marxist-Leninist guerrilla forces--appeared to have lost some of their previous influence, as a still-tentative democratic process continued to evolve amid trying circumstances. The United States loomed large in this process as the country's major source of economic and military aid and assistance and the most enthusiastic foreign supporter of its democratic efforts. Despite consistent support from Washington and a certain amount of progress in human rights and economic reform, many problems remained intractable, and the overall political situation was still volatile and, to some extent, unpredictable. The conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance underscored this fact by capturing a surprising legislative majority in the March 1988 elections.
Although the system established by the Constitution of 1983 was functional, some observers questioned its legitimacy because it excluded the Salvadoran left from the political process. As the 1989 presidential elections approached, however, these claims lost some of their validity in the face of the return to El Salvador of such opposition figures as Guillermo Manuel Ungo Revelo and Ruben Zamora Rivas, the establishment of the Social Democratic Party and the possibility, however dubious, of a settlement between the government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front-Revolutionary Democratic Front within the framework of the Central American Peace Agreement signed in Esquipulas, Guatemala, on August 7, 1987 (the so-called Arias Plan).
Observers were reluctant to predict the odds of successful implemention of a genuine democratic system in El Salvador, a country with no real democratic tradition to draw on, where economic conditions were tenuous at best and where a destructive and divisive insurgent conflict wore on with no resolution in sight. It was clear, however, that the El Salvador of the late 1980s was different from the El Salvador of the 1970s and that further change was inevitable, even if the exact nature of that change remained uncertain.
Data as of November 1988