The twelve-year guerrilla war in El Salvador – the smallest country in Central America after Belize – was one of the most intense insurgencies fought in the Central and South American region since the end of the Second World War. Backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, the struggle was initiated on 15 October 1979 – largely from Nicaraguan soil – by the radical Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition or ‘umbrella organization’ of five socialist and communist guerrilla groups.
Fearful of supporting an oppressive regime in San Salvador and media reports of ‘death squads’, this drew a quick but muted response from a United States headed by Jimmy Carter and a Democratic majority in Congress. However, once Ronald Reagan was elected into office, through various US intelligence bodies, the CIA especially, significant amounts of military hardware – including a variety of the same aircraft and helicopters originally deployed in Vietnam – were pumped into the country to counter Soviet efforts to support the rebels. The Salvadorian security forces were eventually molded into an effective counter-guerrilla force that was to force the rebels to the negotiating table.
EL SALVADOR Dance of the Death Squads, 1980-1992
This full-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorising and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military. An unknown number of people disappeared while the UN reports that the war killed more than 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992. The Salvadoran Armed Forces were massively supported by the United States.
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