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In the late 1970s the US backed a series of dictatorships and military juntas in Latin America fearing the region was being gradually taken over by communist regimes allied to the Soviet Union as Cuba had been. In El Salvador a succession of military dominated right wing governments fought a vicious civil war against a number of Cuban sponsored left-wing rebel groups which were collectively know as the FMLN. The situation worsened with the fall of Nicuragua to the communist Sandinistas who also began to support the FMLN and shelter them within Nicuragua's borders. This prompted the US to massively increase aid to the El Salvadoran military and establish their own anti-communist guerilla force from Nicuraguan exiles known as the 'Contras'. Throughout the 1980s El Salvador and the surrounding areas were wracked by political violence including massacres, the rape and murder of a group of American nuns and the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero who had openly criticized the government.
With the end of the Cold War, suspension of military aid from the USSR to Cuba and subsequent removal of the Sandinstas from power in Nicuragua foreign support of the El Slavadoran communist rebels evaporated. In 1992 a peace accord was signed restoring a democratic civilian government, disarming the rebels and granting amnesty to the armed forces for their actions during the war.
Out of a population of only 5 million it is estimated that up to 80,000 people were killed or simply disappeared and a further million driven from their homes as refugees. A later 'Commission for Truth in El Salvador' concluded that the government was guilty of huge repression and human rights violations including sponsoring paramilitary death squads. However it further stated that the FMLN were also guilty of human rights violations including kidapping, bombings, rape and murder. Afterwards the El Salvadoran parliament passed an amnesty law covering all violent acts in the war. Today El Salvador is universally recognised as a free and democratic society with one of the most prosperous economies in Latin America. However it suffers one of the highest murder rates in the world although of a purely criminal nature rather than having any political dimension.
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