El Salvador achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and from the Central American Federation in 1839. A 12-year civil war, which cost about 75,000 lives, was brought to a close in 1992 when the government and leftist rebels signed a treaty that provided for military and political reforms. Source: World Factbook.
When the Spanish first ventured into Central America from the colony of New Spain (Mexico) in the early sixteenth century, the area that would become El Salvador was populated primarily by Indians of the Pipil tribe. The Pipil were a subgroup of a nomadic people known as the Nahua, who had migrated into Central America about 3000 B.C. The Nahua eventually fell under the sway of the Maya Empire, which dominated the Mesoamerican region until its decline in the ninth century A.D. Pipil culture did not reach the advanced level achieved by the Maya; it has been compared, albeit on a smaller scale, to that of the Aztecs in Mexico. The Pipil nation, believed to have been founded in the eleventh century, was organized into two major federated states subdivided into smaller principalities. Although primarily an agricultural people, the Pipil built a number of large urban centers, some of which developed into present-day cities, such as Sonsonate and Ahuachapan (see fig. 1).
The Pipil were a determined people who stoutly resisted Spanish efforts to extend their dominion southward. The first such effort by Spanish forces was led by Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Hernan Cortes in the conquest of Mexico. It met with stiff resistance from the indigenous population. Alvarado's expeditionary force entered El Salvador--or Cuscatlan, as it was known by the Pipil--in June 1524. The Spaniards were defeated in a major engagement shortly thereafter and were forced to withdraw to Guatemala. Two subsequent expeditions were required--in 1525 and 1528--to bring the Pipil under Spanish control. It is noteworthy that the name of the supposed leader of the Indian resistance, Atlacatl, has been perpetuated and honored among the Salvadorans to the relative exclusion of that of Alvarado. In this sense, the Salvadoran ambivalence toward the conquest bears a resemblance to the prevailing opinion in Mexico, where Cortes is more reviled than celebrated.
The Spanish had come to Central America seeking, at least in part, to add to the store of precious metals that constituted the most immediate spoils of the Mexican conquest. In the small colony that they dubbed El Salvador ("the savior"), they were severely disappointed in this regard. What little gold was available was accessible only through the laborious and timeconsuming method of panning, a process that consumed the effort of numerous impressed Indian laborers for a number of years. Denied the opportunity for quick riches, the conquistadors and later the Spanish settlers eventually came to realize that the sole exploitable resource of El Salvador was the land.El Salvador thus was relegated to the status of a backwater of the Spanish Empire. In this state of neglect and isolation, the seeds of the country's politico-economic structure were planted. Source: EL Salvador: A Country Study.