The Origins of
El Salvador's Crisis
By the late 1970s El Salvador was embroiled in a revolutionary crisis that threatened the continuance of the country's traditional economic and political order. The root causes of this crisis lay in economic, political, and strategic factors.
An elitist economic structure and the expansion of an export-crop economy dramatically worsened the conditions of life for the peasantry and forced the majority of the population into an untenable and deteriorating economic situation by the late 1970s. The country's political order excluded the majority from participation and proved incapable of instituting reforms that might have brought meaningful change through democratic means. A transformation occurred in the consciousness of many peasants from the early 1970s. A large number were influenced first by activist Catholic clergy and laypeople and then organized by revolutionary groups that provided structures for collective peasant action. (Others were recruited into the right-wing peasant organization.) Strategies implemented by revolutionary organizations—particularly the decisions to launch a political-military struggle to overthrow the regime, focus organizing efforts in the rural areas, and build mass grassroots organizations—maximized pressure on the regime and precipitated an increasingly violent response. El Salvador's dominant class and its political representatives failed to find a model or develop effective strategies to resolve the country's political and economic problems.Finally, the impact of the Nicaraguan revolution helped raise the crisis of the Romero regime to a new level, generating actions that ultimately deepened the crisis rather than resolved it.
This chapter examines the ways in which each of these factors contributed to the crisis of the late 1970s.