Civil disturbances between left-wing rebels and right-wing pro-government forces grew in the late 1970s.
The conflict erupted into full-scale civil war in 1980. The spark was the murder that year of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a critic of the Salvadoran government.
The leading rebel group was the Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The United States accused the rebels of being communists aided by the Soviet Union and Cuba.
The United States poured arms, military advisers, and economic aid into El Salvador to try to defeat the rebels. Human-rights groups gathered evidence that government forces were kidnapping, torturing, and murdering civilians suspected of aiding the rebels.
The abuses were often carried out by anonymous death squads allied to the government.
More than 75,000 people were killed in the war. Finally, in 1992, a peace treaty ended the conflict. There was no clear victory: the rebels had not been able to overthrow the government, and the government had not been able to crush the rebels.
The rebels achieved some of their goals, including a more democratic government, the creation of a new police force, and an agreement to carry out land reform to help peasants. But economic conditions in El Salvador are still bad and crime is rampant.
Some of the criminals are former death squad members.