But if the accord succeeded in ending political and ideological strife, it failed to create peaceful societies. Mired in crisis, today Central America is one of the world's most violent regions and increasingly so. Gangs and more recently organized crime networks are threatening to undermine already weak institutions in many countries and their abilities to deliver justice, protect citizens, and foster a sense of social inclusion.
“Society was so weak after those terrible years ... [Many political players] didn't really understand the importance of a bigger state and important reforms in education and health and more inclusive economic growth,” says Anders Kompass of the United Nations office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights who worked closely on the Central American peace agreement. Still, he says, the “Esquipulas agreement was a landmark in the history of Central America, and I think it's going to be seen like that … 50 or 100 years from now.”
Protracted wars showed no signs of abating in the 1980s, worsened by the cold-war climate that saw the United States and Soviets boosting their respective sides in a Central American proxy war. The majority view in the US at the time was to pump money to the Contras in Nicaragua and the government of El Salvador, which was battling Soviet-funded guerrillas.