BECK index

El Salvador 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

   El Salvador, a Republic 1850-85
   El Salvador & Military Dictators 1885-1913
   El Salvador of Meléndez & Quiñónez 1913-27
   El Salvador of Romero Bosque & Araujo 1927-31
   El Salvador’s Revolution & Matanza in 1932
   El Salvador & Dictator Martínez 1932-35

El Salvador, a Republic 1850-85

El Salvador 1839-50

      In 1850 El Salvador had only 201 schools for boys with 6,696 students out of a population of 372,815. Doroteo Vasconcelos was President of El Salvador from 7 February 1848 to 26 January 1850 and then from 4 February until 1 March 1851. He had been a good friend of Francisco Morazán (1792-1842) who had been President of Central America. On 4 January 1851 Vasconcelos allied with President Juan Lindo of Honduras against Guatemala. El Salvador’s army had 4,000 men with artillery, and Honduras had 2,000 soldiers. On January 28 Vasconcelos wrote a letter demanding that Guatemala’s former President Rafael Carrera go into exile. Vasconcelos was commander-in-chief of the allied armies of 4,500 men who invaded Guatemala on January 29. Carrera commanded 2,000 men, and they retreated and then fought the allies by the San José River on February 1. By setting fire to a sugar plantation Carrera forced the allies to retreat. The allies lost 528 killed, 200 prisoners, 1,000 rifles, and 13,000 rounds of ammunition. Vasconcelos fled to El Salvador and resigned the presidency.
      The lawyer and politician Francisco Dueñas became President of El Salvador on 3 May 1851, and in 1852 he was elected President and served until 2 February 1854. He managed to resolve differences with Guatemala, and he aided Carrera against Honduras. José María San Martín became president of El Salvador in February 1854 and kept the peace for two years. San Salvador suffered damage from an earthquake on April 16 that was followed by cholera, hunger, and locusts.
      Natives called “Indians” who had converted to Spanish ways and mestizos were referred to as “ladinos.” El Salvador’s Code of Commerce was published in 1855, and in the 1850s and 1860s Salvadoran trade increased greatly. Isidro Menéndez compiled Salvadoran laws into a code of civil and criminal procedure in 1857. A Chilean Code written by Andres Bello based on 1848 Spanish law influenced a new Salvadoran civil and criminal code that was promulgated in 1860.
      Rafael Juan Campo was president for about a year and a half until 1 February 1858, and he supported Nicaragua against the American filibuster Walker in 1857. The 28-year-old General Miguel Santín del Castillo was president from 7 February 1858 to 24 January 1859. The Liberal Senator Gerard Barrios led a coup d’état against Santín in 1858. The Assembly met on 17 January 1859 and approved his coup and constitutional amendments by February 12. Barrios became President on March 12. The Constitution was amended to increase the president’s term to six years and deputies’ to four years. Guatemala at a convention in August mediated a peace agreement between El Salvador and Honduras. Barrios was elected president in December 1860. That year El Salvador’s population was 424,000.
      Conservatives criticized the liberal Barrios, and in June 1863 he declared war on Guatemala. Salvador allied with Honduras; but Guatemala and Nicaragua defeated them on the Santa Rosa plains on June 16. That summer revolts against Barrios led to several departments proclaiming the conservative Francisco Dueñas provisional president. Guatemala’s Carrera supported him and defeated the army led by General Santiago Gonzalez on July 3. Barrios held out in San Salvador for four months but fled on October 26 when Carrera’s army invaded El Salvador and captured the capital San Salvador. On that day Francisco Dueñas became provisional President. On 18 February 1864 the Assembly deposed Barrios and recognized Dueñas as provisional President. They promulgated a conservative constitution, and Dueñas was elected president and in February 1865. Barrios tried to raise a force in Nicaragua, but he was captured, extradited, and executed on 29 August 1865. Dueñas was re-elected President in December and served until 15 April 1871.
      In February 1871 El Salvador invaded Honduras which declared war on March 5 against the conservative Dueñas government. General Santiago González Portillo aroused Salvadorans and gained Honduran allies enabling him to take over the departments of Santa Ana and Sonsonate. Government forces fought them at Santa Ana for four days and were defeated with heavy casualties by April 10. Dueñas took refuge in the United States legation, and on the 15th González was proclaimed Provisional President. Dueñas surrendered on April 20 and was imprisoned. The Senate declared him deposed on 18 April 1872 and turned him over to the courts. In July the Supreme Court freed Dueñas. He gave $100,000 in bonds promising he would not go anywhere in Central America. He went to Europe and later to New York and San Francisco, California. In 1872 craftsmen organized the association La Concordia, and in 1874 they began night and day schools for artisans.
      On 17 October 1871 the Constituent Assembly had adopted a new constitution with democratic principles, and 9 November 1872 they increased the President’s term from two year to four years. González was elected President with a term to end on 1 February 1876. Andrés Valle was elected next president with González as Vice President.
      Guatemala broke off relations with El Salvador on March 20, and on the 26th El Salvador ended their alliance with Guatemala. Their President Justo Rufino Barrios with about 8,500 men besieged Ahuachapán while General Uraga with 1,500 occupied Chalchuapa. On April 15 the Salvadorans were defeated with heavy losses and retreated to Atiquizaya. In the next few says the Salvadoran forces in the east were greatly reduced. In the west they had 6,100, and fighting decreased them to 900. Peace was negotiated at Chalchuapa and was ratified on April 26. Rafael Zaldívar was made the provisional president of El Salvador, and he appointed a cabinet on May 1. One week later a definitive peace was signed, and Honduras agreed to that on May 27. General González left Central America. On June 4 Salvadorans elected Zaldívar president and legislature representatives who began meeting on July 19.
      On 3 April 1879 President Rafael Zaldívar asked voters to choose a constituent congress to reform the 1872 Constitution. They met on June 9 until July 2, in the first 15 days of January 1880, and made amendments on February 19. Zaldívar was re-elected in 1879 and served until 21 June 1885. The Constitutional Congress began meeting on 5 January 1883 during a time of peace. A pro-religion insurrection erupted on April 16 attacking the garrison at Santa Tecla calling for Zaldívar’s death. The rioting spread to other towns, and President Zaldívar declared martial law in several departments. When peace was restored, it was repealed. The new constitution contained many political rights and guaranteed freedom of religion that did not disturb public order. Most of the partitioning of Izalco lands occurred after 1884. General Hipólito Belloso had been governor of Sonsonate, and he had been hostile to native communities. Petitioners often were jailed for denouncing abuses. Indian comuneros fought against Zaldívar while ladino elites controlled Izalco government and supported the President’s policies. General Figueroa’s troops robbed and raped Izalco Indians.
      Zaldívar was re-elected again and was inaugurated on 1 February 1885. He opposed reviving the Unified Central Republic and withdrew from the Union. Guatemalans invaded El Salvador on March 30 led by President Justo Rufino Barrios who was killed on April 2. Foreign diplomats mediated an armistice, and negotiations produced a peace treaty. President Zaldívar reported this to Congress and resigned, though they unanimously refused to accept that. Zaldívar persuaded them to give him a leave of absence, and he left the Treasury Minister, General Fernando Figueroa as a Provisional President.

El Salvador & Military Dictators 1885-1913

      The Liberal General Francisco Menéndez was from a wealthy family and led an insurrection in the west, and he entered the capital on 22 May 1885 in triumph. He claimed a provisional presidency on June 22, and in August he asked people to choose a constituent convention. Menéndez ruled as a dictator with martial law. He accused Zaldívar of using public funds improperly, and his property in El Salvador was confiscated. A minor conflict with Nicaragua ended with a peace treaty signed at Amapala in January 1886. That year the new Constitution was ratified. In 1887 Francisco Menéndez was elected a constitutional President. On 15 October 1889 Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua agreed to a treaty in San Salvador which formed the Republic of Central America on 15 September 1890.
      The Liberal General Carlos Ezeta led a revolt that removed and killed President Menéndez in a coup d’état on 22 June 1890. Guatemala rejected the Ezeta government, and on June 17 they declared war on El Salvadro. Guatemala’s army defeated Salvadorans led by Ezeta’s brother, General Antonio Ezeta, on July 21 near the city of Coatepeque. On August 3 the Salvadorans overcame the Guatemalans near Tempisque. Salvadoran exiles wanting power supported the Guatemalans, and in September they ended the war so that El Salvador could elect their president. In the election in January 1891 Ezeta received all but 19 of the 52,361 votes, and his brother Antonio was elected Vice President.
      On 9 June 1894 the Liberal General Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez with support from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua led the Revolution of the 44 that overthrew President Ezeta and made Gutiérrez the Provisional President the next day. In January 1895 Gutiérrez was elected a constitutional President with all but 91 of the 61,171 votes. Prudencio Alfaro was elected Vice President with 63% to 30% for Carlos Meléndez. President Gutiérrez settled land disputes and tried to solve the economic crisis. He supported the Greater Republic of Central America that included El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua which was ratified in 15 September 1896. While Guatemala and Costa Rica were debating whether to join the Union, the United States diplomatically recognized the Greater Republic. On 13 November 1898 the Liberal General Tomás Regalado took power in El Salvador as a Provisional President. General Tomás Regalado withdrew El Salvador from the Greater Republic, and on November 29 the Greater Republic of Central America was dissolved.
      In the 1850s and 1860s about half of the 9,000 Izalcos had become identified as ladinos. A decree in 1897 had ceded all unpartitioned land to the comuneros so that they could distribute it to the landless. On the night of 14 November 1898 the Indian community of Dolores Izalco rebelled as 16 leaders led more than 80 men fighting against the privatization of Indian land. They targeted Simeón Morán for having partitioned their communal lands. His hand was cut off as a punishment before he was killed with his family and supporters. The government captured at least 27 rebels. The Izalco lands would become a ladino barrio by 1932.
      General Regalado was elected and served a four-year term as President starting on 1 March 1899. He granted amnesty to political exiles and developed the railroads. He chose Conservative Pedro José Escalón to be his successor, and Escalón received 78% of the 118,048 votes over the Liberal Francisco Antonio Reyes who got 17%. Escalón appointed General Regalado the Minister of War. Escalón loaned large estates, and he was the first President of El Salvador to be limited to one four-year term. He and his allies selected General Fernando Figueroa as his successor.
      The Liberal Brigadier General Fernando Figueroa had been Provisional President for five weeks in May-June 1885. He was Minister of National Defense 1900-03 and 1906-1911, and he supervised the military against Guatemala in the Second Totoposte War in 1903 and the Third Totoposte War in 1906 which US diplomacy helped end on September 25. General Regulado declared both those wars, and he died in the Third on 11 July 1906. Guatemalans called them “Totoposte Wars” because they consumed much corn without much fighting. General Fernando Figueroa was elected President on 13 January 1907 with 99.9% of the 152,414 votes.
      Nicaraguans invaded Honduras on February 19, and American and Mexican diplomacy helped end that conflict with the 1907 Central American Treaty of Peace and Amity on April 22. On June 11 Nicaraguan and Honduran soldiers aided Salvadoran exiles led by the exiled General Manuel Rivas, Dr. Prudencio Alfaro, and American filibusters in a surprise attack on El Salvador. Nicaragua’s President Zelaya replaced President-elect Figueroa with Alfaro. As the invasion began on June 11 Figueroa issued his “Proclamation to the Salvadoran People.” He blamed General Zelaya for violating the peace treaty, and he called on the Salvadorans to punish him. General Rivas stole $20,000 in silver from a bank in Acajutla, and he and Alfaro plotted to divide El Salvador. Figueroa led an army to Acajutla, and the Salvadoran rebels fled. At a peace conference in Washington D.C. on November 14 Nicaragua and Honduras proposed a Central American Union, but Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala opposed that. Yet on December 20 those five nations agreed on a peace treaty and founded the Central American Court of Justice which began holding sessions on 1 January 1909. President Fernando Figueroa completed his term on 1 March 1911 and was succeeded by his Vice President Manuel Enrique Araujo who as a medical doctor and politician ended the line of military dictators.
      In the election on 11 January 1911 the Independent Manuel Enrique Araujo was unopposed and received all of the 182,964 votes. He worked on implementing social reforms. He also increased spending on the military, and he established the National Guard as a rural police force and hired Spanish Civil Guard officers to train them. In 1911 he created the Ministry of Agriculture and funded the building of a national theater in San Salvador. The National Guard was founded in 1912. On 4 February 1913 at a concert in a park three farmers with machetes attacked President Araujo, and five days later he died.

El Salvador of Meléndez & Quiñónez 1913-27

      President Araujo was succeeded by the president of the Legislative Assembly, the National Democrat Carlos Meléndez who became Provisional President.
      Dr. Alfonso Quiñónez Molina, a founder of the Democratic Party, was married to the sister of the Meléndez brothers, and he was made Vice President and then President from 29 August 1914 to 1 March 1915. His policies favored the coffee oligarchs. On 12 January 1915 there was no other candidate, and Salvadorans unanimously elected Carlos Meléndez the President. The Meléndez-Quiñónez family would dominate El Salvador’s presidency from 1913 to March 1927. In 1918 Alfonso Quiñónez founded the Red League (Lega Rojas) to mediate between oligarchs and peasants, and it promoted returning communal lands to indigenous communities. The government did not arm them so that their attacks on the opposition would not implicate the state. Quiñónez was provisional President from December 31 until 1 March 1919. The National Democrat Jorge Meléndez, the younger brother of Carlos, was elected President in January 1919 over Pío Romero Bosque and the Labor Party’s Arturo Araujo, a wealthy landowner who paid his workers better wages and provided housing and medical care. Jorge Meléndez received 166,441 votes to Pío Romero Bosque’s 4,370 and Araujo’s 1,022. Some alleged the election was stolen, and the National Guard arrested Araujo’s father. Arturo Araujo and General Juan Amaya got support in Honduras and crossed the border with 300 men, and the Salvadoran Army forced them to retreat back into Honduras.
      Fichas were stores owned by companies that required their employees to purchase their food and supplies there at higher prices than were usual. Fichas were outlawed in 1920. The law was not enforced, and there use continued into the 1930s. In 1921 new currency based on the gold standard eliminated traditional currency, and the government suppressed a protest by market women.
      Falling coffee and silver prices reduced government revenues so much in 1921-22 that soldiers had not been paid for ten months by May 1922 when the state stopped feeding the troops. In February 1922 military cadets had set up barricades around the campus, and they caused about fifty casualties fighting government troops. No other barracks backed their coup attempt. The Escuela Polytécnica was closed. On May 22 in the Sixth Infantry barracks 250 soldiers revolted, beat their commanding officers, and took over the fort. The exiled Dr. Valle joined them, and they declared him president. They failed to win over the Zapote barracks. The rebels had about 60 killed or captured, and 160 escaped. Miguel Tomás Molina led a campaign for workers and criticized the government for repressing them. A large crowd gathered on Christmas Day and were massacred by police, soldiers, and Liga Roja members, killing dozens and wounding over a hundred. The Liga Roja dissolved in 1923.
      On 5 January 1923 Molina urged his followers to boycott the election on January 14. Alfonso Quiñónez received about 178,000 votes. Pío Romero Bosque became Vice President and was also appointed Minister of War. President Quiñónez continued to suppress and harass his adversaries. In 1923 because of the second Central American Treaty of Peace and Amity the United States adopted the policy to recognize only democratic governments, and their embassy opposed the attempt by Quiñónez to extend his presidency. The Regional Federation of Salvadoran Workers was founded in 1924. By then the National Guard had 1,000 Guardsmen and 96 officers. Coffee prices went from 10.9 per pound cents in 1913 to 24.6 cents in 1926, the year El Salvador exported 1.1 million quintals of coffee compared to 932,000 by Guatemala and 402,000 by Costa Rica.
      Quiñónez endorsed Vice President Romero Bosque, a National Democrat, and he hoped to control him. Romero Bosque had been Minister of Government 1903-07, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 1904-17, Minister of War 1919-27, and Vice President 1923-27. As the only candidate in the election on 9 January 1927 he got all 192,860 votes.
      The Communist Farabundo Martí supported Sandino against the US occupation of Nicaragua, and some Salvadorans joined him. On 18 January 1927 artisans and students in San Salvador demonstrated against the Nicaraguan government. Farmers sent money to Sandino. The Peruvian philosopher Haya de la Torre had founded the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) in Mexico City on 7 May 1924, and he visited El Salvador in 1928 giving talks and publishing articles. His opposition to imperialism was supported by the Federación Regional de Trabajadores Salvadoreños (FRTS). In 1926 their manifesto had advocated independence for Puerto Rico and the Philippines, internationalizing the Panama Canal, and nationalizing railroads and public services.

El Salvador of Romero Bosque & Araujo 1927-31

      After Quiñónez departed for France, President Romero Bosque ended the state of siege and began promoting civil rights and democratic reforms with a speech in June 1927. That year a new military school (Escuela Militar) opened. In September he disbanded the National Democratic Party, and he decreed that candidates would not be allowed to use the name. On November 25 the newspaper Diario Latino reported that the Minister of Government Manuel Mendoza said, “This government does not favor any candidates anywhere; the government’s interest is simply in guaranteeing liberty.”1 Romero Bosque worked to make the municipal elections in December more liberal. In September 1929 General Trabanino became the director of the Circulo Militar. He regretted that the army had violated rights of citizens, and he hoped that they would be respected. On November 24 the police arrested speakers at an anti-imperialist demonstration in Santa Tecla. Then soldiers shot those demanding their release. These incidents inspired Salvadorans to organize a branch of the Socorro Rojo Internacional (SRI) that had been founded by the Communist International in 1922. Student reforms had organized the Movimiento Renovacion and the General Association of Salvadoran University Students (AGEUS).
      After the municipal elections in Izalco in December the indigenous leaders José Feliciano Ama and Francisco Orozcco objected that the Ladinos had made the ladino worker Rafael C. Valdez the mayor by fraud because Indians were a majority. In Nahuizalco the ladinos and Rodolfo Brito in 1927 had removed the successful Pedro Mauricio of the Indigenous Party because he was illiterate. In 1929 they elected Brito even though he was accused of being a drunkard. In December at a large plantation in Coatepeque the National Guard evicted 435 families during a storm because the owner of the hacienda was connected to President Romero Bosque.
      Coffee workers had been making $1 a day. In 1929 their wages were reduced to 30 cents a day, and coffee prices fell from 22 cents a pound in 1929 to 13 cents in 1930 and 8 cents in 1931. In early 1930 the FRTS organized a march and planned a strike that persuaded a US-financed company constructing baths and a reservoir to reverse their cut in pay from $1.50 per day to $1. The Partido Comunista Salvadoreño (PCS) was founded in March. The US diplomat Raymond Leslie in 1930 noted that until an electoral law guarantees a secret ballot, there would be no fair election. The Romero government tried and failed to get that amendment passed. In 1930 only five growers controlled over half of the nation’s coffee production. El Salvador’s first reliable census counted 1,459,594 people in 1930.
      In June the National Guard arrested 55 campesinos in Ahuachapán. On August 12 the government prohibited speeches, meetings, and rallies, and they ordered the arrest of Communist leaders. The National Guard attacked labor protests in ten towns in western Salvador, jailing hundreds. FRTS members in September protested in Nahuizalco, and the National Guard took many to Sononate. When they were released, they were arrested again. The Mexican Fernández Anaya predicted, “Inevitably the revolution in El Salvador will be bloody. The ever-growing accumulation of concentrated hatred will give it a bloody character.”2
      Mauricio Meardi was perhaps the richest person in El Salvador. When an employee in a Meardi store in San Miguel was convicted of stealing, a march of 600 people to the capital turned into a riot on October 22. The National Guard arrested two leaders and six protesters, and the crowd attacked elite houses and looted and destroyed property. On the 24th the government imposed a state of siege and sent more troops.
      On November 27 the Socorro Rojo Internacional (SRI) demonstrated to free four union prisoners in La Presa, and 75 soldiers with machine guns helped troops capture Farabundo Martí and three other organizers. They began a hunger strike on December 17. Martí was exiled, and that provoked more protests. Four days later troops killed several protesters in Santa Tecla and arrested about 300.
      Before his execution in 1932 the peasant leader Modesto Ramírez described his miserable situation saying,

Of the ten fanegas [Spanish bushels] of corn
that one manzana [block] produces
we had to return five or six as payment,
and for the right to live on the patron’s land
we had to pay fifteen monthly days of work without wage.
Whoever did not fulfill this obligation was expelled
from the hacienda; they’d burn the rancho [hut]
we built with our own labor and at our expense.
I had to abandon my woman and children;
the work was not enough to feed them
and less to clothe and educate them.
I do not know where they are.
Misery separated us forever….
And when have you seen that
the authorities have sided with the poor against the rich?
If we owe them, they rule against us;
but when they owe us,
we can’t find a court that will listen to us.3

      In El Salvador’s first honest elections in January 1931 of the 392,383 registered voters 228,866 voted. Arturo Araujo for the Labor-National Republican coalition led with 47%; Alberto Gómez Zárate got 28%; Enrique Córdov of the National Development Party had 15%; and a Progressive Fraternal Party got 8% and a Constitutional Party 2%. The new Assembly had many Araujo supporters, and they elected him President on February 12. There were so many workers and students on strike that martial law was declared. Araujo had studied the Labour Party in England, and his Laborismo social democracy promised food, clothing, work, and housing to all Salvadorans during the suffering of the Great Depression.
      On 6 May 1931 Farabundo Martí was in Sonsonate again. After being denied food for three days, he began a hunger strike and went more than two weeks without food or water. About 500 people protested at Sonsonate on May 17, and that morning some 300 Communists demonstrated in the suburbs of El Angel. The government’s debt increased from $400,000 in November 1930 to $1.5 million in May 1931. In June the Vice President and War Minister Hernández Martínez had the army protest the código rojo law that allowed the army to execute the military coup conspirators of 1927. Araujo offered soldiers ten days’ back pay which they rejected as insufficient. In July about 400 unemployed workers in Juayúa petitioned President Araujo for aid, and they got only promises of a band, concrete, and a school.
      On July 13 Araujo declared martial law, and in August the cavalry broke up two municipal worker strikes in San Salvador. In September agrarian elites began raising money for a rural guard, and by the year’s end they were raising thousands of dollars a day. On September 23 when 200 workers met in La Libertad, the National Guard summoned by a landlord fired machine guns and killed 14 campesinos and wounded 24. After Communist candidates were arrested in Ahuachapán in November, hundreds of activists were arrested in the west and the San Salvador area.
      In a military coup a Civic Directory replaced President Araujo on 2 December 1931, and they made Brigadier General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez the Acting President on December 4. On the 6th he let the Communist Party open an office in San Salvador that was attended by 600 people. Three days later the police shut it down and took their party lists. In the next ten days there were strikes in Santa Ana, La Libertad, and Ahuachapán demanding higher pay and better working conditions. On December 27 police broke up a Communist convention in Ahuachapán, took the lists of workers, and threatened to shoot any who did not leave. Their candidates were persecuted. Martínez near the end of December resolved a coffee-grower strike peacefully in La Libertad. On December 31 El Diario de El Salvador reported that armed forces were sent to small towns in Sonsonate and La Libertad.

El Salvador’s Revolution & Matanza in 1932

      In January 1932 the Salvadoran Workers Federation (FRTS) suspended its rural strikes. Gómez Zárate agreed to have his constituents vote for government candidates in the deputy elections. Enrique Córdov refused to help President Martínez who then put him under police surveillance. Martínez aimed to influence the thousands of municipal officials in the voting for 42 deputies. In the municipal elections on January 3-5 the government ordered that there be no violence or disorder. The Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS) opposed child labor, was for an 8-hour day and 7 hours with equal pay for women, maternity care, and paid leave. They advocated financial and food aid for the unemployed and labor banks, 50% reduction of taxes for the urban poor, and they opposed military training in the schools. The Communists were so successful that Martínez canceled the second round of municipal and legislative elections. The military consolidated the government’s power by controlling deputy elections. Voters, knowing what the results would be, became apathetic. The conservative Progressive Fraternal Party boycotted the elections in San Salvador because of fraud. In San Salvador’s Assembly elections of January only 379 people had voted.
      On January 4 workers began calling for strikes, and it became a mass movement. Bands of rebelling strikers urged the Communists to revolt. On January 5 soldiers fired machine guns at these bands killing about 1,500. On January 7 many local leaders appealed to soldiers to disobey their officers and join the workers “to establish a workers’ and peasants’ government.” President Martínez declined to meet with Communist leaders, and they talked with Col. Joaquín Valdéz, the Minister of War. Communists proposed a cease-fire, peaceful strikes, and negotiating economic issues. Valdéz said he could not make a pact with “a clandestine organization.” On January 7 and 8 the army attacked strikes and broke up meetings in La Libertad and Sonsonate. On January 10 the Communist Party’s Central Committee debated insurrection. The next day about a thousand rebels gathered outside of Tacuba while militant Communists met in Salvador to discuss strategy. They proposed a general strike to prepare for assaulting military barracks. Miguel Mármol and the interim PCS secretary Farabundo Martí agreed on the general strike. On January 15 about 1,500 striking workers in San Isidro, Sansonate accepted a negotiated settlement. The next day police arrested PCS leaders Martí, Mario Zapata, and Alfonso Luna. The government declared a state of siege, and on January 20 the Central Committee issued a call to arms, writing,

We are labeled thieves for demanding wages
that they owe us, a reduction in the workday,
and a reduction in the rents that we pay to the rich
who take almost all our harvest, stealing our work from us.
To the insults are added killings, beatings, jailings.4

      They planned to begin the insurrection on the 22nd, and peasant rebellions broke out in four western departments. That night about 400 men attacked a small town near Santa Tecla and killed the town Clerk and the Commandant while wounding the telegrapher and some women. An insurgent army of more than one thousand was mostly Indians from Izalco and ladino campesinos. Later that night about 800 rebels entered Sonsonate. About 50 soldiers retreated into barracks, and insurgents killed four guards and took over the customs building. On the morning of the 23rd the rebels went to Sónzacate, and they forced the soldiers to abandon machine guns and retreat to Sonsonate. The rebels took over a dozen municipalities.
      The government called for volunteers to form the Civic Guard, and they soon had 500 armed men. These men along with the Army, the National Guard, and the National Police were able to crush the uprising on January 24 as the military reacted with the infamous massacre (La Matanza). On the 25th about 150 National Guards defeated the rebels at Tacuba, and they burned the bodies of 800 dead and wounded Communists and the houses of the peasants. They attacked about 75,000 peasants, killing at least 10,000 and perhaps as many as 40,000 from January 25 to February 14. Poverty and oppression were the main causes of the peasants’ rebellion, and yet the government tried to justify the slaughter as an excuse to get rid of Communists. Yet the Communist Party had only about 400 members in this area at the end of 1931.
      The National Legislative Assembly elected General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez the President of El Salvador on February 5. That month Major General José Tomás Calderón organized the Legion National Pro-Patria. On March 12 President Martínez decreed a Moratorium Law that reduced the interest for debtors near bankruptcy by putting a moratorium on foreclosures. In July he set up a welfare program called “Social Improvement” to help poor peasants. In September the national government opened the Rafael Campos Indian School on government property between Izalco and Sonsonate. Funds were raised from the adjoining municipalities. Martínez discouraged workers and employees from leaving their jobs to pursue higher education, implying that anyone who did so must be a Communist. He threatened to punish people who did not have legitimate jobs. Theft was to be punished by amputating a hand, and a repeated offense meant death.
      On March 3 Protestant missionary Roy MacNaught wrote,

We have word that there have been executed
in Nahuizalco alone, 2500 men.
One day they lined up 400 boys and shot them.
They have tortured women to make them tell
where their husbands and brothers are.5

On January 29 General Calderón claimed that his soldiers had “liquidated 4,800” communists, and he later explained that he meant “neutralized.” The lawyer Milo Borges was in San Salvador, and on January 30 he wrote,

The Government has been arresting
those who were listed as communists.
I understand that in San Salvador, alone,
there were 9,000 men listed.
They were being arrested as rapidly as they can be located
and after one or two days in jail are taken out late at night
and conducted to some isolated spot where they are told
to disperse and machine gun fire opened on them.
They are usually buried where killed.
I understand about 600 have been disposed of
in this city alone during the past week.6

El Salvador & Dictator Martínez 1933-35

      President Maximiliano Hernández Martínez also worked to influence the deputy elections in January 1933, and in the 235 voting districts only four had more than one candidate on the ballot. Martínez founded the Pro Patria Party in July. His Social Betterment Fund (Fondo de Mejoramiento Social) made a crime of ideas that were “contrary to political, social, or economic order.” To administer that in October he established the Board of Social Defense (Junta de Defensa Social). Martínez in April 1933 made “willful criticism of officials and public employees” a punishable offense, and several newspapers in San Salvador including La Patria and Opinión Estudientil protested this by suspending publication for nine days.
      Salvador Castaneda Castro was Minister of Government. He was accused of plotting to assassinate President Martínez, and he resigned in January 1934. That month the United States recognized the Martínez government. On June 19 Martínez established the Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador in order to stabilize the national currency (colón), and he appointed Luis Alfaro Durán as its president. He persuaded two monsignors of the Catholic Church to attend political executions and offer masses after military victories. He added more scholarships for military studies especially in Fascist Italy, and he funded a war tank with six heavy machine guns. Martínez surveilled, arrested, and exiled all his potential challengers.
      On 29 August 1934 Martínez while campaigning let Brigadier General Andrés Ignacio Menéndez take over the presidency. Government employees were required to vote, and in the January 1935 election Maximiliano Hernández Martínez of the far-right National Pro-Patria Party received all the 329,555 votes. He began his second term as President on March 1. A conspiracy against his government was uncovered in October, and in November the military penal code was amended to increase penalties for rebelling and conspiring to overthrow the government.


1. Authoritarian El Salvador: Politics and the Origins of the Military Regimes, 1880-1940 by Erik Ching, p. 220.
2. To Rise in Darkness: Revolution, Repression, and Memory in El Salvador, 1920-1932 by Jeffrey L. Gould and Aldo Laura-Santiago, p. 88.
3. Ibid., p. 27-28.
4. Ibid., p. 167.
5. Ibid., p. 226.
6. Ibid., p. 227.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

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Argentina 1850-1935
Paraguay 1850-1935 
Bolivia 1850-1935
Chile 1850-1935
Peru 1850-1935
Ecuador 1850-1935
Colombia 1850-1935
Venezuela & Guianas 1850-1935
Haiti & Dominican Republic 1850-1935
Cuba 1850-1935
Puerto Rico 1850-1935
Panama 1850-1935
Costa Rica 1850-1935
Nicaragua 1850-1935
El Salvador 1850-1935
Honduras 1850-1935
Guatemala 1850-1935
Mexico 1850-1935
Canada 1850-1935

Chronology of Latin America to 1935
Chronology of Canada to 1935
Chronology of North & South America to 1786
Chronology of North & South America 1787-1844
Chronology of North & South America 1845-1896
Chronology of United States to 1896
World Chronology to 1830


BECK index