Saturday, January 20, 2007

75th Anniversary of La Matanza

This is the 75th anniversary of "La Matanza" Following a failed uprising of campesinos led by Farabundo Martí, the armed forces of the government of Maximiliano Martinez slaughtered tens of thousands in reprisal. The memory of that event continues to shape the views of right and left in El Salvador today.

This Library of Congress article tells the story:

Between 1928 and 1931, the coffee export price had dropped by 54 percent. The wages paid agricultural workers were cut by an equal or greater extent. Food supplies, dependent on imports because of the crowding out of subsistence cultivation by coffee production, likewise fell sharply. Privation among the rural labor force, long a tolerated fact of life, sank to previously unknown depths. Desperate campesinos began to listen more attentively to the exhortations of radicals such as Agustin Farabundo Marti.

Marti came from a relatively well-to-do landowning family. He was educated at the University of El Salvador (commonly referred to as the National University), where his political attitudes were influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and other communist theorists. He was an original member of the Central American Socialist Party (founded in Guatemala in 1925) and a propagandist for the Regional Federation of Salvadoran Workers. He also spent a few months in Nicaragua with that country's noted guerrilla leader, Augusto Cesar Sandino. Marti and Sandino parted ways over the Nicaraguan's refusal to add Marxist flourishes to his nationalistic battle against a United States occupation force. Jailed or expelled several times by Salvadoran authorities, Marti kept up his efforts to organize popular rebellion against the government with the goal of establishing a communist system in its place. The widespread discontent provoked by the coffee crisis brought ever-increasing numbers of Salvadorans under the banner of such Marxist organizations as the Communist Party of El Salvador (Partido Comunista de El Salvador--PCES), the AntiImperialist League, and the Red Aid International (Socorro Rojo Internacional--SRI). Marti was the Salvadoran representative of the SRI, which was closely associated with the other two groups.

Most dissatisfied Salvadorans were driven more by hunger and frustration than by ideology. Araujo, a product of the economic elite, was burdened by loyalty to his class, by the unyielding opposition of that class to political reform, by the increasing polarization between the elite and the masses, and by the suspicions of the military. Araujo's initial response to popular unrest, perhaps a conditioned one, was to quell disturbances by force. When demonstrations persisted, the president decided to offer a concession instead of a club. He scheduled municipal elections for December 1931; furthermore, he offered the unprecedented gesture of allowing the PCES to participate in those elections.

In the tense political atmosphere of the time, this last concession aroused both the landholding elite and, more important, the military. A December coup staged against Araujo drew support from a large number of military officers, who cited Araujo's ineptitude to justify their action. This rationalization did not match the portentous significance of the event, however. The 1931 coup represented the first instance when the Salvadoran military took direct action as an institution to curtail a potential political drift to the left. This watershed event ushered in a period of direct and indirect military rule that would last for fifty years.

The rebellious officers shortly installed as the country's leader General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez (known in El Salvador by his matronymic, Martinez), who had been Araujo's vice president and minister of war. Surprisingly, Martinez allowed the promised elections to take place only a month later than originally scheduled, and with the participation of the PCES. The general's motivations in this regard, however, seem to have run more toward drawing his enemy into the open than toward the furthering of democratic government, for the communist candidates who won municipal offices in the western part of the country subsequently were barred from assuming those offices.

The denial of the municipal posts has been cited as the catalyst for the launching of a rural insurrection that had been in the planning stages for some time. Unfortunately for the rebels, the military obtained advance warning of their intentions. Marti and other rebel leaders were arrested on January 18, 1932. Confusion and poor communications led the insurgents to go ahead with their action as planned four days later. The rebels succeeded in capturing government buildings in the towns of Izalco, Sonzacate, Nahuizalco, Juayúa, and Tacuba. They were repulsed by the local garrisons in Sonsonate, Santa Tecla, and Ahuachapan. Even the small successes of the insurgents were short lived, however, as GN and army units were dispatched to relieve local forces or to retake areas held by the rebels. Less than seventy-two hours after the initial uprising, the government was again firmly in control. It was then that reprisals began.

The military's action would come to be known as la matanza. Some estimates of the total number of campesinos killed run as high as 30,000. Although the true number never will be known, historian Alastair White has cited 15,000 to 20,000 as the best approximation. No matter what figure one accepts, the reprisals were highly disproportionate to the effects of the communist-inspired insurgency, which produced no more than thirty civilian fatalities. The widespread executions of campesinos, mainly Indians, apparently were intended to demonstrate to the rural population that the military was now in control in El Salvador and that it would brook no challenges to its rule or to the prevailing system. That blunt message was received, much as it had been after the failure of Aquino's rebellion a century earlier. The memory of la matanza would linger over Salvadoran political life for decades, deterring dissent and maintaining a sort of coerced conformity.

You may also want to read this Biography of Farbundo Marti.

10 comments:

El-Visitador said...

"Red Aid International (Socorro Rojo Internacional--SRI). Marti was the Salvadoran representative of the SRI"

SRI. Three little letters. Sounds so harmless.

For those with no memory of the Iron Curtain, the gulags, the Cold War, the bloody history of Communism in Spain, France, Italy, and elsewhere, it may sound like just another obsolete acronym.

But these were the original Evil Guys. SRI was founded by the Comintern (International Communist) in the Soviet Union in 1922; one must remember the Comintern itself was founded by Lenin in 1919. Its goal: 'to fight "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic".'

No tears to be shed here about F. Marti. Just like he was Stalin's personal representative to El Salvador in 1931, later in history he would have been Hitler's, Pol Pot's, Mao's, Castro's, or Bin Laden's.

The Bad Guys. And Marti was one of them, by personal choice.

Sorry, Communism ain't cute, romantic, or defensible. About the only people I have seen who think it is just an "alternate lifestyle" is gringos who never had to live through it.

POLYCARPIO said...

"The sins of Communists." Oh, sorry, that seems to be a different article. THIS article was about the slaughter of up to 30,000 suspected Communist sympathizers. Sorry, Visitador, this seems to be a feeble attempt to try to "turn the tables" to divert attention from the subject being commemorated.

HODAD26 said...

el visitador neeeds to get back on his meds
his rhetoric is boring and full of it
must be CIA F....

El-Visitador said...

"to divert attention from the subject being commemorated"

Sheez. I'm not the one who put up the picture of Stalin's henchman in El Salvador at the top!

I'm not the one who wrote that "Marti was the Salvadoran representative of the SRI"

People get so defensive when their heros turn out to be aspiring Pol Pot communists.

POLYCARPIO said...

Hey El, Marti is not "my hero." He doesn't have to be my hero for me to believe that his summary execution was wrong, particularly when it occurred in the context of a great massacre. It is the killing of 30,000 who were accused of being sympathizers that gets me defensive -- and for good reason, since my mere protest gets me accused of having Marti for a hero. Now, you say that Marti was an "aspiring Pol Pot." Of course, we'll never know for sure, because the regime iced him. Of course, I'm sure it was on the count of his future crimes, brave new world that hath such guardians of order in it! My only point is that in pointing out the potential Pol Pot qualities of the would-be Stalin who was summarily executed, you totally gloss over the ACTUAL Pol Pot qualities of the general who ordered the execution of Marti and the 30,000 other people who, like me, were only suspected of being his admirers.

Tim said...

I think today's article by El Faro at this link is well worth reading.

E-V, your comments reflect the "phantasm of communism" which El Faro indicates has influenced the subsequent interpretation of the massacres of 1932.

El-Visitador said...

"I think today's article by El Faro at this link is well worth reading."

I applaud the communities now distancing themselves from Farabundo and from Communism.

Lord knows they would have advanced their cause much, had they done so consistently for the last 75 years.

It would have been good for them and it would have been good for El Salvador.

HODAD26 said...

yes, and the papi paga idiot great,great grandson of Martinez, named after him, Maximiliano caused me grief yesterday because he did not pick up a famous client at the airport yesterday
his whole family are nothing but drunks, like it seems most in El Sal, either a drunk, then you get 'saved' and go evangelical, then when that does not provide, you go back being a drunk,which is the rich folks way to keep the masses under control and with dope and drugs of course

i had another source a nice guy with left wing style could have picked him up
it seems all from right wing are just plain idiotic arrogant greedy pendejos
i advocate another war to eliminate all of these assholes to just get rid of them they are all about themselves
Viva El Frente

but visiatador you are an idiot also, communism was what all the left had as rhetoric back then before today's ideologies of helping others
so get a grip times are changing, hopefully for those less fortunate look at Venezuela, Cuba[still the most educated in the North and Southern Hemisperes] Ecuador, etc.
hope they nationaliz all US companies in these countries, if they continue the old ways of doing bix and being GREEDY
YEA whatever I am rude and in your face, i ride huge surf and dive the deep blue pacific,
YEA what are you going to do shoot me?
i am redneck i fight with my hands and feet
the CIVIL WAR and yes that is what is was, was really all the options THE MASSES had,
in many countries
shame they were not fought with hands and feet and sticks as the Indigenous peoples in USA settled there differences many times
those that make the guns and bombs LOVE little wars, when will we get it; look at IRAQ and Halliburton, who is is profiting

walrus said...

In communist and socialist authoritarian regimes, as in the case of the workers paradise of Cuba, border guards are there to keep the people in. In capitalistic democracies, border guards are there to keep people out. Kind of says it all, doesn´t it.

samuel said...

Hey walrus,

We salvadoreans live in a "capitalistic democracy", right?

We have the "freedom" to go die in the US desert when we try to cross the US border, and nobody stops the thousands of salvadoreans who flee the country every week!!

We're so lucky! right?