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They Call Us Thieves and Steal Our Wage: Toward a Reinterpretation of the Salvadoran Rural Mobilization, 19291931

Lauria-Santiago, Aldo. Gould, Jeffrey L.

Hispanic American Historical Review, 84:2, May 2004, pp. 191-237 (Article)

Published by Duke University Press

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They Call Us Thieves and Steal Our Wage: Toward a Reinterpretation of the Salvadoran Rural Mobilization, 19291931

Jeffrey L. Gould and Aldo Lauria-Santiago

Quien mandar aqu ser el cambio! Campesino saying, 1931


he basic facts of the January 1932 uprising in El Salvador are well known and largely undisputed. Thousands of workers and peasants in central and western El Salvador rose up on the night of January 22 and occupied various towns in the departments of Sonsonate and Ahuachapn.1 The Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS) had planned the insurrection two weeks earlier, but its key supporters in the army and many of its leaders were already either dead or in jail when the revolt began. The response of regional elites and the central government was swift and brutal. The army reoccupied all of the towns within a few
We would like to thank the director and staff of the Archivo General Nacional. We would like to recognize the invaluable assistance and comradeship of Carlos Henrquez Consalvi, director of the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagin. Patricia Alvarenga performed much useful research in 1998 for the NEH Collaborative Research Project, Memories of Mestizaje, which also provided funds for Goulds research. His research was also supported by a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship (2001). Gould would also like to thank Reynaldo Patriz for this crucial contribution to this project as a research assistant; he is a remarkably intelligent and decent human being, who in a different society would have received a quality education and would be duly recognized for his outstanding qualities. Gould would also like to thank the informants who in recent years have nally acquired the right to speak about 1932 without fear of reprisal. We would nally like to thank Peter Guardino, Daniel James, Barbara Weinstein, and the anonymous HAHR reviewers for their comments, criticisms, and suggestions. 1. Throughout this article we will use the term western to refer to the departments of Ahuachapn, Santa Ana, Sonsonate, La Libertad, and San Salvador.
Hispanic American Historical Review 84:2 Copyright 2004 by Duke University Press


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days, and throughout the next month government forces and civilian militias killed thousands of peasants and workers, especially in the heavily indigenous areas of the west.2 During the past 70 years, four themes have dominated interpretations of the movement and the massacre. The rst focuses on the structural causes of the revolt. In 1927, following six years of dramatic expansion, coffee prices and export volumes began to decline. This slump accelerated over the next few years, a devastating blow to an economy dependent on coffee exports. The western part of the country, which was hardest hit, became the principal site of the rebellion.3 The second focuses on the major political crisis that began when
2. The most important contributions to the analysis of the revolt and its origins are Mario Salazar Valiente, David Alejandro Luna, and Jorge Arias Gmez, El proceso poltico centroamericano: Ponencias de Mario Salazar Valiente, David Alejandro Luna y Jorge Arias Gmez (San Salvador: Ed. Universitaria, 1964); Alejandro Marroqun, Estudio sobre la crisis de los aos treinta en El Salvador, in America Latina en los aos treinta, ed. Pablo Gonzlez Casanova (Mexico: Siglo XXI, 1970); Michael McClintock, The American Connection: State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador (London: Verso, 1985); Thomas Anderson, Matanza: The Communist Revolt of 1932 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1971); Jorge Arias Gmez, Farabundo Mart (San Jos, 1972); Rafael Menjivar, Formacin y lucha del proletariado industrial salvadoreo (San Jos: Ed. Universitaria Centroamericana, 1982); Rodolfo Cerdas Cruz, La hoz y el machete: La Internacional Comunista: America Latina y la revolucin en Centroamrica (San Jos: EUNED, 1986); Rafael Guidos Vejar, El ascenso del militarismo en El Salvador (San Salvador: UCA, 1980); Leon Zamosc, The Denition of a Socio-Economic Formation: El Salvador on the Eve of the Great World Economic Depression (M.A. thesis, Univ. of Manchester, 1977); Alan Everett Wilson, The Crisis of National Integration in El Salvador, 1919 1935 (Ph.D. diss, Stanford Univ., 1969); Hctor Prez Brignoli, Indians, Communists, and Peasants: The 1932 Rebellion in El Salvador, in Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America, ed. William Roseberry, Lowell Gudmundson, and Mario Samper Kutschbach (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995); Leon Zamosc, Class Conict in an Export Economy: The Social Roots of the Salvadoran Insurrection of 1932, in Sociology of Developing Societies: Central America, ed. Edelberto Torres Rivas ( New York: Monthly Review, 1988); James Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus: A Political History of Modern Central America (London: Verso, 1988); and Andrew Jones Ogilvie, The Communist Revolt of El Salvador, 1932 (Ph.D. diss., Harvard College, 1970). 3. David Luna, Manual de historia econmica de El Salvador (San Salvador, 1971); Victor Bulmer-Thomas, The Political Economy of Central America Since 1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987); Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus; Edelberto Torres Rivas, Interpretacin del desarrollo social centroamericano: Procesos y estructuras de una sociedad dependiente (San Jos: Ed. Universitaria Centroamericana, 1981); Gerardo Iraheta Rosales, Vilma Dolores Lpez Alas, and Mara del Carmen Escobar Cornejo, La crisis de 1929 y sus consecuencias en los aos posteriores, La Universidad 6 (1971): 22 74; Zamosc, Class Conict; and Zamosc, The Denition; Bradford Burns, The Modernization of Underdevelopment: El Salvador, 1858 1931, Journal of Developing Areas 18, no. 3 (Apr. 1984): 293 316.

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President Romero Bosque (1927 31) broke with ofcial continuismo and permitted relatively free and democratic local and presidential elections. As a result of this political opening, reformist candidate Arturo Araujo was elected and held ofce from March until December 1931, presiding over the deepening economic crisis and increasing social and political unrest in the countryside. Elites and their military allies moved to depose him, principally due to his inability to stem the growing leftist-dominated movement in the countryside but also because of the administrative chaos that plagued his government.4 The third line of analysis focuses on the role of the PCS.5 Within the Left, many have questioned the PCSs political line, and more recently, scholars have questioned the degree of PCS inuence over the movement.6 The fourth theme, concerning the ethnic content of the revolt, relates to the third in that some scholars stress the remoteness of the PCS from the concerns and culture of the indigenous supporters who participated in the movement.7 The western region
4. For an in-depth discussion of the Araujo regime and its failures, see Guidos Vejar, El ascenso del militarismo. 5. For discussions of the revolt that emphasize peasant participation, see Italo Lpez Vallecillos, La insureccin popular campesina de 1932, ABRA 2, no. 13 ( June 1976); Segundo Montes, Levantamientos campesinos en El Salvador, Realidad Econmico-Social 1, no. 1 (1988) (although Segundo Montes, El compadrazgo: Una estructura de poder en El Salvador [San Salvador: UCA, 1979], emphasizes ethnic relations); Segundo Montes, El campesinado salvadoreo, Revista Espaola de Antropologa Americana 11 (1981): 273 84; Mario Lungo, La lucha de las masas en El Salvador (San Salvador: UCA, 1987); Mario Flores Macal, Origen, desarrollo y crisis de las formas de dominacin en El Salvador (San Jos: SECASA, 1983); Douglas A. Kincaid, Peasants into Rebels: Community and Class in Rural El Salvador, Comparative Studies in Society and History 29, no. 3 ( July 1987): 466 94. Most recently, Jeffrey M. Paige, in Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), emphasizes the mobilization of what he terms the pobretariado. 6. See Cerdas Cruz, La hoz y el machete; Rodolfo Cerdas Cruz, Farabundo Mart, la internacional comunista y la insurreccin salvadorea de 1932 (San Jos: Centro de Investigacin y Adiestramiento Poltico Administrativo, 1982); Benedicto Jurez, Debilidades del movimiento revolucionario de 1932 en El Salvador, ABRA 2, no. 13 (1976); Aldo Lauria-Santiago, Una contribucin biogrca a la historia del Partido Comunista Salvadoreo, Revista de Historia 33 ( Jan.June 1996): 157 83; Erik Ching, In Search of the Party: The Communist Party, the Comintern, and the Peasant Rebellion of 1932 in El Salvador, The Americas 55, no. 2 (Oct. 1998): 204 39. 7. The most recent historiography has emphasized the participation of indigenous people; Erik Ching and Virginia Tilley, Indians, the Military, and the Rebellion of 1932 in El Salvador, Journal of Latin American Studies 30 (1998): 121 56; Erik Ching, From Clientelism to Militarism: The State, Politics, and Authoritarianism in El Salvador, 1840 1940 (Ph.D. diss, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, 1997); Patricia Alvarenga, Cultura y tica de la violencia: El Salvador 1880 1932 (San Jos: EDUCA, 1996). Prez


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boasted the greatest concentration of indigenous population and communities, and long-standing conicts over land and local political control contributed to their mobilization.8 This history of ethnic tension also shaped the undeniably racist dimension of the repression.9 Scholars have argued that the indigenous leadership of cofradas played a critical role, but did so with all the tensions, ambiguity, and social distance implied by such an alliance with the movements urban, ladino leadership. The exploration of these themes has helped to elucidate the causes of the insurrection and its repression. Notwithstanding the great value of the existing literature, however, we feel it has privileged certain lines of inquiry and, with notable exceptions, failed to exhaust research possibilities. In particular, the literature has failed to offer adequate insight into the experiences, motivations, and origins of campesinos resistance and mobilization. William Roseberrys understanding of hegemony is useful in trying to grasp the ideological and cultural relations between elite and subaltern groups. He argues, What hegemony constructs then, is not a shared ideology but a common material and meaningful framework for living through, talking about, and acting upon social orders characterized by domination.10 This article will attempt to explain why the Salvadoran elite, and its religious and political allies, had such an extraordinarily difcult time establishing such a discursive framework. We probe, in the words of Sidney Mintz, the moment when populations come to the recognition that their felt oppression is not merely a matter

Brignoli, in Indians, Communists, and Peasants, characterizes the rebellion as a traditional colonial Indian jacquerie. Older accounts that stress the indigenous role include Anderson, Matanza; and McClintock, The American Connection. 8. In ofcial statistics for the period, Sonsonate has the highest percentage of its population classied as Indians (35%). Ahuachapn another department involved in the uprising had 26%. In 1920 the national average was 20%. Anderson, in his classic account of the revolt, stresses ethnically rooted conicts over land and local politics; Anderson, Matanza. 9. Recent students of Salvadoran history have provided new arguments and materials on this period. Eric Ching and Virginia Tilley discuss ethnicity, politics, and the state during the 1920s and 1930s, arguing that Indian ethnicity was not as decimated after the repression as some commentators claim; Indians, the Military, and the Rebellion of 1932. For useful evidence on the repression, see Harvey Levenstein, Canada and the Suppression of the Salvadoran Revolution of 1932, Canadian Historical Review 62, no. 4 (1981): 451 69; and McClintock, The American Connection. 10. William Roseberry, Hegemony and the Language of Contention, in Everyday Forms of State Fomation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico, ed. Gilbert Joseph and Daniel Nugent (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), 361.

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of poor times, but of evil times when, in short, they question the legitimacy of an existing allocation of power, rather than the terms of that allocation.11 Combining oral and archival research allows us to approximate the areas of consciousness and ethnic relations during the period of mobilization, themes that have usually been studied from a remote vantage point. We link our argument about weak elite hegemony that is, a poorly developed framework of meaningful communication with subaltern groups to four important considerations that contributed to the success of rural mobilization. First, we argue that the structural transformations of the 1920s created two relatively new social groups: colonos (resident laborers) and semiproletarianized villagers, both of which played key roles in the mobilization. These new precipitates of capitalism had historical roots in the zone, but the capitalistic nature of rural enterprises did not generate the sort of paternalistic ties between landowners and laborers that existed elsewhere in Latin America.12 Second, emerging political and social ideologies favored the particular alliances and rifts that characterized the mobilization. The agrarian elite, and the small oligarchy of merchants and nanciers that backed it, was on the defensive throughout the latter part of the 1920s. This was due, in part, to the emergence of a middle-class politics of reform. Middle-class reformism was coupled with a discourse of mestizaje, a nationalist ideology of race mixture to be nurtured through cultural processes of de-Indianization. Whereas the discourse of mestizaje formed a cornerstone of nationalism in Mexico and Nicaragua, in El Salvador the same discourse and practices had contradictory effects that, in different ways, fomented the autonomous mobilization of indigenous people. Although ethnic relations did play an important role in the mobilization, they did so in complex and contradictory ways. Any attempt to view the mobilization and revolt as ethnic conict tout court misses far more than it captures. Although ethnicity as an analytical tool is essential to understanding the movement, ethnic ideologies were not the sole, or even principal, motivation of most actors. Third, we argue that rural traditions of patriarchy and everyday violence also contributed to the mobilization. In other times and places, patriarchy has formed a vital component of elite or nationalist hegemony. In west11. The Rural Proletariat and the Problem of Rural Proletarian Consciousness, in Peasants and Proletarians, ed. Robin Cohen, Peter Gutkind, and Phyllis Brazier ( New York: Monthly Review, 1979), 191. 12. William Roseberry, Anthropologies and Histories: Essays in Culture, History, and Political Economy ( New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1989). Unlike many cases of new groups that emerge with the development of agrarian capitalism, these combined a new class position with geographical rootedness.


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ern El Salvador, however, we nd that indigenous patriarchy confronted the problem of growing ladino landowner contact with, and at times coercion against, indigenous women. Moreover, violence was a hard fact of campesino life that predisposed rural residents toward violent responses to threats or affronts. Finally, we should not exaggerate the distance between the worlds of the Communist militants and indigenous peasants. Indigenous and ladino rural poor decisively inuenced the strategy, tactics, and organizational forms of the radical movement that rocked the foundations of Salvadoran society before being crushed in a nightmare of bloodshed.13
Class, Land, and Labor in Western El Salvador in the 1920s

Most contemporary descriptions of El Salvadors countryside around 1920 emphasize the symbiotic coexistence of smallholding peasants with larger com13. Our research conrms Wickham-Crowleys insistence that a plurality of social conditions . . . can produce revolutionary peasantries rather than simply a specic conguration of structural conditions. The experience of El Salvador conrms that peasants rebel when damaging economic transformation and the decline of patronage networks are combined with physical dislocation from land itself; Timothy P. WickhamCrowley, Guerrillas and Revolution in Latin America: A Comparative Study of Insurgents and Regimes Since 1956 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), 93. Our ndings partially prove, disprove, and also move beyond current thinking about the causes of radical agrarian mobilization: they conrm Jeffrey Paiges suggestion that labor-providing tenants (serfs) are the most likely to participate in agrarian revolts, while contradicting the idea that smallholders tend to be reformist. Jeffery M. Paige, Agrarian Revolution, Social Movements, and Export Agriculture in the Underdeveloped World ( New York: Free Press, 1975), chap. 1. Also, the notion that sharecroppers and migratory estate laborers are associated with revolutionary movements is also conrmed, although our work does not conrm the distinction he makes between their differential disposition toward socialist or nationalist revolution. This work emphasizes the complex coexistence and interaction of social forms within one same peasantry. In particular, Wickham-Crowleys claim that Cuban squatters framed the situation in Cuba as a zero-sum game, and that this contributed to their support of Castros revolution, seems particularly relevant to understanding El Salvador in the late 1920s. If there was one perception shared by most of the different kinds of participants in the revolt, it was that all matters relating to wealth (land, labor, etc.) were, or had become, a zero-sum game. Prez-Brignoli also refers to post-1929 landownerworker relations as a zero-sum game; Hctor Prez Brignoli, A Brief History of Central America (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press), 100 101. This notion is echoed by Mintzs observation about evil times. Jeffery M. Paige, Coffee and Politics in Central America, in Crisis in the Caribbean Basin, ed. Richard Tardanico ( Newburry Park, Calif.: Sage, 1987), 141 90; Jeffrey M. Paige, Social Theory and Peasant Revolution in Vietnam and Guatemala, Theory and Society 12, no. 6 (1983): 699 737.

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mercial farms. While noting that El Salvador was not a land of latifundias, travelers mentioned the commercial connections between smallholders and larger landowners, who were united by the energy and driving force that are nationally characteristic.14 One commented, Most of the work . . . is done by its independent farmers in their time off,15 and the much more equitable division of property results in there being few people without their own land, producing the many individual properties of El Salvadors coffee country.16 These smallholders and their families provided [t]he bulk of the labor of the picking season, and they would nish their own picking rst, and then go, with their wives and children, to work on one of the big ncas near at hand. . . . There they join the volunteers who have come out from the town, and also, another class like themselves, small farmers who raise other crops than coffee.17 Another noted the plot after plot of coffee ground as large as village squares, each owned and worked by some peasant proprietor and argued that the peasants and workers had never suffered from the rapacity of large landholders.18 And another author, crystallizing this perspective, explained, The country is one big farm, with all its people at work, and no land wasted. Practically every man owns a little piece of property, or else has a good home upon one of the many large plantations. Even the poorest have something to lose in case of a revolution, and hence all are peacefully inclined.19 Observers also viewed Indians as a near-privileged caste of smallholders. A reformist governor of Sonsonate wrote, [T]he economy of the Izalcos contains a surprise for him who looks into its organization a bit . . . large properties, the criollo latifundio, is almost unknown [in this region], which is instead characterized by an innity of small snippets, each small farm having pasturage, fruit, grains, wood and marketing products in Sonsonate City. Similarly, in Nahuizalco, every home is like a little factory and each wife an excellent manufacturer, producing sleeping mats, stools, and jugs, etc.20
14. Wallace Thompson, Rainbow Countries of Central America ( New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1924), 96. 15. Thompson, Rainbow Countries, 98 99. 16. Impresiones de un sabio aleman sobre El Salvador: Notas de viaje del doctor Sapper, Pareceres 1 (1 Dec. 1926): 3; cited in Wilson, The Crisis, 30. 17. Thompson, Rainbow Countries, 94, 96, 99. 18. Frederick Palmer, Central America and Its Problems; an Account of a Journey from the Rio Grande to Panama ( New York: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1910), 110. 19. Frank G. Carpenter, Lands of the Caribbean (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1925), 114. 20. Alfonso Rochac, Conferencia de Alfonso Rochac en San Pedro Sula, Patria, 9 Oct. 1929, 3.


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Figure 1. Sites of Rebellion.

These descriptions may not have been entirely inaccurate for the early 1920s; however, they would look absurd by the end of the 1920s for most rural Salvadorans. They failed to grasp, however, the historical transformations that were already underway in the countryside, particularly in the west, where the dramatic growth of the coffee industry increased friction between large commercial producers and the rural poor. They also failed to envision the layered nature of the agrarian landscape of the region. Colonial-era haciendas that had stepped up production during the early twentieth century made up one layer. Even after some subdivision, these formidable and diversied properties often combined coffee, sugar, and grain production with cattle herding and logging. A signicant smallholder and peasant sector, which had its origins in the process of privatization of community and municipal lands in the late nineteenth century, formed the second layer. Finally, the third layer encompassed rich peasants and entrepreneur-settlers who carved medium-sized commercial farms from municipal lands or previously uncultivated state-owned land. By the early

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1900s, these three layers so blanketed the western countryside that no agrarian frontier remained.21 Coffee was the engine that transformed western El Salvador during the 1910s and 1920s. After a period of slow expansion between the 1880s and 1910s, coffee acreage increased 60 percent between 1916 and 1933, while production, prices, and export volume increased at still faster rates. The long-standing and vigorous capitalist sector in the department of Santa Ana nearly tripled its production of coffee, while La Libertad, a department that entered into coffee production in the early twentieth century, doubled its production. Most coffee farms were not huge latifundia; in 1920, of the 3,400 commercial coffee farms, the 350 largest possessed between 75 and 300 manzanas (125 500 acres) and accounted for 45 percent of national production.22 The greatest expansion in production came from midsized commercial producers with 10 50 manzanas of coffee, who produced about one-third of the countrys crop. These midlevel producers consolidated smaller farms and increased productivity, resulting in an increased concentration of land ownership. Population growth also contributed to land concentration and landlessness. Between the 1880s and 1930 the countrys population nearly doubled, contributing signicantly in the absence of any signicant urbanization or industrialization to a growing layer of landless peasants during the 1920s.23 Furthermore, inheritance partitioning of privatized communal plots increased the number of smallholders dependent on wage labor, and many gradually fell into the ranks of tenants and rural wage laborers. Indeed, by 1930 about half of the adult male population of rural western El Salvador did not own sufcient land and had to work as semiproletarians or colonos.24 Rapidly increasing land
21. Lauria-Santiago, An Agrarian Republic. 22. Lopez Harrison, Patria, 10 Aug. 1931; Revista de Agricultura Tropical, 1930, cited in Wilson, The Crisis, 40. 23. For the northern and eastern regions of El Salvador, Honduras served as a sort of release valve for agrarian pressures. By the mid-1920s there were thousands of Salvadorans working in Honduras, although western El Salvador continued to receive signicant seasonal migrant workers from eastern Guatemala to pick coffee (Thompson, Rainbow Countries, 183). Wilson claims that there were 12 60,000 Salvadorans in Honduras, with some Honduran towns composed of 50 100% Salvadoran immigrants. Wilson, The Crisis, 118. 24. This stands in contrast with eastern El Salvador, where the commercialization was not as intense or concentrated and landlords ability to accumulate was mediated by continued peasant control over production. In northern Morazn, a region where investment by the wealthiest elite was not important, traditional peasant crafts, commercial production of food crops, and cattle beneted from a period of increased activity and price


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values, caused by higher coffee prices and sk yrocketing prots, fueled this process of land concentration. The U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service estimated that land values ranged from one hundred dollars per manzana in remote districts to ve hundred dollars in better locations. Prices were higher still for plots adjacent to large plantations, with some paying up to $2,500 for small tracts.25 In the west, intense land use, high land values, and the lack of an agricultural frontier encouraged many larger landowners and investors to pressure smallholders into selling or mortgaging their small plots. Mario Zapata, one of the student leaders executed after the 1932 revolt, recounted a dialogue with a smallholder sometime during 1930 that illustrates this process. A wealthy landowner was pressuring the smallholder to sell his land and remain on it as a colono. Zapata convinced the smallholder that it was not in his best interest to sell. But when his wife became ill, the peasant had to mortgage his property to the entrepreneur at 5 percent interest per month. A few months later, he was unable to repay the loan, and the property was foreclosed. [T]he man who had been born free and who remained so until a few months ago, was reduced to the status of colono: he no longer could own pigs or oxen, nor keep his cart or his chickens, because the new owner planted coffee trees right up to the patio of his homestead.26 Zapatas story was repeated throughout the region, as the ranks of colonos swelled. A 1938 coffee census underscores the signicance of colonos as a social group (allowing for some changes between 1932 and 1938): about 18 percent of the entire rural population of western El Salvador lived on commercial coffee farms as either resident workers or administrators a total of about 55,000 people living on about 3,000 farms, with the largest estates having a few hun-

without endangering or lowering the standard of living of most campesinos. Indeed, this regional difference has been cited as an explanation for the relative quiet of the peasantry in eastern El Salvador in the years leading to the 1932 revolt. A newspaper article from 1932 claimed that peasants greater access to cheaper lands, including surviving common lands, and lower living costs were the reasons for the lack of communism in this region. Por qu no existe el comunismo en el Oriente de la Repblica, Diario del Salvador, 16 Apr. 1932, 2; cited in Carlos Gregorio Lpez, Tradiciones inventadas y discursos nacionalistas: El imaginario nacional de la poca liberal en El Salvador, 1876 1932 (ms., San Salvador, 2002), chap. 4. 25. S. L. Wilkinson, 25 Apr. 1929, U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service (USFAS), USNA. 26. As reported by Rodrigo Buezo, Sangre de hermanos (Havana: Ed. Universal, 1936), 29 33.

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dred colonos each.27 Colonato generally involved the incorporation of peasants into a farm or estate in exchange for access to land and/or wages. But while in eastern El Salvador the institution usually involved the payment of a xed rent in kind, in the west landlords used it to secure low-wage or free labor, rather than rent income or crops.28 In 1929 a U.S. Agricultural Service ofcer reported Every nca operator makes an effort to have as many permanent laborers as possible. These workers known as colonos (resident laborers) are really one of the most important factors in the industry; they may be depended upon to work all-year-round and are trained in all the different operations, while the day or piece worker is employed only during the picking season and his living conditions are, of course, not as satisfactory as the permanent worker who is provided with a small house, food and other necessities. . . . There is nearly always some work to be done on the larger ncas as these operate all twelve months of the year and are not handicapped by nancial problems and may, therefore, employ and retain workers indenitely. Many of the larger plantations operate small commissaries, have their own chapels and are really small communities rather than farms.29 When falling coffee prices in 1927 compelled owners to cut back on cash expenditures, colonos took on much of the work formerly carried out by wage laborers, but without any of the customary benets in terms of steady wages.30 Landowners also reacted to the market crisis by increasing fees: by 1931 many farmers, including the wealthiest, were charging their workers and colonos for access to water.31 A 1930 labor union internal document repeated a report from the local press: [W]hoever has spent even one day in one of these so-called
27. This data is based on preliminary calculations derived from the printed version of the 1938 census and a more detailed but incomplete manuscript version of the same data. Asociacin Cafetalera de El Salvador, Primer Censo Nacional del Caf (San Salvador: Talleres Grcos Cisneros, 1940). See also Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate: Crnica del 32 (San Salvador, 2001), 274, 280. 28. Benjamin Muse, Narrative Reports. El Salvador, 19 Sept. 1924, USFAS, USNA. 29. S. L. Wilkinson, 25 Apr. 1929, USFAS, USNA. 30. One of the effects of the crisis was that banks withheld loans to farmers in 1931, forcing them to minimize their outlay of cash funds. Most commercial farmers came out of the 1931 season without cash reserves. A. E. Carleton, U.S. Consul, Excerpt, Commerce and Industries Review, 27 Jan. 1931, USFAS, USNA. 31. Ogilvie, The Communist Revolt.


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great haciendas will have noticed how the patrons treat their colonos: for a manzana of land that they rent to cultivate maize, they have to pay 15 or 20 [colones] or else two fanegas of corn, which leaves the poor colono obligated to work for the hacienda for six or eight weeks earning a miserable wage (one, two, or three reales daily; that is, 12, 25, 35, or 36 cents a day). The wretched colono only works for the patron. . . . There are patrones that, for whatever motive, even deny the worker, in part or in whole, his miserable wage.32 Harsh contractual and labor conditions and the lack of paternalistic relations reinforced the colonos sense that the elites ownership of land was illegitimate, or in Mintzs phrase, that evil times reigned on the plantation. This sentiment was even more intense on midsized farms that had emerged from once indigenous-controlled lands. The message of land reform, rst raised by supporters of Arturo Araujo during his 1930 presidential campaign, strongly appealed to colonos. Unlike their counterparts in most Latin American countries, colonos especially after the Araujo government failed to implement any meaningful land reform became actively involved in the revolutionary movement and were perhaps its most important protagonists, as suggested in the testimony of the daughter of colonos: Both my parents were very active in the union, always going to meetings at night. They really believed that we were all going to get land and they would break up (hacienda) San Isidro.33 Semiproletarianized indigenous smallholders, dependent on wage labor to supplement their inadequate landholdings, formed the other key social group that emerged in western El Salvador during the1920s. Smallholders thus joined the ranks of seasonal laborers, who usually outnumbered permanent workers on the coffee plantations by at least three to one. During the boom years of the 1920s, the increased availability of wage labor and small increases in wages partially compensated for the increased landlessness. However, starting in 1928 the demand for wage labor declined, and wages would plummet dramatically during 1931 as landowners became intent on keeping cash costs down.34 In
32. Tesis sobre la situacin internacional, nacional y de la federacin regional de trabajadores de El Salvador, Comintern Archive, Moscow, Fond 495 Opis 119 Delo 10 (numbering refers to le and not to document; hereafter cited as Comintern, 495/119/10), pp. 27 28. 33. Interview with Margarita Turcios, El Guayabo, Armenia, 2001. 34. One notable from the region recalls an agreement among employers to lower wages during 1931; Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, 297. Between 1929 and 1931, rural and urban unemployment also increased. Government ofcials were ordered to keep lists of the unemployed workers in the major cities and to encourage employers to hire workers and rent unused lands, with the lists including hundreds of workers in Sonsonate City

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August 1931, the U.S. consul noted the effect of this steep decline in wages: One large agriculturist is said to have reduced wages from the rate of 6 or 7 colones a week prevailing a year ago to 1.25. . . . It is evident that the purchasing power of the laboring classes, especially in the rural districts, has been distinctly curtailed. The ragged appearance of the workers is notable.35 The world of these semiproletarians took shape in cantones such as Cuyagualo and Cuntan on the outskirts of densely populated Izalco and in the rural cantones of Nahuizalco. Ladino encroachment on privatized communal lands pushed most indigenous families toward seasonal employment. Many villagers worked during the planting, pruning, and harvest seasons on the larger haciendas in eastern Izalco, typically leaving home for two weeks and returning every other Sunday. By 1930, those Sunday trips home were occupied with local union and leftist meetings.36 The weak ideological and cultural presence of the elite favored the mobilization of colonos and semiproletarians. Hacendados and nqueros in western El Salvador had a strong sense of identity, power, and wealth, but they remained socially distant from their laborers. The 1920s saw the breakdown of the few paternalistic and clientelistic ties that connected the rural poor to the regions wealthiest landowners. The massive scale of modern plantations, with tens of thousands of workers mobilized each year to pick coffee and cut sugarcane, did not lend itself to personal contact between landowners and workers.37 Furthermore, the wealthiest owners lived in the departmental capitals and rarely on their properties.
alone. Ministerio del Trabajo al Gobernador de Sonsonate, Legajo de Cartas al Gobernador de Sonsonate, 8 Apr. 1931, Archivo General de La Nacin, El Salvador Fondo Gobernaciones Sonsonate (hereafter AGN-FG-SO). In the relatively small town of Juayua, four hundred unemployed workers petitioned President Araujo for relief (Ogilvie, The Communist Revolt, 53). When Araujo offered plots for rent on government-owned haciendas, the requests came at the rate of one hundred for each available plot; Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, 273. See also Solicitudes de Lotes, 1931, AGN-Fondo Ministerios Ministerio de Gobernacin (Hereafter AGN-FM-MG). 35. A. E. Carleton, Commerce and Industries Quarterly Report, 1931, 15 Aug. 1931, USFAS, USNA. Even lower wages reported in more Indian localities. Hector B. Llanes, A History of Protestantism in El Salvador, 1896 1992 (Ph.D. diss, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1995), 127. 36. Interviews with Raimundo Aguilar, Cusamuluco, Nahuizalco, 1999; Pedro Lue Sbana, San Juan Arriba, Nahuizalco, 1999; Esteban Tepas, Pushtan, Nahuizalco, 1998; Alberto Shul, Nahuizalco, 2001; Juan Aguilar, Ceiba del Charco, Izalco, 2001; Sotero Linares, Las Higueras, Izalco, 2001. 37. Approximately 25% of the countrys adult labor force had to participate in the harvesting of coffee in 1929. This is a projection based on the countrys demographics, the


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Even before the crisis, observers alluded to this potentially dangerous distance between owners and workers. One report stated: [T]he conditions to which its labor is subjected to (in order to keep down that one phase of production cost) are none too conducive to the nocturnal rest of a conscientious plantation owner.38 Their low level of hegemony was apparent to the agrarian elite well before the advent of serious rural labor organizing. Consider the statement of one of El Salvadors best known and most modern coffee growers, John Hill, who commented sometime during mid-1927 on the growing revolutionary current among workers: Bolshevism? Oh yes. . . . Its drifting in. The work people hold meetings on Sundays and get very excited. . . . Yes, therell be trouble one of these days. . . . They say: We dig the holes for the trees! We clean off the weeds! We prune the trees! We pick the coffee! Who earns the coffee then? . . . We do! . . . Why, theyve even picked out parcels that please them most, because they like the climate or think that the trees are in better condition and will produce more. Yes, therell be trouble one of these days.39 Planter arrogance and opulence ensured that their miserable wages did not appear to rural laborers to be the work of market forces. Although the high prot margins were not public knowledge, they must have appeared obscene to the workers. On one plantation, annual coffee sales were estimated at nearly half a million dollars, while the wage bill amounted to a mere ten thousand.40 Substandard housing, schooling, and food abounded, and landowners increased rents while charging for water and rewood and raising prices in their stores.41
size of the crop, and the productivity/labor indices provided in CEPAL et al., Tenencia de la tierra y desarollo rural en Centroamrica (San Jos: EDUCA, 1980), 172. 38. Thompson, Rainbow Countries, 178. 39. Arthur Brown Ruhl, The Central Americans: Adventures and Impressions between Mexico and Panama ( New York: C. Scribners and Sons, 1928), 204. 40. General Resume of Proceedings of H.M.C. Ships whilst at Acajutla, Republic of San Salvador, 23 31 Jan. 1932, Foreign Ofce 371/15814. 41. One farm owner acknowledged that he made more money from his store than from his farm. Working and living conditions are noted in Informe Sobre las Condiciones de Vida de los Jornaleros del Departamento, 1932, AGN-FG-SO. In the midst of the unemployment and wage crisis of December 1931, the Asociacin Cafetalera, while acknowledging that there is no work, still sought to recruit workers from Guatemala and Honduras in order to reduce wages and demobilize local workers. During late December 1931, the governor noted that for the largest coffee growers, there is a lack of workers to pick coffee, since the available people are few because workers have not come, as in previous years, from neighboring countries or even from other departments that usually send laborers at harvest time; Lisandro Larn J., Gobernador de Sonsonate, Carta al Alcalde de Sonsonate, 23 Dec. 1931, AGN-FG-SO.

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This dramatic increase in exploitation broke the already weak ties of paternalism that had connected wealthy landowners to their labor force. Reactionary opposition to land reform by the countrys wealthiest landowners also fueled the organization of a leftist opposition. The U.S. military attach reported, Their arguments usually come down to this; If we sell our land to these mozos we will have nobody to pick our coffee for us. The best thing for everybody is to keep things as they are. As a matter of fact we paid our mozos very high wages three years ago. What happened? Did they improve their living conditions? No. They simply stayed drunk two days a week longer than they do now. These mozos are not unhappy and as long as they do not know any better, why go out of our way to change matters. 42 The elite and middling producers intransigence on labor and land issues further undermined their ability to establish elementary forms of hegemony. There were, of course, rural sectors in western Salvador who were deferential to the elite and their claims. In particular, in towns and villages in which Indians were involved in the labor and Left movements, ladino smallholders and workers were much less likely to join. Similarly, in some towns, some smallholders (especially ladinos) survived without falling into the laboring ranks, in part due to their paternalistic ties to more prosperous farmers. Notwithstanding, our research has also led to a paradoxical nding: despite the signicant variations in municipal histories of land and labor and their differentiated and heterogeneous class relations, an important convergence of campesino experiences took place during the late 1920s, lending the popular movement an element of strength despite the continued economic power of the agrarian elite. The memory and myth of land availability during the nineteenth century and the state-sanctioned practice of guaranteeing communities sufcient land for their needs persisted among the rural poor and contributed to their view of large-scale private landownership as illegitimate.43 These memories merged with a regional tradition of collective struggle in defense of communal rights, shaping a widespread ideological acceptance of radical agrarian reform and armed struggle. Western El Salvadors workers and peasants were deeply rooted in the region and were not likely to vacate it (as might happen in other plan42. Major G. S. A. R. Harris, Salvador Economic, No. 4000-b Degree of Economic Development, Report No. 14, San Jos, 22 Dec. 1931, Records of the Foreign Service Post, San Salvador, El Salvador, United States Department of State, USNA, RG84. The report also revealed how the elite used land concentration to reduce the cost of labor. 43. It wasnt just peasants who held this memory. Patria editor Masferrer wrote in 1928 that [a]bout forty-ve years ago the land in the country was distributed among the majority of the Salvadorans, but now it is falling into the hands of a few owners. Patria, 29 Dec. 1928, p. 1.


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tations zones in times of crisis), but instead stood their ground and voiced their grievances to the state and elites.44 Reformist political currents helped to create a more democratic political climate, which curtailed the elites ability to resist those demands locally. A move toward local political autonomy pushed municipal politics outside of ofcial networks and channels. By 1927, elites ability to use local politics and patronage networks as a system of social control had weakened greatly, contributing to the political opening of this period.45 By 1929, the agrarian elite could rely only on the national state and its repressive institutions to control labor organizing, as evidenced in a letter from one thousand leading citizens to President Romero Bosque criticizing his lack of energy in quelling strikes and labor organizing.46
Middle Sector Reformism and the Radicalization of the 1920s

Growing reformist and anti-imperialist sentiment curtailed the states ability to respond to urban and rural working-class mobilizations during the late 1920s. Indeed, during that decade, a signicant critique of El Salvadors political and economic structures emerged from the countrys growing urban middle class.47 These political and ideological trends, combined with growing worker and campesino unrest, forced the elites on the defensive. The reformist critiques of

44. This was the case in Usulutans coffee regions, for example, where most workers came from other regions of the country. See Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago, La historia regional del caf en El Salvador, Revista de Historia (San Jos) 38 (1998). 45. For a discussion of local politics during the 1920s, see Patricia Alvarenga, Auxiliary Forces in the Shaping of the Repressive System: El Salvador, 1880 1930, in Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean, ed. Aviva Chomsk y and Aldo Lauria-Santiago (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1998); Erik Ching, Patronage and Politics under Martnez, 19311939: The Local Roots of Military Authoritarianism, in Landscapes of Struggle: Politics, Society, and Community in El Salvador, ed. Aldo Lauria-Santiago and Leigh Binford (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004); and Erik Ching, From Clientelism to Militarism, for an analysis of the relationship between local politics and national state formation. 46. W. D. Robbins to Secretary of State, no. 103, 31 July 1929, Records of the Foreign Service Post, San Salvador, El Salvador, Department of State, USNA, RG84. 47. Different aspects of these trends have been noted in Paige, Coffee and Power; Luna, Manual; Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus; Guidos Vejar, El Ascenso; Marroqun, Estudio sobre la crisis; Wilson, The Crisis; Burns, The Modernization, 293 316; and Alvarenga, Cultura y tica, chap. 7.

Salvadoran Rural Mobilization, 19291931


urban artisans, students, and intellectuals were nationalist, unionist (Central Americanist), anti-imperialist, and anticapitalist in tone. Artisans and skilled workers formed a signicant part of the urban population of El Salvador and since at least the 1880s had played a critical role in both local and national politics, often articulating demands for social and political reforms.48 Skilled workers and students also played an important role in linking nationalism and anti-imperialism to struggles over wages, rents, electric rates, foreign loans, and railroad fees.49 U.S. political, military, and economic intervention in the region contributed signicantly to the emergence of these reformist discourses. Even before Sandinos armed struggle against U.S. forces in Nicaragua, El Salvador had distinguished itself for opposing U.S. intervention in the isthmus.50 The Sandinista resistance galvanized support in El Salvador: peasant and artisan committees raised funds for Sandino and protested U.S. actions; some even joined his forces (most notably Farabundo Mart).51 Anti-imperialist fervor spread beyond the capital; as Reynaldo Galindo Pohl wrote in his memoirs, In all of Sonsonate, it would have been difcult to nd a single person who did not express anti-imperialist ideas.52 Thousands of Salvadorans from diverse sectors attended anti-imperialist rallies. The connections between anti-imperialism and the
48. An example of obrerista radical liberalism can be gleaned from a 1913 protest: In democratic countries like El Salvador where equality erases the civil frontier between citizens . . . it is unfair that certain duties are done only by one social class. . . . [T]he workers, those who work the land have always served . . . even some European residents here go to Europe to serve in their military. The obreros went on to demand that the government create a military draft without social or economic distinctions. El servicio militar obligatorio, 1913, AGNFondo Impresos. For a discussion of the participation of intellectuals in pro-union, anti-imperialist, and reformist movements, see Teresa Garca Girldez, El unionismo y el antiimperialismo en la decada de 1920 ( paper presented at the 6th Congreso Centroamericano de Historia, Panama, 2002). For a substantial discussion of obrerismo, see Lpez, Tradiciones inventadas. 49. On obrerismo in Nicaragua, see Jeffrey L. Gould, T Lead As Equals: Rural Protest o and Political Consciousness in Chinandega, Nicaragua, 1912 1979 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1990), chaps. 1 3. 50. El Salvadors export-oriented economy and nancial institutions were almost entirely nationally owned. This facilitated the development of reformism and nationalism workers, artisans, petit bourgeois, and even sectors of the agro-industrial bourgeoisie coincided, if briey, in a discourse of reform made possible by the relative absence of a strong foreign inuence. 51. Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, 329; Diario de Ahuachapn, 10 July 1928; Arias Gmez, Farabundo Mart. 52. Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, 329.


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emerging Left were clear: in 1929, state repression against an anti-imperialist demonstration in Santa Tecla contributed directly to the formation of a Salvadoran branch of the Socorro Rojo Internacional, a leftist organization that aided victims of political repression. During the 1920s, visible and persistent public critiques of the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth further challenged elite dominance. National newspapers like Patria and the Diario Latino routinely editorialized about the need for reforms in favor of peasants, rural workers, and indigenous people. Similarly, provincial newspapers like the Heraldo de Sonsonate also protested against the economic system. One article, for example, decried how the exploitative companies form a menacing plague that strangles justice and increases the percentage of the impoverished. Exposs of rural labor condemned large landowners: Life on the estates . . . is heavy, due to the monotony of the daily work and the pitiful rations, which have been reduced to two large tortillas and beans mixed with chicken droppings, cooked without salt or onions; they sleep under the coffee trees.53 Journalists also attacked the concentration of land in the hands of large-scale producers and supported measures in favor of the dwindling number of small-scale coffee producers.54 These critiques of agrarian capitalism coincided with attacks on the foreign-owned railroad monopoly (the International Railways of Central America) and foreign loans.55 The Minimum Vital (which sought ways to guarantee the basic necessities of life for the lower classes) and student movements also formed part of the reformist current. Alberto Masferrers Minimum Vital program promoted a harmonious balance between capital and labor and moderate land reform.56
53. El Heraldo de Sonsonate, 9 Jan. 1931, signed Sandokao. 54. Choussy, cited in Wilson, The Crisis, 120 21. 55. La Epoca, 17 June 1931. 56. See Karen Racine, Alberto Masferrer and the Vital Minimum: The Life and Thought of a Salvadoran Journalist, 1868 1932, The Americas 54, no. 2 (1997): 225. Vitalismo captured the imagination of reform-minded humanitarians across the isthmus (225). Masferer also linked the social reformism of these years with its anti-imperialism. In one text he wrote, If you were to look for two words, precise but harsh, to characterize the mental and material attitude of the Central American peoples in contrast with the United States, you would have to choose these two: imbecility and servility. . . . In these times, so deep and wide is the breech of our understanding, that the vast majority of Central Americans do not notice, nor even suspect, that their region is threatened with denitive and total absorption; Alberto Masferrer, En la hora de crujir de dientes, La Prensa, 3 Feb. 1927, p. 1; cited in Jaime Barba, Masferrer, vitalismo y luchas sociales en los aos veinte, Regin: Centro de Investigaciones (1997). For discussions of Masferrer and Patria and their relationship to broader reformist movements, see Barba, Masferrer; Garca

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Reformist university students also organized the Movimiento Renovacin and the National Association of Students (AGEUS), extending their efforts beyond the campus gates to include protests against foreign loans, high rents, trolley fees, electric rates, foreign monopolies, and militarism.57 Out of this reformist climate emerged the Federacin Regional de Trabajadores Salvadoreos (FRTS), which became a key part of this current. The economic crisis in the late 1920s pushed artisans into the ranks of wage laborers, creating a new fertile eld upon which to sow the seeds of labor organizing. In one demonstration alone, the FRTS mobilized ten thousand people in San Salvador, with speakers from the middle-class Liga Antiimperialista alternating with urban workers. The speakers made broad ideological connections between U.S. intervention in Nicaragua and Mexican president Plutarco Elias Calless confrontation with U.S. interests.58 A 1926 FRTS manifesto listed its goals: Puerto Rican and Filipino independence, internationalization of the Panama Canal, and nationalization of the railroads and other public services.59 These trends of the 1920s, propelled by the economic crisis, coalesced into massive support for the presidential campaign of reformist Arturo Araujo. The involvement of thousands of peasants who voted en masse for Araujo in the 1931 elections (despite PCS opposition) led to the creation of a relatively autonomous movement among artisan, worker, and peasant supporters. Perhaps the best image of the strength of Araujos base was the massive parade of peasants who followed him into the city of Sonsonate as part of the presidential campaign of 1931: Don Arturo, who was at the head of the parade, mounted a purebred mare, imported from England, and marched at a tight pace, with his hat in his hand, and saluted the crowd that had gathered on the sidewalks, doorways, and balconies. . . . Some three thousand men on horseback followed don Arturo, four abreast, with their hats pulled down tight and their mounts reined in. . . . Behind this impressive parade of riders and horses came an immense mass of people on foot, made up of peasants.60
Girldez, El unionismo; Casus, Las inuencias de las redes intelectuales teoscas en la opinin pblica centroamericana (1870 1930) ( paper presented at the 6th Congreso Centroamericano de Historia, Panama, 2002); Lpez, Tradiciones inventadas; and especially Racines Alberto Masferrer. 57. See Ricardo Antonio Argueta Hernndez, Los estudiantes universitarios y las luchas sociales en El Salvador (1920 1931) ( paper presented at the 6th Congreso Centroamericano de Historia, Panama, 2002). 58. Lpez, Tradiciones inventadas, chap. 3. 59. Ibid. 60. Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, 149.


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Araujismo grew as a reformist movement between 1930 and early 1931, with signicant connections to labor.61 Araujismo shared, and at times vied, with the Left for the support of workers and campesinos. Even during the 1932 insurrection, many activists maintained sympathies with both Araujismo and the PCS. At the local level, Araujos multiclass alliance represented a challenge to the old patronage networks controlled by local elites, while on the national level it led to a vast political movement unique in Salvadoran history. He also beneted directly from the reformist intellectual currents that inuenced diverse groups, including intellectuals, provincial lawyers, landowners, departmental governors, and military ofcers. The alliance between professionals and workers had roots in the decades-old political culture of urban reformism.62 Araujos laborism, inspired by the British Labor Party and the diverse ideological currents of Central American reformism, raised hopes of land reform among the rural poor and of political and economic reform among urban workers and artisans. But its failure to meet those expectations provoked further discontent. One U.S. embassy observer commented that Araujo made all kinds of election promises which led many farmers and laborers to think that the millennium was likely once Araujo was elected. There was rumored . . . that the big coffee estates would be divided and every family given its acre of ground. . . . [T]he unrest of the last few days may be laid partially to the rural populations somewhat hastily drawn conclusion that the president has turned his back on them.63 By the end of 1931, after nearly four years of deteriorating economic conditions, there was little space for signicant reform without, in alliance with the PCS, a dramatic assault on oligarchic power, which, in any case, would have been rejected for sectarian reasons.
61. The Partido del Proletariado Salvadoreo played a critical role in linking Araujo to labor. The PPS was formed by the reformist leaders of the FRTS, who were expelled when the Left gained control of the organization. Araujos links to the labor and popular reform movements went back to the 1910s, having organized an attempt to overthrow the Melndez regime in 1922. 62. Provincial cities, especially Sonsonate and San Vicente, provide good examples of the reformist alliance between provincial elites and artisans. In Sonsonate, Araujismo had support not only among the popular sectors but also among some of the regions commercial farmers and entrepreneurs. In San Vicente, a coalition of artisans and labor leaders had held municipal power for years with the support of the citys bourgeoisie. 63. Sectors initially supportive of Araujismo, like the PPS, sought land reform and increased government spending in public works and education. In the weeks right after his electoral victory, peasants reportedly occupied lands in haciendas in western El Salvador. Ogilvie, The Communist Revolt, 44; Alvarenga, Cultura y tica, 305; Casus, Las inuencias; Garca Girldez, El unionismo.

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President Araujos failure to carry out any signicant reforms forced him to reimpose repressive policies toward protest and labor organizing. As a result, many of his ardent supporters drifted to the left. In May 1931, the Laborista governor of Sonsonate had to suggest to Araujo that they meet with their local leaders in order to make them understand that they must in no way take part in these protests of a subversive nature.64 In July, Araujo organized a demonstration in support of his government. The government brought in some ve to ten thousand rural workers by train; they marched to the Casa Presidencial, only to join a second demonstration afterward that called for the resignation of all his ministers due to their lack of action on land reform.65 At the same time, Araujo appeared to be uninterested in reforming the increasingly paralyzed state.66 Although at the municipal level Araujismo often had mutually benecial relations with the growing labor movement, at the national level it had little success in crafting coalitions (due, in large part, to the sectarianism of the PCS, a reection of Comintern inuences). The failure of Araujismo, culminating in his overthrow, sin pena ni gloria, on December 2, 1931, contributed to the further radicalization of indigenous and ladino campesinos and workers. Despite its ultimate failure, we should not discount the ideological and political force of social-democratic reformism. From the 1920s on, the countrys elite had to compete with other ideological currents, and classical liberal racism was largely absent from national-level discourse. In particular, Salvadoran discourse on social reform went further than other Latin American variants in promoting the rights of Indians.67 Indeed, middle-class reformism, includ64. Gobernador de Sonsonate, Carta al Presidente de la Republica, 30 May 1931, AGN-FG-SO. 65. Harold Finley to Secretary of State, 8 July 1931, no. 537, strictly condential, Department of State, Records of the Foreign Service Post, San Salvador, El Salvador, Department of State, USNA, RG84; Iraheta Rosales, Lpez Alas, and Escobar Cornejo, La crisis de 1929. 66. For a discussion of the administrative near-collapse of the state during this period, see Guidos Vejar, El Ascenso; and Wilson, The Crisis. 67. See, for example, Romn Mayorga Rivas, Los indios de Izalco, terruo salvadoreo, Revista del Ateneo del Salvador 11 (1913): 372 74. One reformist governor noted the pro-Indian movement throughout our America and complained that Central America, parts of which have a considerable residual indigenous element, has forgotten and completely neglected the situation of its Indians. He thought that the Indian of certain parts of our country is not a problem but instead signies an advancement of civilization; Rochac, Conferencia de Alfonso Rochac. See also Lpez, Tradiciones inventadas, for a discussion of Mara de Barattas ethnographic work and other evidence of this revaluation of indigenous culture.


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ing Araujismo, was closely tied to the ideology of mestizaje. Throughout Latin America, ideologies of mestizaje allowed progressive intellectuals during the 1920s to take an active role in nation building by forging anti-imperial images and allowing for a greater inclusion of subaltern groups in a version of liberalism shorn of its most egregious racism and elitism.68 The Salvadoran version of mestizaje strongly valorized an abstract and idealized version of the indigenous contribution to the countrys history and culture. Writer Miguel Angel Espino expressed his understanding of the roots of Salvadoran nationalism in the following terms: [T]he dehispanicization of the continent . . . is one of those problems that in a hidden and latent way has been modifying the life of the continent. Because, it is proven, that we are Indians. Of the ve liters we have, one cup of Spanish blood sings within us; the rest is American ber. From the crossing of the Spaniard and the American a new race resulted; to believe this race was Hispanicized was the error.69 Reformist intellectuals cited Marxist and progressive thinkers like Jos Carlos Maritegui as part of their campaign in favor of respect for Indians. Rochac, the governor of Sonsonate, wrote, Central America, which has, in part, a considerable indigenous foundation, has forgotten, has completely neglected, the situation of its Indians. Although they tended to idealize a pure Indian culture, their views clashed sharply with traditional white and mestizo racism. Everything that is admirable in the Indian is his own; it is not owing to anyone, neither the priest, nor the teacher, nor the minister, nor the legislator, nor the magistrate. . . . The Indian is nothing less than a tender and sensitive man no less than the white or the mestizo.70 These declarations, however paternalistic, stand in sharp contrast to elite racist discourse that consistently portrayed Indians as inferior, backward beings who would squander any pay raise on alcohol and would retreat into indolent barbarism if given any land. Moreover, the ideologues of mestizaje, by valorizing the indigenous contribution to society and by offering solidarity for Indians, helped to create the discursive conditions and political space for the crossethnic movement that emerged between 1929 and 1931.
Indians and Ladinos in the Mobilization

The mobilization of 1930 and 1931 involved rural workers and peasants who, despite their variegated ethnic identities, responded positively to the class ide68. See Jeffrey L. Gould, T Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of o Mestizaje, 1880-1965 (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1998). 69. Miguel Angel Espino, Prosas Escogidas, 6th ed. (San Salvador: UCA Ed., 1995), 20. 70. Rochac, Conferencia de Alfonso Rochac.

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ology promoted by leftist activists. Those class-based messages and activities, promulgated initially by urban artisans, appealed to those who looked on Indians as a somewhat backward other, to those who identied strongly with indigenous political authority and culture, and to those who simply did not care. Part of that positive response to the radical movement involved differential social and political reactions to the discourse and practice of mestizaje, dened here as a nation-building myth of racial mixture and as a cultural process of de-Indianization. In Nicaragua and Honduras, an emerging discourse of ethnic homogeneity aided the efforts of ladino elites to take over land and political power from indigenous minorities. The processes of cultural mestizaje that accompanied agrarian capitalism tended to divide indigenous communities in ways that helped ladinos take land and political power from the indigenous minority. Likewise, in El Salvador, indigenous people looked like they were dropping their Indian identities. As one observer stated, The Indians have all been absorbed, and nearly everyone wears shoes and stockings.71 In Nicaragua and Honduras, national elites used the putative disappearance of real Indians to undermine indigenous claims. This process was replicated, in some respects, in El Salvador, but with certain fundamental differences that provide a key to understanding the mobilization, rebellion, and repression. While mestizaje formed part of the hegemonic project in Nicaragua and Honduras, the very intense and contradictory response of El Salvadors subalterns promoted indigenous resistance. Salvadoran indigenous responses were unique primarily because of the relative economic importance, communal cohesion, and geographic contiguity of indigenous groups. Thus, in El Salvador, unlike in Nicaragua and Honduras, some Indians responded to the ideology and practice of mestizaje with a discourse of ethnic militancy and revitalization. Ironically, we nd one of the clearest statements of the discourse of ethnic revitalization in the words of an inebriated Nahuizalqueo at a wedding attended by an Italian journalist: We, the real Indians, the Indian kings! The purebloods . . . we know something the whites dont know. We are waiting for our hour. We are the owners of the mountains, the valleys, the coffee elds, the houses all that can be seen.72 Evidence of this language of indigenous militancy is scattered and somewhat elusive, and we must recognize that it was submerged. Furthermore, the
71. Lillian Elwyn Elliott, Central America: New Paths in Ancient Lands (London: Metheun and Co., 1924), 118 72. Mario Appelius, Le terre che tremano, Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama (Verona: A. Mondadori, 1933), 113 14. During the insurrection, Nahuizalco residents reported that the rebels shouted Viva los indios de Nahuizalco!


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lines between assimilationists and traditionalists were extremely uid, particularly in the cantones, and it is impossible to deduce participation in the rural mobilization from a commitment to ethnic symbols favored by the traditionalists (dress and language). Indeed, in Santo Domingo de Guzmn (arguably the most traditional community in the country), Indians participated neither in the mobilization nor in the insurrection. The communitys economic marginality resulted in a weak ladino presence and a low level of ethnic conict. In Nahuizalco and in the town of Izalco, however, evidence points toward an important role for traditionalists in the mobilization. Consider the testimony of Andrs Prez about his father and grandfather, all indigenous residents of the canton of Pushtan: My grandfather had belonged to an organization commonly called Los Abuelos in Nahuizalco, dedicated to protecting indigenous culture, political autonomy, and land. My father, Juan Prez, was one of the few literate people in Pushtan. He worked as a colono on a cattle hacienda, on land that earlier had belonged to the community. When the Socorro Rojo started organizing in the area, my father became the organizational secretary. It was for him no different than Los Abuelos. 73 Although leftist militants did not support specically pro-Indian demands, their appeal lay in their nonracist forms of daily interaction and their egalitarian and emancipatory language, which Indians interpreted as support for their political, economic, and cultural rights. In Prezs testimony, we see that the mobilization of the late 1920s was a direct continuation of the struggles of Los Abuelos ( presumably a council of elders) against encroachments on land and restrictions on religious and cultural expression. According to Prez, ladino landowners, shop owners, and priests attempted to prohibit or restrict the use of Nahuatl on the one hand and usurp the power of cofradas on the other. There is no documentary evidence to substantiate the charge about the prohibition of Nahuatl. Indeed, in 1924, the national government nanced a study of Nahuatl in Nahuizalco. However, the development of primary school education for children in town undoubtedly had a negative impact on language use and could easily have provoked opposition from traditional sectors of the indigenous population. Similarly, other oral testimony suggests that the church strongly discouraged Nahuatl before 1932.74 There is clearer documentary evidence to substantiate the notion of cultural conict during the early 1930s, both in Nahuizalco and in Izalco. The Heraldo de Sonsonate reported the following incident in Nahuizalco in April 1931: The inditos also have their bitter moments, yesterday one told of the
73. Interview with Andrs Prez, Pushtan, Nahuizalco, 2001. 74. Interview with Marcos Bran, Cusamuluco, Nahuizalco, 2001.

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atrocity that four ambitious individuals want to carry out, for the Cofrada del Santo Entierro, they have agreed to take away the Lord and the other images from the mayordomo . . . and since the priest was surprised by the sacristan and the four schemers [he] is in agreement with the removal of the image of Our Lord.75 The mayor of Nahuizalco also supported the attempt to remove the image, alleging Communist inltration of the cofradas.76 The alliance between the four ambitious individuals and the priest in order to appropriate the image was consistent with church-Indian conicts in the rest of Central America.77 The intervention of the mayor, however, was a clear signal of increased blurring between religious and political conict. This transformation of Los Abuelos into a leftist organization did have political costs, most notably in municipal politics. As other historians have noted, municipal politics were an important site of ethnic conict during the 1920s and 1930s.78 In particular, Nahuizalcos bitter political conict spilled over into the mobilization. The former indigenous political elite, made up primarily of artisans, merchants, and smallholders, had clashed (and occasionally allied) for decades with local ladinos (generally business owners and small farmers of a slightly higher standing but also some artisans). During the 1920s, ladinos could count on some indigenous support for their political and economic goals. Thus, for example, a dispute over the privatization of some remaining communal land divided the indigenous political elite between progressives who allied themselves with wealthy ladinos and traditionalists who began to look left for allies.79 The leftward tilt of Los Abuelos further split the indigenous political elite. Thus, a former municipal leader, Cupertino Galicia, rejected the repeated entreaties of his former political allies to join the movement. Galicias opposition stemmed, in part, from his position as a middle farmer whose own farmhands had joined the mobilization. Political and ethnic ties notwithstanding, Galicia and others like him saw the expansion of the Socorro Rojo with apprehension, and in 1932 they feared for their lives. Similarly, in ethnically divided Izalco, the indigenous cofradas played a
75. El Heraldo de Sonsonate, 22 Apr. 1931. 76. Patricia Alvarenga, Los indgenas y el estado: Alianzas y estrategias polticas en la construccin del poder local (1920 1944), in Memorias del mestizaje, ed. Daro Euraque, Jeffrey L. Gould, and Charles R. Hale (Guatemala City: CIRMA, 2004). 77. Gould, T Die in This Way, 182 83. o 78. Alvarenga, Cultura y tica, chap. 6; Alvarenga, Los indgenas; Ching, From Clientelism to Militarism, chap. 5. 79. Alvarenga, Los indgenas.


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signicant role in the mobilization, and control over the cofradas was likewise a ash point for cultural conict. Here also, local politics and the struggle for control over the municipal government became very intense during 1929 32.80 Notwithstanding its sharp ethnic polarization, ladino artisans and workers in Izalco also participated actively in the mobilization. In the critical January 1932 elections, left-wing mayoral candidate Eusebio Chvez, himself a ladino carpenter, enjoyed the support of Izalcos Indians. When the rebellion broke out after the elections were nullied, the predominantly indigenous rebels proclaimed Chvez mayor.81 Thus far, we have focused on the traditionalist response to the varied political, economic, and cultural pressures on the indigenous communities rooted in the towns of Izalco and Nahuizalco. However, even there, the lines between assimilationists and traditionalists were uid. Throughout the rest of western Salvador, ethnic relations were even more intricate, revealing other facets of the subaltern response to the processes of cultural mestizaje and ethnic conict. In the cantones of Izalco, for example, many people considered Indians distanced themselves considerably from residents of the urban barrio of Asuncin, who were closely identied with indigenous markers of dress and language.82 Informants who were children in 1930 recall how their parents would use indigenous work clothes but then changed into ladino clothing when they approached the town limits. Notwithstanding what appears to have been an accelerated pace of cultural mestizaje in the cantones (including more language loss than in the indigenous barrio of Izalco), there were still sharp distinctions between indigenous families in the villages and poor ladinos who had migrated to the area during the preceding decades. We should not conate this distinction with class: Indians and ladinos alike occupied the ranks of laborers, colonos, and smallholders, in roughly similar proportions. Despite their shared class
80. See, for example, El Heraldo de Sonsonate, 10 Dec. 1929. The indigenous cacique Jos Feliciano Ama (hung by the military in January 1932) led a petition to nullify the elections, arguing that people from outside Izalco had voted. That fraud, in his words, opens the way for the imposition of capitalism, which would be fatal for the people, when the yolk of capital, imposed by public ofcials, would squeeze ofce workers, laborers, and peasants. The class language and date of this note suggest that the rural labor movement from its inception in 1929 had a very receptive audience. 81. Report on Communist Activities in El Salvador, British Consul, D. Rogers to Grant Wilson, 16 Feb. 1932, UK Foreign Ofce 813/23 no. 24 238/13a. 82. Some of the complexities of ethnic conict and the decline of Indian identities in Izalco during an earlier period are discussed in Aldo Lauria-Santiago, Land, Community, and Revolt in Indian Izalco, El Salvador, 1855 1905, Hispanic American Historical Review 79, no. 3 (September 1998): 495 534.

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status, however, relations between Indians and ladinos were tense. In the words of an indigenous resident of Ceiba del Charco, an ethnically mixed canton near Izalco, Ladinos didnt want to be with the inditos. In general, in these bi-ethnic areas, Indians were the primary participants in labor and leftist organizations. In the words of Sotero Linares, a ladino farm worker from the canton of Cuntan (Izalco), This was entirely the work of the naturales, of the most Indian [de los ms inditos]. And those of us who were half-bloods didnt know anything. Linaress testimony about the insurrection is also revealing. Captured by the Communist rebels, he was brought to the sixmanzana coffee nca of Anastacio Ishio, an indigenous landowner and leader of the Socorro Rojo. Linares was tied to a tree, where he argued with Ishios son Francisco, exclaiming that he and his ladino friends had never been invited to attend the Socorro Rojo meetings. According to Linares, Francisco responded, I dont owe you anything. We are worth something, but you are just worthless.83 This phrase suggests the weight of respect and disrespect in ethnic relations it was a long-standing belief among Indians that ladinos did not respect them. At the moment of revolt, then, the rebels turned the language of respect inside out: the Indians owed nothing to those who did not want to be with them. In Los Arenales, a predominately ladino canton that borders the coffeeproducing zone of Nahuizalco, the rebellion and the repression took the form of a civil war rooted in ethnic differences. In the eyes of the ladino campesinos, the mobilization had a distinctly ethnic character that excluded them. Despite the class rhetoric of the mobilization, Indian rebels were capable of killing their class brethren. Jess Velzquez, a child in Los Arenales in 1932, recalls the fear and hatred of his family (ladino smallholders) toward the indigenous rebels. He witnessed (and his grandfather participated in) the massacre of hundreds of Indians in El Canelo. He re-created the words uttered by his grandfather: Otherwise they would have killed us.84 Yet, despite these deep ethnic antagonisms, indigenous militants were perfectly capable of transcending ethnic boundaries when they organized rural workers on plantations or in neighboring ladino villages. As Fabin Mojica, a ladino carpenter and labor organizer, underscored in referring to his organizational work in Cuyagualo and in Cuntan (Izalco) in 1930, The Indians were quite understanding. Juan Hernndez and other compaeros of Cuyagualo themselves went to San Julin in order to organize the workers.85 In other words,
83. Interview with Sotero Linares, Las Higueras, Izalco, 2001. 84. Interview with Jess Velsquez, San Luis, Izalco, 2001. 85. Interview with Fabin Mojica, Sonzacate, 1999.


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indigenous militants who experienced sharp conict with their own ladino neighbors had no difculty working politically with ladinos elsewhere, such as those who labored on the coffee plantations of San Julin. British and U.S. embassy ofcials (and presumably their informants in the Salvadoran elite) did not usually make distinctions between Indians and the rest of the rural poor in western El Salvador. Notwithstanding their view that all of the rural poor were Indians, such analytical distinctions are important if we wish to understand the broad appeal of leftist organizations during the early 1930s. If we have to cast aside the notion of an indigenous mobilization and rebellion tout court, what difference did these ethnic ideologies and conicts make in the mobilization? In some places and at some times, they mattered a great deal. In particular, in those areas where Indians and ladinos lived side by side, the mobilization often appeared to be an indigenous movement, while poor ladinos, after the insurrection, became willing recruits for the forces of repression. In other areas, such as in large areas of the departments of Ahuachapn and La Libertad, evidence suggests that the historical processes of land concentration, capitalist labor relations fostered by the coffee boom, and the peculiar forms of consciousness of former members of indigenous communities created an openness toward alliances with leftist militants. Most signicantly, as we have seen, local histories did not favor the legitimacy of elite land claims. Finally, the ethnic dimension in the movement is fundamental in the ways that indigenous survivors of the 1932 massacre reconstruct the event. Consider the testimony of Andrs Prez, based on his fathers account. His father, an artisan and colono, had become a key gure in the Socorro Rojo in Nahuizalco: By 1931, the organization was very solid. They had big meetings under the ceiba [in the center of town] every Sunday. Then, the mulattoes became involved. Then one day the mulattoes broke the doors and busted into the bigger stores in Nahuizalco . . . you can still see the machete marks there. . . . Then the military said that the Communists and Indians had done the looting. And then they killed the Indians.86 Similarly, according to Alberto Shul, a town resident, Mulattoes from Turn and Atiquizaya took over the Alcalda of Nahuizalco and did some looting.87 In another version, local ladino elites perpetrated the robberies (or at least broke the locks on the store doors) in order to set up the Indians for their execution.88
86. Interview with Andrs Prez, Pushtan, Nahuizalco, 2001. 87. Interview with Alberto Shul, Nahuizalco, 1999. 88. Interview with Dominga Snchez, Pushtan, Nahuizalco, 2001.

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These recollections are signicant in at least two respects. First, the collective memory of survivors reworked the participation of nonindigenous people from Atiquizaya and Turn in a way that allowed for the suppression of the indigenous subject in the insurrection (as opposed to the earlier mobilization). In other words, by blaming ladinos retrospectively, Indians become innocent victims of the machinations of ladino elites, ladino Communists, and the ladino military. As we have discussed elsewhere, the forgetting of indigenous participation contributed to the fragmentation of collective memories, with pronounced consequences for the development of local political culture.89 Second, since the colonial era, Indians throughout Central America used the term mulatto as an epithet that substituted for the more neutral term ladino, underscoring both the darker than white color of their adversaries and their contempt for people of African origin. The use of mulatto in oral testimony today suggests the bitterness of ethnic antagonism in the twentieth century; it also suggests the achievement of those Indians and ladinos on the Left who were able to bridge that river of mistrust and resentment for a brief moment before the machine-gun bursts and ring squads destroyed that bridge and any memory of its existence.
Patriarchy and Violence

Strong patriarchal norms and relations characterized Salvadoran indigenous communities and contributed, albeit indirectly, to the mobilization and rebellion. Indigenous patriarchy was by no means unique to El Salvador.90 In T Die o in This Way, we note that in Central America, as elsewhere, strict patriarchal limits on female sexuality enforced indigenous endogamy and, at the same time, structures of indigenous patriarchy presented an extraordinarily powerful symbol to even sympathetic outsiders.91 In the Nicaraguan case, we emphasized how the ladino view of indigenous patriarchy weakened the possibilities for cross-ethnic alliances. In El Salvador, we can glimpse some of the impact of indigenous patriarchy on ladinos in the

89. Jeffrey L. Gould, Revolutionary Nationalism and Local Memories in El Salvador, in Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History: The View from the North, ed. Gilbert Joseph (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2001). 90. We are making the distinction between communities or municipalities with traditional forms of indigenous authorities, such as Nahuizalco, Izalco, Cuisnahuat, and Santo Domingo (all in Sonsonate) and other communities made up of people varying identities but who were not subject to specically indigenous forms of government. 91. Gould, T Die in This Way, 164. o


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following statement about Cuisnahuat, a relatively isolated and traditional community in the department of Sonsonate: Many years ago a considerable numbers of us ladinos from Cuisnahuat put up with, at the cost of the humiliation of our dignity as free citizens, the dictatorial attitude of the Indians, at the time when they functioned as local authorities. The hatred of this race for any element foreign to their primitive customs and their lazy and demoralized habits, and toward any change that signies progress, is visible to all. Aside from the repugnant spectacles of the Indians, such as the beating of children carried out by their own parents, apart from their habits of pillage and little or no respect for the property of those who do not belong to their community . . . the arbitrary abuses of the Indians are countless.92 The document suggests that the ladino population of Cuisnahuat related abuses by indigenous municipal authorities to indigenous patriarchy, Indian hatred for modern customs and culture, and public corporal punishment in child rearing.93 Endogamous marriage practices, similar to those of other Central American Indians, were essential to indigenous patriarchy. Arranged marriages and patrilocal residence patterns, in particular, were customary among both Salvadoran and Nicaraguan Indians during this period.94 Arranged marriages both reinforced the power of patriarchs within the community and guaranteed ethnic endogamy. As in other societies, endogamy and male control over women were central to the preservation of indigenous identity and community, or at least so it appeared to the village elders.95 Although it is debatable whether indigenous patriarchy was more oppressive in El Salvador than in other parts of the Americas, it was surely more cod92. Nulidad de Elecciones en Cuisnahuat, 5 May 1901, AGN-FG-SO. 93. Hamilton Fyfe further substantiated the uniqueness of indigenous patriarchy: In the Indian homes the patriarchal system prevails, the authority of parents and grandparents is acknowledged and respected. Many attribute the good qualities of the native to the discipline which this system entails; Fyfe, Salvador: A Vigorous Race in a Volcanic Land, Peoples of All Nations, vol. 6, ed. J. A. Hammerton (London: Fleetway House, 1929). 94. Mara de Baratta and Jeremas Mendoza, Cuzcatln tpico: Ensayo sobre etnofona de El Salvador, folklore, folkwisa y folkway (San Salvador: Ministerio de Cultura, 1951). 95. Carol A. Smith has argued persuasively that there are signicantly different values attached to female sexuality within and outside of Guatemalan indigenous communities; Carol A. Smith, Race-Class-Gender Ideologies: Modern and Anti-Modern Forms, Comparative Studies in Society and History 37, no. 4 (1995).

Salvadoran Rural Mobilization, 19291931


ied. Consider the report of the Italian journalist at a 1928 marriage ceremony in Nahuizalco. His report reveals a sense of the intrusive, gendered communal presence in the lives of its members. That the taxtule (a key gure in cofradas who combined different roles, including historian), and not the local priest, was the master of ceremonies provides evidence of another dimension of weak hegemonic control. After going over the responsibilities of the husband, which included replacing the roof annually, providing enough corn for the family, and producing a child within a year, they turned to the bride and listed a series of her obligations. These included waking up before the husband to prepare coffee and food, eating and drinking after he was done, and wiping his brow at the front of the house when he returned from work. She responded to each of these obligations with the words, I swear it. The following excerpts provide a sense of the threats that backed up the obligations: If you fail him, he will straighten you out [corregir ]. . . . If you betray him, he will squash you. . . . If you dont bear him a child, he will get another wife.96 Although this level of codication is striking, we should recall that women in the United States in the midnineteenth century were legally obligated to provide sex and domestic service to their husbands.97 It is noteworthy, however, that in El Salvador these strictures were laid out in an intimate community ceremony rather than in abstract legal code. Other sources substantiate this view of strict patriarchal control over indigenous women. For example, oral interviews suggest that if the tortillas were not ready before dawn, the wife was subject to corporal punishment administered by the communal authorities.98 Similarly, in Panchimalco (an indigenous community south of San Salvador), the elderly informants of anthropologist Alejandro Marroqun recounted that in the early twentieth century, the community shared a belief that the 11th day following the start of a new moon was propitious for procreating healthy, strong bodies and that an earlier date in the lunar cycle would produce cowardly men. Thus, according to Marroquns informants, on once luna, around nine oclock, municipal authorities would walk the streets beating a drum and at intervals shouting: Now is the time to conceive, gentlemen. From houses people would then responded, Were working on it. For the next eight days, sexual relations were encouraged. After the eighth night, municipal authorities

96. Apellius, Le terre che tremano, 109 10. 97. Sarah Ziegler, Wifely Duties: Marriage, Labor, and the Common Law in Nineteenth-Century America, Social Science History 20, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 79 83. 98. Personal communication with Patricia Alvarenga, who conducted interviews with elderly women in Nahuizalco in 1998.


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prohibited relations (an enforceable regulation since the thatched roofs shook during the act).99 Under such extreme patriarchal rule, it is not surprising that relations between indigenous men and women were often conictual, and real or imagined female relations with ladino men provoked the sharpest tensions.100 One contributing factor may have been womens desires to whiten the race. A report from the 1880s that El Salvadors indigenous women sought offspring with white males echoes a similar report of mid-nineteenth-century Indian families in Nicaragua who rented their daughters to white males (specically not those of African descent) on condition that the offspring would be returned to the family.101 Although there is scant evidence, it seems likely that womens resistance to patriarchy including liaisons with ladinos may have contributed to the transformation of some indigenous communities into nonindigenous ones in western Salvador. During the 1920s, the growing number of indigenous women obliged to work on plantations and haciendas loosened the bonds of patriarchy by increasing contact between indgenas and ladino men. Ruhls comments about James Hills coffee plantation are relevant (even though they probably refer to both indigenous and ladina women). Ruhl relates the owners words, writing, They used to do nothing, just take care of their babies, cook for their husbands, and potter round their places. But I kept urging them to work and now I have plenty. . . . Why, lots of these women go round now with silk stockings on, while theyre carrying armfuls of brush and dirt. Naturally, they tear em to pieces. 102 Part of Hills argument was that the women, however ignorant, engaged in everyday resistance that resulted in wage increases that allowed them to purchase luxury items such as silk stockings. We can speculate that women workers, after such experience and presumably after acquiring new consumer tastes, would become active in the labor movement. The increase in indigenous women plantation workers resulted in more voluntary and involuntary relations with ladinos of different classes.103 For example, the FRTS denounced the patrons abuse of the daughters of colonos:
99. Alejandro Dagoberto Marroqun, Panchimalco (San Salvador: Ministerio de Educacin, 1959), 194 95. 100. Smith, Race-Class-Gender Ideologies. 101. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Central America (San Francisco: The History Company, 1887) 3:604. 102. Ruhl, The Central Americans, 203; On the Nicaraguan case, see Gould, T Die in o This Way, 16465. 103. Although we do not have evidence for a causal connection, there is also no doubt that rates of illegitimacy were quite high.

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In some ncas and haciendas the patrones or their sons exercise the privilege of the pernada and the young daughters of the colonos only can develop relationships with laborers after the boss or their sons abandon them. The girls then often become mothers of a patrns child.104 However, the combination of indigenous patriarchy and elite ladino coercion against women probably led to greater policing of ethnic boundaries and communal resistance against the ladino elite. That policing, however, was not always successful. For example, a 1913 report on Nahuizalco relates the complaints of indigenous men against the prostituting of indgenas.105 Although the meanings of this protest are not clear, they certainly allude to sexual relations between ladinos and indigenous women. Many informants today put the onus of guilt on landowners and their sons. While the increase in elite power and decrease in the pool of indigenous men after 1932 may have colored informants memories of the previous period, there is little doubt that the rape of indigenous women by ladino landowners formed a salient image in indigenous eyes. Moreover, at least some of the movement activists and sympathizers were the product of such unions. Typically, the bastard child would not be recognized by the father, and he harbored a great deal of resentment. Francisco Tobar, a local leader in Socorro Rojo, was the product of such a union. He grew up in Salcoatitn despising his father and survived the repression to pass on his story to his grandchildren. Four other very similar stories offer anecdotal support of the notion that ladino sexual aggression toward indigenous women tended to foment indigenous resistance and rebellion.106 Patriarchal ideology, not surprisingly, reigned in all sectors of Salvadoran society and certainly heightened class tensions. Consider the testimony of a plantation foreman in Sonsonate in late 1931: We farmers will not allow our assets [nuestros intereses] to be touched . . . it is unacceptable that our assets be touched, and we will not stand for this under any reason or circumstance or under any pretext. Here I am preparing to defend myself, my property, and my woman.107 The sexual tensions and fears of ladino men and women reached nightmarish proportions during the January insurrection, as revealed by the
104. Informe del Sexto Congreso Regional Obrero y Campesino Constituyente de la Federacin Regional de Trabajadores, May 1930, Comintern 495/119/10, p. 92. 105. Informe de la Visita Ocial a los Pueblos del Departamento, Gobernador de Sonsonate, AGN-FG-SO, 20 Sept. 1913. 106. Interviews with Alberto Shul ( Nahuizalco), Ernesto Shul ( Nahuizalco), Ramn Esquina (Tajcuillah, Nahuizalco), and Ramn Aguilar (Cusamuluco, Nahuizalco). All provide anecdotal evidence of the connection between an illegitimate origin and movement participation 107. Galindo Pohl, Recuerdos de Sonsonate, 318.


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memoir of a Sonsonate resident: Certain ladies were particularly seized by hysteria. When the noise from the entrance of the rebels had dissipated, you could hear terried, penetrating cries that revealed the terror raised to the nth degree. My daughters . . . my daughters . . . my daughters! The ladies could already see their daughters being raped, as it had been announced.108 The manifestation of patriarchy in violence toward children may well have also contributed toward the rebellion. Indeed, as we saw above, ladinos claimed Indians engaged in extreme forms of corporal punishment. Whether or not indigenous discipline was more draconian than ladino practices, there is little doubt that poor, rural children grew up in an atmosphere colored by violence and machismo. Moreover, there is substantial oral evidence that many children lived in families relatively devoid of affection. Indeed, one indigenous informant commented that most children werent close to their fathers.109 Consider the following testimony by Salom Torres, who grew up in the highlands of Jayaque during the 1920s. His mother died of illness when he was still a child, and the pain of that loss was still great when his father became ill. As my father lay dying on his bedroll, he suddenly arose and hobbled over to a corner of a hut and reached down to pick up a stick. Salom, come over here! he said to me. I was scared, but I walked over to my father. He started striking me on my back and rear end with the stick. This way you will remember me so that you will always behave. Then he died. With my brothers and sisters we moved in with my grandmother, una arrimada [an invited squatter] in the coffee hacienda of Angel Garca. This patron liked to beat up his workers just because he felt like it. One day, Salom recalls, the patron saw his little brother in a mango tree eating a ripe fruit. He shouted at the little boy to come down and then beat the boy so hard he died. Salom, then 15, ew into an impotent rage and left the hacienda.110 The theme of violence and the family begs for further investigation.111 There is, however, no doubt that rural Salvadoran society was (and still is) violent. Journalistic accounts emphasized how Indians resorted to their machetes at the slightest provocation. A Canadian ship captain, for example, relied upon common elite and middle-class knowledge when he reported how on Saturday nights, drinking often led to bloodshed in rural cantinas: In the course of the

108. Ibid., 356. 109. Interview with Andrs Prez, Pushtan, Nahuizalco, 2001. 110. Interview with Salom Torres, El Cacao, 2001. 111. Patricia Alvarenga, in Cultura y tica and Auxiliary Forces, examines the multiple levels of state coercion in peasant society.

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evening it is quite common for a quarrel to break out, and often the participants . . . have it out with their machetes. They stand up to one another with the utmost bravery, quite often until one of them is killed, and showing the utmost indifference to the most appalling wounds.112 Similarly, a newspaper editorial following the insurrection called for the demachetization of the Salvadoran campesinos. After citing the common refrain Machete cado, indio muerto [the Indian only drops his machete after he is dead], it alleged, Any campesino with a machete in his hand is a potential criminal; that is to say, he is one step away from hacking at his coworker, his neighbor, or his patron.113 Regardless of the degree of hyperbole provoked by the insurrection, the editorial and other writings do evoke an intensely machista rural culture. In summary, we can elaborate the following hypotheses. First, strong forms of patriarchy provided a bulwark for indigenous endogamy and helped to perpetuate the communal authority of a group of elderly males in Nahuizalco, Cuisnahuat, and Izalco. Second, indigenous women engaged in either voluntary or coerced relations with ladinos, with whom they were in greater contact due to economic changes. Some of these contacts produced offspring who may not have identied themselves strongly as Indians but certainly harbored resentment against their elite fathers. Third, perceived or real rape of indgenas by ladinos further angered indigenous communities, and probably led men to reinforce all forms of ethnic boundaries.114 Fourth, the generalized violence and machismo that characterized the lives of subaltern Salvadorans created a lower level of tolerance for state repression.
The Revolutionary Wave, 19291931

Rural Salvadorans experiences with everyday and state-sponsored violence conditioned their willingness to engage in violent resistance to repression. The increasingly repressive state response to the movement further galvanized, rather than intimidated, their acceptance of an insurrectionary strategy. The rapid development of a revolutionary movement and the decisive role of rural subaltern groups in transforming the leftist agenda make 1929 31 El Salvador, along with 1933 Cuba, stand out in the history of the Latin American Left. In
112. General Resume of Proceedings of H.M.C. Ships. 113. La Prensa, 29 Jan. 1932. 114. Rape fantasies certainly played a role in the massacre, as ladino townsfolk were convinced that the rebels were going to rape their women and were planning a mass wedding. In fact, rebels in Juaya put ladino women to work making tortillas for their troops.


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order to understand this unique history, we must rst elucidate the conditions that allowed the movement to prosper in the rst place; even before the crisis, labor organizers worked upon a propitious eld, indeed. In 1927, urban artisans from the nascent labor movement in Ahuachapn and Sonsonate turned their attention to the countryside. Three conditions favored their organizational efforts. First, the administration of president Po Romero Bosque was relatively tolerant toward urban union activity. Second, at least according to some accounts, the coffee haciendas and plantations were permeable to activists, and the state repressive apparatus was quite weak. Jorge Fernndez Anaya, a Mexican organizer who helped to found the PCS in 1930, compared the favorable circumstances in El Salvador with the adverse ones in Guatemala: It was undoubtedly very easy to get access to a hacienda [in El Salvador] and to get them to listen to you.115 Similarly, the social distance between the urban artisans and rural workers was not insurmountable, and there were numerous points of contact. Campesinos sold their goods in urban markets, and many urban workers put in stints on haciendas as either seasonal workers or skilled tradesmen.116 As Anaya stated, It was easier in El Salvador. The peons were Indians only in some places. Not all of the Indians spoke Spanish, but there were people who would translate, and in any case, it was easier to talk to the Indians in El Salvador than with those in Guatemala. They had consciousness and this was much more important, because the people, when we spoke to them about the interests of the working class, of the laborers, they could sense the problems. . . . There was a difference between the peon and the urban worker. What happened is that when you spoke with the peons, you could make yourself understood easily, you could explain, you could say anything you needed to.117 Favored by these conditions, the labor movement expanded into the countryside between 1929 and 1931 at an impressive rate. Indeed, many unions were organized spontaneously: labor organizers would often show up in a canton
115. Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, El Bolchevique Mexicano de la Centroamrica de los veinte (an interview with Fernndez Anaya), Memoria 4, no. 31 (Sept.Oct. 1990): 218 116. Interview with Fabin Mojica, Sonzacate, 1999. 117. Figueroa Ibarra, El Bolchevique Mexicano, 217 18. In an interview with Mojica (2000), he stated that the same campesinos from the cantones of Izalco went to organize the plantation workers in the San Julin area. Many of the village residents worked on the plantations and returned home every fortnight, especially during the coffee harvest.

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only to nd it already organized. A FRTS document reported continual pleas from the haciendas and villages to the Federation asking that they send organizers, and in many cases when they arrive, they nd organizations already in place, with noticeable tendencies toward action, which all the campesinos express that here it will be change itself that will rule. 118 We cannot measure this growth with any absolute certainty. By the middle of 1930, however, the FRTS probably had at least 15,000 members, and activists were awed by the growth of their movement.119 Curiously, it did not follow a typical progressioninitial union organization, strikes, some success, and then more growth, reaching some level of strength before encountering repression. Rather, despite the growing control of the movement by the Left and a high level of rhetoric of class struggle, there were fewer than ten strikes in the cities or countryside during the rst period of rapid growth ( November 1929 to August 1931).120 Although strike activity was low, rural workers and colonos engaged extensively in other forms of resistance at the point of production that threatened elite political and economic domination. A report about labor organizing on the San Isidro hacienda (near Armenia) notes: They passed out pamphlets with Communist doctrines and they agitate people so that they attack all those who are against their principles. Information we have received from other places makes it known that the mayordomos and capataces nd themselves in tough straits because they feel they are constantly being threatened when they try to carry out their bosses orders.121

118. La Situacin del El Salvador, 10 June 1930, Comintern 495/119/3. Interview with Fabian Mojica (Sonzacate, 1999, 2000), a carpenter from Sonzacate, who was a rural union organizer in 1929 and 1930. 119. Informe del Sexto Congreso Regional Obrero y Campesino, 4 May 1930, p. 106, laments the lack of membership statistics. La situacin actual de El Salvador, an internal document of the PCS dated 10 June 1930, gives a partial account of rural labor organizing: 400 union members in Santiago de Texacuango, 2,500 in Armenia, 1,000 in Ahuachapn, 1,703 in Nahuizalco (including 544 women), and 600 in Juaya. Comintern 495/119/3. 120. Various reports in the Comintern documents purport to list all strike activity. Several reports and references from the FRTS congress of May 1930 discuss two urban strikes: one in a textile mill and one at a water company; Comintern 495/119/10, p. 60. At one point during the 1930 coffee-picking season, rural workers in Jayaque were prepared to strike, but the FRTS persuaded them against such a move due to their lack of organization and resources. In 1931 there were two strikes in San Salvador, one involving bus workers and the other shoe workers, but there were no reported rural strikes that got off the ground or lasted more than a day. See report by Comrade Hernndez ( probably by Max Cuenca) during the latter part of 1932 to the Comintern 495/119/4, p. 27. 121. Actividad Comunista desarrllase ahora en San Isidro, Izalco, Diario Latino, 23 Jan. 1931.


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Although it is difcult to re-create the atmosphere of the union meetings, there is no doubt that the often clandestine meetings were emotionally charged and uplifting. According to informants, men and women often would gather in the heavily wooded creek or river basins at night to discuss issues ranging from wages and working conditions to land reform to life in the USSR. Townspeople often disguised meetings as estas; like the rural ones, these gatherings often resembled subdued versions of religious revival meetings.122 There was, indeed, a religious dimension to rural mobilization. Peasants in western Ahuachapn, mostly ladinos, participated in a millenarian-style movement based across the border in eastern Guatemala. In the town of El Adelanto, a young virgin woman, Petrona Corado, claimed to have returned from the dead and to perform miracles. During the late 1920s, the cult of the Virgin del Adelanto attracted hundreds of Guatemalan and Salvadoran peasants to the town, becoming associated with the idea of a radical social transformation. At least some grassroots leftist militants participated in pilgrimages, and several informants in the west strongly associated the cult with the radical movement. Authorities in both countries repressed the cult Salvadoran ofcials claiming that Socorro Rojo used it as a cover for its activities.123 Not surprisingly, landowners and local authorities found peasants and workers passion for union meetings and for the Virgin of Adelanto very threatening.124 Thus, although there were few strikes, the state nevertheless cracked down on rural organizing and targeted union leaders on plantations. On La Presa, a large plantation in Coatepeque, the National Guard evicted 345 fam122. Interviews with Ramn Vargas, Turin, 1999; Salom Torres, El Cacao, Sonsonate, 2001; Manuel Linares, El Cacao, 2001; Miguel Lino, El Tortuguero, Atiquizaya, 2001. 123. Interviews with Miguel Lino, El Tortuguero, Atiquizaya, 2002; Miguel Jimnez, Santa Rita, Ahuachapn, 2001; and Leonora Escalante, Santa Rita, Ahuachapn. The Guatemalan government arrested Corado twice and sent her to an asylum, the second time at the peak of the mobilizations of January 1932; Una virgen roja hacia milagros, Excelsior (Mexico) 1, no. 3 (15 Feb. 1932): 1; Ingreso al asilo de alienados el Santo Angel, El Imparcial (Guatemala), 6 Feb. 1932, p. 1; Telegram from Jorge Ubico to Jefe Poltico de Jutiapa, 5 Feb. 1932, Jefaturas Departamentales, Archivo General de Centroamerica. 124. The reports by mayors and police on nighttime meetings are extensive. See, for example, R. C. Valdez, Alcalde de Izalco, Telegramas al Gobernador de Sonsonate, 13 Dec. 1931, AGN-FG-SO; Alcalde de Cuisnahuat, Telegrama al Gobernador de Sonsonate, 22 Mar. 1931, AGN-FG-SO; Partes de policia, Departamento de Sonsonate, JulySept. 1931, Archivo de la Gobernacin de Sonsonate (hereafter AGS); Telegramas sobre elecciones y precios, 1930, AGN-FG-SO; Alberto Engelhard, Alcalde de San Julian, Telegramas al Gobernador de Sonsonate, 13 Dec. 1931, AGN-FG-SO.

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ilies in the middle of a storm, in retribution (they claimed) for the unions supposed call for expropriation and redistribution of the land to the colonos. In reality, the union had demanded higher wages and an end to payments for water. Eventually, many of the families were allowed to return, but the four leaders were thrown in jail and the union fell apart.125 Socorro Rojo organized well-attended demonstrations against this act of repression. In August 1930, the National Guard attacked labor demonstrations in ten towns and cities in western Salvador, carting hundreds of participants off to jail.126 Many rank and lers were eventually released, but again, the act of repression prompted further demonstrations demanding freedom for the union leaders. By late 1930, rural union members were so angry at the state repression that murmurs of insurrection began to circulate freely.127 Shortly before his return to Mexico in September 1930, Fernndez Anaya, with a tragic prescience, wrote, Revolution in El Salvador will inevitably be bloody. All the accumulated hatred, which keeps on piling up, will inevitably have to give it . . . a bloody nature.128 The national leadership (despite a small pro-insurrectionary current in the PCS) was able to check any local initiatives toward armed rebellion. However, the cycle of repression followed by local protest and organizing continued. For example, in September 1931 troops attacked a union meeting on a hacienda in Zaragoza, La Libertad, killing 14 and wounding 24. In response, interest in the local chapter of the SRI swelled, with organizers recruiting ve hundred new members in the Zaragosa area by November.129 The radicalizing effect of
125. Cuenca report, 495/119/4, p. 17; Informe del Sexto Congreso Regional Obrero y Campesino, 4 May 1930, p. 61. The Unin Sindical de Proletarios de Ahuachapn protested the repression of workers who had mobilized because they did not accept all the injustices inicted by the abovementioned lady . . . making them work 18 and even 20 hours, making them pay for the water they drank; report by Anaya, 8 Sept. 1930, Guatemala, Comintern 495/119/12; report by Anaya, 12 Oct. 1930, Comintern 495/119/12. 126. Ibid., p. 6. Also see arrest lists in for Nahuizalco and Izalco in August 1930 in Eladio Campos, Director de Polica, Informes al Gobernador de Sonsonate, Aug. 1930, AGS. 127. See for example, Acta 9 del Comit Central de PCS, 21 Nov. 1930, Comintern 495/119/3, which refers to discussions of insurrection among militants in Sonsonate; La situacin actual de El Salvador, Partido Comunista Salvadoreo, dated 10 June 1930, mentions the campesinos desire to go to the demonstrations with their machetes in hand. 128. Informe Sobre el Salvador, Jorge Fernndez Anaya to Alberto Moreau, Secretary General, of CPUSA, Colonial Department, 8 Sept. 1930, Comintern 495/119/4, p. 10 129. Letter of Ismael Hernndez, Comit Ejecutivo SRI del Salvador al Secretariado del Caribe SRI, 29 Nov. 1931, Comintern 539/3/1060, p. 8.


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repressive rie butts and bullets conditioned the peculiarly strong ideological role of the rank and le within Communist-led organizations. We can ascertain this role by examining two phenomena. First, the involvement of peasants and rural workers transformed the SRI from a leftist organization rallied against state repression into a radical social movement with a life of its own. A letter from an SRI leader to the international headquarters in New York demonstrates this clearly: You should understand that every comrade who participates in the SRI does not do it simply to help those who fall nor to help the victims, or their families. They understand their cards as signifying their enlistment in the Red Army. This is what they think and there is absolutely nothing we can to do disabuse them of this notion.130 Although it is unclear exactly why the SRI became the principal mass organization in western El Salvador, certainly the relative lack of concrete union success, rank-and-le enthusiasm for ghting repression, and vocal support for agrarian reform strongly conditioned this transformation. Some informants suggest that the name itself appealed to campesinos, combining the symbolic potency of red, the Christian-like notion of aid (socorro), and the promise of external redemption (international). It is quite likely that red harkened back to the state-supported Ligas Rojas of 1918 22, which had empowered indigenous people in local politics and legitimized the use of force in defense of corporate political interests.131 Similarly, the term camarada also caught on
130. Letter of Ismael Hernndez to the Secretariado del Caribe SRI, 29 Nov. 1931, Comintern 539/3/11060, p. 9. 131. The Ligas Rojas (1918 ca. 1924) were a loosely structured mass organization created and controlled by supporters of the presidencies of the Melndez-Quinez family (1913 27), and in many localities they offered a means for negotiating with local factions (especially indigenous leaders) and building patronage networks. They represented an attempt by Quinez Molina, whose campaign rhetoric underscored the social question, to preempt and incorporate reformist organizing among workers and peasants. They apparently got out of hand and had to be dissolved after a few years. One Guatemalan observer in 1932 noted how the masses had been mobilized for reform since the Quinez campaign against Palomo in 1918, which saw great unrest and violence in the countryside; see En El Salvador: Origen del comunismo, El Liberal Progresista, 9 Feb. 1932. One author traces attempts by president Carlos Melndez to incorporate mass support to 1915 (Castro Morn, Funcin politica). The solidity and stability of the the Melndez Quinez oligarchy between 1913 and 1927 has probably been exaggerated. Their control of the presidency experienced serious challenges in 1918 and 1922, and their control at the bottom was even shakier. The decline of their ofcial political party in 1924 reected the early unraveling of their patronage-based system. See Juan Ramn Uriarte, La esnge de Cuscatlan, El Presidente Quionez (Mexico: Impr. Manuel Sanchez Len, 1929); and Arias Gmez, Farabundo Mart. See Alvarenga, Cultura y tica, for a well-documented discussion and reinterpretation of the role of the Ligas Rojas. Erik Ching challenges the

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among the rural poor. Finally, the FRTS, perhaps due to an ideological conception of the role of unions, refused to lead the struggle for land reform. The SRI took up the popular battle cry of agrarian reform, an objective of particular interest to colonos. Many informants repeated the same words: They wanted to take the estates from the wealthy.132 As Jos Antonio Chachagua, a peasant from Ahuachapn, stated, The motto of the rebels was that the colonos were going to be the owners.133 In short, the growth and transformation of the SRI also coincided with the radicalization of the program of the leftist movement. The campesinos of western El Salvador were recreating the SRI in their own image. More signicantly, rank-and-le campesinos pushed the movement toward armed resistance. Over the course of the rst year of intense mobilization (from early 1930 through mid-1931), government forces probably arrested over a thousand campesinos and urban workers in demonstrations. Yet the 20 30 fatalities during this period do not represent an extraordinarily high level of repression by Latin American standards. The newly mobilized peasants responded to repression with impressive militancy. One regional leader bemoaned this response: Our organized campesinos do not come down to demonstrations after their painful experiences if they are not carrying machetes, and you better believe it. Any attempt on our part to persuade them to back off will not work. We know them well.134 Similarly, in June 1931, one indigenous woman from Izalco expressed to a leftist militant: Look, compaero. They killed my partner [compaero], but here are my sons and they will see the revolution.135 An October 1931 report of the PCS stated, [T]he next time they call them up, they will not answer without taking along their arms (corvos [long knives] or machetes), because it is an injustice that unarmed persons are massacred.136

classic perception of the Ligas as a populist institution, nding instead at least in some localities wealthy landowners in control of local chapters; Ching, From Clientelism to Militarism. 132. The following informants either stated they wanted to take away the estates from the wealthy or used a very similar phrase: Jos Antonio Chachagua, Achapuco, Ahuachapn, 2001; Isabel Miranda, Sacacoyo, 2001; Margarita Turcios, El Guayabo, Armenia, 2001; Cecilio Martnez, Ateos, 2001; Salom Torres, El Cacao, 2001; Manuel Linares, El Cacao, 2001; Manuel Ascencio, Carrizal, 1998; Mara Hortensia Garca, Ahuachapn, 2001. 133. Jos Antonio Chachagua, Achupaco, Ahuachapn, 2001. 134. Letter from Ismael Hernndez to SRI Secretariado del Caribe, 29 Nov. 1931, Comintern 539/3/1060. 135. SRI, Comit Ejecutivo, Comintern 539/3/1060, p. 6. 136. La Situacin Poltica, PCS document, 8 Oct. 1931, Comintern 495/119/7, p. 11.


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Marxist terms, especially bourgeois, proletarian, and class struggle, entered the language of the mobilization via the Comintern and the PCS. Yet, it was clearly the rank and le who rst placed armed rebellion on the leftist agenda as early as 1930, against most of its leaders better judgment. Indeed, despite the revolutionary rhetoric of class struggle prevalent during the Cominterns Third Phase (1928 35), there is no evidence to suggest that the international movement favored or in any way supported an insurrectionary strategy in El Salvador. An incident in Ahuachapn in November 1931 illustrates the growing acceptance of an insurrectionary solution among the popular sectors. In response to Communist Party efforts to register their candidates for the upcoming congressional and municipal elections, the government arrested leftist leaders in Sonsonate, Ahuachapn, and Santa Ana. According to an internal SRI report: The day they captured [Hernndez], more than 600 comrades mobilized spontaneously, and they camped out around the outskirts of the city, but when they found out that it wasnt a matter of attacking the town, they backed off with some displeasure.137 Miguel Mrmol, who was sent to stop the threatened violent attempt to free political prisoners, corroborated this report, underscoring the militancy of the Ahuachapaneco rank and le. Our candidate for Mayor of Ahuachapn . . . told us that the barracks were under siege by a contingent of 900 peasants who had decided to settle accounts for the arbitrary acts by the authorities. . . . He said that the urgent pleas of the commander of the regiment, Colonel Escobar, hadnt done a thing and that the local leaders of the Communist Party requested a delegate from the Central Committee to come and quiet down the peasants and get them to go back to their homes before it turned into a slaughter. Mrmol relates how the following week he was similarly sent to Ahuachapn to counsel militant campesinos against an armed confrontation with the National Guard. He reported that one of the Ahuachapanecos threatened him, saying that the next time he would have to face our machetes even before the class enemy.138 We could use this incident as proof of the distance between the rural movement and Communist Party leadership in the capital. Yet that interpretation would miss a crucial point. Many campesinos lived in or near the city of

137. Letter of Ismael Hernndez to the Secretariado del Caribe SRI, 29 Nov. 31, Comintern 539/3/1060, p. 8 138. Roque Dalton, Miguel Marmol y los sucesos de 1932 en El Salvador (San Jose: Ed. Universitaria Centroamericana, 1982), 229.

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Ahuachapn.139 Moreover, they were prepared to assault the barracks in order to free local Communist leaders, many of whom were urban artisans. This moment also reveals how the regional mass movements continued to push the national leadership into increasingly militant postures. Following the December 2 coup against the Araujo government, the political situation seemed up for grabs. A brief lull in state repression, under the rule of General Hernndez Martnez, followed, and the military regime even freed some 210 political prisoners and ended the state of siege.140 In mid-December (at the peak of the coffee harvest), rural workers in western Salvador took advantage of this reprieve and launched the rst concentrated wave of strikes in Salvadoran history. From December 9 19, strikes broke out in three departments, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. On December 20, workers on eight more plantations joined them.141 The new Martnez government, briey thrown on the defensive, seemed eager to negotiate (or even ally with) strike leaders.142 Mrmol recognized the increasingly militant nature of the movement in the west and the need to address it. Indeed, he broke with Communist Party discipline in December by organizing to prepare for a general strike, instead of for the upcoming elections. He recognized the political signicance of the numerous rural strikes, he foresaw that the state probably would not permit PCS electoral victories, and he understood that the masses were so committed to taking local power that they would resort to violence if defrauded. Local leaders and the rank and le, however, took the elections very seriously. We can glean locals hopes for free elections and their condence in victory from the following letter from the Communist Party mayoral candidate in Ahuachapn, carpenter Marcial Contreras, to the departmental governor: The Communist Party has the honest desire to act with decorum and demonstrate to the whole world that it has discipline and isnt just a band of robbers. . . . The Party will present itself properly and has prohibited any shouting of vivas or mueras, and we only hope that the authorities will prevent other parties from
139. Urban and suburban nucleation of campesinos was the result of mid-nineteenthcentury state policies as well as the forms of settlement encouraged by the collective ownership and administration of land. See Lauria-Santiago, An Agrarian Republic, chap. 4. 140. Report by Comrade Hernndez (most probably PCS leader Max Cuenca), Comintern 495/119/4, p. 36. 141. Ibid., p. 39. Two days later, the management on the six plantations owned by the wealthy Dueas family accepted a piece-rate increase from 20 to 30 centavos for a sack of coffee. 142. According to the Cuenca report ( p. 38), Martnez sent invitations to to all those he considered to be the leaders of the CP in the Occident.


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addressing inammatory and hurtful words at our guys, which we know perfectly well they seek to do . . . to be able to, in case we win, nullify the election due to violence.143 These words were prescient, indeed. Three days later, troops blocked Communist voters from voting in Ahuachapn and elsewhere. PCS internal estimates, substantiated by foreign observers, suggested that they would have won in San Salvador and all major western cities.144 Four days later, sparked by the electoral fraud and manipulation and fueled by economic demands, strikes broke out throughout western El Salvador, provoking a new cycle of state repression and rebellion. In a desperate attempt to channel what they considered an inevitable armed rebellion, the PCS decided on January 10 to organize an insurrection for the 22nd. The National Guard, the Army, and civic patrols brutally crushed the rebellion over the course of the next few days and then massacred thousands of Indians in the Nahuizalco-Izalco area, as well as thousands of suspected Indian and ladino Communists throughout the west. Yet, it was the Communists who would be remembered in the west as the band of robbers.

In this article, we have attempted to explain the remarkable success of the Salvadoran Left between 1929 and 1931. First, we argue that weak elite and state hegemony directly conditioned the movements success and the states inability to nd a reformist solution to the crisis. Ladino and indigenous campesinos retained memories of a more prosperous past, before rapid capitalist expansion and the 1920s coffee boom transformed many smallholders into either villagebased semiproletarians or colonos. Neither of these groups viewed the agrarian elites land ownership and labor practices as legitimate. For colonos, harsh and deteriorating contractual terms further eroded any sense of legitimacy. Thus, the relationship between large landowners and their tenants, which in some other Latin American countries formed a pillar of the rural social order, in El Salvador became a site of discontent and organized resistance. The elite had a weak ideological hold over the urban and rural popular
143. Carta de Marcial Contreras al Gobernador Poltico de Ahuachapn, 1 Jan. 1931, Archivo de la Gobernacion de Ahuchapn. Although dated 1931, the context of the letter makes abundantly clear that it was written on New Years Day, 1932. 144. The PCS probably incorrectly also assumed that they would have won 40 45% nationwide. Cuenca report, 50. There were at least three other parties participating in the municipal (and then Jan. 10 congressional) elections. Lt. Timoteo Flores, quoted in interview in Diario de Hoy, 12 Feb. 1967.

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classes. Peasants, especially indigenous ones, expressed little loyalty to elites, the state, or the nation a condition that had deep roots in El Salvadors process of state formation during the nineteenth century.145 During the 1920s, middle-class currents of social democraticstyle reformist nationalism successfully vied with elite political discourse and further eroded agrarian elite claims to legitimacy. This reformism was, in turn, tied to a discourse of mestizaje that, unlike in other Central American countries, tended to stimulate ideologies of indigenous revitalization. At the same time, the de-Indianization of some communities in La Libertad and Ahuachapn, coupled with their loss of land, facilitated their communication with outsiders, especially leftist organizers. Its weak presence in the countryside meant that the church offered little support for the Salvadoran elite (in contrast with other Latin American countries); in indigenous areas, it battled local religious practices. As we saw in Ahuachapn, a millenarian current among ladino peasants struck an even greater blow against elite ideological domination. Similarly, indigenous forms of patriarchy combined with growing ladino access to Indian women to exacerbate ethnic tensions. Finally, the machista ethos of the countryside predisposed campesinos toward violent resistance against repression. We will conclude by discussing two documents that offer insight into the drama of January 1932 and speak to larger historiographical issues about the nature of the rebellion. Two years after the insurrection and subsequent massacres, an internal Communist Party document summarized the events following the elections: The strikes in the western zone have been counteracted by military forces, and the general strike was not carried out; the organizations leadership sent a commission to meet with President Martnez with the object of negotiation, but those who met [the delegation] said the government claimed the peasants only had machetes: and since they had machine guns they wouldnt accept any agreement realizing this, the occidentales [westerners] launched a disorganized attack; this is what provoked the insurrection.146 This summary, substantiated in other documents, suggests that the strike wave following the elections (a continuation of the December strikes) formed part of a de facto PCS strategy to wrest concessions from the government. The document also echoes other leftist accounts in arguing that, whether or not it was a

145. Lauria-Santiago, An Agrarian Republic, chap. 5; and Patricia Alvarenga, Valiosos aliados, peligrosos enemigos: Las comunidades indgenas en la formacin del estado, El Salvador, 1870 1932, ms. 146. Legajo de Correspondencia a Julio Snchez, 20 Aug. 1934, p. 320, Archive of the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, San Salvador.


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conscious strategy, the intransigence of the Martnez government directly provoked the insurrection and left the movement with no other acceptable options. Most signicantly, the author creates a category of los occidentales to refer to the western movement in toto rank-and-le ladino and indigenous workers, colonos, and peasants and the local leadership a social subject that had emerged and grown over the previous two years. In January 1932, these occidentales took the historical stage briey before the military and its elite allies smashed them into oblivion. To reduce these events to a narrative about an Indian movement and its remote and ineffective leadership, or to reduce the January 22 insurrection to a jacquerie, is to render meaningless the term occidentales and the movement it represented. A PCS manifesto that circulated on January 20, two days before the insurrection, also points to the causal relation between the elections and the armed resistance to repression. Moreover, it offers a glimpse of the mentality of the Communist leaders: We the workers, they call us thieves . . . and steal our wage, paying us a miserable wage and condemning us to live in lthy tenements or in stinking barracks, or working day and night in the elds under rain and sun. We are labeled thieves for demanding the 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 . . . we have seen the massacres of workers, men and women and even children and elderly, workers from Santa Tecla, Sonsonate, Zaragoza, and right now in Ahuachapn. According to the wealthy, we do not have a right to anything, and we shouldnt open our mouths. . . . In Ahuachapn, after the Nacional Guard didnt let our comrades vote by order of the rich folks, they beat them. . . . Our compaeros from Ahuachapn are valiantly defending themselves with their weapons in their hands.147 This manifesto reveals something of the social and cultural elasticity of the Communist-led movement and the openness of communication between its constituent parts. Although the document was authored by the PCS leadership, it is stunningly devoid of jargon and clearly related to the ordinary expe147. Maniesto del Comit Central del Partido Comunista a Las Clases Trabajadoras de la Repblica, 20 Jan. 1932, app., in Mayor Otto Romero Orellano, Gnesis de la amenaza comunista en El Salvador, Centro de Estudios Estratgicos de las Fuerzas Armadas (San Salvador, 1994), 97.

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riences of its intended audience. The themes of honor and calumny they call us thieves . . . and steal our wage resonate with and sharply recall the PCS mayoral candidates protestations. They similarly hark back to the statement of the NahuizalqueoThe Indians know what the whites do not know and to the testimony from rural Izalco that shows how local forms of ethnic conict played out in the realm of respect: You are worthless! At the end of the long night of repression, as we peer back across decades of traumatized memory, we can glimpse the emergence of a common language of outrage a scorned people devising new ways to think and act. The futile insurrection and the catastrophe that ensued should not blind us to the importance of the preceding mobilization as a brief moment full of courageous efforts to achieve human emancipation.