El Salvador


The history of El Salvador can be understood in terms of an interlocking and interacting series of phenomena that took shape during the three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule and continued after independence.

1.) An economic cycle of "booms" and depressions that replayed itself as variations on a theme throughout the 16th and 19th centuries.

2.) Dependence on a monocrop economy as the primary source of wealth, leading to dependence on outside markets.

3.) Exploitation of the labor supply, first Indians and then later peasants.

4). Concentration of the land i the hands of an ever-decreasing number of owners.

5.) Extreme concentration of wealth in few hands, coupled with the utter deprivation of the majority of the population.

6.) A laissez-faire economic philosophy and an absolute belief in the sanctity of private property.

7.) A classical liberal notion that the purpose of government is to maintain order.

8.) Periodic rebellion by exploited segments of the population against perceived injustices.

El Salvador was first sighted by the Spanish in 1522, and the Indians of the are called Cuzcatlan repelled the first wave of would-be settlers.

The Indians continued to repel the Spanish invaders for 17 years, but finally by 1539 the Spanish had sufficient control over the territory.

Between 1525 and 1535 most of the present cities of ES were founded and in 1546 the capital of San Salvador was founded.

In ES the tragedy of monocrop economic development would be played out for three hundred years. The process had six steps: the discovery of a new cash crop; rapid development of the crop; period of great prosperity from the export of the crop; dramatic decline and stagnation as prices fluctuate for the crop; economic depression during which time a frantic search for a replacement cash crop ensued; Then the discovery of a new crop and the beginning of another cycle.

The first economic boom in ES was Cacao due to the rich volcanic soil of ES which was particularly suit4ed for the production of cacao.

Before the Spanish conquest cacao plantations were owned and operated by the Indians. But with the conquest, by the 1550ís the Indians were forced to turn over the plantations over to the Spanish.

The cacao boom peaked in the 1570ís and ES was so packed with cacao trees that food had to be imported and prices were very high.

But by the 1570ís the population of the Indians began a serious decline due to disease and overwork. By 1600 the cacao boom was over and economic decline had begun to set in.

Depression hit with full force in 1610 and for more than half a century there the first extended economic crisis in Central America occurred.

The decimation of the Indigenous population and the migration of the remaining Indians either by force or due to economic necessity had three important economic effects. Tribal organization was destroyed; villages were formed artificially by the Spanish called reducciones; and in the process Spanish speaking peasants were created.

The decline of cacao set off a protracted search for another cash crop, and as the depression deepened haciendas expanded at the expense of Indian villages.

By 1620 Indigo a deep blue/purple dye was to become the second key to wealth in ES. By 1620 demand in the emerging European textile industries led to the extensive cultivation of the hardy and wild Indigo plant. Indigo grew like a weed in Central America and from 1610 on Indigo was the primary commodity of all of Central America.

As the Spanish expanded their Indigo production the Indians who at one time were free were slowly being reduced to serfdom through the system of debt-peonage.

This control of labor and the Indian and the economic cycle that began with the cultivation of Indigo created a situation where by the 1700ís between 300 and 400 families of ES controlled the political and economic life of the nation.

As the haciendas continued to expand more and more land became concentrated in fewer hands. By 1821 over 38% of all the land of ES was controlled by 400 hacienda owners. While the remaining 80 to 90% of the population was forced to exist on the poorest land in the country.

As this process of land concentration and debt-peonage deepened more and more peasant and Indian revolts broke out in the ES countryside and they were ruthlessly repressed.

But by 1850 the demand for indigo on the world market was in dramatic decline. There were three reasons for this. First, growers found lower production costs in Asia than in Central America. Second, by the 1860ís the Civil War in the US not only reduced the market but created shipping problems as a result of the Union Navyís blockade of the south and parts of the Caribbean. Third, by the 1880ís a synthetic dye was developed in Germany that wiped out the lucrative European market.

Well before all these event occurred the ES government and some entrepreneurs saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that a new cash crop would be needed to replace indigo.

The rich lava soils of ES were particularly good for the production of coffee and the lands that had once been planted in cacao could now be planted in coffee. In addition since coffee needs to grow at an altitude of over 730 meters this allowed for the expansion of cash-crops agro on the sides of the mountains of ES were the Indians and peasants had been force to live after the cacao and indigo booms.

The Salvadorean government further complicated matters for Indians by decreeing in 1856 that if two-thirds of the communal lands were not planted in coffee the lands would revert to the state. As it happened the largest portion of the land available for coffee cultivation was Indian communal land on the side of mountains.

In 1881 the state passed the Law of the Abolition of communities and mandated that all communal property of the Indians had to be divided among the Indians as private property or be forfeited to the state. This decree also allowed for the taxation of Indian lands and this created radical changes for the Indians as they were evicted from their lands due to non-payment of land taxes to the state.

Between 1872 and 1898 there were five popular insurrections in coffee growing regions that were put down by the state.

Within few short years after the decree the best land in the country became concentrated in the hands of the 14 families of ES.

These same families throughout the 1980ís continue to control the economic life of the country.

The Salvadorean elite were good liberal who likened themselves to the North Americans who were carving civilization out from the Indian wilderness and they all agreed on the basic principles that would shape the political and economic life of the Salvadorean nation.

1) the encouragement of coffee production. 2.) the construction of railroads to the ports. 3.) The elimination of communal lands. 4.) Harsh laws against vagrancy that permitted the state to force the peasant to work for coffee plantations at low wages. 5.) and the ruthless suppression of rural revolt or non-compliance to state authority.

The constitution of 1886 guaranteed that these very principles would be pursued with out obstacle and the constitution established a secular state, it decentralized state authority by allowing for the popular election of municipal authorities; and it confirmed the inviolability of private property and the abolition of communal lands.

The means of enforcing order in the Salvadorean countryside was left in the hands o of the 14 families who employed their own private armies. Because ES in this period lived under the constant fear of invasion, the attention of the professional army was directed to national security, and the task of maintaining order in the rural sector was left to what would become to be known as security forces. No t until the late 20th century would the army be used to control the people.

In ES there was chronic alcoholism, violence within the families and between communities, the majority of people were undernourished, and by the early 1920ís over 59% of all children born in ES were born out of wedlock.

These problems were exacerbated by the world financial crisis of 1914 to 1922. There were difficulties in shipping, the price of coffee steadily declined, and the post war depression in terms of commodity prices led to a shortage of short term credit. In this economic climate the small farmers were forced out of business, since they could not secure credit and the large haciendas bought them out.

These conditions combined to make coffee increasingly central to the economic life of the country. Coffee averaged 75 to 80% of all exports between 1920 and 1922 and then soared to 92% during the remainder of the 1920ís.

By 1927 these social and economic problems led to a social explosion and a demand for democracy. In 1930 an election was held in a surprisingly free environment and Arturo Araujo was elected.

Araujo was basically a friend of the peasantry and the working class and he planned to make good on his election promises for reform.

The landed elite of ES had been deeply suspicious fo the free election and refused to lend its support to the new popularly elected president.

In 1929 US adventurer Minor Keith built railroads in ES as well as in Costa Rica and Guatemala. The new rail lines in ES would allow ES coffee to reach the east coast of the US ten days faster.

The situation deteriorated from the day he was elected. In July of 1931 a confrontation between university students and the National Guard resulted in many injuries, arrests and the imposition of a state of siege of toque a queda.

As president Araujo tried to implement a very limited land reform, but there were over 100 families applying for every parcel of non-fertile land. There were a growing number of demonstrations in the western part of the country where the peasant leader Augustin Farabundo Marti and his organizers were having great success.

The month of August brought in a new low for coffee prices and in October Araujo halted the export of gold. Coffee pickers were now earning less than subsistence wages. The government could no longer meet it payroll as coffee prices continued to decline as the Great Depression swept the world and eradicated demand for coffee.

No one in the government bureaucracy had been paid in months including the army and this would be the downfall of Araujo.

On December 2, 1931 a coup a tat was carried out by young officers in the army and General Martinez assumed the presidency with the backing of the army and landed elite of ES.

The US refused to recognize the illegitimate regime of Martinez, but FDR in 1933 recognized him and this began the longest unbroken record of military rule in Latin American history and in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Marti was a great leader of the peasantry of ES and in 1929 he worked with Sandino in Mexico and Nicaragua.

But the months following the coup were filled with organizing and propagandizing the peasantry of ES, especially those in the central and western parts of the country were coffee production was the center of the regional economy.

There were demonstrations in the cities of ES and Marti and his followers were jailed several times for distributing Marxist propaganda. The government wanted Marti to disappear, but it was afraid that in the process it would create a martyr since Marti was becoming an authentic hero of the people of ES.

After the coup Marti and other leftist organizations demanded a voice in the new government and when they concluded that the Martinez regime had no intention in allowing this they secretly planned an insurrection.

The insurrection was to take place in late January of 1932, but unfortunately for the revolutionaries the army had learned of the uprising several days in advance.

Marti and his leaders were captured before the insurrection broke out on January 18. As a result of this communications broke down when other rebel leaders then attempted to call off the revolt.

The result was an uncoordinated and unorganized insurrection that met with a swift and brutal response. By January 25 the uprising was suppressed and then the massacre began.

Anyone in Indian dress and anyone perceived as running from the security forces was presumed to be a subversive. In two weeks over 30,000 civilians had been killed. Less than 10% of those killed had participated in the insurrection.

In the aftermath the military consolidated it hold on the government and there was no more pretense of popular political organization, as they were all prohibited.

Just as a cyclical patterns of economic development had evolved in the colonial period, so a cyclical pattern emerged in ESís political life after 1832.

Where the first pattern that wh saw concentrated economic power in the hands of the oligarchy the second pattern will concentrate political power in the hands of the army.

1.) Consolidation of power by the new regime.

2.) Growing intolerance of dissent and increasing repression.

3.) Reaction from two quarters: the public and, more important, a progressive faction within the army officer corps, culminating ultimately in a..

4.) Coup díetat led by progressive officers.

5.) Promulgation of various reforms.

6.) Reemergence within the army of the most conservative faction.

7.) Consolidation of that power once more.

Martinez after the coup moved quickly to consolidate his power and the new government developed four means for keeping the population in line.

First, it effected an administrative reorganization to centralize decisionmaking.

Second, Martinez further consolidated his control by replacing civilians with military officers at the local and national levels.

Third, labor unions were repressed on the grounds that they were inherently subversive.

Lastly, all peasant and Indian organizations, even religious ones were banned on the grounds that they were subversive.

With these goals political opposition disappeared from ES for several years.

Government policy after 1932 was directed to protecting the interests of the coffee growers.

Laws were passed to discourage industrialization and the mechanization of agriculture on the grounds that such modernizations might lead to a leftist alliance between workers and peasants.

Martinez and other senior officers were attracted by fascist governments of Germany and Italy and this attraction grew out of the failure of the liberal governments and the communist involvement in the 1932 insurrection.

By 1936 army officers had begun training in Germany and Italy.

In 1938 Italy sent ES planes, tanks, and armored cars all for $200,000 worth of ES coffee.

In the same year a German colonel became director of the Military Academy.

By 1940 the US became the major supplier of arms for ES.

Recent military history in ES begins with the 1931 military coup of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, whose reign as dictator coincided with the reigns of Ubico in Guatemala (1931-1944), Carlos Andino in Honduras (1931-1949) and Somoza Garcia in Nicaragua (1931-1978) all of whom the US actively supported.

The US gave the long line of military dictatorships of ES full diplomatic and political support, and after WWII the US started providing military aid and police training to ES.

AS president Kennedy stated: "Governments of the civil-military type of ES are the most effective in containing communist penetration in Latin America."

From 1950 to 1980 the US provided ES with $16,840,000 in military aid. US aid came under three programs during this time: Foreign Military Sales (FMS); Military Assistance Program (MAP); and International Military Education Training (IMET).

In this 30 year period the US trained 2,113 members of the ES armed forces.

Training courses included Urban Counterinsurgency, Military Intelligence, Basic Combat and Counterinsurgency and Basic Officer Preparation.

US trained officials held all the top posts in the treasury police, the intelligence division of the national police, and the customs police.

By 1982 52% of all US military aid went to ES.

In the 1980ís ESís only growth sectors are foreign aid and counterinsurgency.

Export earnings dropped $170 million in 1981 and GNP dropped 9.5%. Annual per capita income was down to $540 a year which represented a drop of $240 from levels in the 1970ís.

US economic and militar aid had poured into ES to hold up the staggering economy and to stave off military defeat by the FMLN.

Between 1980 and 1982 the US gave ES almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. In 1982 the war cost almost a million dollars a day and while the soldiers could count on their salary of $200 a month, public service workers such as teachers were not being paid.

Unemployment was over 60% and there was great inequality in terms of income. Less than 2% of the countryís five million people received over 50% of the countryís income.

From 1979 to 1981 over $1.5 billion worth of ES capital fled the country and for every 1 dollar of US aid that went to the government of ES 5 dollars fled the country.

US direct investment in ES amounted to 57% of all foreign investment in the country. But major US banks play an even larger role in the economy of ES.

Major US banks such as Bank of America and Citibank play a crucial role in financing cotton and coffee production.

In the 1980ís coffee which supplies more than 50% of the export earnings of ES is the foundation of the economy.

over 35% of the best land in ES is used for three export crops: Coffee, Cotton and sugar. With US bank loans the ES agricultural enterprises mechanized production with the intensive use of modern fertilizers and weed killers and insecticides and this has given the large landowners the methods and incentives to expand their land ownership and crop production.

This has forced even more of the rural population onto an ever diminishing portion of the nationís agriculture.

1% OF THE POPULATION OWN 57% of the land, while 91% of the population own 21% of the land.

The US has a tendency to reinforce ESís dependency on US imports.

The Export-Import Bank of the US is a leading proponent of US corporate control of international markets. Eximbank provides government credit for financing, insurance and bank guarantees for US exports in order to give US corporations a competitive edge in international trade.

The Eximbank lends to US corporations, foreign businesses and foreign governments that purchase goods from the US.

Under the insurance program a company such as Deere and Company could receive reimbursement from Eximbank if for example an agricultural cooperative in Guatemala or ES failed to meet its payment schedule for tractors that it had bought from the company.