Anniversary of La Matanza
This is the 88th anniversary of "La Matanza" -- The Massacre. Following a failed uprising of campesinos in 1932 led by Farabundo Martí, the armed forces of the Salvadoran government under General Maximiliano Martinez slaughtered tens of thousands in reprisal. The memory of that event continues to shape the views of right and left in El Salvador today.
This US Library of Congress article tells the story:
Between 1928 and 1931, the coffee export price had dropped by 54 percent. The wages paid agricultural workers were cut by an equal or greater extent. Food supplies, dependent on imports because of the crowding out of subsistence cultivation by coffee production, likewise fell sharply. Privation among the rural labor force, long a tolerated fact of life, sank to previously unknown depths. Desperate campesinos began to listen more attentively to the exhortations of radicals such as Agustin Farabundo Martí.
[In 1932, Martí was one of the leaders of a] rural insurrection that had been in the planning stages for some time. Unfortunately for the rebels, the military obtained advance warning of their intentions. Martí and other rebel leaders were arrested on January 18, 1932. Confusion and poor communications led the insurgents to go ahead with their action as planned four days later. The rebels succeeded in capturing government buildings in the towns of Izalco, Sonzacate, Nahuizalco, Juayúa, and Tacuba. They were repulsed by the local garrisons in Sonsonate, Santa Tecla, and Ahuachapan. Even the small successes of the insurgents were short lived, however, as GN and army units were dispatched to relieve local forces or to retake areas held by the rebels. Less than seventy-two hours after the initial uprising, the government was again firmly in control. It was then that reprisals began.
The military's action would come to be known as la matanza. Some estimates of the total number of campesinos killed run as high as 30,000. Although the true number never will be known, historian Alastair White has cited 15,000 to 20,000 as the best approximation. No matter what figure one accepts, the reprisals were highly disproportionate to the effects of the communist-inspired insurgency, which produced no more than thirty civilian fatalities. The widespread executions of campesinos, mainly Indians, apparently were intended to demonstrate to the rural population that the military was now in control in El Salvador and that it would brook no challenges to its rule or to the prevailing system. That blunt message was received, much as it had been after the failure of Aquino's rebellion a century earlier. The memory of la matanza would linger over Salvadoran political life for decades, deterring dissent and maintaining a sort of coerced conformity.The slaughter of tens of thousands of campesinos by a brutal military regime was never the subject of justice or investigations. El Salvador's Legislative Assembly passed an amnesty law shortly after La Matanza to protect anyone involved from prosecution. The descendants of those persons slaughtered continue to remember, however. They come together on this date each year to mark the anniversary of that massacre. From the 2018 event:
Margarita Guillen, a member of the Izalco indigenous community authority, who was on hand for the ceremony, told EFE that - for the participants - commemorating the date means "not forgetting where" they come from and "reminding all of society" that their "struggle continues amid so much adversity."
"We're commemorating this date ... for our massacred grandparents ... They were not communists, they were people who lived united, who shared their food and their lands for raising crops," she said.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Izalco, Rafael Latin, told EFE that the event also represents a commitment by the original peoples of western El Salvador to "show our ancestors" that they have not been forgotten.
He said that 86 years after the massacre, El Salvador's indigenous peoples "remain marginalized and their rights continue to be violated" despite the fact that in July 2014 the country's legislature ratified a constitutional reform that acknowledged their existence.
Some 25,000 to 30,000 people were killed in the massacre and the participants at the ceremony on Monday said they were asking the Salvadoran government to promise to investigate the issue "so that impunity does not prevail in the deaths of our ancestors."As the trial of another massacre -- the massacre of nearly a thousand children, women, and other civilians around El Mozote -- proceeds this week in El Salvador, I can't help but wonder about the parallels of the two events. Did impunity for the horrors of 1932 help create the belief in the Salvadoran military that it was a legitimate tactic of war to massacre more than 400 children under age 12 to punish communist rebels? Is El Salvador even asking itself this question today?