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The peasant uprising of 1932, also known as La matanza ("The Slaughter"),[1] was a brief, peasant-led rebellion that occurred on January 22 of that year in the western departments of El Salvador. The uprising was quickly suppressed by the government, then led by Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, and whose army was vastly superior in terms of weapons and soldiers, who then proceeded to execute anyone who stood against it. The rebellion was a mixture of protest and insurrection and ended in ethnocide,[2] claiming the lives of anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000[3] peasants and other civilians, many of them indigenous people.[4]



Coffee beans were the main produce of El Salvador

Social unrest in El Salvador had begun to grow in the 1920s, primarily because of the abuses of the political class and the broad social inequality between the landowners and the peasants,[5][6] product of the policies of the latifundia. This unrest was only strengthened by the tremendous drop in the price of the Coffee bean and the growing unemployment rates. During the last decades of the 19th century and through the beginning of the 20th century, the Salvadoran economy relied greatly upon the cultivation of coffee, so as to the period being called the "coffee republic." Therefore, the drop in the price of coffee meant mass firing of peasants and the closing of several haciendas, which led to deep economic crisis.[7]

The national coffee-growing industry arose from the accumulation of riches of a small group of landowners and merchants[6][8] who had purchased large portions of land and employing a great number of peasants, many of them indigenous.[9]

Politically, El Salvador had been ruled since 1871 by Liberal elites who had established what became known as the "Coffee Republic", which had given the country a long period of comparative stability and a liberal constitution in 1886. By World War I, the presidency effectively rotated between the Meléndez and Quiñónez families in quasi-dynastic succession. In 1927, Pío Romero Bosque was elected President and embarked on political liberalisation that led to what was arguably the first free election in Salvadoran history in 1931, won by the reformist Arturo Araujo. However, this period of pluralist democracy was not to last, as Araujo would be overthrown in a coup in December 1931.

The coup

Unrest soon spread among military officers. In December 1931, with the collapse of coffee prices, the military's dissatisfaction peaked. A group of young officers, led by Vice President Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, staged a coup and ousted Araujo. Araujo fled the country and Martínez assumed power.

The uprising

While Martínez may have satisfied the military, popular discontent continued to build and the government's opponents continued to agitate. Within weeks, communists, believing the country was ready for a peasant rebellion, were plotting an insurrection against Martínez. However, the government became aware of the plot and arrested most of the ringleaders.

Nevertheless, actual fighting broke out on January 22, 1932. Rebels, led by the communist party and Agustín Farabundo Martí, attacked government forces with support that was largely from Pipil Indians in the western part of El Salvador. Within three days, they had succeeded in taking control of several towns, disrupting supply lines to many of the country’s towns and villages, and attacking a military garrison. With their superior training and technology, the government troops needed only a few days to defeat the rebels. While the rebels killed fewer than 100 people, the military retaliated with great force. Promising an open discussion and pardons for those involved in the uprising, the government invited them into a large public square where they killed between 10,000 and 40,000 peasants, including Martí.

In Western El Salvador hundreds of peasants rose against the new government led by Martinez which was tainted by corruption, but this was crushed by the Army. Martinez started a genocide against his own population. Since most of the people that participated in the uprising were of indigenous origin, a repression against anyone that looked or dressed like a native or spoke nahuatl was killed by the army. The number of the massacre is estimated in 30,000. There was a saying that circulated around the time of the Matanza. It went like this: "president Martinez was a such good president that he was able to give every Salvadoran a house." (La Matanza by Thomas Anderson). The proportion of the 30,000 Salvadorans killed compared to the population of the actual U.S. population would be 60 million Americans. However, the political ideology of the Martinez administration was fascism (He admired Hitler). He did not allow any Jews, Palestinian or Black people to enter the country.

This ad was received by the military officers and very severe actions were done against the rebels. High officers like Jose Calderon lead the expeditions to the towns of Nahuizalco, Juayua, Apaneca and Izalco. Feliciano Ama, an Indian leader, was hanged and this event was shown on Post Office stamps of the time. Since then from 1932-1979 military officers held the Main Office, with some presidents using more repression than others. El Salvador problems included unfair minimum wages, repression against student and general demonstrations, and election fraud.


In the aftermath, accounts of the uprising and massacre were purged from libraries and replaced by the myth of Martínez as the savior of Salvadorans from vicious communists and barbaric Indians. To avoid further violence, members of the Pipil indigenous group generally severed their ties to their culture, adopting Western dress and the Spanish language as well as intermarrying with members of non-indigenous groups. In modern-day El Salvador, it is estimated that 1% or less of the population is of exclusively indigenous descent.


  1. Stearns, Peter N. (2001). "El Salvador: 1932, Jan. 22". The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-39565-237-5. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  2. Payés, Txanba (January 2007). "El Salvador. La insurrección de un pueblo oprimido y el etnocidio encubierto". Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-08-11. (Spanish)
  3. University of California, San Diego (2001). "El Salvador elections and events 1902-1932". Archived from the original on 2008-05-21. Retrieved 2008-08-12.
  4. CIPES (January 27, 2007). "La sangre de 1932". Retrieved 2008-08-11. (Spanish)
  5. "El Salvador en los años 1920–1932". Retrieved 2008-09-14. (Spanish)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Armed Forces of El Salvador. "Revolución 1932". Archived from the original on 2008-06-19. Retrieved 2008-09-14. (Spanish)
  7. Template:Harvnb (Spanish)
  8. Moreno, Israel (December 1997). "El Salvador: Un paisito en peligro de extinción". Revista Envío (Universidad Centroamericana) (189). Retrieved 2008-09-14. (Spanish)
  9. de La Rosa Municio, Juan Luis (January 2006). "El Salvador: Memoria histórica y organización indígena". Retrieved 2008-09-14. (Spanish)

Further reading

  • Gould, Jeffrey L. (2008), To Rise in Darkness: Revolution, Repression, and Memory in El Salvador, 1920-1932, Duke University Press, ISBN 9780822342281


  • Ministerio de Educación de la República de El Salvador (1994). Historia de El Salvador, tomo II. San Salvador: MINED. (Spanish)

ca:Aixecament camperol de 1932 (El Salvador) de:La Matanza (El Salvador) es:Levantamiento campesino en El Salvador de 1932 pt:Levante camponês de 1932 em El Salvador ru:Восстание в Сальвадоре (1932)

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