Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"El Salvador Elections: the Ghosts of Izalco"

Emily Achtenberg, a delegate from SHARE’s electoral observation mission, wrote this article about her experience on Election Day in Izalco, Sonsonate. Izalco is the site of the 1932 peasant uprising that became known as “La Matanza” (the slaughter). Due to great inequality between peasants and landowners and a fall in coffee prices, rebels rose up behind communist leader Augustín Farabunto Martí. The US backed dictator, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, quelled the revolt in a few days, killing around 30,000 peasants.

March 15, 2009 - 4:45 AM

As we approach the voting center in Izalco where our international observer team will be stationed, the weight of history is hard to escape. Both the left and right of El Salvador trace their political roots to this small town in the western coffee-growing department of Sonsonate.

Here in 1932, some 30,000 mostly indigenous peasants were slaughtered by the US-backed military dictator, General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, following an unsuccessful rebellion sparked by the collapse of the coffee economy and the government's refusal to certify leftist victories in the local elections. Agustín Farabundo Marti, the Communist patriot after whom the FMLN takes its name, was captured here and executed for instigating the uprising--although recent scholarship emphasizes its indigenous roots and leadership.

Subsequently, all accounts of the insurrection and massacre ("La Matanza") were expunged from the public record. For self-protection, the region's remaining indigenous population (still one of El Salvador's largest) abandoned its native dress, language, and culture. Generations of Salvadoreños have grown up unaware of Izalco's history.

The right-wing governing ARENA party, along with its infamous death squads, was founded in Izalco in 1981. Every five years, ARENA launches its presidential campaign here, the place where the country was "saved from Communism." (The ARENA anthem extols El Salvador as "the tomb where the Reds will be buried."

ARENA controlled Izalco's local government for 28 years--until this past January, when the FMLN scored an upset victory in the mayoral election. Clearly the winds of change blowing across the country have reached Izalco, and the presidential election will be hotly contested here....

- Leslie O'Bray, SHARE Grassroots Education and Advocacy Intern

* Photos taken by Claudia Rodriguez-Alas

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