People power in El Salvador

IssueJune - July 2024
Comment by Devere Allen

In May 1944, the little Central American country of El Salvador electrified all students of Latin American affairs when it staged a revolutionary strike by nonviolent means and won a great popular victory.

For five months, the press and people enjoyed freedom and were apparently on the road to democratic politics. But, as observers (myself included) pointed out at the time, nonviolent methods require deep understanding and firm experience for consistent victories and cannot be expected to succeed without set-backs.

Aided by other dictatorial Central American regimes, a reactionary clique pushed out the new government headed by President Menendez, who was only a provisional Chief Executive, and set up a new dictatorship under Colonel Osmin Aguirre y Salinas.

The democratic elements took posts in exile, declaring themselves from Mexico and Guatemala, the true government. The dictatorship made an anti-revolutionary defensive alliance with President Carias of Honduras.

Yet in Mexico the exiled ‘government’ of Dr Miguel Tomas Molina, a popular democrat, occupied the Salvador Embassy without bloodshed, driving out the dictator’s henchmen.

Forced by nonviolent pressure to give ground, Dictator Aguirre moved to hold an ‘election’ which put in a hand-picked president, Castaneda Castro.

Some relaxation of the dictatorship took place. There was ground for hope that, unsatisfactory as the origins of the new regime had been, liberation was in the offing.

At this promising stage, it became necessary for Washington, however, to isolate Argentina at the Chapultepec Conference, and as a consequence El Salvador, over the protests of Guatemala, was recognized.

Nevertheless, in the curious complexity of Latin American politics, all sorts of internal and external pressures have been exerted on the existing government of El Salvador, and much of this has been self-consciously nonviolent.

As a result of these factors, the Mexican correspondent of Worldover Press has reported that Señor C Herrera Frimont, Chargé d’Affairs of the Mexican Republic in El Salvador, recently declared on his return to the Mexican capital, that conditions were improving, not only between Mexico and El Salvador, but inside the latter country.

This may be undue optimism, for labour and democratic elements, according to statements given out by their representatives in Costa Rica, are determined to restore coimplete popular control, in order to place in the leadership of El Salvador the Party of Democratic Union under its head, the brilliant young physician, Dr Arturo Romero.

Future possibilities

In addition to all the well-known tactics of nonviolence, such as strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts, etc, some of the spokesmen of the unions in El Salvador, who are apparently affiliated with Communist groups throughout the Latin American countries, are emphasizing violent as well as nonviolent methods.

Future eventualities depend very largely upon the desires of the people themselves, and it must be remembered that the most important factor in the non-military revolution of early summer 1944 was the unanimous decision of the people to employ nonviolent means, together with the remarkable degree of popular solidarity maintained.

At any rate, there are still important elements in El Salvador who place nonviolent methods at the top of the list, and they do not believe that they will be able to achieve peace and democracy for their country until a more representative form of government is achieved.

In a country under dictatorship for many years, it is certainly something to note the high degree of democratic vigour which exists among the people.

It would be too much to say that nonviolence has been the key to all this, but from the time when it was employed in the successful revolution of 1944 to the present moment it has proved a serviceable method, and even when only partially successful, it has made an important contribution to the political advancement of the people.