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Landscapes Of Struggle

Landscapes Of Struggle: Politics Society And Community In El Salvador

Aldo Lauria-Santiago
Leigh Binford
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    Landscapes Of Struggle
    Book Description:

    During the 1980s, El Salvador's violent civil war captured the world's attention. In the years since, the country has undergone dramatic changes.Landscapes of Struggleoffers a broad, interdisciplinary assessment of El Salvador from the late nineteenth century to the present, focusing on the ways local politics have shaped the development of the nation.

    Proceeding chronologically, these essays-by historians, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists-explore the political, social, and cultural dynamics governing the Salvadoran experience, including the crucial roles of land, the military, and ethnicity; the effects of the civil war; and recent transformations, such as the growth of a large Salvadoran diaspora in the United States. Taken together, they provide a fully realized portrait of El Salvador's troublesome past, transformative present, and uncertain future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7254-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Local History, Politics, and the State in El Salvador
    (pp. 1-12)
    Aldo Lauria-Santiago and Leigh Binford

    Most North Americans came to be aware of El Salvador in the 1980s during its revolutionary civil war and the subsequent involvement of the U.S. government. El Salvador, one of the smallest and most densely populated of the Latin American republics, was torn by intense social and military conflict during the 1980s, as were other countries in the region. The conflict resulted in a slow and contradictory movement away from authoritarian, military rule, partially as a result of Peace Accords between the government and the rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) in...

  2. Section One: Linking the Local with the National—Prewar Salvadoran History Reconsidered

    • [Section One Introduction]
      (pp. 13-16)

      The process of researching Salvadoran history almost inevitably leads torevisionist claims. In a country with perhaps the weakest historiography in Latin America and at least as many standing myths as any, the need not only to reconsider accepted notions but also to carry out extensive empirical research could not be greater. Historical studies in El Salvador since the nineteenth century have rarely ventured beyond standard accounts of political or military narrative. During the 1970s a few Salvadoran intellectuals worked against the current and tried to understand some of the more crucial political crises in the country’s past but usually...

    • Land, Community, and Revolt in Late Nineteenth-Century Indian Izalco
      (pp. 17-38)
      Aldo Lauria-Santiago

      Instances of violence in the Indian communities of late nineteenth-century El Salvador have often been cited as evidence of popular opposition to the liberal state and resistance to the privatization of Indian-held lands. One such instance occurred on the night of November 14, 1898, when simmering resentments in the Indian community of Dolores Izalco (hereinafter simply Dolores) erupted in a violent confrontation. In addition to sixteen leaders, more than eighty men were involved in the fighting, and at least twenty-seven were captured by government authorities. One of the targets of the attack was Simeón Morán, a former administrator who had...

    • The Formation of the Urban Middle Sectors in El Salvador, 1910–1944
      (pp. 39-49)
      Víctor Hugo Acuña Ortega

      In the history of Central America, the fall of the dictatorships in Guatemala and El Salvador in 1944 has been associated with the social and political emergence of the middle class. Similarly, the social and political conflicts of Costa Rica in the decade of the 1940s have been related to the actions of urban middle sectors, whose first organizational and political expression was to form the Center for the Study of the National Problems, one of the sources of the National Liberation Party of José Figueres Ferrer.¹

      Strangely, despite the existing consensus about this interpretation, few historical studies have analyzed...

    • Patronage and Politics under General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, 1931–1939: The Local Roots of Military Authoritarianism in El Salvador
      (pp. 50-70)
      Erik Ching

      Despite, or perhaps because of, their profound impact on twentieth-century El Salvador, the military regimes of the 1930s to the 1970s remain profoundly enigmatic. Until recently, studying the military was politically hazardous and practically difficult. Archival documentation was off-limits to researchers until the late 1980s, and researchers and subjects alike were silenced by terror. This lack of information on the military has greatly hindered our ability to understand twentieth-century El Salvador, for the nearly five decades of military government (the longest period of uninterrupted military rule in modern Latin America) left an indelible imprint on both state and civil society....

    • Colonels and Industrial Workers in El Salvador, 1944–1972: Seeking Societal Support through Gendered Labor Reforms
      (pp. 71-84)
      Kati Griffith and Leslie Gates

      How do military regimes seek support or legitimacy from society? What strategies, besides violent repression, do military leaders use to remain in power? In other words, how do military leaders try to achieve hegemony? El Salvador’s long period of military rule (1931–1979) gives researchers ample opportunity to investigate the mechanisms whereby military regimes try to gain societal support. Erik Ching’s chapter shows that General Martínez’s regime sought support through locally based patron-client relationships. Some analysts of El Salvador’s subsequent military regimes find that these regimes pursued a political alliance with urban industrial workers in order to gain support.¹ Nevertheless,...

    • The Formation of a Rural Community: Joya de Cerén, 1954–1995
      (pp. 85-100)
      Carlos Benjamín Lara Martínez

      The study of historical processes is essential for understanding contemporary sociocultural dynamics in a community. This kind of research provides a diachronic understanding of the principal sociocultural systems that condition the way a community functions in the present. This is particularly true for rural communities that have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, that have constructed their social and symbolic systems from the historical conditions that gave rise to them.

      During El Salvador’s recent history many rural communities (cantones,or villages, andcaseríos,or small hamlets)¹ have been disarticulated and reorganized, a process stemming most often from...

  3. Section Two: Civil War and Its Aftermath:: Local Politics and Community

    • [Section Two Introduction]
      (pp. 101-104)

      El Salvador’s revolutionary civil war of 1980–1992 was by for one of LatinAmerica’s most dramatic experiences in recent times. A persistent guerilla army successfully confronted a military force micromanaged and funded by the United States in a terrain so small that most experts would not have conceived of the possibility of a long, drawn-out conflict. Parallel to the war, El Salvador experienced at least a partial transition to a “tutelary” electoral system, while the United States negotiated its attempt to manage and finance the imposition of “reforms” whose goal was to “modernize” El Salvador’s oligarchic state and social...

    • Peasants, Catechists, Revolutionaries: Organic Intellectuals in the Salvadoran Revolution, 1980–1992
      (pp. 105-125)
      Leigh Binford

      Social scientists writing on the Salvadoran revolution (1980–1992) generally agree that the popular wing of the Catholic Church played a crucial role in consciousness raising and organizational development among urban and, especially, rural populations. However, discussion of that role tends to focus on the martyred Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, or on priests such as Rutilio Grande, José Incencio Alas, and Octavio Ortiz, who worked in and around the capital and were threatened, tortured, or killed by Salvadoran military and security forces or deaths squads linked to them.¹ The army of lay peasant and worker catechists, that is, the “noncommissioned...

    • Civil War and Reconstruction: The Repopulation of Tenancingo
      (pp. 126-146)
      Elisabeth J. Wood

      Beginning in the mid-1970s, widespread political mobilization in the Salvadoran countryside was met with brutal repression by military and paramilitary forces. As mobilization and repression deepened to civil war, both sides of the conflict relied on local peasant participation. The resulting political polarization of the countryside reinforced bitter divisions among the rural population as peasants chose, were chosen by, or were reputed to have chosen sides in the emerging war. As the violence continued in the early 1980s, up to a quarter of the rural population—peasants and landlords alike—fled their homes for the relative safety of urban areas,...

    • Between Clientelism and Radical Democracy: The Case of Ciudad Segundo Montes
      (pp. 147-165)
      Vincent J. McElhinny

      Control of large parts of the Salvadoran countryside by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the civil war created unprecedented political space for experiments in participatory rural development. How much did these experiences alter the political culture and institutions of postwar El Salvador? The FMLN projected an image of a transformed insurgent culture as the basis for a collective, egalitarian, and participatory political-economic alternative to traditional rural power relations marked by clientelism, coercively sanctioned exclusion, and individualist peasant survival strategies. The counterinsurgent policy of the Salvadoran government and its U.S. sponsors portrayed the revolutionary movement as social deviants,...

    • Not Revolutionary Enough? Community Rebuilding in Postwar Chalatenango
      (pp. 166-186)
      Irina Carlota Silber

      Wartime survivors, their remembrances, their present practices, and future trajectories have become increasingly the focus of El Salvador’s postwar reconstruction and development. This is the case for rural residents in the northeastern department of Chalatenango, a former conflict zone and site of a wartime repatriation movement. This chapter concentrates on Chalatenango’s postwar reconstruction, focusing on the explosion of grassroots and nongovernmental organization (NGO)—led development efforts that characterize the department’s transition from war to peace and nation rebuilding. While successful postconflict rebuilding cannot be solely the responsibility of NGOs, or popular organizing for that matter—for this erases the nation-state’s...

    • The Salvadoran Land Struggle in the 1990s: Cohesion, Commitment, and Corruption
      (pp. 187-206)
      Lisa Kowalchuk

      If Salvadorans needed reminding that neither the 1980 Agrarian Reform nor the 1992 Peace Accords had resolved the problem of land hunger, they received it in the latter half of 1995 when events forced this problem to the surface of public consciousness. On October 23, 1995, over 1,100 landless and land-poor peasants—armed with cooking utensils, a few days’ supply of corn and beans, plastic sheeting for temporarychampas(huts), and copies of the Constitution—walked onto sixty-four agricultural properties, including seventeen coffee estates, in the western and central regions of the country. The peasants told private security guards and...

  4. Section Three: Culture and Ideology in Contemporary El Salvador

    • [Section Three Introduction]
      (pp. 207-210)

      The chapters in this section address three themes of great interest to LatinAmerican social scientists: migration, violence, and ethnicity. Postwar El Salvador leads Latin America in international migration and violent deaths, and it has become an important comparative case for many researchers interested in these phenomena elsewhere. Its contribution to ethnicity studies is more subtle due to its location on the periphery of Mesoamerican “high cultures” and a common but erroneous belief outside the country that its postindependence indigenous population was either acculturated to the national, mestizo culture or physically eradicated during the 1932Matanza(mass killing).

      At any...

    • “This Is Not Culture!”: The Effects of Ethnodiscourse and Ethnopolitics in El Salvador
      (pp. 211-225)
      Henrik Ronsbo

      How many indigenous people live in El Salvador? This question was posed fifty years ago by the demographer Barón Castro.¹ It was posed forty years ago by the anthropologist Richard Adams and twenty years ago by sociologist Alejandro Marroquín.² In the present postconflict situation with its attendant focus on individual and collective human rights, the question has returned again.³ According to present estimates, the indigenous population of El Salvador has fallen during the last fifty years from 20 percent of the total population to somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.⁴ The last Salvadoran census based on ethnic categories (1930) found...

    • “El Capitán Cinchazo”: Blood and Meaning in Postwar San Salvador
      (pp. 226-244)
      Ellen Moodie

      “Violence is an event in which there is a certain excess: an excess of passion, an excess of evil,” anthropologist E. Valentine Daniel tells us. “The very attempt to label this excess (as indeed I have done) is condemned to fail; it employs what Georges Bataille calledmots glissants(slippery words). Everything can be narrated, but what is narrated is no longer what happened.”²

      Yet only through the (mis)labeling of excess (indeed, the labeling as excess) does the “postwar” come into being. Named, made intelligible, made into a public text, it can circulate. As a text, it is about the...

    • In the Stream of Money: Contradictions of Migration, Remittances, and Development in El Salvador
      (pp. 245-262)
      David Pedersen

      With the end of the Salvadoran civil war in 1992 and the reduction in official U.S. aid for the government and military under the Bush presidency, a decade-long transformation of the country and its relations with the United States appeared in stark relief. Well-known Salvadoran social scientist Mario Lungo stressed the new centrality of remittances at this juncture by drawing on research conducted by Segundo Montes.

      According to Montes’ calculations, remittances total about $1.4 billion a year, equal to U.S. aid and the country’s total export income combined. The remittances are more than double its export income and almost double...