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Authoritarian El Salvador

Politics and the Origins of the Military Regimes, 1880-1940

Erik Ching

Publication Year: 2014

In December 1931, El Salvador’s civilian president, Arturo Araujo, was overthrown in a military coup. Such an event was hardly unique in Salvadoran history, but the 1931 coup proved to be a watershed. Araujo had been the nation’s first democratically elected president, and although no one could have foreseen the result, the coup led to five decades of uninterrupted military rule, the longest run in modern Latin American history. Furthermore, six weeks after coming to power, the new military regime oversaw the crackdown on a peasant rebellion in western El Salvador that is one of the worst episodes of state-sponsored repression in modern Latin American history. Democracy would not return to El Salvador until the 1990s, and only then after a brutal twelve-year civil war. In Authoritarian El Salvador: Politics and the Origins of the Military Regimes, 1880-1940, Erik Ching seeks to explain the origins of the military regime that came to power in 1931. Based on his comprehensive survey of the extant documentary record in El Salvador’s national archive, Ching argues that El Salvador was typified by a longstanding tradition of authoritarianism dating back to the early- to mid-nineteenth century. The basic structures of that system were based on patron-client relationships that wove local, regional, and national political actors into complex webs of rival patronage networks. Decidedly nondemocratic in practice, the system nevertheless exhibited highly paradoxical traits: it remained steadfastly loyal to elections as the mechanism by which political aspirants acquired office, and it employed a political discourse laden with appeals to liberty and free suffrage. That blending of nondemocratic authoritarianism with populist reformism and rhetoric set the precedent for military rule for the next fifty years.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

Acronyms and Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xvii


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pp. xviii-xxii

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pp. 1-34

On December 2, 1931, El Salvador’s civilian president, Arturo Araujo, was deposed in a quickly executed military coup. He was replaced by his vice president, General Maximiliano Martínez.1 At the time, the 1931 coup seemed unexceptional. El Salvador and its neighboring countries...

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Chapter 1: The Rules

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pp. 35-76

Leaders of newly independent nations throughout the Americas in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries faced the challenge of determining what type of governing system best suited their societies. Regardless of the examples of the United States’ break from Great Britain and of Spain’s...

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Chapter 2: National-Level Networks in Conflict in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 77-100

El Salvador was not Brazil, where independence from Portugal came with intact political institutions and a centralized government. When Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1807, the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil and brought with it a complete government. Prominent Brazilians...

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Chapter 3: Building Networks at the Local Level

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pp. 101-138

The last two chapters focused on jockeying at the national and regional levels, but those supramunicipal networks rested on a foundation of municipal- level alliances. This chapter turns to the municipal level, looking into the means by which municipal-level political actors built up their...

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Chapter 4: Municipal Elections and Municipal Autonomy, ca. 1880–1930

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pp. 139-172

The last chapter showed how local political networks were built. This chapter looks at what those networks did on election day to gain control of municipal office. It looks at the nature of the challenge between rival networks, the tactics they used in their attempts to control voting, and the...

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Chapter 5: The Network of the State

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pp. 173-207

On the eve of the presidential election of 1898, General Tomás Regalado overthrew President Rafael Gutiérrez in a quickly executed coup d’état. To participants and onlookers alike, the coup seemed a routine exercise. The insurgent was a one-time ally of the president who had grown impatient...

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Chapter 6: Facing the Leviathan

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pp. 208-245

The presidential election of March 1927 arrived amidst the usual speculations: Who would President Quiñónez Molina choose as his successor? Would someone challenge him? Would there be violence? Quiñónez Molina exacerbated the incertitude by providing no hints about his preference....

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Chapter 7: Politics under the Military Regime, 1931–1940

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pp. 246-286

The Araujo government lasted only ten months. It arrived amid cautious optimism about a new political process and left in ignominy, in a military coup during the first week of December 1931. In the confused aftermath of the coup, Araujo’s vice president, General Maximiliano Hernández...

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Chapter 8: Populist Authoritarianism, 1931–1940

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pp. 287-335

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, El Salvador’s economy grew rapidly under the influence of coffee. This expansion created more opportunities for some Salvadorans, but most of the rewards from coffee went to a small portion of the population. For most Salvadorans,...

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pp. 336-356

El Salvador’s modern political history can be divided into two eras, those before and after the 1931 coup that brought General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez to power. Before Martínez, El Salvador’s political system was marked by a series of dictatorships, led by both civilians and...


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pp. 357-368


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pp. 369-436


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pp. 437-452


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pp. 453-459

About the Author

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p. 460-460

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780268076993
E-ISBN-10: 0268076995
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268023751
Print-ISBN-10: 0268023751

Page Count: 496
Illustrations: 2 maps
Publication Year: 2014