Martí, Agustín Farabundo (1893–1932)

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Martí, Agustín Farabundo (1893–1932)

Agustín Farabundo Martí (b. 1893; d. 1 February 1932), Salvadoran Communist leader and labor organizer. Martí's father, a moderate landholder in Teotepeque, reputedly adopted his surname in honor of the Cuban patriot José Martí. Young Farabundo grew up surrounded by poor campesinos, with whom he identified later in life. His biographers describe him as a precocious, sensitive child who could not understand the differences between men. When his father decided against dividing the family land among his sons, Martí enrolled in the Faculty of Jurisprudence and Social Sciences at the National University. From the beginning, however, he felt frustrated by the lack of open discussion in his college and began independently reading anarchist and communist texts in the library. He became involved in the nascent labor movement and participated in the first strikes held in El Salvador (1920). At this same time, he provoked a duel with his professor, Victoriano López Ayala, over the nature of cognition. For this, Martí and his friend José Luís Barrientos were exiled to Guatemala in 1920.

There are only fragmentary records of Martí's movements for the period from 1920 to 1925, but it is generally believed that he spent this time living among the Quiché Maya and making contacts among the rural salaried workers of Guatemala. He traveled frequently, working as a baker and bricklayer and doing other odd jobs in Guatemala and Honduras; he also served with the Red Battalions in Mexico, becoming a sergeant. Martí apparently took a pessimistic view of the latter country's still-young revolution, for he once remarked, "Disgracefully, the workers of Mexico have been captured by the bourgeoisie." In 1925, Martí and a few other dissident intellectuals founded the Central American Socialist Party in Guatemala City, which pledged to work for the unity of the isthmus. They had some brief success in persuading the legislatures of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to sponsor a tripartite republic but lacked support in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the party disintegrated.

Martí then found his way back to El Salvador, where he tried to raise the class consciousness of the rural workers. In 1928, President Alfonso Quiñones Molina exiled Martí to Nicaragua. This move allowed Martí to link up with Augusto César Sandino and serve as personal secretary to the Nicaraguan patriot. Martí failed to convert Sandino to Marxism-Leninism and returned to El Salvador in 1929, but Martí retained the highest personal regard for Sandino. Shortly before his execution in 1932, Martí declared that there was no greater patriot in all of Central America than General Sandino. For his own part, Martí was a hardened internationalist and a devout admirer of Leon Trotsky; throughout the 1920s he wore a lapel pin that featured an image of Trotsky within a red star.

Martí spent the closing years of the 1920s in and out of Salvadoran jails, with intermittent periods of exile. He spent some time in California, where he met several sympathetic members of the International Labor Defense and secured a position as Salvadoran representative of the Socorro Rojo (Red Aid), a socialist labor organization. He made his way back to El Salvador in time for the December 1930 election campaign. That year, Martí and a few close associates, including Miguel Mármol, founded the Communist Party of El Salvador. Contrary to the established Moscow-directed approach, the Salvadoran Communists refused to participate in elections and instead concentrated their efforts on organizing the dispossessed rural peasantry. The Communists initially lost ground to the reformist experiment of President Arturo Araujo, but gained strength after a coup in December 1931 brought the military to power. A mass uprising was planned for 22 January 1932, but the government uncovered the plot and executed Martí, along with two student accomplices, on 1 February. The period of repression that followed is known as the Matanza, or massacre. In 1980 several guerrilla groups joined forces and christened their umbrella organization the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN) in honor of their model.

See alsoEl Salvador .


Thomas P. Anderson, Matanza: El Salvador's Communist Revolt of 1932 (1971).

Jorge Arias Gómez, Farabundo Martí: Esbozo biográfico (1972).

James Dunkerley, The Long War: Dictatorship and Revolution in El Salvador (1982).

FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional), Farabundo Martí (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Castellanos, Juan Mario. El Salvador, 1930–1960: Antecendentes históricos de la guerra civil. San Salvador, El Salvador: Dirección de Publicaciones e Impresos, 2002.

                                           Karen Racine