Masferrer, Alberto (1868–1932)

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Masferrer, Alberto (1868–1932)

Alberto Masferrer (b. 24 July 1868; d. 4 September 1932), Salvadoran journalist and political figure, most famous for his mínimum vital, a nine-point program designed to provide a minimum standard of living to his countrymen. As a youth Masferrer displayed exceptional sensitivity to the social problems he encountered throughout Central America. He objected to the outmoded, restrictive system of education and the appalling conditions in which many Salvadorans, particularly those in rural areas, lived. His basic ideas, present in their most rudimentary form in his first work, Niñerías (1892), were refined over the next four decades.

In 1895, President Rafael Gutiérrez appointed Masferrer consul to Costa Rica. Here he also began to dabble in journalism and forge links with the nascent labor movement, two interests that were to continue throughout his life. He was reassigned to Chile in 1901 and Belgium in 1911 but left the diplomatic corps in 1914 to pursue a career in journalism. Masferrer returned to El Salvador in 1916 and quickly espoused the cause of the working classes. In 1918 he organized the First Workers' Congress, which featured the future president Arturo Araujo, a landlord, as its keynote speaker. Throughout the 1920s, Masferrer continued to campaign for an improved standard of living and to achieve official respect for the working classes. He served as the editor of several short-lived journals before founding La Patria in 1928. In his opening editorial, Masferrer pledged that his newspaper would describe the life of Salvadorans as it actually was and committed himself to working for "the health, welfare, prosperity, culture, liberty, peace and contentment of all." He wrote a series of articles known collectively as "El mínimum vital" (1928–1929) which called for adequate food, housing, clothing, education, work, recreation, and justice for all Salvadorans. In the 1930 campaign for the presidency Masferrer endorsed Arturo Araujo, who borrowed Masferrer's concept of vitalismo as his platform. Araujo easily won office after General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez withdrew from the race, but his term lasted less than a year. Masferrer quickly realized that the Araujo administration was corrupt and powerless to effect real reforms, and left for self-exile in Guatemala. Upon hearing of the 1932 Matanza, wherein thousands of Salvadorans were killed by government troops, Masferrer became despondent and sank into deep depression. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage later that year.

Masferrer is an important figure in the intellectual history of Central America. His thought is part of a broad anti-positivist movement that flourished in Latin America in the early decades of the twentieth century. Though his writings shied away from addressing directly the need for political reform, Masferrer's ideas included a clear social and economic agenda which implied that such changes were needed for a more smoothly functioning society. In his mind any truly national culture had an obligation to provide for its people their minimum spiritual and material well-being. His ideas reveal a strong affinity with the Roman Catholic church after Rerum Novarum, the 1891 papal encyclical that rejected both capitalism and socialism as paths for human development. His notion of an organic, harmonious nation that was hierarchical in organization and functioned along the lines of Christian charity and the dignity of all work is clearly typical of the intellectual flirtation with fascism that characterized so many thinkers of his generation. Masferrer was a reformer who did not seek to tear down the whole social order; he merely wanted to rid it of its worst abuses. Thus his ideas led directly into the Salvadoran Christian Democratic movement that flourished in the 1960s and similarly sought to improve general conditions through cooperation and conciliation rather than revolution. Masferrer remains a popular figure in El Salvador today.

See alsoEl Salvador .


Matilde Elena López, Masferrer: Alto pensador de Centroamérica (1954).

Matilde Elena López, Pensamiento social de Masferrer (1984).

Alberto Masferrer, Obras Escogidas (1971).

Manuel Masferrer C., Biografía del escritor Alberto Masferrer (1957).

Rafael Antonio Tercero, Masferrer: Un ala contra el huracán (1958).

María Luisa Zelaya de Guirola, Masferrer: Un grito en la noche de Centroamérica (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Casaús Arzú, Marta Elena. "La influencia de Alberto Masferrer en la creación de redes teosóficas y vitalistas en América Central, 1920–1930." Cuadernos Americanos 99 (May-June 2003): 197-238.

Racine, Karen. "Alberto Masferrer and the Vital Minimum: The Life and Thought of a Salvadoran Journalist, 1868–1932." The Americas 54:2 (October 1997): 209-237.

                                           Karen Racine