views updated


Matanza, the name given in El Salvador to the massacre perpetrated by the government after the abortive Communist-led revolt of January 1932. the revolt grew out of the anger of coffee workers and peasants over depressed living conditions and the agitation of Communist Party leaders, especially Secretary-General Augustín Farabundo Martí. The revolt followed a coup d'état on 2 December 1931 that had overthrown the elected government of President Arturo Araújo and replaced it with a military dictatorship headed by General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez.

The Communists' revolt began in a confused manner on the night of 22 January, after Martí and other key leaders had been arrested four days earlier. It took place largely to the west of the capital in the departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Anna, and Sonsonate and just east of San Salvador, around Lake Ilopango. The rebels, armed mostly with machetes, failed to take any major garrisons and killed only a small number of civilians, along with some soldiers and police. By 25 January, military forces had largely regained control of the areas in revolt.

Although unsuccessful in seizing power, the rebellion created a great fear among the upper classes, and General Hernández Martínez decided on a policy of frightful repression in the department where the revolt took place. He instituted the Matanza (slaughter or massacre). Utilizing the regular army, police units such as the Policía Nacional and the Guardia Nacional, and the volunteer Guardia Cívica, drawn from among the upper classes, the government rounded up not only those known as Communists or as rebels, but also large numbers of peasants, often of Pipil Indian origin, and proceeded to execute them by firing squad. The bodies were then buried in mass graves.

Estimates of the number of persons killed in the Matanza vary widely, running from 3,000 to 30,000. A reasonable guess is about 10,000 killed. Since Indians were especially targeted, the Pipil culture of western El Salvador was largely destroyed. Martí and his lieutenants, Alfonso Luna and Mario Zapata, were given the formality of a trial before being executed in the capital. One leader, Miguel Mármol, survived his firing squad and fled into exile. The effect of the massacre was to create a climate of fear among the masses that inhibited agitation for social change for some forty years.

See alsoCoffee Industry; El Salvador.


Joaquín Méndez H., Los sucesos comunistas en El Salvador (1932).

Jorge Schlesinger, Revolución comunista (1946).

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

Roque Dalton, Miguel Mármol, English ed. (1987).

Additional Bibliography

Anderson, Thomas P. Matanza: The 1932 "Slaughter" that Traumatized a Nation, Shaping US-Salvadoran Policy to This Day. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1992.

Tilley, Virginia. Seeing Indians: A Study of Race, Nation, and Power in El Salvador. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

                                     Thomas P. Anderson