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Posts: 5,100
Reply with quote  #1 
The political histories of El Salvador and Guatemala- both of whom were dominated by military regimes for a good part of the 20th century- offer some stark lessons for those who've placed their hopes in the Arab Spring. Particularly the events around 1944, something of a watershed year and even more so for Guatemala.

Liberals prevailed over Conservatives in Central America in the 1870s (except Nicaragua, which remained a Conservative bastion until 1893) which resulted in official secularism and laissez-faire capitalism becoming the order of the day, its chief effects being the penetration of Central America by evangelicals, the wholesale dispossession of indigenous peoples and peasantry in general, and foreign and more specifically American economic domination- hence the term "Banana Republic". El Salvador, however, was a "Coffee Republic", dominated by a coffee-growing oligarchy, and there was even comparative diversity among the country's elites, augmented by European and Middle Eastern immigration.

In Guatemala, the period of "Liberal" rule from 1871 to 1944 included two periods of absolutist despotism under Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898-1920) and Jorge Ubico (1931-44), both of whom were allied to American economic interests. The events of 1920 and 1944, however, offer statutory lessons in democratic opening. In 1920, popular discontent led to the downfall of Cabrera, following an uprising led by younger members of the traditional Liberal and Conservative elites (many of whom did take part in the later revolution). But the democratic opening did not last, and the next year there was a coup although the 1920s did see a semblance of political competition for the first time in a few decades, ended only by the rise to power of Jorge Ubico in 1931, who returned to the Cabrera era order of tyranny without even allowing token opposition to compete.

In El Salvador, the coffee economy created an oligarchy dominated by the so-called "14 families". Despite the ostensibly liberal and democratic 1886 constitution which provided universal male suffrage, changes of power was the usual Latin American method of the 19th and parts of the 20th centuries- the Roman-esque method of a caudillo simply raising whatever force he can off the street to take control of the nation. Not until the start of the 20th century did El Salvador have a more stable and orderly succession, the assassination of the apparently progressive president Manuel Enrique Araujo in 1913 notwithstanding. The "Coffee Republic" era reached its apogee with the virtually dynastic rule of the Melendez and Quiñonez families, two of the most powerful of "the fourteen". When Pio Romero Bosque was elected in 1927, he began reforms that led to the first truly free elections in 1931, which was won by the most radical member of the traditional elite, Arturo Araujo. Despite his social status, his ideas alarmed the oligarchy, and he was overthrown by the army, who placed vice-president Maximiliano Martinez Hernandez into power. The 13 years of Martinez Hernandez rule was brutal and despotic (including the 1932 massacres), although he attempted to temper the laissez-faire model and enfranchised women.

In 1944, it was in El Salvador first that popular discontent succeeded in ousting the dictator. Martinez Hernandez was driven from power in May 1944, and his successor permitted renewed political freedom until a coup five months later. During that time, a host of civilian and military caudillos emerged in anticipation of democratic elections, but hopes of such were quickly quashed.

The discontent spread to Guatemala, with more profound results- Jorge Ubico resigned in July after waves of protests, but his successor Federico Ponce Valdes attempted to carry on the regime and rig elections to "legitimise" his rule. The opposition movement was by no means defined socially or ideologically, such was the unpopularity of the incumbent regime, and included members of the country's traditional political elites, many who took part in the 1920 rising. Hopes were high for democracy and radical reforms, but many took part only in anticipation of gaining wealth and power. And as it turned out, Guatemala enjoyed 10 years of flawed democracy- the reforms of Juan José Arevalo and Jacobo Arebenz met considerable resistance and only provoked conflict and radicalisation on both sides. Furthermore, the election of Arbenz in 1950 was questionable in its fairness, given the assassination of Francisco Javier Arana, voting practices of the day, and the fact that key opponents could not campaign freely.

In El Salvador, the military establishment rigged the 1945 election, boycotted by opposition parties, to ensure Salvador Castañeda won. Intrigues among civilian and military caudillos and their gangs continued in anticipation of elections in 1949, while Castañeda was apparently attempting (like quite a few Central American leaders before him) to promote the unification of Central America while seeing to perpetuate his own power. As 1948 wore on, it was obvious that his chosen heir could not win a free election, and he decided to extend his stay in power, which provoked a rising from younger and more progressive officers, whose coup in Decmber was called the 1948 "Revolution". The effects of this  "revolution" was simple: it fully institutionalised military control over the state, while allowing for controlled reform.  However, the process of rigged elections was to continue. Not until a couple more coups and a new military regime in the 1960s did there seem to be a chance for a democratic opening and the 1964-68 period saw El Salvador seemingly on the road to full democracy, only for the military to slam the door shut in the 1970s. In 1972, José Napoleon Duarte of the Christian Democrats were all but certain to win the election, were it not for blatant theft by the military. In the midst of a Civil War, Duarte would be elected in 1984 to begin the current democratic era.

Following the 1954 overthrow of Arbenz, Guatemala would have the usual process of sham elections and coups. From 1963 until the 1980s, the military held absolute power while holding blatantly rigged elections. In 1974, for instance, only military officers were permitted in the presidential election, yet the progressive opposition's candidate José Efrain Rios Montt was denied a certain victory by vote-rigging, which was repeated in 1978 and 1982. After the latter election, disgruntled officers seized power and place Rios Montt in the presidency, ushering a particularly bloody period. It's worth noting that the 1982 coup (the 30th anniversary of which is in March) was initially widely welcomed because of electoral fraud and rampant corruption. After another coup, Guatemala would begin a new democratic period in 1985.

Democratisation in El Salvador and Guatemala was made possible in the 1980s due to in no small part a shift in US foreign policy during the Reagan administration, which was also at play in the Philippines and South Korea during this time. The US was now keen to see the election of moderate, reformist governments.

The fact is that the events of 1944 brought initially hope of political freedom for El Salvador and Guatemala, but both of those would be crushed in various ways that it would take a full four decades for any kind of real democracy (however flawed) to be achieved. For those who pinned their hopes on the Arab Spring, will do well to heed that lesson.

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Posts: 10
Reply with quote  #2 
You have a good point. You should see how terrible El Salvador (where I was born) is today with this so called "democracy."It's a paradise for gangs, drugs, and prostitution. Oh and guess what? The president doesn't give a damn. He is buying private jets and sports cars as we speak. We used to have something to be proud of when we were part of the Spanish empire but they just decided to throw it all out the window. It's also being Americanized by MTV and crazy JW's and spanglish. No offense to the americans on these forums though, you guys are cool!


Posts: 5,100
Reply with quote  #3 
It's been established that some of the ideas of the "Liberal Revolution" of the 1870s in El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as Nicaragua in 1893, laid the foundations for the conflicts of the 20th century- specifically the issues of land ownership and economic sovereignty. Similarly in Mexico, many of the indigenous supported Emperor Maximilian, in the hope they would be able to preserve their rights. And Gabriel Garcia Moreno of Ecuador was one of the truly great leaders of South America in the 19th century for his Catholic piety.

As a fierce anti-Communist, I do have mixed feelings about the things that went on in 20th century Latin America. Undoubtedly, the grotesque abuses that took place were indefensible, but leftists have highlighted this constantly while attempting to downplay or ignore the horrors of Communism and the far greater number of victims. On the other hand, as a staunch monarchist, I can say much of it only confirms my own monarchist beliefs.
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