Military justice and social control: El Salvador, 1931-1960

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García Guevara, Aldo Vladimir, 1971-

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Between 1931 and 1960, Salvadoran praetorian regimes combined repression and reward to convince the public, nationally and internationally, that they were best equipped to rule the tiny nation. Shortly after taking power, in 1932 the military repressed a peasant rebellion, killed 10,000 people and blamed rural oligarchs and Liberal demagogues and communist agitators for the revolt and massacre. Both the regimes of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (1931-1944) and those of Colonels Oscar Osorio and José María Lemus (1948-1960) of the Revolutionary Party for Democratic Unification (PRUD) provided rewards for their political clients and repressed their enemies, who they often labeled Communists and subversives and linked with the chaos of the 1932 rebellion. In order to marginalize political opponents and centralize rule, they aggressively repressed "plots" against the regimes to reassign, exile, beat and sometimes kill their enemies. By manipulating newspaper coverage they also portrayed a social order that despite not matching the lived reality of Salvadorans contrasted with the chaos of 1932. Because the country changed dramatically, growing in population and rapidly urbanizing, political leaders under the PRUD allied themselves with different groups than did Martínez, or in the martinato,. Under the martinato, peasants and indigenous Salvadorans provided tacit support but the Revolutionary Party was much more focused on the cities. Fearing an urban opposition, they reorganized the police, but neither regime convinced the public of their goodwill. Despite their inability to substantively reduce crime or juvenile delinquency, the military convinced people that they made genuine efforts to provide social justice to the majority of Salvadorans. Embracing traditionalism and patriarchy, as well as social order, the military built alliances with, and glorified the image of the women of the urban markets. In contrast, prostitutes and street peddlers did not meet the standards of the praetorian social order and were demonized and repressed. Although the military was unable to provide effective social services, successfully repress dissent and criminality, or eliminate dissent, they nonetheless convinced a substantial majority that the costs of opposition were greater than the benefits of working with the regime.