El General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez
Updated: Dec 24, 2019
Very few, even among his native Salvadorians, have heard of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez. As a national leader for a country, no matter how small, for over a dozen years, finding accurate information on Martinez and his "Partido Pro-Patria" party is not straight forward. Martinez, as an admirer of Mussolini, and later of forms of fascism in Spain and Germany. Martinez, rose to power through the ranks of the military and initially contested the first free and open election in El Salvador in January 1931. However, days before the election, Martinez struck a political deal with the leading contender Arturo Araujo, the two sharing similar platforms, at this juncture, and with the aim of not splitting the vote, would remove his name from the contest if Araujo made him Vice-President should Araujo win. Araujo & Martinez won and social change set about.
Economic crisis in the country had set in prior to the elections with the collapse of coffee export revenue, the primary source of income for the nation. However, as 1931 unfolded, little substantive change was being done and salaries, particularly to the military were not being paid, and in early December 1931, the military deposed Araujo and installed General & Vice-President Martinez as President. Unfortunately, much of the facts of the time have been revised by subsequent, left-wing governments in El Salvador and children are taught an air-brushed version of the events of 1931.
As a Salvadorian fascist, Martinez brought about change during his years in power, leading his country through a prolonged period of economic growth, he created a Social Security program and extended the right to vote to female voters. Here is a quote from 'El Salvador Ressiste' on Martinez's contribution to society: "...(he) organized a good Cabinet, with elements of prestige and workers (participating), .....this was a period of extensive administrative work, especially (with) financial (aspects and) reforms and new institutions gave...rise to the economic life of the country (through) the Central Reserve Bank and Banco Hipotecairo, the Salvadorian Coffee Company, the Rural Credit, the cotton cooperative, the Public Works. Social improvement,,,,building affordable housing and (support) to peasant families. Public works were incessant... he built roads throughout the country - their part of the Pan-American Highway - ...the National Stadium where the 3rd Central American sports games were held in that time. They build magnificent buildings such as the Telegraph, the castle of the national police, and large bridges such as the Cuscatlan on the Iempa River in 1942. All this without any foreign borrowing".
Martinez is, however, accused of having thousands of indigenous people killed but even the accuracy of those claims is questioned by some. Most killed were Communists or lived in areas of the country with sympathy for that cause. Several believe that many of the deaths were at the hands of communist insurgents who turned their killings around to appear as if the military had conducted these.
What of the rest of the world? The liberalism of democracy had expected Martinez to be soon deposed of and gave him small chance of succeeding in improving Salvador. There was little support publicly from the financial community outside of El Salvador. Yet, he and his country were not alone...support came from Italy and, notably, Germany. In support of the fight against communism, some Salvadorian troops trained in Germany and in 1938 General Eberhardt of the German Wehrmacht came to El Salvador and became the director of the national military school.
What may strike many as surprising is that El Salvador was not an Axis Power member in World War 2. El Salvador actually declared war on Japan and German shortly after Pearl Harbor and one probably has to put this down to the economic aspects of coffee exports. Whatever one may feel about this, his credentials of the interests of his nation and countrymen came first...an essential element of fascism.
In May 1944, a general strike led to Martinez leaving office. He left behind a time when there was honor, patriotism, pride, a great economy and a dramatic fall in the crime rate. El Salvador has, along with other central and south American nations, been plagued with communism. The communists of El Salvador worked hard to expunge the memory of the good Martinez did for his nation...and to play up his alleged crimes.