Instances of violence in the Indian communities of late-nineteenth-century El Salvador have often been cited as evidence of popular opposition to the liberal state and resistance to the privatization of Indian-held lands.1 One such instance occurred on the night of November 14, 1898, when simmering resentments in the Indian community of Dolores Izalco (hereafter simply Dolores) erupted in a violent confrontation.2 In addition to 16 leaders, more than 80 male Indians were involved in the fighting, and at least 27 were captured by government authorities. One of the targets of the attack was Simeón Morán, a former administrator who had been responsible for partitioning the communal lands. Morán was killed along with members of his family and supporters, but more significance has been attributed to the fact that he had a hand chopped off during the violence. This attack entered the historiographical record in a frequently cited account of Salvadoran nineteenth-century land issues: “The relationship of cause and effect between the loss of land and the rural workers’ revolt is clear: in the revolt of 1898, for example, various judges who had divided public lands were punished by the severing of their hands, which they had used to measure and distribute the land of the rural workers.”3 Interpretations such as this stem from and contribute to the perpetuation of a relatively straightforward story: Indian communities supported themselves through subsistence agriculture, they came into conflict with the agro-export elites and their repressive state, they lost their lands when the liberal state enforced the dissolution of common lands, and they then revolted over the loss of these lands.4 The story thus constructed explains the 1898 attack on the supposedly ladino juez partidor as a defensive mechanism against the wholesale and violent appropriation of community lands by outside coffee oligarchs. Without doubt the privatization of communal lands is one of the most important transformations that has affected the history of El Salvador. However, as this article will argue, conflicts over land tenure and the privatization process in El Salvador have long been misunderstood and misinterpreted, precisely because generalized accounts of the privatization process have rarely considered the internal dynamics of Indian communities and their complex political relationships with external forces.

This article presents new research on the implementation and consequences of the partition and privatization of Indian communal lands in El Salvador. By providing a close account of the internal conflicts and divisions over the partition of lands in Dolores, one of Izalco’s two indigenous communities (the other was Asunción Izalco), it examines how the 1898 revolt grew out of complex local politics in Dolores. As reconstructed here, factional divisions within this growing and complex Indian community—factionalism that resulted from its decades-long involvement with commercial agriculture and regional political alliances—to a great extent determined how this community experienced the partition of its lands. While previous accounts have considered the attack on the juez partidor in Dolores to have been the result of a confrontation between Indian peasants and the state, this article argues that the confrontation emerged instead from the fragmentation of local ethnic solidarity and organization, which split the community into feuding factions that actively engaged external social and political forces. Along with their own competitive interests, the alliances made by local peasant leaders with local elites and entrepreneurs, as well as with political actors at the regional and state level, determined how the conflictive process of privatization played out. In the end, the demise of Dolores as an indigenous community was not simply the result of liberal reforms enforced by the state, but was also predicated on the complex maze of interests, both internal and external, that ran through Izalco’s two Indian communities, Dolores and Asunción, as they faced the privatization of their long-held lands.

Ethnicity and Agrarian Society in Izalco

Izalco is one of the largest municipalities in western El Salvador. In the mid-nineteenth century it contained the largest Indian settlement in the region and was surpassed in population only by the municipalities of Ahuachapán and Santa Ana.5 Izalco’s long tradition of combining small-scale peasant agriculture with commercial production began in the sixteenth century and extended into the twentieth, despite the increased commercialization of agrarian society in the region. A report from 1771 shows that apart from the individual subsistence and collective cacao farms of Indian communities, the only other agricultural activity in the Izalco region was that of two haciendas.6 Almost one hundred years later (1866), Izalco was reported to have 200 small farms (chacras), 360 small pastures (huatales and repastos), 20 cattle farms (hatos), one grainproducing hacienda (hacienda agrícola), and 2 cattle haciendas (hacienda de ganado).7 By 1900 there were slightly more haciendas in Izalco, although these were smaller than those of 1866, having been formed by the subdivision of the older estates. There were also a greater number of small peasant farms, and a rapidly growing number of middle-sized commercial farms. While most local families held sufficient land for both subsistence and market production, a small but growing number of Izalco peasants began to work for wages on the haciendas and emerging commercial farms of the Sonsonate-Ahuachapán region. In part, peasants engaged in wage labor in order to complement their subsistence and commercial production; but during the 1880s and 1890s, the expanding role of wage work also reflected the impact of a deepening disparity in access to land and irrigation among both Indian and ladino peasants in Izalco.8 Izalco’s ladino population—an ethnic category that in El Salvador included all non-Indians, including those “former Indians” who simply started to define themselves as ladinos—had grown steadily during the preceding half-century. Between 1850 and 1870, the percentage of the population identified as ladino increased significantly, and by the 1890s the approximately 9,000 inhabitants of Izalco were divided roughly equally between Indians and ladinos.9 The ladinization of the population and its effects on land tenure were a source of increasing tensions and conflict throughout the century.

During the 1840s and 1850s, Izalqueños claimed to be too poor to satisfy the small contributions that the government expected from them in order to finance its wars with Guatemala and its campaign against William Walker in Nicaragua.10 But by the 1860s, commercial agriculture and trade were flourishing in the region and Izalco’s large commercial feria was attracting many merchants.11 Agricultural entrepreneurs in Izalco had embarked upon efforts to produce coffee and sugar, and by the 1890s the municipality was a dynamic and diversified agricultural center that tied both ladino and Indian peasants to local and regional networks of trade, credit, labor, and land.12

In regard to its major commercial crops, in 1892 Izalco produced only a modest amount coffee, about 150 tons, most of which was cultivated by small-scale growers, both Indian and ladino.13 However, by the early twentieth century the bulk of Izalco’s coffee was produced in the hacienda of El Sunza, which was owned by the Araujo family.14 Izalco’s sugar production also increased, though its development seems to have preceded that of coffee by a couple of decades. Thus in 1892 there were 12 medium-sized sugarcane farms and dozens of smaller farms (usually dedicated to the production of aguardiente or panela for local markets) in operation by 1892.15 Yet despite the expansion of enterprises dedicated to sugar and coffee, these crops did not displace agricultural production for local consumption, and the region remained a net exporter of grains and other basic food products well into the twentieth century. Thus even though Izalco participated in the expansion of export and commercial agriculture, its older patterns of subsistence agriculture, seasonal wage labor, and diverse peasant participation in local and regional markets remained important features of the local economy.16

The politics of nineteenth-century economic development in the region must be understood in the context of historical patterns of land tenure. Throughout the colonial period, landownership had been central to the status and identity of Izalco’s Indian communities. Izalco had been composed of two distinct towns, each controlled by its own Indian community. After independence these two adjacent towns were united, separated, and finally reunited in a single municipality.17 Still, despite the establishment of a single municipal center and urban core, the two Indian communities, Asunción and Dolores, retained distinct identities, corporate representation, and control over local resources, which included two urban barrios, agricultural land, and irrigation systems.18 Landownership provided the basis for Izalco’s economic and political autonomy, and after independence command over this resource allowed the Indian communities to control the settlement of ladinos in the region. Before the 1850s Izalco’s two Indian communities had been adamant about keeping ladinos off their lands and out of municipal office—a goal they did not always achieve. Although before midcentury Indians did retain control over all common lands, after the 1850s the ladino population, including an emerging commercial elite, expanded and ladinos came to control most seats in the municipal government, eventually acquiring control over the 70 caballerías (3,150 hectares) of municipal ejidos.

In 1867 the second administration of President Francisco Dueñas (1863–71) ordered the separation of municipal and community lands throughout the nation. While providing legal recognition and protection to community-based landholding that fell outside of municipal ejido lands, this act also facilitated ladino encroachment onto lands in Izalco. According to the new legislation, lands that were originally allocated to a town as part of an initial colonial land grant (usually 37 caballerías) would be recognized as an ejido and managed by the municipal corporation, which could rent the land to any town resident or settler. Any additional lands purchased by or granted to groups of peasants, usually a long-standing ladino or Indian community, would continue to be collectively owned and controlled as communal lands. For Izalco, the effect of this legislation was to place ejido lands under ladino control by virtue of their hold on the municipal government. Actual compliance with the 1867 legislation took a few years in Izalco, but by 1870 Dolores and Asunción had moved to clarify their holdings and distinguish them from the municipal ejidos, which were now controlled by ladinos. For some time the ladino-controlled municipality had claimed rights over the Indian’s communal lands and charged rent to its occupants. But after litigation in 1870, the Indian communities regained undisputed control over their lands (the excess beyond 37 caballerías that had belonged to Asunción and Dolores, which had been Izalco’s original municipalities) and Indian tenants stopped paying the canon (land rent) to the municipality.19 Together, the two Indian communities held almost 150 caballerías (6,750 hectares) of land, while the municipality controlled another 72 caballerías (3,240 hectares) as ejidos.20 This placed both the municipality of Izalco and its two Indian communities among the largest holders of common lands in the country. By 1879 Izalco’s extensive municipal ejidos had all been rented, often to ladino entrepreneurs and farmers from Izalco and Sonsonate who established farms and pastures in Izalco, generating a significant income that was controlled by the ladino municipal leaders.21 Privately owned haciendas and farms made up the municipality’s remaining 270 caballerías (12,150 hectares) of land.22

There is significant evidence that politically and economically successful indígenas detached themselves from their communities.23 Although recently “ladinoized” indígenas continued to rent communal lands, some began to join the ranks of a growing ladino elite. Alongside this new elite were older ladino families (such as the Barrientos, Vega, and Herrera families) who continued as some of the principal tenants of both municipal and communal lands. Their initial wealth derived from commercial farms that they had developed on the town’s municipal ejidos, but they rapidly extended their operations into other financial ventures. During the 20 years from 1880 to 1900, they also came to control the extensive small-scale transactions in plots, loans, cash advances, and coffee and grain sales in which hundreds of Indian and ladino peasants from Izalco participated.24 The significance of their activity was recognized in 1913 by the governor of Sonsonate, who attributed Izalco’s “flowering progress” to the “many and very important ladino families who have managed to dominate the Indian masses, since for many years the local authorities have been composed of ladinos.”25

Relations between Indian peasants and the ladino entrepreneurs who regularly attempted to use their control over the municipal government to favor their families and allies often turned conflictive and litigious.26 But tensions related to access to land also existed within the Indian communities themselves, particularly given that many Indian comuneros had begun to develop valuable commercial sugar and coffee farms on community lands. There is ample evidence that variations in plot sizes and in commercial activity had led to significant differentiation among comuneros in both of Izalco’s indigenous communities.27 Clearly then, intracommunity competition and conflicts for control of valuable parcels did not begin with the privatization of land. As Izalco’s agricultural frontier started to close as a result of expanding population and commercial production, the centuries-old limits—both physical and conceptual—on common land use were about to be tested and transformed.

The Partition of Community Lands in Dolores Izalco

In 1881 and 1882, as part of its attempt to stimulate investment in commercial agriculture and create a class of entrepreneurial peasants and farmers, the Salvadoran state abolished corporate rights to village and municipal lands. The principal motive for privatization was to encourage those farmers and peasants already involved in commercial production to expand their investments. Throughout the country, hundreds of valuable coffee and sugar farms of all sizes had been established on municipal ejidos and community lands, but the land remained the property of a corporate body. By the late 1870s, significant sectors of the population considered communal and municipal land tenure to be an obstacle to further agricultural development. Members of Indian communities who already engaged in commercial agriculture often supported the transition from corporate to private holdings, which would give them more secure ownership of lands that they farmed continually and that they had improved by investing in the construction of permanent structures. Comuneros who controlled large farms linked to commercial networks stood to gain the most from privatization. But in the context of unequal and contested access to community lands, continued guaranteed access to a subsistence plot could also benefit smallholders.

The privatization of land in Dolores was a long and conflictive process, but the numerous internal disputes and the frequent protests made to external authorities were overwhelmingly about the implementation of the laws, and did not challenge the justice or intent of the laws themselves. The state played a contradictory and complex role in privatizing corporate holdings and in managing and mediating diverse interests. While the Salvadoran national state was sufficiently consolidated by the early 1880s to conceive, justify, and legislate a national transformation of land ownership, it did not have the technical, administrative, juridical, or police resources to actually carry out the partition nor assure its completion. Instead, the state relied on local officials, including municipal and community leaders, to carry out the reform. Paradoxically then, although the law privatizing communal land eliminated the legal status of communities, in practice it established a policy that resulted in adding another administrative function, that of land partition, to the communal organization of villages. The implementation of the law was a therefore contentious issue that provoked internal strife as community factions were pitted one against another, each trying to secure the best parcels of land for itself. But differences were not limited to struggles over access to land; political conflicts, often connected to broader regional and national disputes, affected privatization and exacerbated internal rivalries and animosities.

Of all the indigenous communities in western El Salvador, Dolores suffered from one of the most prolonged, tortuous, and conflictive processes of land partition and privatization.28 Divisions both internal and external to the community exacerbated the technical difficulties of a procedure that involved surveying hundreds of small plots, rights to which were based on ancient land titles and local custom. Near the beginning of this process, the community of Dolores became divided, probably along lines associated with political alliances and kinship rather than emerging class differences. The partitioning and titling of the community’s extensive landholdings was complicated by these conflicts and by the competing interests of comunero factions that struggled for control over land and the process of privatization. Disputes escalated to the point of violence as the factions created and then mobilized political alliances that transcended Indian and municipal politics in Izalco. During the previous decades, various community factions had established patron-client relations with potential allies among national politicians. In part this was a legacy of Izalco’s participation in the political and military alliances that had divided El Salvador since independence; in part it stemmed from the general acceptance of the national state’s land policies and from the community’s reliance on legal and clientelistic ties to resolve its conflicts. Because of these complications, the division of the lands of Dolores extended over five presidential administrations. And with each presidential succession came new possibilities for alliances, delays, or reversals.

Although the abolition of communal holdings was ordered in 1881, there is little documented evidence of any progress in the partition of Dolores Izalco’s lands before 1885. By then the community was already suffering from internal divisions relating to the partition. That same year, after a recent change in government, at least 131 male comuneros from Dolores sent a complaint to the new president, General Francisco Menéndez (1885-90).29 The authors accused Simeón Morán, the Indian comunero who during the previous presidential administration had been elected by community leaders to partition community lands, of seriously abusing his position and of failing to complete his mandate. According to their complaint, Morán had embezzled money from “collections” he had made and from lands he had sold to outsiders. The petition noted the indifference of officials toward the local communities during the administration of the previous president, Doctor Rafael Zaldívar (1876-85), including the hostility of General Hipólito Belloso, who had been governor of Sonsonate, toward these same communities. Some petitioners complained of having been jailed for denouncing abuses.30

The Indian petition to President Menéndez reflected previously established political alliances. In 1885 a combination of popular revolts, factional mobilizations, and an invasion by Guatemala led to the overthrow of Zaldívar, whose regime had lasted nine years. When Guatemalan president Justo Rufino Barrios attacked El Salvador on April 1, 1885, with the aim of toppling Zaldívar’s government, his massive forces took the towns of Chalchuapa and Santa Ana, located between Izalco and the Guatemalan border, with the support of 500 Salvadoran militia men, mostly Indian peasants from El Volcán de Santa Ana, Nahuizalco, and Atiquizaya.31 These comuneros were in effect allied with prominent western liberals and landowners such as General Francisco Menéndez, Rafael Meza, Rosa Pacas, and Manuel Pacas, all of whom supported the overthrow of Zaldívar. While Indian comuneros fought against Zaldívar, the ladino elite that controlled Izalco’s municipal government supported the president’s rule and formed their own alliances with other supporters from outside the region.32 In the extensive fighting that ensued, parts of Izalco itself were attacked by General Figueroa, a Zaldívar supporter whose troops robbed and raped a number of Izalco Indians.33

After Menéndez had replaced Zaldívar as president, the Indians of Izalco began to test the new political waters, hoping to tilt the local balance of power in their favor by consolidating their alliances with the new national coalitions. The new departmental governor, receptive of the comuneros’ complaint against Morán, relieved him of his position and began judicial proceedings against him.34 However, after four years as administrator, Morán had left a bitter legacy of divisions and conflict that would only deepen as the partition process proceeded.

Following Morán’s removal, community leaders elected Francisco Punche to continue with the partition of their land, but his efforts did not fare well either. Soon after his election in 1886, Punche, an Indian, was threatened with arrest as a result of complaints that community members had sent to the governor.35 In 1887 about 75 comuneros lodged an additional complaint, requesting the removal of the new Indian partidor y administrador, Francisco Correa, who had succeeded Punche. They accused him of crimes similar to those that had been attributed to Morán: selling off communal lands for low prices, demanding contributions in cash and grain from comuneros, and embezzling community funds. These discontented comuneros, including some who had in fact voted for Correa, accused him of enriching himself at their expense. Correa defended himself before the governor, explaining that the community was divided, and that those who opposed him were looking for any excuse to remove him. The true reason for the complainants’ opposition, he asserted, was that he would not assign them additional lands after they had sold their initial lots to outsiders. He offered substantial proof that the sale of plots to ladinos had been made according to the legal procedures of the partition, for appropriate amounts of money, and that the revenues had gone toward paying a surveyor and his assistant. He also pointed out that many of the signatures on the complaint against him were falsified, since among them was the signature of his own aide, whom he knew with certainty had not signed the petition.36 As a result of these conflicts, by the late 1880s the community was hopelessly divided. Although it is not always possible to precisely identify who did what to whom, the repeated clashes make it clear that the problem was not simply caused by the character or personal ambitions of the various partidores. Instead, what emerges is a process of complex political positioning and repositioning by groups of comuneros in which any long-standing sense of communal solidarity fell apart.

The election of a new partidor y administrador in 1889 provides farther evidence of the conflicts and tensions within Dolores. Like the election of administrators before the legal abolition of communities, this election was supervised by the local mayor. He found that one community faction had excluded a large number of Indians from the official list of community members.37 The governor noted that his efforts to conciliate the two factions by electing a neutral person had failed. Because of this failure and the endemic problems in Dolores, he called on the National Assembly to reverse the law that had privatized communal lands, “since under the current law to try to partition communities is to create a threat to public order.”38 That same year the governor reported to the Ministry of the Interior that the elected administrators usually did not dedicate themselves to assigning lands, but instead involved themselves in quarrelsome affairs that only delayed the partitioning and exacerbated community divisions.39 By this time tensions were so high that armed comuneros were holding late-night meetings in the countryside.40 By 1891, ten years of conflict had resulted in a community that had virtually ceased to function. The selling of the assembly house that had once been used for community meetings, “because the large meetings of before are no longer held,” was a clear signal that internal cohesion and solidarity were in decline.41

Luciano Argueta, who served as the partidor y administrador of Dolores from 1890 to 1895, was more circumspect than previous administrators, and before he proceeded to divide the land, he compiled a list of 266 mostly male comuneros who were entitled to receive titled plots.42 The governor ordered Argueta to add many more names to the list, resulting in a total of 491 comuneros.43 Despite these advances, however, the community still failed to allot the required amount of lands, even after an 1891 decree that established national guidelines and a timetable for a new partitioning and titling of communal lands. That year a change in government again provided an opportunity to resolve the issue, when General Carlos Ezeta (1891-94), with some Indian support, overthrew Menéndez’s increasingly unpopular and repressive government. By allowing communities more generous terms and greater time to partition their lands, Ezeta provided peasants with an opportunity to solve their pending land disputes without losing their claims in the legal limbo of the late 1880s. To take advantage of this decree, the community of Dolores needed to secure a new surveyor, something they failed to do within the allotted time because, so they claimed, they lacked the funds. Attempts by the Ezeta regime to gain support in the countryside, especially in the west, gave local factions the idea that they need not hurry to finish partitioning their land. By the early 1890s, a stalemate acceptable to all sides seems to have been reached.

Following another change in presidents in 1895, when General Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez (1895-98) took office, the conflicts again heated up. The former partidor Simeón Morán and 150 other comuneros signed a petition requesting that a June 1, 1895, decree allowing the nearby Indian community of Asunción more time to partition their land be extended to cover Dolores as well.44 Morán’s faction requested and received governmental support to name a surveyor and continue with the partition.45 As a result of this new initiative, Morán asked the recently elected governor to nullify the partition of communal lands that Argueta had carried out in an area known as Rincón del Tigre.46 Another group submitted a counterpetition, signed by 120 comuneros, that accused Morán of having continued to assign lands “to his people” without authorization. This group, which claimed to represent “the majority of the comuneros,” demanded that Argueta (still legally the administrator) be allowed to work with a surveyor and continue to partition not only unoccupied lands, but those being litigated by Morán as well.47

Tensions heightened when a large group requested titles to communal land that they had previously been assigned but to which many had never received the appropriate documentation. Morán convinced 100 of these comuneros to file a complaint against Argueta in which they accused him of having sold off large portions of the community’s idle lands and of harassing those who had already possessed plots simply because they did not have titles.48 This complaint was followed by a more extensive one in 1896. This time Morán and 60 comuneros, who asserted that they had legal title to their holdings, charged Argueta with having surreptitiously sold about four caballerias (180 hectares) of land to General Abraham Castillo Mora, a speculator and regional strongman, in such a way so that it appeared that the title-holders themselves had sold him these parcels. They also alleged that Argueta then transferred 500 tareas (22 hectares) of their lands to Eliseo Godines, a ladino who worked as secretary to the local judge, by registering the title under the name of Godines’s aide. In addition, Argueta was accused of feigning the sale of two other plots of 1,000 and 600 tareas (44 and 26.4 hectares, respectively). The aggrieved comuneros claimed that they had been threatened with jail by Godines, “who given his position does whatever he desires.” Given that the governor of Sonsonate who held their titles would not return them, the comuneros sought justice at a higher level, taking their claim directly to the president.49

In the mayor’s follow-up report to the president in regard to this complaint, he reported that most of the people whose names appeared in the document presented by Morán had disavowed their signatures. The two comuneros who acknowledged having “given authority to the plebe to complain to the president of the Republic,” said that they were opposed to General Carlos Zepeda, a ladino speculator, and not to Argueta. Moreover, they mentioned that the president had already solved their land problem one year earlier.50 To add to the confusion, Zepeda’s name also appeared on Morán’s petition. Another comunero who denied having signed the petition revealed that he had in fact received his lands from Morán 15 years previously and had no complaints. The only irregularity mentioned in the follow-up report was that one comunero had sold 500 tareas (22 hectares) when he only had rights to 200. Moreover, if comuneros had indeed sold four caballerías to General Castillo Mora, the transaction was perforce illegal, given that parcels of this size could never have been possessed and titled in the first place.51 Godines went far in defending his reputation, offering in evidence the titles to lands he had previously purchased from comuneros, and claiming his right to expel those who laid claim to his lands. Yet at least one of those he had expelled also had his own title for some of the disputed 500 tareas. The mayor warned the ministry that there were certain ladinos who made a living by exploiting the presumed ignorance of the Indians, “making them believe that by presenting four lies to the executive, he is going to give them back the same lots that these very same unfortunate individuals had sold in the past, perhaps even following the dictates of their own leaders.”52

Ten years after Morán was removed as partidor, complaints against him continued to mount. In 1896 a comunera wrote to the governor, accusing Morán of having given her lands to others. She also made a broader claim against Morán when she asserted that “many people have relied on Simeón Morán to acquire titles based on time-honored possession and he is arbitrarily charging money for these transactions . . . [he demands] so much that Linares Recinos was charged 150 pesos for his title, but he refused to pay and they did not put him on the list [of those who were to receive titles]. As this is a criminal abuse and fraud, I denounce him before your authority.”53

Finally, in 1897 President Gutiérrez issued a decree conceding that part of the partition carried out by Morán was invalid. The decree allowed for the legal certification of incomplete titles that had been granted before 1897 and made provisions for comuneros who had been excluded from the initial allotments carried out by Morán. As of August 1897, 248 comuneros had been granted titles based on land assignments that Morán had made years earlier. The size of their parcels ranged from 4 to 28 manzanas (2.8 to 19.6 hectares) and averaged about 6.7 manzanas (4.7 hectares).54 Those comuneros who possessed untitled parcels could now legalize their holdings. The government also reversed a section of the 1891 decree according to which land that had not been titled or partitioned would revert to the state if not titled within six months. Under the 1897 decree, all unpartitioned land was ceded to the comuneros so that they might distribute it to the landless. This decree also allowed for some of these lands to be sold to outsiders in order to pay for expenses. As another fund-raising measure, individual comuneros would have to pay the governor two pesos to acquire individual titles. The decree appointed Carlos Zimmerman, a government surveyor, to survey community lands and complete the partition.55 At long last it seemed that the community of Dolores would be able to divide its remaining lands and provide all comuneros with appropriate titles.

Not surprisingly, Zimmerman encountered myriad problems when he attempted to survey and distribute the community’s remaining lands. Not the least was opposition from Morán. Soon after he began the survey, Zimmerman complained to the governor that Morán would not hand over the titles to the communal lands. Indeed, Morán was so intent on keeping the titles in his possession that he even hired a legal adviser to help him. To complete his survey, therefore, Zimmerman was forced to rely on lists held by the governor that identified those comuneros who had received land but who had no title, as well as those who had no land at all.56 Making sense of all previous partitions, allocations, titles, and registry books was a complicated task. Zimmerman found that Morán had given land and title to 299 comuneros. Another 213 appeared in previous ledgers as having land but no legal title, while an additional 384 appeared as having no lands at all (even though they undoubtedly possessed lands that they had not officially received). Morán protested against the redistribution and even accused the mayor of trying to take his land and give it to others. In response, the mayor reminded the minister that Morán had been removed from office, tried, and even jailed for his irregular administration of community lands between 1881 and 1886. He also mentioned a list of illegal titles that Morán had issued and that were held by the governor; he requested that these titles not be confirmed.57

In addition to extensive internal problems over the partition of its lands, the community of Dolores faced numerous external problems. Difficulties with ladino entrepreneurs and neighboring peasant communities contributed to the conflicts and the eventual outbreak of violence. Anticipating that his attempt to set boundaries would be opposed by neighboring landholders, Zimmerman prudently asked the community elders of Dolores and all ex-partidores to accompany him in his boundary survey. One of the most potentially violent disputes involved the border with Nahuizalco, an adjoining Indian community and municipality that had a long history of conflicts with both Dolores and Asunción. For example, in 1893 a group of Izalco peasants were harassed by an armed “gang” from Nahuizalco. Izalco’s mayor complained to the governor and asked him to order the mayor of Nahuizalco to end the harassment.58 Fearing that the presence of all 600 comuneros from Dolores would provoke a confrontation, Zimmerman asked the governor to assign 30 soldiers to assist him in surveying the border with Nahuizalco.59 Even well after the survey, in 1899, peasants from Nahuizalco would continue to contest Izalco’s claims by invading lands along the border and asserting that instead of honoring titles or recognizing the courts, “they would fix everything with their machetes.”60

In addition to the problems brought about by conflict with Nahuizalco, there were other difficulties. Some neighboring hacendados as well as leaders of other communities refused to participate in the survey. For example, at first the representatives of the bordering community of El Volcán de Santa Ana did not show up, nor did Emilio Araujo, owner of the hacienda of El Sunza.61 Araujo refused to recognize Zimmerman’s right to set the boundary, and asserted that a previous inspection ordered by the Juzgado General de Hacienda had reviewed the communal titles of Dolores when it established the existing border.62 All of these obstacles caused considerable delays. To make matters worse, Zimmerman died before he could complete the survey and, despite various requests by community leaders, the government did not replace him. With Zimmerman’s death any hopes for a negotiated solution to the land disputes among the comunero factions of Dolores dwindled; as a result, a significant portion of its land was left in the possession of many ladino peasants and farmers from neighboring municipalities. As the community’s internal divisions grew, it only became easier for aggressive neighbors to seize more portions of the community’s lands.

Previous to these disputes, dozens of farmers from the region had rented community land and built up valuable commercial farms. But it was not only neighboring landowners who were interested in contesting Indian interpretations of boundary markers or survey maps; local officials, lawyers, and military officers also attempted to take advantage of the partition of community land by both fomenting and taking part in the internal disputes. Well before 1880, the ladino presence in Dolores had been established, not only after decades of interethnic competition over land rights and local power, but also as the result of Indian-ladino collaboration in municipal government as well as Indian participation in commercial agriculture. Thus well before the partition process began, ladino peasants, farmers, and officials had established a presence in the community life of Dolores. These included some farmers and hacendados from the municipalities of Izalco and Sonsonate who rented community land, such as Benigno Barrientos, Domingo Arce, Wenceslao Herrera, and General Carlos Zepeda.63 In 1889 the partidor y administrador of Dolores received permission from the Ministerio de Gobernación to expel these tenants from community lands. But some of them continued to press claims for the lands they occupied and in all likelihood remained in possession of their farms after the partition had been completed.64 Typical of these men was Ruperto Machado, a local farmer who was said to be a lawyer. He represented Dolores as its scribe (escribiente) and benefited from Morán’s questionable practices.65 In 1885 Morán paid Machado 4,200 pesos for representing the community in legal proceedings in San Salvador, and he was later accused of having improperly granted Machado title to at least two caballerías of land as part of this deal.66 Machado defended his rights by claiming that he had not obtained the land from Morán, and that his 1880 lease of these lands had in fact constituted a sale. Like many other ladino tenants, Machado used his de facto possession of rented lands as a basis for claiming legal title. In the confusion and constant disputes over the privatization process, men like Machado and other tenants, including the mayor himself, most likely remained in control of at least portions of the lands they had been renting.67

General Castillo Mora was one of the few outsiders who actively and openly speculated in claims to communal lands in Dolores.68 He “purchased” four caballerías for 4,200 pesos; and although he claimed that he had bought the land from four comuneros, it appears much more likely that it had been given to him by Luciano Argueta, who at the time of the acquisition was partidor of the community of Dolores. To avoid losing his holdings with no compensation at all, Castillo Mora had to request assistance from the national government because a group of peasants from the nearby ladino community of El Volcán de Santa Ana had invaded his property, distributed it among themselves, and had then begun to clear and plant the land. With his holdings both occupied and surrounded by hostile peasants, therefore, Castillo Mora was ironically forced to ask the government to buy his lands, which would then be “granted” to the “usurpers.”69 The government’s legal adviser who reviewed this case decided that such a procedure would be unconstitutional, and suggested that Castillo Mora be advised to take his case to the courts.

Another speculator, General Carlos Zepeda, had more success in obtaining state assistance in a similar situation involving other nearby plots.70 Zepeda was among the tenants who had attempted—and apparently succeeded—to title the community lands he had leased, but for which he had not paid rent since 1880.71 The lands had been taken over by peasants from both Izalco and Nahuizalco. Like Castillo Mora, Zepeda probably had little chance of ever regaining control of these lands. In part to resolve the conflict, but mostly as a way of rewarding the indígenas of Nahuizalco, who provided important militia services to the state, in 1899 the government paid Zepeda 30,000 pesos in government bonds for six caballerías (270 hectares) of land. The documents drawn up for the sale failed to mention that Zepeda had been a tenant of Dolores, and this fact was probably unknown to both the surveyor and local government officials. The Indians themselves were perhaps unaware of the exact terms of the transaction, although they probably would not have been overly concerned that the government had effectively bribed Zepeda in order to give them legal title to their land.

The parcels in question, located at a place known as Los Cuilotales, were at first thought to be within the community of Nahuizalco. But later they were found to be occupied by residents of both Dolores and Nahuizalco, the precise boundary having been left open to local interpretation.72 The municipalities of both Nahuizalco and Izalco had given out title to many of the peasants who had taken possession of the lands that Zepeda had leased. Other peasants, from Dolores, had received their documents in the partition carried out by Morán, who allegedly issued titles from his house, without even visiting the plots to see if previous possession had indeed been established. When the land bought from Zepeda was surveyed, some adjacent lands were found to be held by peasants who did not benefit from the government purchase and titling; other nearby plots were in fallow and unoccupied. The surveyor measured and titled a total of 55 plots, an effort that the indígenas received “with joy.”73 But when he reached the purchase size of six caballerías, he abruptly stopped, leaving unsurveyed (and hence untitled) 50 possessed plots.

In sum, the partition of the community lands of Dolores became a complex struggle involving internal and external actors in a competition that did not always follow predictable lines. But as the Indian peasants of Dolores struggled to retain some control over the process, the political alliances of their factional leaders became an important component of the struggle. The longstanding entanglements of the residents of Dolores in regional and national political struggles only made the internal process of partitioning more conflictive and unpredictable, culminating in the violent confrontation of 1898.

The 1898 Revolt and Local and National Politics

It is evident that when factional strife in Dolores exploded into violence in 1898, the long and bitter dispute for control over the privatization of community lands was preeminent among the causes. But it would be a mistake to attempt to interpret this intracommunity violence (which was later perceived as a conflict between Indian peasants and ladino judges) without taking into consideration either the political alignments of the factions that faced off that year or local perceptions of the confrontation. Indeed, it was not simply a coincidence that the 1898 confrontation took place on the same night that the government of President Gutiérrez was overthrown by General Tomás Regalado.74 The alliances forged by factions within the community of Dolores extended far beyond the boundaries of local politics and tied the fate of both sides to the success or failure of national political alliances. The Indian factions within Dolores had much to gain from aligning themselves with and supporting national political and military leaders in their quest for executive power. Without a discussion of the links between the comuneros of Dolores and outside political factions and the state, the story of this village’s divisive history up to the violence of 1898 would remain incomplete. It is therefore necessary to understand the connections between communities such as this one and the military men struggling for control of the national state. The factional and clientelistic basis of national politics in nineteenth-century El Salvador meant that political leaders, including military officers, had to develop power bases that combined corporate, ethnic, personalist, ideological, regional, national, and even extranational ties and alliances. Since the 1820s, Indians from Izalco had established important precedents by participating in the wars and statewide politics that characterized nation-state formation in El Salvador. These alliances ranged from support for Guatemala’s frequent invasions of western El Salvador to participation in efforts to remove presidents from power. In the period just before the 1898 revolt, Indian militias from Izalco had participated in the successful overthrows of Presidents Zaldívar (1885) and Ezeta (1894).75 In many cases military units identified with and were loyal to their place of origin and were likely to reflect the political affiliations of their home bases.76 Often these very same militias mobilized, either independently or in alliance with other forces, as most likely occurred during the violence of 1898. The militia experience of peasants from Dolores is indicated by the fact that the leaders of the opposition to Morán signaled their attack with a trumpet.

The ability of peasants and their communities in western El Salvador either to act in autonomous uprisings or as allies of national political factions rested upon a variety of factors. Because of its proximity to the Guatemalan border, the western region had always been of strategic importance, as both the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments competed there for support. Indians were also the favored recruits for El Salvador’s army and militia units, a fact that gave indigenous communities some bargaining leverage, despite the fact that Indians were often forcibly pressed into service.77 Indian militias, aware of their strategic importance to national factions, used this to extract favors from government authorities, giving them an advantage over other communities or even over competing groups within their own communities. Within Dolores, comunero support for one or another national faction did not necessarily imply adherence to the ideological or political goals of particular leaders or groups. Rather, the numerous petitions to regional and national authorities regarding internal land disputes suggests that comunero factions offered political and military support more with the expectation that they would receive a favorable hearing of future claims than because of any ideological commitment. This was likely the reason behind Morán’s support of General Tomás Regalado, who rose to power and became the provisional president in 1898. Morán’s power had been curtailed under President Gutierrez, whose administration supported the partitioning efforts of Argueta and Zimmerman. Unfortunately for Morán, his family members, and associates, they were not allowed to enjoy the fruits of their alliance with the victorious Regalado.

Regalado was a local military officer who contended for national power. In 1894 he participated in the overthrow of President Ezeta, and he expected, though he did not receive, the presidency.78 As was typical of presidential transitions during the nineteenth century, Regalado’s revolt against President Gutiérrez incited divisive conflict not only in Izalco, but throughout the country. In many towns ethnic tensions worsened as Indians and ladinos aligned with or against the new government.79 After the fighting Regalado seized the presidency, which he usurped in hastily called and fraudulent elections, thus provoking renewed military and popular opposition to his government.80 But for those in western El Salvador, Regalado was not simply another general vying for national power; he was also a local landowner who resided in the city of Santa Ana and who owned a hacienda in Izalco.81 When Morán and his associates aligned themselves with Regalado they mobilized networks of political alliances that for years had tied Izalco’s factions to different elite contenders for power.

Those close to the events of 1898 highlighted the political nature of the confrontation. One account, written soon after the events by a parish priest from Cojutepeque, attributed the violence to competition among national political factions. “The Indians of Izalco,” he said, “numbering about 200, took advantage of the lack of a garrison . . . [and] began to break down doors and burn the archive; and there was a fight between them and a few Regalistas who were heading toward Santa Ana, which resulted in about ten or twelve dead and many wounded.”82 A few years later, the governor of the department of Sonsonate reinforced this view when he explained, in a manner typical of ladinos when referring to Indian violence, that the events were the result of outsiders who exploited Indian ignorance. The governor’s account emphasized that the attack had targeted supporters of General Regalado’s bid for presidential power and, perhaps given this change in focus, the victims had now become ladino:

a mob of Indians of an opposing band headed out to cut off a large number of ladinos who were heading to San Salvador to join the forces of General Regalado as a result of the political events of that year that brought him to power; an encounter [took place] that left several people dead and wounded, demonstrating the tragic consequences of the spirit of party affiliation when inculcated in the ignorant masses, who without hesitation set out to commit criminal acts, only for individual [leaders], without following any personal ideals that could bring them any advantage.83

But the category of ladino itself was fluid, for both outsiders and the comuneros of Dolores. Thus, for many of them Morán and his faction quickly became ladinos. Just two years after the 1898 confrontation a group of indígenas who complained to the national government of the many abuses they had suffered at the hands of ladinos, and whose lands were the “object of their excessive greed,” remembered Morán and his allies as ladinos who had been killed for taking away their lands.84 In the minds of these comuneros, Indians became ladinos when they acted like ladinos, and thus they stripped away Morán’s ethnic identity with a polarized and politicized definition of Indianness. By aligning himself in the land struggle with the faction that was perhaps more closely tied to ladino forces outside of Dolores, Morán and his supporters had broken with their Indian identity and opened themselves up to being censured and labeled as ladinos.85 Nevertheless, the local factions cut across class and ethnic lines. Indians and ladinos, as well as community leaders and entrepreneurs, often found themselves on the same side during this confrontation, which until now has been understood as having pitted Indian peasants against ladino agents of the liberal state. For example, among those who attacked Morán was Pedro Bolaños, a community leader who initiated many of the complaints and petitions over land. Bolaños also led the opposition to the titling of plots by the mayor of Izalco and he had hidden the community’s land titles. The cross-class and interethnic nature of the struggle is exemplified by the fact that siding with the Indian leader Bolaños was Calixto Vega, a ladino who was one of Izalco’s more successful landowners and commercial entrepreneurs.86

After 1898, factional leaders continued to petition the government over the partition of community lands, but there were no significant changes. For example, in 1900 a total of 50 comuneros from both of Izalco’s indigenous communities asked the National Assembly to resurvey the borders of their former communal lands. The petitioners did not mention the long history of intracommunity conflict and wrote as if the lands had remained intact and undivided, when in fact most plots had been held privately for years. The National Assembly forwarded the request to the president’s office without any apparent result. Again in 1903, Bolaños and his supporters petitioned the recently inaugurated president, General Pedro José Escalón (1903-7), for a new survey and partition. They denied that they were quarrelsome, or that they wanted to recover their ancient communal lands by dislodging neighboring hacendados; what they wanted, they claimed, was “justice.” This group of Indians promised Escalón that if he supported them they would become his “faithful supporters” and stand next to him in defending liberty. The group included 30 people who identified themselves as members of the “former community of indígenas.” This time the dossier (which did find its way into the president’s office) narrated the procedures and problems of the preceding years, including Zimmerman’s efforts to reestablish village boundaries.87

Although the pleas of local Indians to the national government to reopen the partition of lands fell on deaf ears, the mayor of Izalco reinitiated the partition by starting to title existing plots. This effort, however, still reflected the continuing divisions within the local Indian population. The mayor hoped to complete Zimmerman’s work, and to do so he made use of a map and list that the surveyor had made. The material showed the plots possessed by the 303 comuneros titled by Morán, the land of 213 comuneros who had been left without title, and the possessions of 82 non-comunero tenants who had not paid rent since 1882; Zimmerman’s material also listed the 384 individuals who had received neither land nor title.88 In response to the mayor’s actions, a group of comuneros led by Bolaños, and claiming to be acting as representatives of the community, asked the governor to enjoin the mayor from distributing titles to others, although at the same time they requested that their own holdings be given legal title. The mayor defended his actions by explaining that it was the only way to resolve the great confusion of claims and that he was not selling plots but only providing titles to existing holders. Some of the current holders, he asserted, had been harassed and intimidated by the complainants, whom the mayor accused of redistributing lands that had already been partitioned and titled. They had acted in concert with armed comuneros and had provoked “judicial disputes and disagreements” within the village. The governor sided with the mayor and accepted his explanation of his actions and his opposition to Bolaños.

Nevertheless, Bolaños and his followers continued to ask the national government to intervene. In 1904 they again petitioned for the orderly distribution of whatever communal lands might still remain unassigned. They requested that a surveyor be appointed to serve as partidor y administrador in order to resolve pending matters and represent “a [legally] abolished society in the process of being liquidated.”89 This time they accompanied their petition with a long account of the conflicts in Dolores and of the “thievery” of previous partidores who had distributed the lands in a most inequitable manner. They recalled the difficulties they had encountered over lands that bordered on neighboring haciendas, and they described how most of the 80 ladino tenants who had farmed community lands before 1881 had attempted to title the lands they rented. Bolaños claimed that he had respected Morán’s partition as long as no disputes emerged. In response to this petition, the National Assembly asked the president to commission a new outside partidor, as Bolaños and his followers had requested.90 The results of this decision remain a mystery, although any revision of extant arrangements was unlikely after decades of possession and occupation by indígenas and ladinos alike. Most of the complex changes of the previous 20 years were irreversible. A few years later the community of Dolores ceased to appear in Izalco’s documentary record.

Although there are few sources that provide information on the links between Izalco and national factional leaders, the 1898 “revolt” reveals an important connection between the locally grounded context of Izalco’s Indian politics and the development of national politics.91 As the twentieth century began, most of Dolores’s comuneros were able to retain access to and continue farming parcels that had previously belonged to their community. But the partition process itself, filtered through a community whose ethnic solidarity had become compromised by commercial, ethnic, and political networks, also weakened the internal cohesion of the community. Despite the rhetorical flourishes by leaders who called for justice and fairness, all of the identifiable groups within Dolores seem to have behaved in a similar conflictive and competitive fashion, although all managed to obtain the support of a significant number of comuneros. In the end, privatization only served to reinforce the emerging differentiation within both ladino and Indian peasant groups, while allowing various factional leaders and their closest allies to benefit unequally from the distribution of land and the sale of lots.


In land-wealthy communities like Dolores, in which intense ethnic rivalries, expanding commercial agriculture, and important political alliances had already created a complex maze of interests and alliances, the privatization of land hastened the weakening of indigenous solidarity. Indigenous communal organization and identity suffered from the subordinate position of Indians in relation to emerging ladino commercial and landowning elites. But this did not always occur in a straightforward fashion. The partitioning process exacerbated existing resentments toward ladinos of all classes, although it also encouraged alliances between community factions and ladino entrepreneurs and political actors (including military officers).92 The decades-old links of Izalco’s Indian communities to larger commercial networks and political alliances had already set the stage for the conflicts that emerged during the privatization process. The personal and kinship ties necessary for any form of communal cohesion could not be easily maintained given the increasing number of community members, the fixed resource base, the external pressures, and the nature of political alliances forged during the 1880s and 1890s.

Although the privatization of community lands in Izalco created a landed peasantry, it also led to competitive and conflictive land distribution among community factions. At the same time, privatization reactivated and heightened conflicts with bordering haciendas and peasant communities while inviting the participation of ladino peasants and elites, who both arbitrated and took advantage of the complex maze of indigenous claims and counterclaims. The privatization of communal lands debilitated the Indian communities of Izalco. This eventually led to the disintegration of what was left of the community of Dolores during the early twentieth century. By 1932 there was nothing left of this once prosperous Indian community, which by then had become identified merely as a ladino barrio.93

While we should be careful not to generalize from the experience of Dolores, many other Indian communities in El Salvador did indeed experience similar internal crises when faced with the privatization of their corporate lands. Repeatedly, the commercial networks and political alliances that these communities maintained with regional and national society were crucial in determining how land was distributed and whether ethnic or corporate solidarity survived. The partition process fostered endemic conflict among comuneros and weakened their ability to compete (or negotiate) with ladinos for control over local resources and power. But conflicts over privatization also demonstrated that the internal solidarity of Izalco’s Indian communities had already been weakened. This should force us to reconsider the idea that Indian peasant communities of the nineteenth century retained the politically autonomous character they had during the colonial period. By the late nineteenth century, decades of change had already tied these communities to larger political struggles and a new commercial economy that involved new markets and entrepreneurs. This laid the foundations for potential challenges to the stability of hierarchies and ideologies internal to the community.94

After suffering through the conflictive process of privatization, the Indian peasants of Izalco could not always count on community solidarity in their efforts to organize in defense of their interests. For centuries the Indian community of Asunción had relied upon its internal organization to see to it that the subsistence needs of its members were met. But after privatization, the community—damaged by its own divisions and conflicts—would organize around a more abstract principle: a sense of identity based more on kinship and political ties than on land ownership. A reduced core of indígenas based in Asunción continued to identify themselves as members of an Indian community, even after the conflicts of the turn of the century and the dissolution of the communally controlled lands and resources that had formed the basis of Izalco communities for over two centuries. Until at least the 1920s, Asunción continued to elect an Indian alcalde and regidores and identify itself as a comunidad.95 Yet their position within the larger political economy of the region had changed drastically, and within their own municipality they were now merely a minority group.96

The weakening and near dissolution of communal ties also undermined the ability of Izalco’s indigenous communities to act politically as strong autonomous allies of larger elite-led factions. The weakening of the community facilitated the privatization of political power, reducing community life to a distorted, ritualized, and defensive function that became, by the 1920s, one more node in an emerging national political system based on patron-client relations and the mobilization of votes, but not militias.97 During the first decades of the twentieth century, community organization in Asunción provided a means of generating Indian electoral support for presidential candidates. But the possibility of autonomous military and political mobilization had been eliminated. It was not until 1931 and 1932, in a vastly changed context, that Izalco’s indigenous leaders would again independently mobilize, this time in a failed alliance with communist leaders.

Observers of Salvadoran history have often likened this country to Guatemala in their attempt to link the social origins of twentieth-century authoritarianism in both countries to coercive forms of labor recruitment or oligarchic landholding patterns.98 At the heart of these arguments lies an emphasis on the emergence of an oligarchic elite that dispossessed the country’s peasantry during the late nineteenth century. The repressive conditions in the countryside have been seen as going hand in hand with what are considered typically Salvadoran and Guatemalan forms of twentieth-century “reactionary despotism.” Yet these interpretations run against some of the evidence that has emerged from empirical studies of local agrarian society in these countries.

This includes research on the formation of landed peasantries and powerful middle sectors that seems to challenge the often-held view that the coffee oligarchy, landowning elites, and the national state possessed overwhelming power to transform national society.99

Interpretations of the January 1932 revolt that challenged the state’s control over much of western El Salvador have also emphasized either the massive dispossession and proletarianization of the western peasantry or the conflicts between Indians and terratenientes.100 Hóctor Pérez summarizes this perspective in a recent review of the events of 1931-32. In his view, “El Salvador became a showplace of well-kept coffee plantations, and the village Indians and mestizos lost their lands (owing to laws from 1881 and 1882 abolishing community-owned lands) to private ownership. . . . Thus the lines were drawn for a social and ideological conflict of huge proportions, between a growing mass of dispossessed peasants imbued with the tradition of common access to the land, and an elite class of entrepreneurs who, together with the government, were bent on an almost unlimited expansion of agricultural exports.”101

Pérez suggests that the roots of the revolt can be found in the “dispossession” of landholding peasants and Indians that occurred 30 to 40 years earlier. In addition, he and others have stressed the role of community and ethnic solidarity in bringing about Indian mobilization during the 1931-32 revolt. Accordingly, the defense of community—defined as a singular interest—was a principal motivating force for the alliance between Indians and communists that drove the revolt.102 But most explanations of these events depart from the assumption of a polarized countryside in which landless workers and Indians confronted “junker” landlords or oligarchs, who are assumed to have dominated the social, economic, and political life of rural El Salvador since at least the 1880s.103 These accounts of the late-nineteenth-century partition of Indian community lands and its impact on the peasantry in El Salvador have assumed that it led to the massive dispossession of peasants. They have characterized it as a land-grab led by coffee-producing elites who controlled the state.104 The Indian communities that had their lands privatized have often been presented as internally homogeneous, historically invariable institutions, composed either of victims of overwhelming external forces or of seething peasants waiting to explode in revolt.105

However, the story of the 1898 “revolt” told here—its origins and its results—calls into question the terms in which the experience of Indians in western El Salvador, at least in Izalco, has been framed by projecting backwards in time subsequent interpretations of later twentieth-century history. Besides emphasizing the loss of land and the proletarianization of Indian peasants, or the timeless, homogeneous sense of identity or cohesiveness of Indian communities, historians will need to consider the impact of internal differentiation and of Indians’ varying ties to ladino networks of power and wealth. The research presented here will hopefully add some depth and nuance to the discussions of the local origins of peasant political participation and revolt in El Salvador. A view of western El Salvador’s indigenous peasantry that does not take into account their own participation in the transformation of the region’s political economy remains one-sided and incomplete— no matter how contradictory the process or the results of their actions. The indígenas of Izalco—rarely acting as a single entity in the shifting arena of local politics—had little choice when it came to the creation of specific governmental agendas, but to a great extent they determined how these policies were carried out. Throughout the privatization process the peasants of El Salvador who identified themselves as indígenas continued to act upon their world in complex and contradictory forms, but certainly with more agency than has been attributed to them previously.

The research on which this article is based was supported by a Department of Education Fulbright Dissertation Fellowship, an SSRC Dissertation Research Fellowship, a Dorothy Danforth Compton Dissertation Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Minority Dissertation Fellowship. Faculty grants from the New School for Social Research and the College of the Holy Cross also assisted the organization of the research materials. I thank the anonymous reviewers who provided very useful comments and suggestions for the improvement of this article in its long journey to press. I also thank Jonathan Amith, Avi Chomsky, Jeff Gould, Lowell Gudmundson, Gil Joseph, Mark Szuchman, and especially Ingrid Vargas for their help and encouragement.


One recent survey summarizes this view: “The late nineteenth-century agrarian laws intensified the competition between subsistence and commercial farmers and created a large, permanent class of mobile, landless workers. The dislocating effects of these measures were so great that local peasant revolts broke out throughout the coffee-growing areas at periodic intervals during the final decades of the nineteenth century. The federal government responded to this rural violence by assigning ‘agricultural judges’ to regulate the movements of rural workers”; Shelton Davis, “Agrarian Structure and Ethnic Resistance: The Indian in Guatemalan and Salvadoran National Politics,” in Ethnicities and Nations: Processes of Interethnic Relations in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, ed. Remo Guidieri (Austin: Rothko Chapel, 1995), 87.


The term faction is useful because it implies a degree of political self-consciousness and organization that, I believe, the documents used here justify. It is also appropriate as the contemporary El Salvadoran term used to denote a political grouping that mobilizes for power or revolt.


Abelardo Torres, “More from This Land,” The Americas 14, no. 8 (1962): 9.


Studies of nineteenth-century Central America have sometimes tended to treat Indians as an unchanging vestige of the colonial period, passively waiting to succumb to ladinization, acculturation, and capitalism. Recent works on the politics of nineteenth-century Indian communities have begun to challenge this view. For Mexico, see Florencia E. Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1995); and Peter Guardino, Peasants, Politics, and the Formation of Mexico’s National State: Guerrero, 1800-1857 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996). For Nicaragua, see Jeffrey L. Gould, To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of Mestizaje, 1880–1965 (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1998); and for Guatemala, see David McCreery, Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1994).


For discussions of Izalco’s colonial history, see Murdo J. MacLeod, Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1520-7720 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1973) Pedro Antonio Escalante Arce, Códice Sonsonate, 2 vols. (San Salvador: Ministerio de Educatión, 1992); William R. Fowler Jr., “The Political Economy of Indian Survival in Sixteenth-Century Izalco, El Salvador,” in The Spanish Borderlands in Pan-American Perspective, ed. David Hurst Thomas (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991); and David Browning, El Salvador: Landscape and Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), chap. 3. The data on Izalco’s demographic history is from Lorenzo López, Estadística general de la República del Salvador (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1974); “Estadística parroquial Santa Ana,” Gaceta Oficial, Apr. 1862, p. 3; El Constitucional (San Salvador), 6 June 1867; Antonio Ipiña, “Estadística del departamento de Sonsonate, 1866,” reprinted in Boletín de la Dirección General de Estadística de la República de El Salvador 4, no. 2 (Mar. 1906); Rafael Barón Castro, La población de El Salvador (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1978); Manuel de Gálvez, “Relación geográfica de la provincia de El Salvador (1740),” Archivo General de la Nación, folleto no. 27 (1966), mimeo; and Pedro Cortés y Larraz, Descripción geográfico-moral de la diocesis de Goatbemala (Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala, 1958). During the mid-eighteenth century, most ladinos resided in Dolores Izalco; see Cortés y Larraz, Descripción geográfico-moral, 146.


See Cortés y Larraz, Descripción geogáfico-moral.


The 560 smaller units (farms and pastures) yield an average of about one unit for every three households, a result very similar to that found years later in 1926; see Ipiña, “Estadística del departamento de Sonsonate, 1866.”


In 1859 a total of 16% of Izalco’s male labor force was classified as jornaleros—the highest percentage of any town in western El Salvador. See Aldo Lauria-Santiago, An Agrarian Republic: Commercial Agriculture and the Politics of Peasant Communities in El Salvador, 1824-1918 (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1999), chap. 4. By 1896 Izalco s tax records listed 73% of the population as jornaleros; see “Nómina de individuos que deben contribuir al fondo de caminos en Izalco,” 28 June 1896, Archivo de la Gobernación de Sonsonate (hereafter AGS). While this represents a large increase in the number of wage workers, it should not be understood to mean that most of Izalco’s peasants had been fully proletarianized. Instead, it reflected the seasonal occupation of many peasants who continued to have access to their own land. Smallholding peasants also had a strong incentive to declare themselves jornaleros, since their public works tax would be lower.


Gustav Ferdinand von Tempsky Mitla: ANarrativeof Incidents and Personal Adventures on a Journey in Mexico, Guatemala, and Salvador in the Years 1853 to 1855 ed. J. S. Bell (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1858), 414. In 1895 Izalco had 9,100 residents; see Santiago I. Barbarena, Monografías departamentales: departamento de Sonsonate (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1910), 56.


“Sobre la recolección del emprestito asignado al distrito,” 19 Dec. 1846, Archivo General de la Nación de El Salvador, Colección Clasificados (hereafter AGN-CC), A3.13, exp. 14; “Que para llevar el emprestito forzoso de 15,000 pesos que debe recaudarse en todo el estado, la junta de Izalco le ha asignado 20 pesos a esa población . . .” 16 Dec. 1846, AGN-Colección Preclasificados (hereafter AGN-CPC); and, for a letter “pidiendo pago de la escolta necesaria para remitir a la capital a los renuentes a contribuir,” see Antonio Ipiña (Governor of Sonsonate) to Ministro de Hacienda y Guerra, 27 Feb. 1857, AGN-CPC.


Mrs. Foote, Recollections of Central America and the West Coast of Africa (London: T. Cautley Newby, 1869), 86.


In 1865 Izalco had over 200 small peasant-held farms on which a combination of coffee and plantains were cultivated. During this early period, the municipality did not develop any of the larger farms that were typical of coffee-producing centers such as Santa Ana, Chalchuapa, and Santa Tecla. Yet Izalco had more farms that produced coffee than most municipalities; Ipiña, “Estadística del departamento de Sonsonate, 1866.”


Nicolás Barrera (Alcalde of Izalco) to Governor of Sonsonate, report, 12 Dec. 1892, AGN-Colección Gobernaciones-Sonsonate (hereafter AGN-CG-SO). This level of production required roughly 280 hectares of land and was distributed among 195 producers; El Salvador, Memoria presentada por el Ministro de Gobemación, Guerra y Marina Doctor Domingo Jiménez a la Asamblea National (1892) (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1893), 62.


Emilio Araujo was the father of President Arturo Araujo, who was overthrown in the December 1931 coup that preceded the January 1932 revolt. All accounts of the 1932 revolt have failed to notice that the Araujo family was the largest landowner and employer of wage labor in Izalco. In 1910 El Sunza produced 36,000 quintals of sugar and its hacienda de beneficio processed 15-16,000 quintals of coffee. It also held around 1,000 head of cattle; see Barbarena, Monografías departamentales: departamento de Sonsonate, 55.


These farms held 200 manzanas (1 manzana equals 0.7 hectares) and produced 40,000 pesos worth of sugar. Nicolás Barrera (Alcalde of Izalco) to Governor of Sonsonate, report, 12 Dec. 1892, AGN-CG-SO.


The smallholding character of much coffee production and other agricultural activities survived at least until the 1950s, when Richard Adams visited the region. See Richard N. Adams, Cultural Surveys of Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras (Washington, D.C.: Pan American Sanitary Bureau, 1957), 509.


Izalco’s population remained stable between the late eighteenth century (5,305 in 1768 and 6,879 in 1807) and the mid-nineteenth century (7,400 in 1858). By 1895 it had increased to around 9,000, half of whom were Indians. However, this represented a net loss of Indian population since the late eighteenth century, when the entire population was Indian. In total, Izalco’s two Indian communities comprised about 1,200 households around the time of privatization.


On communal control of irrigation and water resources, see Cruz Shupan, “Administrador y juez de la comunidad de Asunción Izalco solicita al gobernador prevenga al señor alcalde municipal se abstenga . . .,” 26 Nov. 1891, AGS. Except for a conflict in 1852, the two communities had amicable relations that included agreements on the separation of their lands; López, Estadística general.


“Documentación de la solicitud de las comunas de Dolores y Asunción Izalco para que se les entregaran las listas de las personas que deben pagar canón,” 1870, AGS.


Community landholding in El Salvador had its roots in the colonial period. During the late colonial era, Izalco’s small Indian population took advantage of the crown’s protection and preferential treatment by titling a significant number of caballerías. They sought control of extensive lands surrounding their towns not only to keep the cattle of ladinos away from their crops but also to preempt ladino and Spanish settlers from establishing claims to local authority or municipal power; “Testimonio de los títulos ejidales y communales de Izalco,” 1878, AGN-CG-SO. For a revealing document on Indian attempts to exclude ladinos from participating in their local polities, see “Informe que el secretario de relaciones hace a la Nación de orden del Presidente de la República, sobre la conducta del Licenciado Nicolás Espinosa, Gefe del Estado del Salvador,” Archivo Nacional de Costa Rica, Sectión Federal, exp. 384. In 1820 a small group of ladinos stated a claim for some of the municipality’s lands for grazing their cattle. They protested to the local authorities in the city of Sonsonate that the Indians of Izalco had been allowed to entirely exclude ladinos from the town’s common lands. These conflicts date to at least the late colonial period. See, for example, “Los ladinos de ambos Izalcos sobre que se les asignen algunas tierras de las de los comunes de indígenas,” 1820, AGN, Colección Alcaldías, Sonsonate. During the earlier colonial period it had been crown policy to exclude non-Indians from the Indian towns—the nearby city of Sonsonate was founded to segregate whites and ladinos from the surrounding Indian tributaries. In 1768 Izalco had 5,305 residents and in 1796 about 1,000 tributarios (adult nonexempt tax-paying men); see Cortés y Larraz, Desaipción geográfico-moral; and “Testimonio de las tasaciones o rateos de tributes de los pueblos de esta provincia de Sonsonate,” 1796, AGN-CG-SO. For a longer discussion of the colonial origins of peasant landholding in Central America, see Lauria-Santiago, Agrarian Republic, chap. 2; and Severo Martínez Palaez, La patria del criollo (San José: EDUCA, 1973), chap. 4.


“Libro de actas municipales de Izalco,” 1874-85, Archivo Municipal de Izalco (hereafter AMI). That same year Izalco joined the many other municipalities that gave its ejido tenants an incentive to plant commercial crops by reducing the land rent to those who planted one-third of their lands with these crops. Revenues from these rentals was controlled and expended by community leaders and not redistributed to community members.


“Título de las tierras de Izalco sacado a solicitud del común de Asunción,” 1866, AMI. An 1893 report indicated that the municipality of Izalco held a total of 500 caballerías of land; “Informe de comercio y agricultura correspondiente al distrito de Izalco,” 7 Feb. 1893, AGN-CG-SO.


Inés Masín, who served as municipal secretary (1891) and mayor (1893-96) and became a successful farmer of lands that he had purchased from one of the particioneros of Dolores, was in all likelihood an indígena. His father had served as community administrator during the 1870s, and he went on to write articles about the dialect of Izalco’s Indians; see Inés Masín, “El pipil de Izalco,” Revista de Etnología, Arquelogía y Lingüística (San Salvador) 1, no. 5 (1926).


“Libros de documentos privados de Izalco,” 1880-1900, AMI.


Governor of Sonsonate, “Informe de la visita oficial a los pueblos del departamento,” 20 Sept. 1913, AGS.


See “Los señores Indalecio Chilulum y Teodoro González . . . se quejan de que el alcalde municipal . . . dá apoyo a Martín Sanches para que éste les despoje ...” 20 Sept. 1898, AGS, for an example of a conflict involving support by municipal authorities for one party. In 1874 the community of Dolores failed in its attempt to block the rental of lands claimed as ejidales by two ladino farmers. Local administrators decided that the 100 tareas in question were part of the municipal ejidos and now owned by the community. Sixteen tareas are equivalent to one manzana. The ladino tenants were members of two families that would later become the wealthiest ones in Izalco: the Barrientos and the Vegas; “Libro de actas municipales de Izalco,” 1874, AMI. See also “Varios individuos del común de indígenas de Dolores Izalco se quejan contra don Calixto Vega por haberles tapado un camino,” 1892, AGN-CG-SO; and “Solicitud de la municipalidad de Izalco,” 1892, AGN-CG-SO, for examples of conflicts between Indian peasants and a local landowner.


See Lauria-Santiago, Agrarian Republic, chap. 8, for a discussion of the class-based divisions and conflicts that erupted within Asunción during this same period.


Its neighbors in Asunción were not spared conflicts similar to those described below.


“Solicitud al SPE sobre exijir al administrador Simeón Morán la partición de la extinguida comunidad de Dolores Izalco,” 13 July 1885, AGN-CG-SO.


This characterization of the Zaldívar regime resonates with descriptions from other regions (see below) and the justifications offered by elite and plebeian liberal factions to organize against him. It is ironic that it was the same administration that passed the laws ordering the privatization of lands that was unable to achieve any progress at the local level. Zaldívar’s government was overthrown in 1885 in what amounted to a triple mobilization involving Guatemalan forces, Indian and peasant uprisings, and elite insurgency (see text); see ibid.


As part of this movement against Zaldívar, but also as an expression of local peasant politics, 800 Indian militiamen took up arms in Cojutepeque during May 1885. There were concurrent mobilizations of Indian militias in the department of La Paz; Duke to Porter, 28 May 1885, United States, Department of State, Dispatches from U.S. Consuls in San Salvador, United States National Archives (hereafter USNA), Record Group 59; and Baltasar Estupianián, Memoria con que el Sr. Ministro de Gobemación Doctor Don Baltasar Estupinián, dió cuenta a la Honorable Asamblea National (1885-1886) (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1887), 232. In La Paz, Zaldívar’s own properties were attacked by his workers; see Julio C. Calderón, Episodios nationales: Anastacio Aquino y elpor qué de su rebelión en 1833 en Santiago Nonualco (San Salvador: Impr. Moreno, 1957), 48. Local hacendados joined with the Indians but withdrew their support after the latter used the opportunity to settle accounts with local merchants; see Abraham Piñeda Alvarado, Reseña histórica de Santiago Nonualco (Santiago Nonualco, El Salvador: n.p., 1959).


Local ladino merchants and artisans had also supported the coming to power of Santiago González in 1871 by providing funds for the revolt against the Dueñas government; see “Lista de los individuos que voluntariamente ha emprestado dinero a esta gobernación para los gastos en la revolución,” 12 May 1871, AGN-Colección Quemados.


“Información de orden superior sobre perjuicios causados por las tropas del General Figueroa en la ciudad de Izalco,” 1885, AGN-CG-SO.


“Solicitud al SPE sobre exijir al administrador Simeón Morán la partición de la extinguida comunidad de Dolores Izalco,” 13 July 1883, AGN-CG-SO. In regard to the division of lands by Morán in Dolores, see Eduardo Barrientos (Alcalde of Izalco) to Governor of Sonsonate, 1886, AGN-CG-SO.


“Carta del alcalde de Izalco respondiendo a quejas sobre la repartición de tierras,” 1 Dec. 1886, AGN-CG-SO; and Santiago Contreras, Memoria con que el señor sub secretario de estado encargado del despacho de gobemación, Dr. D. Santiago Contreras, dió cuenta de los actos del poder ejecutivo ocurridos en 1887 a la Honorable Asamblea Nacional (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1888), 113.


“Los individuos de la comunidad de indígenas de Dolores Izalco piden la remoción del administrador y juez partidor Francisco Conco [sic] por ciertos delitos que le han denunciado,” 1887, AGN-CG-SO. An additional complication in this partition process occurred during the hiatus between the removal of one partidor and the installation of his successor, when some comuneros often took it upon themselves to divide and distribute lands in their own sector, leading to complaints from those who considered themselves harmed by their actions; see “Solicitud al gobernador de Sonsonate,” 1888, AGS.


Of 184 members of the community who attended the election, 49 had not been officially registered as comuneros, although the mayor recognized them as community members. The minister of the interior ruled that the votes of these additional comuneros should be registered, even though this would not alter the election results.


“Consulta que el alcalde municipal de Izalco dirije al Supremo Gobiemo por conducto de la gobernación con motivo de la electión del administrador juez partidor y socio de la comunidad de Dolores,” 1889, AGN-CG-SO.


Governor of Sonsonate to Ministro de Gobernación, draft of report, 1889, AGN-CG-SO.


Samuel Carrizales (Local Commander in Izalco) to Commander General of the Department of Sonsonate, 24 Sept. 1888, AGS; and “Informatión seguida sobre averiguar algunas novedades ocurridas en Izalco,” 1888, AGN-CG-SO.


“Luciano Argueta administrador y juez partidor de la comunidad de Dolores Izalco pide autorización para vender una galera de teja que corresponde a la misma comunidad,” 1889, AGN-CG-SO.


“Varios indígenas de Izalco que haga la partición de los terrenos que pertenecieron a la extinguida comunidad de Dolores,” 1903, AGN-Colección Ministerios-Ministerio de Gobernación (hereafter AGN-CM-MG).


About 75% of these men were registered as jornaleros, despite the obvious fact that they possessed lands. Some of these plots were of substantial size, although many were probably sufficient only to meet the subsistence needs of the families who owned them. See “Copia de la matrícula de los comuneros de Dolores Izalco,” 1889, AGN-CG-SO. Another registry book drawn up in 1891 lists 617 male community members. An incomplete sample of the parcels titled in the 1880s by Morán lists 123 plots, ranging from one to sixty-six manzanas, with an average of four. The larger plots were probably the ones that were rented to outsiders, since this register lists only a handful of plots of more than twelve manzanas. Most comuneros received plots that would only guarantee subsistence production while allowing for minimal commercial cropping. Nevertheless, many insiders, as well as some outsiders, benefited disproportionately from the land partition. See “Libro de registre de la comunidad de Dolores Izalco,” 1891, AGN-CM-MG; and “Comunidad de Dolores Izalco, comuneros titulados por Simeón Morán,” 1898, AGN-CG-SO. Another list from 1891 shows 164 untitled possessors in Dolores; “Libro de registre de posedores de terrenos comunales de Dolores i Asunción,” 1891, AGN-CG-SO.


The decree was published in the Diario Oficial: “Los comuneros de Dolores Izalco solicitan al Supremo Poder Ejecutivo haga extenciba al común a que pertenecieron el decreto de iro de junio del año corriente,” 1895, AGN-CM-MG.


“Luciano Argueta y varios vecinos de la ciudad de Izalco en concepto de comuneros que fueron de la extinguida comunidad de Dolores solicitan del Spmo. Gobno. se digne prorrogar por dos meses el tiempo que se designó . . . para el nombramiento del ingeniero,” 1895, AGN-CG-SO.


“El señor Luciano Argueta de Izalco denuncia a Simeón Morán porque está estendiendo títulos de terreno el punto ‘Rincón del Tigre,’” 21 Aug. 1895, AGS.


“Solisitud de varios vecinos y comuneros de Dolores Izalco relativa a que se nombre juez y partidor de varios terrenos que han quedado sin repartir,” 1895, AGN-CG-SO.


“Varios comuneros de Dolores Izalco se quejan de que el Sr. Luciano Argueta está despojando de sus terrenos a los poseedores que no tienen títulos mediante una contributión,” 1895, AGN-CG-SO.


“Queja presentada ante el Supremo Poder Ejecutivo por varios indígenas de Izalco contra Luciano Argueta ... por despojo de sus terrenos,” 1896, AGN-CG-SO.


“Solicitud al gobernador de Sonsonate,” 1888, AGS.


Castillo Morán’s claim is supported by other documentation in which he presents the titles to four caballerías (each of 64 manzanas) purchased from four comuneros to whom he had given title; see “Proceso sobre ocupación ilegal de terrenos en El Volcán,” 1900, AGN-CM-MG.


“Queja presentada ante el Supremo Poder Ejecutivo por varios indígenas de Izalco contra Luciano Argueta ... por despojo de sus terrenos,” 1896, AGN-CG-SO.


“La señora Guillerma Arevalo vecina de la ciudad de Izalco denuncia a Simeón Morán administrador que fue de la comunidad de Izalco,” 22 Aug. 1896, AGS.


“Protocolo de títulos revalidados de la comunidad de Dolores Izalco,” 1897, AGN-CG-SO.


“Los señores Simeón Morán . . . [todos] vecinos de Izalco piden se señale el día en que se comiense a realizar los títulos de la comunidad de Dolores,” 1897, AGN-CG-SO.


Ing. Carlos Zimmerman to Governor of Sonsonate, leg. of letters, 1898, AGN-CG-SO.


“Partición de los terrenos comunales de Dolores Izalco,” 1890, AGN-CG-SO. Unlike in previous documents, here all the comuneros listed were men.


Varios individuos comuneros de Dolores de la ciudad de Izalco se quejan de que Juan Tino, Manuel Lue ... y Blas Shul que encabezan una pandilla, los perturban en el ejercicio de sus derechos,” 1893, AGS.


The Indians of Izalco’s indigenous communities had a history of bitter confrontations with the Indian community of Nahuizalco over the determination of boundaries and the use of unclaimed land that lay between both towns. The conflicts dated as far back as 1849, when a survey of the border came close to precipitating a violent clash. See “Nota manifestando que las comunidades de Izalco y Nahuizalco es necesario que suspenda sus actinides hostiles y recomienda tomar medidas convenientes para evitar una asonada,” 1849, AGN-CC, M1. 12, exp. 108. There is also evidence of some friction between Izalco’s two Indian communities; see “Los vecinos de Asunción Izalco han presentado ante el Supremo Gobierno quejas de exesos por parte de los vecinos de Dolores,” 2 Apr. 1852, AGN-CPC.


Governor of Sonsonate, “Carta al alcalde de Izalco sobre usurpatión de terrenos cometidas por los indígenas de Nahuizalco,” 23 Mar. 1899, AGN-CG-SO. In a similar boundary conflict, 30 peasants from El Volcán de Santa Ana complained to the Supremo Poder Ejecutivo that comuneros from Izalco were farming their lands. On this occasion the mayor of Izalco proved that the three caballerías in question were within the boundaries of Izalco and that the community had left these lands undivided so that they might be used “for common purposes.” See “Solicitud al Supremo Poder Ejecutivo por los miembros de la extinguida comunidad de ladinos de El Volcán de Santa Ana sobre tierras, 1896, AGN-CM-MG.


The Indian peasants of Izalco had also engaged in a series of border conflicts with the ladino community of El Volcán de Santa Ana; see “Solicitud al Supremo Poder Ejecutivo por los miembros de la extinguida comunidad de ladinos de El Volcán de Santa Ana sobre tierras,” 1896, AGN-CM-MG.


Eugenio Araujo had litigated with the community of Dolores Izalco over the boundary line between his hacienda and their communal lands. According to sources cited by Zimmerman, Araujo’s stone wall extended 60 to 80 meters into communal lands that were marked off by an older boundary stone. The hacienda of El Sunza was originally part of Los Lagartos, a colonial-era hacienda that spread over the municipalities of Izalco and Caluco; see “Expediente de remedida de los linderos de Izalco y Caluco,” 1879, AGS.


“Partición de los terrenos comunales de Dolores Izalco,” 1890, AGN-CG-SO.


José Larreynaga, Memoria de los actos del poder ejecutivo en el ramo de Gobernación durante el año de 1889 (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1890), 138.


Machado had also unsuccessfully engaged in land litigation with peasants from Cuisnahuat in 1886. In that case, the minister of the interior forced him to give up his claim; see Estupinián, Memoria, 229.


“Libro compuesto de 32 hojas útiles . . . para que el juez partidor de la comunidad de indígenas de Asunción Izalco, señor Simeón Tensún, lleve la cuente que le corresponde,” 1885, AGS.


“Los infraescritos alcaldes de Dolores Izalco exponen que el administrador señor Simeón Morán no ha concluido aún la partición de nuestro terrenos municipales,” 1885, AGS.


Castillo Mora had served as governor of Ahuachapán during 1882. He was also involved in a claim in Asunción Izalco, where he had purchased the claim to a valuable farm that a comunero had developed on communal lands.


Castillo Mora was also speculating in lands in Ataco (Ahuachapán). The governor of the department of Ahuachapán opposed his claim against a group of intrusos, although this same claim was later supported by the Ministerio de Gobernación; see “Proceso sobre ocupación ilegal de terrenos en El Volcán,” 1900, AGN-CM-MG; and Libro de acuerdos del Ministerio de Gobernación,” 1893, AGN-CM-MG.


General Carlos Zepeda was governor and military commander of Sonsonate during 1894.


“Partición de los terrenos comunales de Dolores Izalco,” 1890, AGN-CG-SO.


“Memorandum de la memoria del Ministro de Gobernación,” 1899, AGN-CM-MG.


“Mesura de los terrenos Los Cuilotales en Izalco y Nahuizalco,” 1899, AGN-CG-SO.


The same need to consider political alignments and local perceptions can be said for interpretations of Regalado’s rise to power. Some authors have characterized Regalado’s victory as representing the rise of El Salvador’s coffee oligarchy to power. Coffee exporters—a small portion of the country’s elite—opposed President Gutiérrez’s tax on coffee exports at a time when coffee prices had dropped and government revenue was sagging. This stance has been cited as evidence in interpretations of Regalado’s overthrow of Gutiérrez as a defense of the coffee oligarchy and his regime, as well as having initiated a “pax coffeana,” in which all political conflict among elites was contained by their desire for economic stability. See Robert G. Williams, States and Social Evolution: Coffee and the Rise of National Governments in Central America (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995), chap. 6; and Héctor Lindo Fuentes, Weak Foundations: The Economy of El Salvador in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1990). The complex political alliances and factionalism of this period plus the limitations of the central state’s ability to intervene in local land and labor disputes on the side of local elites sheds doubt on the thesis that state rule was committed to unwavering support of a tightly knit economic oligarchy based on coffee export. Other factors clearly played an important role in elite support for Regalado’s overthrow of Gutiérrez.


During 1833 and as part of widespread resistance to Jefe de Estado Mariano Prados implementation of new taxes, the Indians of Izalco revolted and raided the city of Sonsonate; see Francisco J. Monterrey, ed., Historia de El Salvador: anotaciones cronológicas, 2 vols., 2d ed. (San Salvador: Editorial Universitaria, 1977-78), 1:225. As part of later conflicts, in 1846 militias from Izalco defeated General Ignacio Malespín and his faction as they attempted to overthrow the government; see “Carta sobre confrontamiento entre los Izalqueños y las tropas de Malespín,” 26 Nov. 1846, AGN-CC, M1.12, exp. 182; and Rafael Reyes, Nociones de historia del Salvador (San Salvador: Impr. del Dr. Francisco Sangrini, 1885), 502-3. On 12 Aug. 1872 Indians from Izalco revolted as part of another wave of unrest among mostly Indian communities that spread throughout the country in the wake of the repression of an uprising in Cojutepeque; see Boletín Oficial no. 74 (28 Sept. 1872). Izalco’s Indians also participated in a smaller confrontation during March 1875 when they assaulted their town’s garrison to protest the municipality’s decision to declare some contested communal plots part of the municipal ejido; see Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Central America, vol. 3: 1801-1887 (San Francisco: History Company Publishers, 1887), 400. On the 1885 and 1894 mobilizations, see Duke to Porter, 28 May 1885, United States, Department of State, Dispatches from U.S. Consuls in San Salvador, USNA; and Alejandro Orellana and Carlos Orellana, Sonsonate histórico e informative (San Salvador: Impr. Nacional, 1960), 51.


Gustave de Belot, La Republique de Salvador (Paris: Chez Duntu, Libraire, 1965), 33; Foote, Recollections of Central America, 61; and Gaceta Oficial 9, no. 58 (24 Apr. 1861): 3.


Izalqueñuos had been recruited into the army for decades; see de Belot, La Republique de Salvador.


Regalado was kept from the presidency by a more powerful liberal faction led by Prudencio Alfaro; see Italo López Vallecillos, El periodismo en El Salvador (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 1974). David Luna identifies Regalado’s rise to power with the end of the tradition of “progressive liberalism.” Although Regalado came to power in opposition to important liberals, I would question whether this faction ever ruled or was as radical as Luna and Vallecillos claim, despite its stronger connections with liberal artisans and peasants. Further research is necessary into Gutiérrez’s administration (1894-98) in order to establish the relation between political ideology and policy during this period. Patricia Andrews, the only author who has written about this period in some detail, actually characterizes Gutiérrez as a conservative; see David Luna, “Análisis de una dictadura fascista latinoamericana: Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, 1931-1944,” La Universidad (San Salvador) 94, no. 5 (1969); and Patricia Andrews, “El liberalismo en El Salvador a finales del siglo XIX,” Revista del Pensamiento Centroamericano 36 (1981): 172–73.


For events in Santiago Nonualco, see Piñeda Alvarado, Reseña histórica de Santiago Nonualco, 14-16. For La Libertad, see A. Molina Guirola (Governor of La Libertad) to Ministro de Gobernación, report, 9 Feb. 1899, AGN-CM-MG.


Regalado received about 600 votes in Izalco (there were no other presidential candidates) at a time when Izalco had about 2,000 potential voters; see “Electoral Results,” 1899, AGN-CM-MG. National liberal leaders questioned an electoral process in which Regalado was the only presidential candidate. In Usulután a revolt broke out against his election, while “armed actions” were carried out in Sensuntepeque and Ilobasco; see R. Orellana (Governor of Usulután) to Ministro de Gobernación, report, 9 Feb. 1899, AGN-CM-MG; and M. A. Castañeda (Governor of Cabañas) to Minstro de Gobernación, report, 26 Jan. 1899, AGN-CM-MG. A few months after the initial wave of opposition, General Pedro Escalón led another unsuccessful armed revolt against Regalado whom Escalón would successfully overthrow in a second revolt in 1903; see Antolín Olarro (Governor of Cabañas) to Ministro de Gobernación, report, 5 Aug. 1899, AGN-CM-MG.


The Regalado family owned the Hacienda San Isidro, formerly known as El Potrero, which had originally been part of the sixteenth-century hacienda Los Lagartos. They purchased it from the Barrientos family of Izalco. For information on the Regalado family, see Santiago I. Barbarena, Monografías departamentales: departamento de Santa Ana (San Salvador: n.p., 1910); L. A. Ward, ed. and comp., Libro azul de El Salvador (San Salvador: Bureau de Publicidad de la América Latina, 1916); Director, Asociación Cafetalera de El Salvador to Subsecretary of Agriculture, 28 Jan. 1931, AGN-CM-MG; Governor of Santa Ana, “Datos para el Anuario Americano,” 2 Dec. 1916, AGN-CM-MG; Gerardo Martinez Funes, Album de San Salvador y Santa Ana (Santa Ana: n.p., 1938); and Joaquín Leiva, The Republic of El Salvador in Central America (Liverpool: Barber, 1913). The Regalado family was involved in a dispute with peasant landholders in Chalchuapa. On their conflict with Indian peasants in Ishuatán, see “El Sr. Ignacio se queja de que el alcalde de Ishuatán a mandado sitarlo para que como jornaleros valla a los trabajos de la finca del General Regalado,” 1896, AGN-Sección Tierras, leg. 2, doc. 55. Regalado’s victory also has been interpreted by historians as a decisive transition to oligarchic rule. His reliance on popular support and mobilization casts some doubt on these views.


José María Martínez, “História de Cojutepeque,” in Papeles históticos, ed. José Manuel Gallardo (Santa Tecla: Ed. Léa, 1978), 296.


Governor of Sonsonate, “Informe de la visita oficial a los pueblos del departamento,” 20 Sept. 1913, AGN-CG-SO.


“Los señores Pedro Bolaños, Domingo Huela, Marcelino Felilo, Obispo Mayo y Nicomedes Gómez se han quejado al Supremo Poder Ejecutivo como indígenas que pertenecieron a la comunidad de Dolores Izalco de que varios ladinos avecinados . . .” 1900, AGN-Sec. Tierras, leg. 3/4, doc. 2.


Greg Grandin discusses a similar reversal in the popular memory of struggles over land and local power in Cantel, Guatemala; see Greg Grandin, “The Strange Case of ‘La Mancha Negra’: Maya-State Relations in Nineteenth-Century Guatemala,” HAHR 77 (1997).


See C. Varaona (Governor of Sonsonate) to Ministro General, 22 Nov. 1898 AGN-CG-SO.


“Solicitud de varios vecinos de los valles de ‘El Chorro,’ ‘Matazano,’ ‘Cruz Grande,’ ‘Teshacalate’ . . . que comprendían antiguamente la comunidad de Dolores Izalco, sobre que se les remidan sus propiedades por encontrarse muy obscures los títulos antiguos de terrenos comunales dados a los naturales por mandato real en 1582,” 15 Apr. 1901, AGN-CM-Asamblea Legislativa; and “Varios indígenas de Izalco que haga la partición de los terrenos que pertenecieron a la extinguida comunidad de Dolores,” 1904, AGN-CM-MG.


“Varios indígenas de Izalco que haga la partición de los terrenos que pertenecieron a la extinguida comunidad de Dolores,” 1904, AGN-CM-MG.


Larreynaga, Memoria; and “partición de los terrenos comunales de Dolores Izalco,” 1890, AGN-CG-SO.


“Varios indígenas de Izalco que haga la partición de los terrenos que pertenecieron a la extinguida comunidad de Dolores,” 1904, AGN-CM-MG.


For a discussion of a case in which these connections are more evident, see Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago, “Los indígenas de Cojutepeque, la política faccional y el estado national en El Salvador, 1830–1890,” in Constructión de las identidades y del estado moderno en Centro América, ed. Arturo Taracena (San José: UCA Editores; CEMCA; FLACSO, 1995).


See, for example, “Los señores Indalecio Chilulum y Teodoro González . . . se quejan de que el alcalde municipal . . . dá apoyo a Martín Sanches para que éste les despoje,” 20 Sept. 1898, AGS.


Thomas Anderson, Matanza: The Communist Revolt of 1932 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1971), 110. However, the demise of the indigenous community of Dolores and the decreasing number of individuals identified as Indians in the surviving indigenous community of Asunción did not lead to a significant decline in the number of Izalqueños identified as Indians in official sources. Demographic data from 1914 and 1915 indicate that about 50% of all births were still classified as Indian; see “Libro de Actas Municipales,” AMI, 1903-17.


The case of Izalco might provide both a confirmation and a variation on Jeff Gould’s findings in Matagalpa. Gould argues that once community authorities became mediators between local people and the national state or regional landowners, the role of violence and coercion increased, as these authorities were no longer able to rely on the same kind of internal legitimacy. In Izalco the Indian communities had long lost their “pristine” identity, when they were autonomous or acted independently of “outside” forces. From this perspective, the confrontation of 1898 and the demise of the community of Dolores was the product of many decades of change, rather than just the challenges to the community that were brought about by partitioning during the 1880s and 1890s. The Indian community, as distinct from the ethnic identity of the Indians themselves, fell prey both to its own contradictions and to the complex conjuncture of the end of the century. See Jeffrey L. Gould, “‘¡Vana Ilusión!’ The Highlands Indians and the Myth of Nicaragua Mestiza, 1880-1925,” in Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean, eds. Aviva Chomsky and Aldo Lauria-Santiago (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1998).


In 1924 the community of Asunción claimed about 210 adult males, which represented a total community population of about 800 (the total municipal population was between 17,500 and 19,000). They held yearly elections for alcalde and reported to the departmental governor; see Sotero Pasín to Governor of Sonsonate, 1924, AGS.


In 1905 community leaders, with the support of 80 comuneros, had to request official permission for their fiestas; see “Solicitud de los indígenas de Izalco a que se les permita celebrar funciones religiosas y velaciones de las imágenes y patrón del pueblo,” 27 May 1905, AGN-CM-MG.


For discussions of the political role of Indians during the 1920s, see Patricia Alvarenga, Cultura y ética de la violencia: El Salvador, 1880–1932 (San José: EDUCA, 1996); Alan Everett Wilson, “The Crisis of National Integration in El Salvador, 1919-1935” (Ph.D. diss, Stanford Univ., 1969); and Anderson, Matanza.


Discussions of the origins of El Salvador’s authoritarian political culture—its military-oligarchic regimes of the 1940s through the 1970s—have often been based on a comparison of the five ex-federated Central American republics. During the 1980s the emergence of a seemingly comparable set of small, contiguous, agro-exporting countries encouraged the application of sociostructural models to the origins of democracy and authoritarianism in the region. See Enrique Baloyra, “Reactionary Despotism in Central America,” Journal of Latin American Studies 15 (1983), for the most developed discussion of this latter tradition. For historical-sociological comparisons of the Central American republics, see, for example, Jeffery M. Paige, “Coffee and Politics in Central America,” in Crisis in the Caribbean Basin, ed. Richard Tardanico (Newburry Park, Calif.: Sage Publishers, 1987); A. Douglas Kincaid, “Agrarian Development, Peasant Mobilization, and Social Change in Central America: A Comparative Perspective” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins Univ., 1987); David Kauck, “Agricultural Commercialization and State Development in Central America: The Political Economy of the Coffee Industry” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Washington, 1988); and Frederick Stirton Weaver, Inside the Volcano: The History and Political Economy of Central America (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994). For the most recent attempt at this comparative and structural approach, see Williams, States and Social Evolution. Many authors consider that El Salvador, along with Guatemala, followed a “path” of sociopolitical development that was more weighted by its colonial past and that led to the “retention” of colonial forms of labor coercion than occurred in other Central American countries. See Anthony Winson, “The Formation of Capitalist Agriculture in Latin America and Its Relationship to Political Power and the State,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 25 (1983); Edelberto Torres Rivas, Interpretación del desarollo social centroamericano: procesos y estructuras de una sociedad dependiente (San José: Ed. Universitaria Centroamericana, 1981); and Evelyn Huber and John D. Stephens, “Conclusion: Agrarian Structure and Political Power in Comparative Perspective,” in Agrarian Structure and Political Power: Landlord and Peasant in the Making of Latin America, eds. Evelyn Huber and Frank Safford (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1995). For a discussion of these views in a comparative context, see Lowell Gudmundson, “Lord and Peasant in the Making of Modern Central America,” in Huber and Safford, Agrarian Structure and Political Power.


For an important reinterpretation of how the expansion of coffee affected the land and labor of indigenous communities in Guatemala, see McCreery, Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940.


Among the authors who stress the “proletarian” character of the 1932 revolt are Paige, “Coffee and Politics”; and Leon Zamosc, “Class Conflict in an Export Economy: The Social Roots of the Salvadoran Insurrection of 1932,” in Sociology of “Developing Societies”: Central America, ed. Edelberto Torres Rivas (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988). Other interpretations combine an emphasis on the role of community, ethnic conflict, and national politics with attention to issues of land and labor. See, for example, Mauricio de la Selva, “El Salvador: tres décadas de lucha,” Cuadernos Americanos 120, no. 1 (1962); Anderson, Matanza; and A. Douglas Kincaid, “Peasants into Rebels: Community and Class in Rural El Salvador,” Comparative Studies in Society and Histoty 29 (1987). Among more recent efforts at researching aspects of the revolt are Alvarenga, Cultura y ética; Héctor Pérez Brignoli, “Indians, Communists, and Peasants: The 1932 Rebellion in El Salvador,” in Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America, eds. William Roseberry, Lowell Gudmundson, and Mario Samper Kutschbach (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1995); and Erik Ching, “From Clientelism to Militarism: The State, Politics, and Authoritarianism in El Salvador, 1840-1940” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, 1997), chap. 7.


Pérez Brignoli, “Indians, Communists, and Peasants,” 240.


Kincaid, “Peasants into Rebels.”


Besides challenging the myth of the dominant landowning oligarchy as an explanation for the 1932 revolt, the evidence presented in this article also calls into question the explanations offered by the leaders of the 1932 revolt themselves. Miguel Marmol—a Communist activist and participant in the 1932 revolt—reported that José Ama, an Indian leader of Izalco who was executed by local ladinos after the 1932 revolt, had been tortured and all his lands had been taken by the Regalado family. Historians have taken this charge at face value, portraying the Regalados as rapacious local landowners rather than a political faction with local allies. But in the context of the conflicted distribution of community lands in Dolores and the alliances that emerged from this process, the role of General Regalado and his local allies takes on a new light that requires further research. Furthermore, the Ama family itself was deeply embroiled in the disputes and conflicts of this period, with Ama’s father or grandfather (who served as regidor of the community of Dolores in 1885) cited in one of the complaints against Correa for buying “excessive” lands in 1887. José Ama’s leadership position in the community of Asunción Izalco during the 1920s was passed on to him by Patricio Shupan, his father-in-law. See “Los individuos de la comunidad de indígenas de Dolores Izalco piden la remoción del administrador y Juez partidor Francisco Correa por cierto delitos que le han dennuciado,” 1887, AGN-CG-SO; Roque Dalton, Miguel Marmol y los sucesos de 1932 en El Salvador (San José: EDUCA, 1982), 346; and Anderson, Matanza.


The main contributions to the study of this process are Browning, El Salvador: Landscape and Society, Rafael Menjivar, Acumulación originaria y desarrollo del capitalismo en El Salvador (San José: Ed. Universitaria Centroamericana, 1976); and Lindo Fuentes, Weak Foundations. Browning and Menjivar tend to emphasize this perspective. More recently Robert Williams reiterates this view in his States and Social Evolution.


This has also contributed to the perception that Indian peasants and their communities failed to adjust or adequately respond to the requirements of a supposedly ladino-dominated commercial economy. David Browning and Alejandro Marroquín partially contribute to this view. See Browning, El Salvador: Landscape and Society, and Marroquín, “El problema indígena en El Salvador,” America Indígena 35, no. 4 (1975), and San Pedro Nonualco (San Salvador: Ed. Universitaria, n.d.). See also Aldo Lauria-Santiago, “Los indígenas de Cojutepeque”; and Patricia Alvarenga, Cultura y ética, for a revaluation of the political role of Indian and other peasant communities in the process of state formation.