Maximiliano Hernández Martínez

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Maximiliano Hernández Martínez
Hernandez Martinez.jpg
President of El Salvador
In office
2 December 1931 – 9 May 1944
Preceded by Arturo Araujo
Succeeded by Andrés Ignacio Menéndez (served inbetween from 29 August 1934- 1 March 1935)
Personal details
Born (1882-10-21)October 21, 1882
San Matías, La Libertad, El Salvador
Died May 15, 1966(1966-05-15) (aged 83)
Hacienda Jamastrán, Honduras
Political party Partido Nacional 'Pro-Patria'
Occupation General
Religion Theosophy (formerly Roman Catholicism)

Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (October 29, 1882 – May 15, 1966) was the President of El Salvador from 1931 to 1944. While he served as President Arturo Araujo's vice-president and defense minister, a directorate seized power during a palace coup and afterwards named General Hernández president of El Salvador.

Hernández Martínez was born in San Matías, La Libertad. In the 1931 presidential election, he was initially a candidate for his newly formed National Republican Party. He joined forces with Arturo Araujo of the Partido Laborista, running on a reformist platform. The ticket won the election, considered the first free multiparty election in Salvadoran history and the last for over half a century.

The reason for the coup was that the military personnel had not been paid their salary. This historical fact about the military not being paid is not always taught in Salvadoran schools; the causes of the coup d'état are often attributed to the fall in prices of coffee abroad. The reality is that officers were not paid and the Finance Minister had paid only the police, who remained loyal to the president. The army officers were angry and ousted president Araujo.[citation needed]

Hernández Martínez led a military government that actively suppressed opposition, most notably the Salvadoran peasant revolt of 1932 led by Farabundo Martí, where thousands of indigenous Salvadoran people were systematically murdered if they were suspected of collaboration with the communists. This massacre came to be known as La Matanza, and the specific number of victims is unknown but estimates range from 10,000 to 40,000 for the entire rebellion. American historian Thomas Anderson says there were no more than 10,000 killed.[citation needed] He does accept that the military killed people without a judgement and that they were usually killed by a firing squad after being compelled to dig their own graves. Usually they only needed to be Indian, usually male, from the town, and listed as voters of the Communist party in that town. He censored the media, banned political opposition, abolished local elections, rigged national elections, and severely repressed dissidents. On the other hand, his regime expanded voting rights to women for the first time, enacted some social security programmes and attempted to intervene in the economy, in contradistinction to the economic policies of Liberal regimes that ruled El Salvador since the 1870s.

When Martinez raised the export tax in 1943 the weary distrust among oligarchic landowning elites over his modest land reform efforts and eccentric ways turned to conspiracy and opposition. After he openly violated the constitution by declaring that he would serve a third term without holding elections, an armed revolt broke out on Palm Sunday, 1944, led by intellectuals, business leaders, and disloyal segments of the military. While top members of the regime leadership were at home for Holy Week, the strategic First Infantry and the Second Artillery regiments of San Salvador and Santa Ana garrison seized the state radio station, and took control of the Air Force, and Santa Ana’s police headquarters and telegraph offices. Santa Ana was bombed from the air as civilians there rallied, overthrew, and then replaced their city council. However, General Martinez was able to put down the rebellion with his remaining obedient military units. Martial law, including a police curfew, was declared in effect and savagely enforced. Reprisals against rebels and suspected rebels began right away and lasted for weeks in a highly public and distressing campaign of repression.[1]

Hernández Martínez was a believer in fringe occultism. When a smallpox epidemic broke out in San Salvador he had colored lights hung around the city, in the belief that this would cure the disease. He also believed in reincarnation and once said that "It is a greater crime to kill an ant than a man, for when a man dies he becomes reincarnated, while an ant dies forever."

During his tenure, El Salvador saw major economic growth. He managed to eradicate crime and paid all the foreign debt. He was admired by the wealthy elite for returning a measure of stability to the country in the midst of widespread social unrest.

In May 1944, however, he was deposed by the famous non-violent Strike of Fallen Arms led by students. During this massive political action, Salvadoran society was completely paralysed until he was deposed. Hernández Martínez fled to exile in Guatemala. Ironically, the revolt then spread to Guatemala where Jorge Ubico was similarly ousted.

After being deposed, Hernández lived in Honduras until he was stabbed to death at Hacienda Jamastrán, on May 15, 1966, by his driver, Cipriano Morales,[2] whose father had been one of the many murdered by Hernández's dictatorship. He remains one of the oldest politicians to be assassinated.

During the country's civil war in the 1970s–1980s, an extreme right-wing death squad named after him operated in the country, and claimed responsibility for the assassination of many Christian democrat and Marxist politicians as well as innocent civilians in El Salvador in 1980.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zunes, Stephen. "Movements and Campaigns - Issues - Dictatorships - El Salvador: 1944". Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Salarrue (1898-1975) y Agustin Farabundo Marti (1893-1932)" (PDF). Tres Mil (Diario Co Latino) (in Spanish). January 15, 2005. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 7, 2007. 
  3. ^ "''El Salvador: A Country Study'', "Right-Wing Extremism"". 1980-03-24. Retrieved 2013-04-11. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Arturo Araujo
President of El Salvador
Succeeded by
Andrés Ignacio Menéndez
Preceded by
Andrés Ignacio Menéndez


President of El Salvador
Succeeded by
Andrés Ignacio Menéndez