Volume 5

Roots of Insurgency in Central America

Jan L. Flora

Flora, Jan L., Latin American Issues [On-line], 5.
Available: http://sites.allegheny.edu/latinamericanstudies/latin-american-issues/volume-5/


Jan Flora is Professor of Sociology at Kansas State University. His teaching and research are in the areas of agrarian structure and community and rural change in the United States and the Third World.

He was Advisor in Agriculture and Rural Development for the Ford Foundation in Bogota, Colombia from 1978 through 1980. He consulted with that Foundation on its programs in Nicaragua from 1980 to 1983. His recent work includes studies of the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade, agriculture in Cuba, rural consumer stores in Colombia and the relationship of the U.S. farm crisis to the Third World debt problem.

He is an active participant in the Latin American Studies Association, the Progressive Latin American Network, and the Kansas Network on Central America.



The pendulum of dominant theories of revolution swings back and forth between the orthodox Marxian formulation that the urban proletariat is the revolutionary class to the view that the revolutionaries are the peasantry or the rural proletariat (Walton 1984). Jeffery Paige, espousing an agrarian base for revolution, focuses on the development of export agriculture. Re bases his theory on a shift from land to capital and wages as principal sources of wealth, arguing that a system in which the principal source of wealth for agricultural non-cultivators is land is inherently unstable since it requires direct political control of labor rather than the exercise of economic control through the market place. Such systems are economically weak (technologically backward) and therefore those in control perceive a zero-sum political and economic game; hence the need for political control over the cultivating classes, either in manorial (hacienda), sharecropping, or migratory labor estate (Paige, 1975:11).

Paige’s emphasis on export agriculture as a conditioning factor for agrarian rebellion or revolution is useful but limited. His clear distinction
between economic and political factors in explaining agrarian revolution is also useful, but needs modification in its application. The growth in
importance of export agriculture and the type of export agriculture have not only a direct impact on the cultivator classes, but also on the society as a whole, particularly on the kind of state structure which develops. Specifically, if control of production and export are in the hands of a domestic elite, a stronger state will develop than if export agriculture is controlled by foreign firms. In states in which domestically-controlled export agriculture is important, and particularly in which one such export crop is the dominant export (export monoculture), the relatively strong state will reflect the view of the dominant elite (the export oligarchy) that there is a zero-sum economic situation; hence that oligarchy will seek to maintain absolute political control. Such efforts are likely to lead to repression. Such repression can lead to rebellion or insurgency, particularly when the economic reality approaches a zero-sum situation (e.g., in times of shrinking export values) and/or when, with diversification of agricultural exports and growth of industrialization, shifting alliances develop among peasants, workers, and new urban elites who have not been allowed a share of political power.

Countries in which foreign-owned enclave agriculture or traditional domestically-oriented manorial agriculture develop are not likely to experience insurgencies because the poor classes are sufficiently isolated one from another as to manage at most, sporadic rebellions and/or because the state is not strong enough to suppress attempts at organization by the lower classes. Countries where the peasantry is a major export-crop producer will also not develop insurgencies, as the peasantry will at least perceive that it has some influence over decision-making by the state, due in part to that group’s belief in the possibility of social mobility.

I have chosen the five countries which once formed the Central American Federation, and define a revolutionary situation as one in which a significant armed insurgency has arisen –one to which the government finds it necessary to respond with extraordinary measures. These five countries have a similar political history, having broken away from Spain in 1821. They formed the Central American Confederation, which broke up by 1840 and each of the five provinces became a politically independent country (Wortman 1982). Thus they have a similar starting point in modern political history. However, the five countries have evolved differently economically, and hence politically.

The objective of this paper is to explain why insurgency has arisen in three of the countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua) and why it has not arisen in the other two (Honduras and Costa Rica). The Central American Republics are a particularly propitious locale in which to test the perspective outlined above, because each state is small, thus minimizing the impact of regionalism. Each state is unitary, and none is large enough to have a federal system. Thus, the entire society is affected similarly by export agriculture or by any particular government policy. Also, there is little mineral wealth of importance; and since independence, all countries have relied on agriculture as their dominant exports.

The body of the paper is divided into economic and political sections. The economic section will examine the different ways in which each country became part of the international economic system and the effect that had on the role of the state. The political section will examine the degree to which all social classes – especially the poor majority – have been allowed to participate in political affairs and to feel they had some influence over the allocation of resources through the political system.



A. Liberal reforms, growth of the coffee oligarchy, and establishment of the banana enclaves.

From the second half of the last century until after World War II, coffee and bananas have been the dominant exports of Central America. Coffee growing expanded in the second half of the 19th century (earlier in Costa Rica) and became important in the Central American Republics. Except in Honduras, a coffee bourgeoisie became the dominant domestic political force. Somewhat later, foreign enclaves of banana production became important in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala (in that order of importance), and to a lesser extent in Nicaragua (Real and Lungo 1979: 14).

The impacts of coffee and banana production on Central American domestic economies differed from each other in that capital invested in coffee cultivation, whether domestic or foreign, stimulated the national economy. Foreign capital used by the banana industry, on the other hand, created enclave economies that were rather independent of the national economy (Seligson, 1980: 56). Coffee production was in domestic hands (with some foreign investment) but export banana production was foreign owned and controlled, principally by the United and Standard Fruit companies.

Politically, the growth of coffee production meant the growth of a dominant or hegemonic social group – the coffee oligarchy. In El Salvador and Guatemala, those oligarchies gained power after liberal “reforms” the second half of the nineteenth century. Nicaragua experienced a tardy and less pronounced liberal reform. The reforms involved a) making land into a commodity by virtually eliminating communal and church lands so they could be acquired by coffee-growing entrepreneurs, b) insuring an adequate labor force by variously “freeing” or coercing workers to work in coffee, and c) strengthening the state to insure orderly and profitable marketing of the new export crop (Santana, 1975; Burns, 1984:298).1

Torres Rivas explains that in pre-WWII Central America oligarchical rule refers to the rule of the agrarian classes, based on the “natural” exclusion of the dominated and on an identification between the dominant interests (the coffee planters, par excellence) and more general interests – those attributed to the nation (1981:52). Legitimation and capital accumulation, the two prerequisites for effective class rule (O’Connor, 1973:6), were both present.

A coffee oligarchy did not dominate Honduras. Traditional large land holders were important in the political power configuration in Honduras, but they tended to be livestock producers (del Cid, 1977).

The liberal reforms, most sweeping in El Salvador and Guatemala, were implemented differently in the two countries. In El Salvador, because the area most propitious for coffee was the most heavily settled highland region, all that was necessary to insure an adequate labor force was development of a “free” labor supply. Laws passed in 1881 and 1882 prohibiting communal land holdings2 affected about one-fourth of the land area of the country (Santana 1975: 22-23). Eliminating “pueblo” or communal lands permitted relatively rapid advance of commercial and capitalist relations of production, development of the proletariat and rural semi-proletariat, and growth of an ample and flexible reserve labor force (Menjivar, 1979:30).

Salvadoran President Gerardo Barrios (1958-63), inspired by a trip to Europe, sought to “regenerate” the nation with a plan to promote agriculture, industry, and commerce (particularly the expansion of coffee production); stimulate immigration; develop a European-style education system; expansion of roads and port facilities; and in general bring about “progress” based on a European model. It was under his administration that coffee began to be exported in commercial quantities. For the next three decades, coffee estates gradually encroached on communal and smallholder land. By 1879, only one-fourth of the land still belonged to the villages. In 1881, the tierras comunales (municipally communities) were dissolved (Burns, 1984:298-300). The 1881 decree legitimized the abolition of communal lands and linked national “progress” with that of the coffee growers:

The existence of lands under the ownership of Communidades impedes agricultural development, obstructs the circulation of wealth, and weakens family bonds and the independence of the individual. Their existence is contrary to the economic and social principles that the Republic has accepted (Law for Extinction of Communal Lands, 26 February 1881, quoted in Durham, 1979:42).

Lands were divided among community members in both instances. The peasants and indigenous people were not familiar with the concept of private land ownership. This facilitated land acquisition by large coffee growers. An adequate labor supply for the coffee estates was also assured. A Vagrancy Law was passed in 1981, supplemented by an Agrarian Law in 1907, which established rural judges and a rural constabulary whose job it was to insure that the work force was available at the right time and place (Burns, 1984: 302). Coffee production had already increased substantially since 1860, when it made up one percent of exports. In 1875, coffee first exceeded indigo as the most valuable export. Aided by the abolition of communal landholding, El Salvador had become by the 1880s a “monoagricultural exporting nation” (Burns, 1984:300), with a dual agrarian class structure.

The absence of both a banana enclave and significant foreign investment helped to “define classes and sectors of classes” even more sharply3 (Menjivar, 1979: 20). Unlike Guatemala, El Salvador had little foreign investment in coffee production (Santana 1975: 35-46). The dominance of capitalist labor relations in El Salvador more than in any other Central American country, is important in understanding the 1932 coffee workers’ uprising, discussed in a later section

In Guatemala, coffee production developed in the relatively lightly settled Western foothills and near the Pacific coast. Church land, extensive in Guatemala because it had been the colonial and ecclesiastical capital of Central America and Ciapas, was expropriated in 1973. Then persons occupying or renting communal or ejidal lands held in perpetuity were given first option to purchase the land within 6 months. That effectively precluded most indigenous people and poor Ladinos (non-Indians) from land ownership, for, not having been integrated into the monetary economy, they lacked the money with which to purchase it. To assure an adequate labor force for producing coffee, an 1876 law provided that local authorities would recruit workers from their areas according to the needs of the coffee growers, who would pay wages to the authorities in advance for the labor of their “subjects,” who would be paid when they finished their work. That law was supplemented with one decreed the next year requiring each worker to carry a certificate containing information on work obligations and work completed and a stamp showing release by a former employer. A vagrancy law passed in 1878 completed this semi-modern field labor system.

Subjection of the previously semi-autonomous population was substantial. Wasserstrom explains that in the Western highlands of

Indian communities soon became pauper communities with most of the men compelled to spend three or four months each year working on a largest plantation on Guatemala’s southern coast.

By the 1930’s, Ladinos had so dominated life in the highlands that visitors frequently described Indian municipalidades as if they continued two separate forms of government: one, Indian, religious, and local; the other, Ladino, secular, and national (Wasserstrom 1975: 447).

In Nicaragua, although several thousand Indians died attempting to defend their lands from greedy coffee growers in the War of the Corn uneros in 1881, the liberal period corresponding with the Zelaya dictatorship (1893-1909) was a less abrupt break with the past than in Guatemala and El Salvador (Walker 1981: 15-16).

Nicaragua had neither significant church lands nor a large Indian population. Black argues that only in the 1920s did the coffee bourgeoisie gain clear hegemony over the merchants from Granada (Black 1981: p.10). Torres Rivas believes that the coffee bourgeoisie never obtained hegemony, and that the export plantation (gran empresa exportadora) was fully developed only after World War II with development of large scale cotton raising. He sees the traditional latifundistas having the balance of power even after the Liberal dictatorship of Jose Santos Zelaya (1893-1909) (Torres Rivas, 1980b: 80).

Failure to develop a strong coffee bourgeoisie in Nicaragua, Torres Rivas believes, stemmed from low coffee production (low production was probably a result rather than a cause) and from foreign (particularly U.S.) intervention for geopolitical reasons. Thus, a coffee oligarchy did not consolidate its position as in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Costa Rica, having neither mineral wealth nor Indian labor, “the least populated and the poorest” of the independent Central American provinces, was gradually settled by peasant farmers. Coffee production began to expand within ten years after independence, partly because there were no entrenched interests to resist it. Costa Rica also had no important existent export crop (Santana 1975: 11). Land inequalities grew somewhat as processing machinery required increased investment per unit of production and as exporters accumulated capital. But most rural people remained land-owning farmers, so there was a continuing labor shortage (Taylor 1980:80), and constant upward pressure on wages (Santana 1975: 80), discouraging the growth of large estates.

By the 1920s the Costa Rican state was “fully representative of powerful coffee interests” (Taylor 1980: 80), and the coffee sector consisted of a mix of yeoman family farmers and latifundistas. Labor relations on the coffee haciendas tended to be capitalist; workers were salaried, not peons (Santana 1975: 27).

The growth of coffee export agriculture in all the Central American countries but Honduras did not lead to fully capitalist production, except perhaps in El Salvador. Coffee production gave rise to specific productive structures: notably concentration of land in large landholdings (except in Costa Rica), low investment in productive techniques other than those used to process the crop, and to relations of production ranging from semi-servile to semi-proletarian. While many migrant and seasonal workers were required to cultivate and harvest coffee, they were not completely proletarian, but peasants. The mode of production was neither feudal nor capitalist, resembling both (Winston 1978: 29).

The export of coffee required a good deal of infrastructure — roads, port facilities, banking and related financial establishments. On the one hand, absolute political control was of primordial concern to the coffee oligarchy, since control of land — rather than investment of capital –was central to their acquisition of wealth, for coffee production was technologically rather stagnant; the best way to increase one’s wealth was to acquire more coffee land. On the other hand, marketing and export of coffee required considerable infrastructural investment. By gaining control of and subsequently strengthening the state, both ends could be accomplished –infrastructural costs could be socialized and the poor rural classes could be controlled politically, and hence economically.

Banana production was fully capitalist. The level of technological advance was considerable, if not initially in the field, certainly in the transport system. Approximately 80 percent of the labor force was wage workers, but at the height of employment in banana production in the 1950s, Central America had only about 100,000 banana workers (Winston 1978: 29 and 34). Because of the importance of timing in the harvesting and marketing of this perishable product and because of the great investment which port facilities and ships represented, commercial banana production has been controlled by outside firms, particularly the United Fruit Company (UFCO).

Honduras epitomizes the geographic isolation of fruit company operations from the rest of the country’s economic activity. Although bananas were the principal export there was no paved road from Tegucigalpa to the north coast, the center of banana production, until after World War II. Honduras was the least developed of the Central American Republics, lacking even a Central Bank until 1950 (Morris and Sanchez 1977:
87). This country began experiencing major changes in its economy and social life in 1950, the same year that an income tax was instituted, primarily to capture some of the banana companies’ profits (del Cid 1977: 23).

In Costa Rica a century of large-scale, highly profitable banana cultivation has had little impact on capital accumulation or on economic development (Seligson 1980: 49), but still more than in Honduras. United Fruit played an important role in Guatemala’s economy; Wasserstrom says it controlled 40 percent of the economy in 1950. While it annually contributed $1 million in taxes to the Guatemalan government, it engaged in various subterfuges to conceal profits and avoid higher taxes (Wasserstrom 1975 449). The failure to pay its legal tax share is illustrated by the fact that when President Arbenz nationalized part of the fruit company’s land holdings in 1952, he paid the company the $600,000 it had declared as the value of the land for tax purposes. Later, the company, in pleading its case before the State Department, said the lands were worth about $15 million (Wasserstrom 1975:

Bananas were a rather minor part of Nicaragua’s export agriculture. El Salvador did not export commercially significant amounts of bananas.

In summary, strong coffee oligarchies developed late in the 19th century in Guatemala and El Salvador as part of a thoroughgoing Liberal transformation and alienation of collective forms of land holding. Costa Rica’s coffee oligarchy gained hegemony only in the 1920s and even then had to accommodate the peasant coffee producers. Nicaragua’s coffee oligarchy was important but subordinated to foreign interests related to that country’s strategic location or potential transisthmian traffic.

Honduras continued to have a traditional cattle raising oligarchy, with precapitalist labor relations. Because that oligarchy produced only for the domestic market and many of the productive relationships were nonmonetary, little investment capital was accumulated. The hacendado saw little need for a strong Honduran state, and espoused a philosophy of a weak central government.

Capitalist production in Honduras was represented by foreign-owned banana firms. The state was so weak it could not impose taxes on the banana companies, so until 1950 “enclave” was an apt description of the export banana industry in that country. With the other banana-exporting countries, particularly Guatemala and Costa Rica, the state, although at a power disadvantage, could bargain with the banana companies, and to a degree integrate them economically into the country. The coffee oligarchy was most dominant in El Salvador because of the virtual absence of competing exports or of foreign investment.

B. Post World War II Export Expansion

In the postwar period, the Central American economies changed radically. New export crops began to arise: cotton, sugar, and livestock for export. The va Inc of cotton exports for the region as a whole tripled from 1953 to 1961 and tripled again by 1968, when they were 20 percent of all exports (Winston 1978, p.40). Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador all became important cotton producers (Real and Lungo 1979: 19).

Coffee represented about 50 percent of Nicaragua’s total exports in 1950. More recently Nicaragua’s exports have been fairly balanced among coffee, sugar, cotton, and cattle. El Salvador experienced similar expansion and diversification of agricultural exports. Coffee, previously the dominant export, was joined by cotton and, to a lesser degree, sugar. In Guatemala, by 1965, cotton surpassed bananas as the country’s second export crop (after coffee). Sugar and beef also became important (Davis 1982: 8).

By 1963 in Costa Rica, cacao and sugar had equaled or surpassed bananas in acreage; coffee continued to be the dominant export crop (Naciones Unidas 973:167). By the mid-1970s beef exports also doubled (Taylor 1980:83). While Honduran export agriculture diversified somewhat more slowly, cotton, coffee, and cattle production for export increased (Morris and Sanchez 1977: 80). By 1964 banana exports in Honduras were surpassed by the sum of exports of other agricultural products (del Cid 1977:124).

Except for coffee in Costa Rica, a substantial majority of these crops are grown on larger-than-family holdings, as shown in Table 1. In Costa Rica, 54 percent of coffee was grown on minifundios and family size holdings in 1963. The slight predominance of coffee land in family or smaller holdings does not mean that when all agricultural land is taken into account that Costa Rican agriculture is significantly more peasant-oriented than its neighbors (See Tables 2 and 3).

Honduras had a more equitable distribution of land in the 1960s than any. other Central American republic – a higher proportion of land in family-size units, and a lower proportion of land in latifundios (large multi-family farms) than any other country (See Table 2). Data in Table 3 suggest that Costa Rica, Honduras,and Nicaragua have the largest middle-class and rich peasant groups (although they represent only about one fifth of the rural population in those countries and 12 percent for the region as a whole).

Farm operators are more likely to own their land in Costa Rica than in any other Central American country (76%) (Winston 1978: 37),4 suggesting more tenancy security in Costa Rica than in the other countries, and less land in semi-feudal forms of tenancy than in the other countries, especially Honduras. The “farmer” route to upward mobility in the coffee export sector is available only in Costa Rica.

Expansion of capitalist export agriculture in the post war period seems to have been consistently at the expense of food production, particularly when the rapid population growth rate for the period is considered.

View Associated Tables

In Guatemala between 1961 and 1973, arable land dedicated to export crops expanded 6.5 percent annually while arable land for food production increased 2 percent or less per year. The annual population growth rate was about 3 percent for the period.

“By the early 1970s, when Guatemala’s export agricultural earnings were booming, the country had to import record amounts of corn, wheat, and beans” (Davis 1982:9). Between 1950 and 1970 the number of subfamily farms increased from 308,000 to 421,000 which made land problems particularly severe in the western and central highlands where most of Guatemala’s Indian population lives. The average size of farms decreased from 1.3 hectares per person in 1950 to less than .85 hectares in 1975 (Davis 1982: 9).

Cotton expanded along the south coast in Guatemala, an area previously sparsely inhabited. This expansion eliminated a major safety valve for population pressure from the highlands (Adams 1970: 355).

El Salvador also increased food imports, which in 1972 represented half the value of all goods purchased abroad (North 1981: 53). That export agriculture was crowding out peasant-based food production is indicated by the phenomenal growth in rural landlessness from 12 to 41 percent of the rural labor force (from 30,000 to 167,000 families) between 1961 and 1973 (North 1981: 48). Peasant food production diminished most on the coastal flatlands where cotton production expanded sharply (North 1981: 45). Nicaragua’s 1981: 36).

Even in Honduras, the least developed Central American country, land used for export crops expanded more in the 1950s and 1960’s than did land used for basic grains. The only exception was the absolute decline in banana land (del Cid 1977:125).

Data on the impact of increased landlessness on rural well-being exists only for El Salvador. The rural labor force which was landless increased more than five-fold in absolute numbers. The number of families with less than two hectares of land increased substantially, while the number with more than two hectares declined. According to UNDP and other survey data, net family income of landless and near landless (the 62 percent of the rural population with less than one hectare) rural families declined in the same period by 15 and 20 percent, respectively (Samaniego 1980: 661,663; also see Berryman 1984:103).

As Table 3 shows, in the 1960s Costa Rica already had a higher proportion of rural landless than any other Central American Republic. Costa Rica also experienced an increase in rural near landless population. The number of farms between 1 and 1.4 manzanas (about .7 to 1 hectare) increased 8 percent between 1963 and 1973 (Selison 1980, 147), as land used for export production increased, particularly for livestock in Guanacaste on the Pacific littoral, and more intensive food crop production was displaced. That markedly increased both the volume and price of grain and bean imports between 1965 and 1974 (Taylor 1980, 83).

In summary, with the growing demand for primary products by the developed countries after World War II, commercial agriculture expanded and diversified in all Central American republics, with major agrarian social impacts. Export crops, now grown on the best land, displaced peasants and removed fertile lowland areas from potential colonization or reception of human overflows from densely settle, upland areas.

Since export crops are grown on large holdings and basic grains and other wage foods are grown predominantly by peasants, declining per capita production of wage foods resulted, as did greatly expanded imports of foodstuffs, semi-proletarianization, and landlessness. At least in the case of El Salvador, there was increased immiseration of peasants and the rural landless. Production, even in the coffee sector, became more fully capitalist. As seasonal labor requirements increased in the export sector, more lower peasants and rural landless people became temporary or permanent migrants, often crossing national borders in response to seasonal labor requirements.

Variations in these patterns occurred chiefly in Costa Rica and Honduras. Costa Rica, as a colonial backwater with a peculiar growth of coffee production, is the only country with a majority of land dedicated to a primary export crop (coffee) in the hands of peasants. Peasants’ tenure is more secure in Costa Rica than in any other Central American Republic, although rural landlessness is a severe problem.

Honduras was half a decade behind the other countries in diversifying of its export agriculture, and precapitalist labor relations continued strong in the non-export sector. In 1974, Honduras exported a lower percentage of its agricultural production than any other Central American country.5 Although its rural population is the poorest of all Central America6 (because of the late insertion of capitalist relations in the countryside), Honduras did not develop peasant movements until quite recently.

C. “Import Substitution” Industrialization

Industrialization, which occurred earlier in the rest of Latin America, reached Central America in the 1960s, stimulated by the Central American Common Market (CACM). It was established because none of the countries had a large enough internal market to develop an import-substitution industry alone. The Central American countries had quite unequal internal wealth distribution and the post-war expansion and diversification of agricultural export industries improved incomes of the vast majority of the people very little — if at all.

Creating the Central American Common Market helped develop two kinds of industry: a) those that processed agricultural products, and b) those that put the finishing touches on a manufactured consumer product. Multinational corporations played a major role in producing the manufactured products.

Industrialization should have decreased the necessity for foreign exchange. Instead, even though the imported part of Central American industrial output declined from 57 percent to 44 percent after the CACM was established (1963 to 1969), rapid industrial growth increased the absolute demand for imports, including the raw or partially finished materials that went into consumer goods and machinery used to produce the goods (Torres Rivas 1980a, p.30).

The industrial output of all the Central American countries except for Honduras grew between 7 and 9 percent annually from 1960 to 1976. Honduras’ annual industrial growth rate was 4.6 percent for the period. Guatemala and El Salvador, with the earliest starts and larger internal markets, remained the most industrialized. Growth in industrial activity, along with the growing need to import food, increased the need for agricultural exports, because more foreign exchange was needed for agricultural and industrial investments.

The growth of agricultural export activities had negative impacts on rural people. The rapid increase in industrialization and commercial agriculture increased total per capita income moderately, but the income of people lowest on the income scale declined.

In Central America as a whole, from 1970 to 1975 only one of every five new people who entered the labor force could find employment (Torres Rivas 1980a, 35). That undesirable situation resulted from the rapid increase in population, the capital-intensive nature of growing industrial activity, and people being pushed off the land by large scale commercial agriculture, which employed fewer workers than the peasant agriculture it replaced.

Torres Rivas suggests that although the CACM was designed to deal with insufficient demand within each Central American country, the result was increased emphasis on low wages by employers in each country rather than on increasing demand through improved standards of living. He concludes that “the final logic of repression is not the danger of guerrillas but the containment of salaries” (Torres Rivas 1980a, 36). It is no coincidence that in the late 1970s increasing repression in all CA countries except Costa Rica paralleled the decline in profits in the export sector, which resulted from the world economic slowdown.



Equally important as the question, “Why has insurgency arisen in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua?” is the question “Why has it not arisen in Honduras and Costa Rica?” In addition to the objective economic circumstances prevailing in the five Central American countries, political events in the first three countries prevented peasants and workers from organizing to defend collective interests. I will first examine the relevant political events in the countries with insurgency which indicated a pattern of repression of popular movements, especially those in the countryside. This will be followed by a discussion of how a degree of legitimation of participation of workers and peasants in the national dialogue occurred in the other two countries.

A. Countries with Insurgency

1) El Salvador — The development of capitalist export-oriented coffee production strengthened the non-capitalist sectors of the economy:

The remnants of the Indian communities were reorganized as a new subsistence sector of minifundistas and marginal squatters who depended upon temporary work in the coffee harvests (Browning, 1971: 217-220). Some of the landless moved to the towns, where they contributed to the expansion of an artisanal sector… (Zamosc, 1986: 7).

The artisanal group was critical in the development of class-based interest groups in the cities. Artisans whose ranks and production grew in the years following the liberal reform’s, came to be threatened by the manufactured products brought into the country during periods of good coffee prices. They also were strategically located because of their ready access to information and their relatively high level of education (Zamosc, 1986:14). The artisans organized first into guilds and then into labor unions. Artisans, employees and workers formed the National Federation of Salvadoran Workers (FRTS) in 1924, in spite of the repression of peasants and of the small labor movement under the Melendez-Quionez “dynasty,” discussed below (Anderson, 1971: 7).

Following the liberal reforms consolidation of the liberal economic forces was so complete that Liberal and Conservative parties did not exist. Ad hoc parties were organized when needed. From the 1880s on, members of the coffee oligarchy (liberals) rotated in power through coups and elections which ratified the hand picked choice of the existing president. From 1913 to 1927 the Melendez-Quinonez family ruled through regular succession without any coups. The last President in the Melendez-Quinonez “dynasty” was Don Pio Romero Bosque, elected in 1927. Though he exiled his predecessor and maintained a scrupulously honest government, Anderson makes a convincing case for his continuing to represent coffee interests. While he abolished the state of siege and brought about the passage of labor legislation and other reforms, he also gave the Coffee Growers Association semi-official status and prohibited the formation of agricultural unions (Anderson, 1971:40). Zamosc argues that

… the Romero Bosque Administration expressed… a change in the strategy of domination. It was an attempt to modify the political regime while at the same time, maintain the basic principles of the liberal state that served the interests of the dominant classes. The exclusionary regime had worked when the subordinate classes were weak, but it had proved unable to deal with the new scenario of popular mobilization (Zamosc, 1987:16-17).

Romero Bosque, for a rather complicated set of reasons, decided not to endorse a successor, and the first free election in El Salvador’s history was held in 1931 (Anderson, 1971:40-48). Arturo Araujo, elected on a Labor Party ticket, was the clear choice of the populace. The newly formed Salvadoran Communist Party did not participate. The problems confronted by the new President were great (the price of coffee on the world market had declined nearly two thirds since 1928; Burns, 1984: 308). Araujo’s desire to seek a middle road during a time of economic catastrophe earned him the enmity of both the coffee growers and peasants and artisans. After nine months, he was thrown out by a coup of young officers. His Vice President, General Hernandez Martinez, became the new President.

The decline in demand for coffee during the Great Depression led to a wave of peasant land dispossessions with accompanying political repression (North 1981: 29). The standard of living of the coffee workers was low even before the Great Depression. With the coming of the Depression, worker organization began to reach into the countryside, particularly in western El Salvador where Indians still remembered the loss of their lands from the Liberal reforms. The Communist Party, organized in 1931 and headed by Farabundo Marti,7 planned an insurrection in January 1932, following General Martinez’ failure to recognize the election of a number of Communist municipal leaders earlier the same month. The plot was discovered and the Communist leaders were arrested and later assassinated.
Those low-ranking insurrectionists within the military were also discovered and foiled.

The Indian caciques went ahead with the planned occupation although the remaining Communists made a halfhearted attempt to call it off two days before it was scheduled to begin (Anderson 1971: 98). Peasants — mostly Indians — with machetes and old rifles took a few towns in western El Salvador, torturing and terrorizing some people in the process. At most 100 persons — civilians and military — were killed by the rebels. That unleashed the most vicious massacre in Central American history. Within three weeks, 10,000 to 30,000 persons were killed by Salvadoran authorities. Persons with machetes, with Indian features or “scruffy” campesino costume were presumed guilty and summarily executed (Anderson, 1971:131).

The slaughter (La Matanza) of fifty years ago is still a living nightmare. For the oligarchy, it signified what is to be avoided at all costs — a peasant uprising. All worker and peasant organizations were prohibited, and none emerged again until the late 1940s. Peasant organizations are prohibited by law still today. The military ruled continuously and directly from 1931 to 1982; following the elections of March 1982, they ruled indirectly.

General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez ruled until 1944. His repressive policies, his narrow defense of the coffee oligarchy to the extent of legislating against industrialization, his interest in the occult and belief in his own infallibility eventually led to his overthrow. Subsequently, there were brief periods of progressive military rule, with support of modernizing elites (Berryman 1984: 96-97). Beginning in 1949, a semiofficial military party was created. Its present-day manifestation is the National Reconciliation Party (PNC). Representing the “modernizing” bourgeoisie (both agrarian and industrial) and the dominant sector of the military, the PNC has favored minimal reforms coupled with the repressive measures necessary to maintain control. It “won” with massive fraud, the presidential elections of 1962, 1967, 1972, and 1977.

Under the shadow of an incipient Marxist guerrilla movement, a coup, led by young progressive officers, occurred in October 1979. A civilian-military junta was installed. It was soon clear that the military establishment continued to hold power. In particular, the junta was unable to do anything about the death squads which were operating openly against persons of progressive and left wing views. Two civilians in the junta and various civilian cabinet members resigned in January 1980. Unknown to them, the Christian Democrats (PCD),8 who had participated in the cabinet, had been negotiating with the military, and formed a new junta with the military. Jose Napoleon Duarte, head of the PCD, former mayor of San Salvador, and winner of the 1972 Presidential election (but not allowed to take office), soon became a member of the junta, and received strong support from the American embassy as someone who could rally popular support and avoid a civil war. However, Duarte’s long years in exile had left him out of touch with the new grassroots currents. The Popular (People’s) Forces, a group of organizations consisting of the poorer classes, were becoming increasingly militant, demanding major reforms and effective participation in decision making. They had support from the much respected Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero (Anderson 1982: 79-84).

In an effort to capture some of the momentum of the People’s Forces, the junta declared a sweeping agrarian reform in March 1980, accompanied with nationalization of the banks to insure orderly investment of the industrial bonds which were to he the means of payment to expropriated landlords. Twenty-five percent of agricultural land was expropriated. These largest estates were made into production cooperatives. The army was in charge of administering the agrarian reform, and used the occasion to eliminate peasant leaders of both the opposition and of the pro-U.S. peasant union, the UCS. Later a “Land to the Tiller” phase was implemented, but the so-called second phase of the agrarian reform which would have expropriated most of the coffee haciendas was never implemented, leaving that power group intact (Diskin 1985). Even if it had been administered in the interest of the intended beneficiaries, the land reform was too late to stern the growth of the armed opposition.

Less than three weeks after the agrarian reform decree, Archbishop Romero was killed while saying mass. His assassins were never brought to trial. ‘The popular forces continued to be very active. Massive street demonstrations took place throughout the summer of 1980. In November 1980, the six principal leaders of the alliance of popular forces, now called the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), were kidnapped by uniformed forces while in a meeting in San Salvador. A day later their tortured bodies were found. Four North American church women were murdered enroute to the funeral by elements of the military forces. ‘The FDR, having been given no other alternative, went underground and became the political wing of the unified guerrilla movement, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Andersuti 1982: 85-87, 91-92). The middle ground had for the time being disappeared; the poor classes were excluded from participation in the “legitimate” political dialogue.

2) Guatemala — The most important event in recent Guatemalan history that contributed to closing off peasant and worker participation in the political process was the overthrow of the elected reformist government in 1954 by a CIA-supported force of Guatemalans. To understand that event, which ended a ten year period of reform, we need to examine the reform period and the long Ubico dictatorship that preceded it from 1931 to 1944.

General Ubico centralized control in his own hands. In 1934, he replaced debt servitude with vagrancy laws that only the national government could enforce. Debt peonage was eliminated at the precise time — during the Great Depression — that peasant and rural landless people became disadvantaged by a free labor market (Adams 1970: 425-426). He replaced elective municipal officials with ones appointed by him. To maintain support of the coffee bourgeoisie, whose trade organization he made illegal, Ubico suppressed all labor and peasant organizations, thus insuring low wages. While Ubico made major shifts in the domestically controlled economy, he did nothing to antagonize the powerful United Fruit Company (Wasserstrom 1975:448-449).

The growth of commercial agriculture during World War II brought about a new class of artisans, professionals, businessmen, university students, and a few industrial workers. Businessmen and professionals realized that they would find little opportunity to expand their enterprises or to increase the demand for their services, so long as coffee monoculture prevailed in the countryside (Wasserstrom 1975:448-449). Ubico’s downfall was precipitated by these new groups in alliance with middle level military officers. The subsequent elected reform governments of Arevalo and Arbenz (1944-1954) represented an attempt to deal with the contradictions in the Guatemalan system. Arevalo found it necessary to rely on the embryonic labor movement to strengthen his political support when the middle class coalition that brought him to power began to splinter (Wasserstrom 1975: 451).

In the early days of Arbenz’ government, large landowners, led by United Fruit, reacted against a mild Arevalo law requiring them to rent unused land to peasants at reasonable prices. When they saw their absolute control over the land threatened, domestic and foreign agrarian capitalists closed ranks. In response to lockouts on the large plantations, Arbenz concluded that the only option consistent with his concern for reform was to deprive the conservative landowners of the bases of their power — the land itself. He proposed a sweeping agrarian reform similar to the Mexican one. Arbenz’ attempt to bring about moderate, but real, reform cost him support on both the right and left. He used the power of his office to organize peasant groups to support the agrarian reform and to counteract the Communist-organized plantation workers, who sought a more radical reform. However, in the end the top-down character of the reforms did not generate enough grassroots support to resist the invasion of Colonel Castillo Armas, who was chosen by the CIA as the vehicle for a United Fruit-encouraged coup against Arbenz in 1954 (Wasserstrom 1975: 456-458).

Torres Rivas (1980c: 24) estimates that 8,000 peasants were killed in the first two months of the Castillo Armas regime. The aim was more to suppress agrarian organization than to eliminate urban unions, although the latter were persecuted as well (Adams 1970: 450).

Not until the administration of Mendez Montenegro (1966-1970) did a significant number of peasant unions reemerge. Mendez was the most recent civilian president, until Vinicio Cerezo was elected in 1985. Like Cerezo, Mendez had to agree to allow the military a free hand in combating the guerrillas. Two guerrilla groups sought power, each headed by former members of the February 13 group of young officers who attempted a military coup in 1960 and who opposed the large role played by the U.S. in Guatemalan politics. During Mendez’ presidency, some 15,000 persons were killed by the government and paramilitary groups in three years as the military successfully eliminated a few hundred guerrillas (Torres Rivas 1980c: 19).

Concurrent with repression in the countryside, rural cooperatives were first promoted by Catholic missionaries in the late 1950s. They were given financial help in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the official U.S. Agency for International Development, so that by 1976, there were 132,000 members organized in eight large federations. A majority of the cooperatives were in the Indian highlands (Davis 1982:11).

As the cooperatives grew in the countryside, the industrial labor force grew in the urban areas, from fewer than 20,000 in 1946 to 212,000 in 1973 (Davis 1982: 12). In 1976, eight of Guatemala’s largest unions formed a coordinating committee. One of its priorities was establishing contact with rural organizations, especially cooperatives. A Peasant Unity Committee was organized in 1978 as the first labor organization to link poor Ladino workers with Indian peasants, and sponsored several impressive strikes (Davis 1982: 16).

The third period of heavy repression in the era of diversified exports (after those of 1954-55 and 1965-67) began in the early 1970s and culminated under the regime of General Rios Montt (March 1982-August 1983). The regime of General Lucas Garcia (1978-1982), who preceded Rios Montt, was rather ineffective in combating the guerrillas. The first of four groups began operations in 1975; total strength of the four groups during Lucas Garcia’s rule grew to 6,000, and for the first time the guerrillas made important inroads with the indigenous population. Under Lucas, death squads, most associated with the armed and security forces, ran rampant. The leaders of the two principal non-Marxist left-of-center parties were assassinated, along with many of their followers. By the end of 1980, thirty local and national leaders of the centrist Christian Democratic party were killed. Many union leaders were eliminated: “If being a member of a political out-group was dangerous, being involved in a union was suicidal.” By the end of 1980, 86 university professors and 389 students at the University of San Carlos had been killed, and a handful of priests assassinated (Anderson 1982: 38-41).

General Rios Montt, who took over following a coup after fraudulent elections in 1982 largely put an end to the military death squad activity in the cities. But he unleashed a systematic and cruel counterinsurgency campaign in the countryside. The campaign was based on 1) the creation of civil patrols, in which peasants were impressed into a kind of obligatory militia and sometimes forced at gunpoint to kill neighbors or persons from an adjacent village; 2) massacres by the military of men, women, and children in villages where it was suspected that sympathy for the guerrillas was considerable; and 3) model villages (much like strategic hamlets in South Vietnam (Americas Watch, 1983 and 1984).

The back of the guerrilla movement was broken by Rios Montt, though it was by no means completely destroyed. Under his successor General Mejia Victores, who also came to power via a military coup, massacres in the countryside diminished but the death squads began operating in the cities again (Americas Watch 1985). Elections were held in November and December 1985 because of a declining economy and a desire on the part of the military for U.S. economic and military aid. They were won by the Christian Democrats. The military is unlikely to give up much power. It is likely to continue to control and administer rural areas. The machinery of repression is still intact and slayings and disappearances have continued under the Cerezo government (Nairn and Simon, 1986). Since no reforms have been implemented which would improve the situation of the poor classes, one assumes it is only a matter of time before the guerrilla movement will again threaten stability in Guatemala. Autonomous collective action by the peasantry is nil today, although urban workers continue to struggle to participate in the “legitimate” political system.

3) Nicaragua — Creation of the National Guard in the 1930s effectively eliminated peasant organization and sharply circumscribed labor unions as part of the national dialogue for most of the Somoza era. The Guard, from 1933 to 1979, served as the principal vehicle for establishing and maintaining the Somoza dictatorship.

The establishment of the National Guard was preceded by roughly a century of foreign intervention that, until the growth of Somocismo, retarded liberal reforms as well as the development of a dominant coffee bourgeoisie. First Liberal, and then Conservative alliances with U.S. geopolitical interests in a transisthmian route through Nicaragua kept Liberalism from developing fully in Nicaragua (Torres Rivas 1980b: 80-83).

A relatively strong modernizing state began to emerge only after the Liberal Jose Santos Zelaya (1893-1909), took over. Under Zelaya’s “benevolent” dictatorship, education was expanded, the economy was modernized, infrastructure was developed, new lands were opened to coffee production, sovereignty was extended over the entire national territory as Zelaya obtained British withdrawal from the Misquito Coast, and foreign investment was encouraged in bananas, timber, and gold (Stansifer, 1977).

Despite his opening Nicaragua to international investment, Zelaya was opposed by the U.S. State Department because he championed Central American unity and sovereignty. In particular, he refused to grant the U.S. rights to build a canal through Nicaragua which would have involved surrendering sovereignty over some Nicaraguan territory(Stansifer 1977). He was ousted by Conservatives with U.S. assistance in 1909, and a period of unstable Conservative rule followed.

Instability of the Conservative government grew in part from the U.S. playing a major role in choosing Nicaragua’s leaders. Those subservient to U.S. interests almost by definition lacked legitimacy among the elite political class. Instability led to intervention by U.S. Marines, which reduced the legitimacy of Conservative rule even further.

An important product of the return to Conservative rule was the Brian­Chamorro treaty that guaranteed the U.S. exclusive rights in perpetuity to build a transisthmian canal. Signed in the year of the opening of the Panama Canal (1914), it insured that no European country would finance the building of a competitor canal across the isthmus.

From 1912 to 1933, U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua almost continuously. In 1926, when, with U.S. Assistance, a Liberal uprising was crushed, one of the Liberal commanders — Augusto Cesar Sandino — refused to accept continued American occupation, and began a six-year guerrilla war that culminated in the U.S. Marines leaving Nicaragua and turning the military reins over to the American-trained National Guard, headed by U.S.-educated Anastasio Somoza Garcia, a Liberal. During Sandino’s insurgency, the U.S. switched to the Liberal Party because the Conservative leadership was so discredited.

Sandino, having accomplished his main goal–ouster of U.S. troops–agreed to disarm in 1933. President Sacasa guaranteed the safety and livelihood of Sandino and his troops and their families, but in February 1934, Sandino was assassinated by the National Guard upon leaving a dinner with the President.

The same night, in a coordinated operation, at least 300 of Sandino’s unarmed followers and their family members were massacred by the National Guard (Selser 1981, pp. 177-179). Three years later, Anastasio Somoza Garcia ousted President Sacasa and ruled Nicaragua until his death by an assassin in 1956. The rule of Anastasio Somoza Garcia and that of his son, Luis, who died of a heart attack in 1967, was characterized by strengthening of the Guard, cultivating the Americans, and co-opting important domestic power contenders (Walker 1981: 17). The Somoza dynasty’s ability to institutionalize its rule explains its longevity.

Unlike the personal dictatorships established in the 1930’s in other Central American countries, the Somozas remained in power during the post WWII boom. They learned to participate in–and control–the fruits of modernization. The elder Somoza, starting with only a ruined coffee plantation when he became head of the National Guard, made his economic ascent by profiting from lumber, gold, and rubber exported to the U.S. during World War II, organizing illicit activities through the national Guard, and by acquiring coffee plantations and livestock ranches through expropriation of German properties (Jonas 1976:10; Torres Rivas 1980b: 96).

In the 1950s and 1960s the Somoza family expanded into industry (cement and textiles) and particularly into products for the regional market (meat, fish, milk, and paper), after the Central American Common Market was established. The family controlled the only Nicaraguan shipping line, the only airline, and the only energy-generating company (Jonas 1976:11-12). It used its control of the government to insure favorable tax rates and import and export policies for the family and its friends.

The Somocista state sought to neutralize bourgeois opposition through a series of pacts with the Conservative political opposition. The tradeoff was to allow members of the elite outside the Somoza coterie to have relatively free access to economic power in exchange for a junior partnership in politics (Torres Rivas 1980b: 88). In 1950, the Conservatives were guaranteed 1/3 of the seats in Congress. They made their last pact with Somoza in 1971 (Black 1981: 32 and 44).

When his brother died, Anastasio, Jr. (nicknamed Tachito), who had been head of the National Guard since his father’s death, took over the government. His approach differed considerably from that of his brother, who had attempted to build a stronger civilian power base in a rejuvenated Liberal party. But Tachito relied simply on military power.

His brother, Luis, and his puppets (he often ruled indirectly), had surrounded themselves with a group of highly trained developmentalist technicians (los mini faldas, the miniskirts). Luis had felt that, for the sake of image, the family should consolidate rather than expand its already vast fortune. Tachito exercised no restraints in using public office for personal enrichment, so by 1970, his legitimacy and civilian power base were evaporating rapidly (Walker 1981: 30). Corruption became overt as he siphoned off relief funds after the 1972 earthquake, which destroyed the center of Managua.

Lack of subtlety of Tachito’s rule his complete abandonment of the state’s legitimacy among Nicaraguans of all social classes ultimately spelled his downfall. The inevitable consequence of the economic decline of the 1970s was more acute capitalist competition. The bourgeoisie found itself in a profound contradiction: its heretofore reliable power base — the Somoza dynasty — was cutting back the bourgeoisie’s potential for expansion. Both the main parties split, and bourgeois groups began to seek alternative political formations such as the Union Democratica de Liberacion (UDEL) (Black 1981: 63).

UDEL was founded in 1974, a coalition of political parties and trade union groups, including dissident Liberal and Conservative groups, the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN, the Moscow-oriented Communist party) and its trade union federation, and others. The coalition was held together by the popular Conservative politician and editor of La Prensa, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro. UDEL’s organization took place in the context of greater labor militancy. Organized by the CGT-I, the PSN federation of the construction workers struck in 1973 (Somoza had profiteered by monopolizing the construction industry after the earthquake). There were also peasant land invasions, a strike at the largest sugar mill, and increasing activities by the clandestine FSLN (the Sandinista Front for National Liberation), founded in 1962.

The FSLN grew in importance against the background of a generally weak labor and peasant movement. The Nicaraguan labor movement, before the insurrection led by the FSLN, was the least organized of all labor movements in the Central American Republics (Black 1981: 275). The Association of Rural Workers (ATC), the rural labor union and peasant movement of the Sandinstas, was formally founded only in March 1978. And the Sandinista Workers’ Federation (CST) was not formally organized until after the Sandinista victory, although Workers Fighting Committees (CLTs) or workers councils had been organized in the factories earlier (Black 1981: 275-277).

Peasants and workers who joined the FSLN before 1977 did so directly without passing through Sandinista-related unions or peasant associations. Thus worker and peasant organizations were derived from, rather than contributing to, the emergence of insurgency–a situation attesting to the smallness of the proletariat, the economic instability of enclave agriculture and extractive activities, and to the effectiveness of the Somoza regime in suppressing popular organizations, particularly those in the countryside. Vilas, in a study of the social origins of those who fell against Somoza in the insurrection (and whose families receive social welfare payments as a result), found that the largest single group– 39 percent– had parents who were genie de oficio, which included artisans and service workers. The next two categories were peasant or farmer (19 percent) and small business person (17 percent). Sixteen percent of the participants were of proletarian background –
– reflecting the underdevelopment of industrial activity in Nicaragua. Workers in fact were over-represented in the insurrection (Vilas, 1984: 26-28).

A somewhat weak Nicaraguan state, more like Honduras than Guatemala, El Salvador, or Costa Rica, resulted from the interaction of two phenomena:

a) Nicaragua’s character as a colonial backwater with neither a substantial indigenous labor force (the Indian population of the Pacific part of Nicaragua was rapidly decimated, especially through disease) nor important mineral wealth.

b) U.S. geopolitical concerns stunted the political development of Liberalism. It was first discredited by associating with the William Walker interregnum in the 1850s and then severely hampered from gaining hegemony through direct U.S. support of Conservatives. Finally, the Liberal Somoza dictatorship did not rule in the interests of either the bourgeois class or its Liberal fraction. Its distorted Liberalism was at heart a personal (family) dictatorship that outlived its counterparts in the other countries because of Nicaragua’s geopolitical importance to the U.S. That resulted in a divided bourgeoisie before strong popular organizations developed in the insurrectionary period in the late 1970s. The divided bourgeoisie and the Somozas’ excesses provided an opening for an insurgent-led national revolution. That Sandino was the namesake of the movement that overthrew the Somoza dynasty is entirely appropriate, for the insurrection, supported by persons of all social classes, was indeed a nationalist revolution.9

B. Countries Without Significant Insurgencies

That repressive governments did not develop in Costa Rica or Honduras does not mean that conflict did not occur there. Rather, the context for such conflict differed markedly from responses in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

1) Costa Rica — In 1940, Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia was elected president representing the National Republican Party. His and his protege’s (Picada) administrations were moderate reform governments.

The banner of modernization and reform passed from the Reform party of the 1920s to the Communist party. To capture the impetus for reform from the Communists, Calderon Guardia accelerated official reform, which caused him to lose his right wing support. Two years into Calderon Guardia’s administration, he and the Communist party made an agreement. Communist support was important in passing a series of reforms–a social security law, progressive taxation, a new labor code guaranteeing collective bargaining, a land title to it under certain conditions), and a series of social amendments to be constitution (Bell 1971: 29).

Calderon Guardia’s opposition consisted of two widely divergent groups: the conservative oligarchy whose wealth was based principally on coffee, and a group of young middle class persons of social democratic tendency, who sought many of the reforms enacted by Calderon Guardia, but opposed them tactically (Bell 1971: 33-34). Jose Figueres, a young intellectual hacendado who spoke vehemently against the Calderon Guardia government in 1942, was the only political exile during Calderon Guardia’s administration. His exile set the stage for development of the conspiracy that ultimately culminated in the 1948 Revolution (Bell 1971).

If Figueres and the other social democrats favored policies similar to those enacted by Calderon Guardia, why were they so vehemently opposed to his rule? The answer lies in the social basis of support for the two groups. Calderon Guardia, and especially his small but significant groups of Communist allies, were developing broad-based popular support. The one elenient Figueres and his social democrats held in common with their conservative allies–aside from their common opposition to Calderon Guardia–was an elitist approach to leadership.

While Vanguardia Popular (the Costa Rican Communist Party), had a rather small electoral base, it was large enough to provide Calderon Guardia’s National Republican party an operating majority in Congress and it insured a popular base for his policies (Bell 1971: 42-44).

The 1948 election pitted Calderon Guardia against Otilio Ulate, a conservative candidate from the united opposition. Both candidates unknowingly played into Figureres’s plans for an insurrection to implement the “Second Republic”.

When the ballots were counted after a tense and sometimes violent campaign, Ulate had apparently won. The Calderonistas alleged fraud, and since they controlled Congress, certified the election of Calderon. Calderon, not realizing that Figueres had obtained military assistance from the Caribbean “legion” through the good offices of President Arevalo of Guatemala, saw no danger in having Congress declare him President, rather than requesting a new election.

After 40 days of fighting with the poorly trained Costa Rican army and police on one side, and Figueres’s Caribbean exile-assisted middle class rebels on the other side, President Picado, rather than risk a full-scale civil war, gave up San Jose after assurances that: 1) Ulate would be allowed to take over in 18 months, 2) there would be a general amnesty, and 3) all political parties would be allowed to participate. As one of its first acts the Figuerista junta was to break part of the agreement by jailing Vanguardia Popular leaders and outlawing their party (Bell 1971: Chapter 7). Ulate was allowed to take over at the assigned time, suggesting Figueres was comfortable with a democracy limited to elites, but he could not brook autonomous participation by the working class.

Several elements are important regarding the 1948 revolution, which reinforced formal democracy, eliminated the army, and did not lead to repression.

a) The power of the coffee oligarchy was broken by setting the stage for growth of elites based on industrial activities and diversified agricultural exports (particularly livestock). The first step taken was nationalizing both the banking system and coffee exporting under the junta in 1948, which took financial control from the oligarchy and put it in the hands of the state (Rovira Mas 1980, pp.38-39). While the old and the new elites have rotated in power through electoral determination since 1949, the impetus for structural change has been with the National Libertion Perty (PLN), the party of the new elites (Rovira Mas 1980: 37).

b) Workers and peasants have effectively been kept from power, not through repression, but by the PLN economic program supporting a greater role for the state by creating favorable conditions for industrialization, including strong support for the CACM, and agricultural export expansion along with heavier export taxes on coffee and bananas, the two traditional exports. Welfare state policies neutralized serious opposition from organized workers and peasants (Rovira Mas 1980: 44-46 and 57). Unlike its neighbors, Costa Rica has tried to insure that workers and peasants have relatively high incomes and a decent social wage by strengthening the domestic market (Rovira Mas, 1980: 44, 58-59). By the mid-1970’s the contradiction between subsidizing economic expansion by the new industrial and agrarian elites and in maintaining the welfare state and decent salary levels was evident. Following the world economic downturn, Costa Rica came to have the largest per capita foreign debt in Latin America (Torres Rivas 1980a: 33).

c) Reform movements of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, coupled with the small ill-prepared Costa Rican army in 1948, all showed that the coffee bourgeoisie in Costa Rica was much weaker than in Guatemala and El Salvador. The rich coffee peasantry was an important buffer to the development of autonomous peasant organizations and their linking to urban industrial or rural agroindustrial unions (Barahona 1979: 220-221, 224).

The recent pressures on Costa Rica to abandon its traditional position of neutrality and the push from the U.S. to strengthen the Civil Guard in return for U.S. economic aid place the only consistently democratic country in Central America in a difficult political situation.

2) Honduras — Honduras was the most “backward” of the Central American Republics (Durham 1979:115; Anderson 1981:53). While the other countries except Costa Rica had experienced a clear confrontation between reform and counterrevolution, Honduras’ bourgeoisie developed enough to confront international capital. Honduras’ elites could only set relatively low taxes and receive bureaucratic and “clientelistic” privileges for themselves (Posas 1980: 46).

After World War II, capitalist production expanded beyond the narrow confines of banana enclaves and the incipient capitalism of the urban Centers. Stimulated by international demand and favorable credits, an agrarian bourgeoisie began to emerge from the expansion of cattle and cotton production for export, and to form around the coffee industry (Posas 1980:

The United Fruit Company after 1929 had a monopoly on marketing Honduran bananas. It controlled its own labor force and prevented its workers from organizing. Even after a wave of strikes against the banana company in 1931-32, no union was recognized.

The first important strike among United Fruit banana workers was in 1954. The weakness of what Posas called class-based unionism allowed the Fruit Company, the government, and the American Federation of Labor (which pressured the United Fruit for a settlement) to arrest the more militant members of the strike committee and to negotiate a settlement with few official recriminations (Posas 1980b: 6-7 and Anderson 1981).

The 1954 banana strike provided impetus for the United and Standard Fruit companies to mechanize By 1959, each had reduced its work force behalf while increasing production (Volk 1981: 8). Many laid-off peasants settled in the valleys adjoining the north coast, contributing to a squeeze on land. The development of commercial relations and the shortage of land set the stage for rural class conflict.

The labor movement came to be dominated by pro-U.S. “bread and butter” unions affiliated with the InterAmerican Regional Organization Labor (ORIT) and assisted by the AFL-CIO’s American Institute for Free labor Development (AIFLD), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) (Volk 1981: 8; Anderson 1981: 58). Growth of the labor movement under Liberal President Villeda Morales (1957-1963) was rapid–first along the north coast, and then in Tegucigalpa among agroindustrial workers, then other urban workers, and finally peasants. The unions could not make or unmake presidents, but unions became part of the power mix, along with the landed oligarchy, the army, the middle class, and the fruit companies (Anderson 1981: 58).

Particularly after the war with El Salvador (June 1969), the Honduran agrarian sector became the principal focus of class struggle (Posas 1979: 62). Peasant organizations were spawned by labor unions and by rejuvenation of the Catholic church. The ORIT-oriented peasant organization, ANACH, became strongest along the north coast and adjacent valleys. The Christian peasant movement developed in the South. Both areas were zones of growing commercialized agriculture.

The Honduran church was quite underdeveloped until the 1960s. From 1921 until 1962 there were serious problems of vacant sees and incompetent bishops. Apparently there were not enough good candidates from which to choose (White 1977:190). The weakness, and indeed irrelevancy of the formal church hierarchy, meant there were no strong links between the church and the bourgeoisie on the local, regional, or national levels.

Partly because of the historic weakness of the Honduran Church, it readily became a lay-oriented organization. Beginning in 1969, after the Latin American Bishops conference (CELAM) in Medellin, Colombia, a lay ministry was established. Called the Celebration of the Word of God, it spread to other Central American countries. In 1971, there were some 5,000 lay ministers, or Delegates of the Word, nearly all of them rural.

After the Medellin conference and in response to the radicalized agrarian situation in Honduras, the more traditional views of organization and ideology of the Christian Social-Popular Promotion Movements (MSM-MPP; groups using the concepts of popular promotion, conscientization and training efforts developed by conservative Catholics in Chile in the 1950s and 1960s) began to be questioned by participants in the movement. The Paulo Freire method was introduced into the Church-related radio schools and liberation theology became part of the teachings of the Delegates of the World–legitimizing Christian peasant organizations and active MSC-MPP participation in agrarian reform.

In 1963, fear that the National Party (the historic conservative party) would not win the upcoming elections resulted in a military coup led by Air Force Colonel Oswaldo Lopez Arellano and supported by the traditional agrarian bourgeoisie. Lopez Arellano played an important role in Honduras during the next 12 years. He was the loyal implementer of conservative National party policies from 1963 to at least 1967, the year peasant pressure moved him closer to the progressive bourgeoisie and young military officers in sporadic support of agrarian reform that would modernize the countryside.

Renewed interest by the authorities in agrarian reform in 1967 resulted from pressure from below. Under the threat from ANACH of a hunger march on the capital, Lopaz Arrellano agreed to institutional changes which allowed land reform to occur (Posas 1979: 49-50). Beginning with the massive occupation of the Hacienda Ganchias, INA (the National Agrarian Institute, established under the Alliance for Progress-instigated agrarian reform law in 1962) intervened on the side of peasant squatters by purchasing the land and distributing it to them. That was the mechanism that was to be the principal means of land reform for the next 8 years (Posas 1979: 50). The government authorized the sale of bonds on behalf of INA in 1968, thus insuring INA’s ability to purchase land on behalf of peasants (Posas 1979: 55).

In 1968, ANACH began organizing in southern Honduras, which nudged the Christian peasant union toward stronger support of land reform.

While Sandoval, the director of INA, supported the agrarian reform, he (lid not play a progressive role in dealing with Salvadoran peasants who in many cases had lived in Honduras many years. The agrarian reform law provided that only Honduran citizens could receive title to land. In the process of regularizing land titles, Sandoval in April, 1969, declared that INA would immediately order Salvadoran peasants without proper title to leave the country. As one observer remarked, “Engineer Sandoval found it easier to take land from the Salvadoreans than from the landlords” (Anderson 1981: 91 -92). The 100-hour war between El Salvador and Honduras in June 1969 tipped the balance in favor of reform. Defeat of the Honduran troops during the short conflict revealed an inefficient, backward, corrupt command structure. As Bolivia’s defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War encouraged Bolivian nationalism, so the Honduran defeat paved the way for increasing the influence of a group of younger officers who drew their inspiration (and in some cases, training) from the military reformers in Peru and Panama. Many of the older, corruption-tainted officers were purged (Volk 1981: 16). The agrarian reform moved forward in fits and starts. Organized pressure from the peasants was necessary to insure that reform continued (see Posas 1979: 66-69 and 73-76).

In April 1975, President Lopez Arellano fell from power as a result of the bribery scandal in which United Brands paid Honduran officials to undercut the Union de Paises Exportadores de Banano (UPEB), the banana equivalent of OPEC. The government’s resolve to continue the agrarian reform weakened. Wariness by the church hierarchy toward the agrarian reform movement grew, stemming from pressures and violence from landowners (White 1977: 296-297). Two priests were killed by landowners in Olancho in June 1975. An alliance of the two main peasant unions and the federation of peasant cooperatives established with U.S. AID assistance, established in October 1975 (Posas 1979: 8), kept the agrarian reform alive for more than a year longer. During the reform period of 1973-76 some 142,000 hectares of land was expropriated benefiting 45,000 families. Besides providing land to individual peasants, INA established 900 peasant collectives.

Posas puts the end of reform at early 1977, when conservatives, with some assistance from United Brands, blocked INA’s proposed expropriations (Posas 1979: 83 and 84). Simultaneously, the government of General Melgar Castro developed “a clear policy of wage limitations and repression of the leadership of the popular class-based organizations” (Posas 1980b: 74). Thus concluded the period of agrarian reform.

In summary, Honduras did not go through a liberal period; the traditional domestically oriented terratenientes maintained hegemony until 1950. The post-war diversification of export agriculture, growth of the rural population, and the attendant conflict over land set the pattern for a major confrontation between traditional and modern economic sectors–with landowners and the banana companies on one side, and peasants and the rural proletariat on the other.

The Honduran confrontation thus far has been much less bloody than were those in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, partly because of the absence of links between landed and small town elites and the Church. That allowed the rejuvenated Church to establish close ties with the peasantry. When worker and peasant organization gained strength, the military was not strong enough to suppress them. Corruption and poor organization of the Honduran military was exposed in the 1969 war with El Salvador bringing young reform-minded officers into the military power structure.

Popular movements became an additional locus of power within the national Honduran power configuration, partly because the state was weak and partly because capitalist labor relations (except for isolated banana enclaves) developed much later than in the rest of Central America. The late arrival of fully capitalist labor relations was responsible for the fact that although class-based or Marxist-oriented unionism found its way to Honduras, it was weak enough to be rather easily controlled. In the agrarian sector, “bread and butter” unions and Christian peasant groups eventually came to represent peasants and workers in a militant fashion.

Why was reform stopped or at least substantially slowed in Honduras?

1) The state became stronger, so when conservative elements gained the upper hand in 1977, they could bring reform to a halt.

2) The agrarian reform process itself brought about conditions that negated its continuation. Reform not only provided land to peasants, but modernized the countryside. Even the extensive ranches became more productive and in part oriented toward the export market (Posas 1979: 94).

Placing the predominance of agrarian reform resources on a limited number of mechanized, export oriented collective units helped develop a privileged sector of the peasantry with a stake in the status quo, even though the agrarian reform benefited nearly 10 percent of the rural population before it was halted (Posas 1979: 87).

The difficulty of agrarian reform under capitalism is that the state cannot be depended upon to provide the impetus for a thorough-going agrarian reform, and peasants cannot provide the constant pressure necessary to insure that reform is carried out.

3) The church hierarchy gradually withdrew its support of the Christian peasant movement, partly buckling to pressure from landowners and industrialists and partly from fear of violence against priests and lay leaders, and because the MSC-MPP in some ways threatened the hierarchy’s control over the lay leaders and over some priests and religious.

4) The international economic recession and reduced profits brought different sectors of the bourgeoisie closer together as they sought to limit both labor’s share of surplus value and peasant’s control over land.

Popular forces may again pressure the state for reform and the state may again respond, but beginning in 1979 with the triumph of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, the context for reform and reaction in Honduras began to change radically. The U.S. began to see Honduras as crucial for preventing “regional conflicts and potential infiltration” of supplies and guerrillas into the other Central American countries (Carter administration official quoted in Volk 1981: 27). Since the beginning of the Reagan administration, U.S. military aid and arms sales to Honduras have ballooned (Volk 1981: 29).

Periodic joint war games have been held and the CIA has supported anti­Sandinista guerrillas based in Honduras. While presidential elections were held in 1981 and the Liberal Suazo Cordoba, a civilian, won, his authority by most accounts was seriously eroded by the close linkage between the U.S. ambassador and the military chief, General Gustavo Alvarez (WOLA Nov-Dec 1982: 3.). The ouster of Alvarez in 1984 and the peaceful electorally-based presidential transition carried out in 1985 has not significantly changed the balance of power between the President and the military.

Geopolitical considerations now are crowding out domestic forces in determining political and social policies in Honduras, much as in Nicaragua during U.S. occupation. Outside forces could eventually create conditions for insurgency in Honduras by inadvertently encouraging its military leaders to marginalize the popular sectors from the domestic political dialogue.



Now that salient economic and political events have been examined in each of the five Central American Republics, generalizations on the roots of insurgency can be refined.

1) Insurgency is more likely to develop in countries where productive forces of capitalism have developed sufficiently so that there is a significant agrarian working class, at least an incipient industrial working class, and perhaps a threatened artisanry.

The country with the most capitalistic labor relations is El Salvador, followed by Guatemala. Since the 1920s, the proportion of their economies devoted to industrial activity has been higher than for any of the other countries; Honduras’ industrial sector is the smallest. El Salvador developed capitalist labor relations in the countryside in the 1880s, earlier than any other Central American Republic. That fact helps to explain why coffee workers attempted an insurrection which culminated in the matanza, while no such event occurred in any of the other four countries, either because of the cushioning effect of precapitalist labor relations (Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras), lack of participation in the international market (Honduras), or the existence of a significant independent peasantry in the most important export sector (Costa Rica). Artisans played an important role in the 1932 insurrection in El Salvador and in the 1977-79 Nicaraguan insurrection.

2) The development of a domestic export-oriented agrarian oligarchy results in the strengthening of the role of the state, increasing its capacity for repressive action and for exclusion of the poorer classes from the political dialogue.

A strong state apparatus is in the interests of the domestic export oligarchy, first, because it allows them to socialize some of the costs of marketing their crop, and may even allow them to develop policies which subsidize inputs or prices of their product.

A second objective of the strong oligarchic state is to assure access to and control of land for the oligarchy. The Liberal reforms of the 1870s and 1880s in Guatemala and El Salvador were important in insuring the emergent coffee bourgeoisie access to adequate amounts of land for their rapidly expanding plantations. In the post-WWII era, that control has been used to prevent their loss of land through land reform. Either land reform was not put on the agenda (Somocista Nicaragua); or it was rescinded through an alliance of the domestic oligarchy, a foreign firm which perceived itself threatened by land reform, and the CIA which imagined international communism to be behind the reform effort (Guatemala); or its was limited so that coffee lands were not included in land reform as implemented (El Salvador in the early 1980s). Aside from the agrarian reform in revolutionary Nicaragua, Central America’s most extensive land reform, although modest in absolute magnitude, was carried out in Honduras. That land reform of the 1970s has been a factor in the lack of insurgency in the 1980s. Avery modest land reform occurred in Costa Rica in the 1940s. It validated the right of peasant farmers to gain title to land they already farmed. Although land is quite unequally distributed in that country, there has been no significant pressure for further reform, because of the security of title and strategic location in the export sector of an important segment of the peasantry, and because the welfare state has defused any strategic alliance between urban labor and the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat by reducing the appeal of class-based unionism.

A third objective of the strong oligarchic state is to keep labor’s share of income low. That can best be accomplished by limiting class-based organization of the rural proletariat and seasonal agricultural workers. While the oligarchy may also repress urban workers, that is not as critical, since labor is a smaller component of total production costs than is true in plantation agriculture. (It is also easier to repress peasant than labor movements.)

As Paige points out, lack of mobility of capital and inefficient production techniques, which are characteristic of pre-capitalist relations, invite political controls. Estate expansion occurs not through capital intensification, but through expanding control over land and laborers. The requisite political controls for such expansion and labor force control imply repression, which, since the state is strong and controlled by the oligarchy, is carried out by the state. In the traditional hacienda-based oligarchic state, the oligarchy is also accustomed to ruling with unchallenged authority, but only on the local level; by mutual agreement of the agrarian oligarchy, the state is kept too weak to engage in effective repression of national popular movements (the case of Honduras). Where the export oligarchy had to share economic, and hence, political power with the peasantry (where yeoman export agriculture was important), repression is neither possible or needed (Costa Rica).

In the countries where the export oligarchy has dominated, it seeks unchallenged control. Hence, groups which would challenge such control must be prevented from organizing. Thus, repression at the level of the plantation necessitates repression at the national level. The export oligarchy becomes accustomed to ruling with unchallenged authority. Hence, it is “natural” to exclude the poorer classes — and sometimes other social groups also — from the legitimate political dialogue. The scene is set for the development of insurgency. All that is needed is a precipitating factor.

3) As the economy diversifies (particularly the export portion of the economy), interests of different class fractions of the bourgeoisie diverge. In the face of organized activity by the popular classes, those differences arc generally put aside (Guatemala in 1954; Honduras in 1978). However, when a zero-sum situation arises among the bourgeois groups, the newer and more progressive elements may seek alliances with the popular classes.

In Nicaragua, the turning point in the coalescence of the opposition was the unwillingness of Tachito Somoza to share economic power with other sectors of the bourgeoisie, illustrated most vividly by his keeping the “spoils” of the 1972 Managua earthquake for himself and his associates. In El Salvador, the world economic downturn was a critical point. In Guatemala, the world economy also had an impact, but the Guatemalan economy remained relatively strong until 1984, which created the conditions for transfer of power to a civilian government. The critical factor for the development of the guerrilla movement at the beginning of this decade was less clear. Honduras, being less immersed in the international economy, was not as affected as the other countries by the world recession, and lacked the other requisites for growth of insurgency. Costa Rica was hard hit by the international economic recession, but had none of the other requisites for the development of insurgency.

4) The growth of foreign controlled export agricultural production tends if anything to keep the state weak, making it difficult to exclude the poorer classes from the political dialogue.

Honduras is an example par excellence of such a combination of a weak state and foreign control of an agricultural export crop (bananas). If the state is already strong, it has more capacity to bargain with the foreign firm(s), as is illustrated by the relationship of Guatemala and Costa Rica to the banana companies. That United Fruit was able to obtain the assistance of the U.S. government in overthrowing the reformist government of Guatemala in 1954 indicates that that bargaining power should not be overestimated. Given the fact that the foreign firm must provide its own infrastructure, it is in its interest to deal with and foster a weak state which cannot tax its profits or production, limit repatriation of profits, or otherwise regulate it.

Similarly, foreign intervention can prevent a strong oligarchy from developing, but it can also result in the development of an iron-handed surrogate leader or clique. A revolutionary situation may be created through failure to include marginal classes as legitimate political actors, and through the lack of legitimacy of the government which derives from its reliance on the foreign power. This is the case of Somoza’s Nicaragua.

The Central American countries illustrate that how export agriculture develops has an important impact on whether revolutionary movements (indicated by insurgencies) arise. Stated in such general form, this perspective is congruent with Paige’s perspective on agrarian revolution. Paige then hypothesizes a direct relationship between type of export agriculture and the kind of movement which may develop among cultivators. In contrast, I argue that the form of export agriculture, in particular whether it is controlled domestically or by foreign firms and whether the dominant form of production is petty commodity (peasant smallholder) production or plantation agriculture, determines how strong the state becomes, which in turn has a defining impact on the development of revolutionary movements. If an agrarian oligarchy, which derives its wealth from plantation agriculture, develops, it will attempt to suppress popular movements when it has control of the state apparatus. This exclusion of the poorer classes from the legitimate dialogue will, given appropriate conjunctural conditions, lead to insurgent movements. If they are to be successful they must involve alliances among urban workers and marginal groups, peasants and/or rural proletariat, and other parts of the bourgeoisie.

Paige’s formulation and mine are not in direct contradiction with one another, for we seek to explain different phenomena. While Paige seeks to determine what agrarian class is most likely to be revolutionary, my objective was to determine the role of export agriculture and the resultant formation of the state in creating the conditions for insurgency. However, implicit in Paige’s theory is the idea that the revolutions he examines are predominantly agrarian revolutions. I would argue, rather, for the agrarian roots to such revolutionary activity, without suggesting that any agrarian class is the revolutionary class. I would place more emphasis on a revolutionary situation and an alliance of classes or groups — rural and urban — in support of revolutionary change.



1. Honduras did not develop an important coffee oligarchy. Near the turn of the century, Presidents Ramon Rosa and Marco Aureho Soto, who had served in the government of Guatemala’s liberal reformer, Justo Rufino Barrios, attempted to encourage coffee production through favorable state policies but were not very successful. They did not see community lands (ejidos) as a roadblock to development, partly because there was little pressure of population on the land; therefore they did not outlaw the ejidos (Palma 1982: 4). In 1950, 17 percent of Costa Rica’s land was still in ejidos (Volk 1981: 6).return to text

2. Church lands were also confiscated but were not of great importance in El Salvador, according to Santana (1975: 231). Winston (1978:30) argues that in El Salvador “substantial landholdings of various religious orders” were expropriated, while Menjivar mentions the “minimal significance of ecclesiastical property in El Salvador,” putting emphasis on communal peasant holdings (1979: 20).return to text

3. U.S. direct investment in El Salvador increased from zero in 1897 to only 12.3 percent of total U.S. investment in Central America by 1929. Nicaragua experienced a similar pattern of U.S. investment during that period (Palma 1982: Table 1.1, 6).return to text

4. Of course, the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua makes figures for that country no longer valid (see Thome 1982 and Collins 1985, for descriptions of the Nicaraguan land reform). While efforts at land reform were made in Costa Rica and Honduras in the 1970s, land distribution has not changed significantly in either country (see Seligson, 1980 for a discussion of the Costa Rican “reform”).return to text

5. The percentages for each country in 1974 were: El Salvador, 51; Costa Rica, 19; Guatemala, 47; Nicaragua, 42; Honduras, 30 (Cline and Delgado 1978: 321).return to text

6. Torres Rivas cites the following InterAmerican Development Bank figures for average annual incomes of the lower 50 percent of the populations for 1970 (most of whom would be rural): Costa Rica, $152; Nicaragua, $91; El Salvador, $81; Guatemala, $71; and Honduras, $52 (Torres Rivas 1975:19). It is not clear whether his figures include non-monetary income. Including non-monetary income might close the gap somewhat between Honduras and the other countries since Honduras’s agriculture is the least commercialized of the five countries.return to text

7. Marti was variously a law student, a political exile who founded, with others in Guatemala, the Central American Socialist Party, and briefly was the personal secretary of Cesar Augusto Sandino during his guerrilla war against U.S. Marines in Nicaragua. Marti was executed after the matanza.return to text

8. By the late 1950s a group of young Catholic intellectuals had shifted from a more “Italian” (conservative) kind of Catholic action to a “French-Belgian” line emphasizing “temporal commitment”. Some joined the nascent Christian Democratic Party. The Party, with essentially a lay initiative, had close ties with Archbishop Chavez and later Bishop Rivera y Damas (now archbishop of San Salvador). The party’s anti-communism and its reform proposals attracted many people but later became a source of tension, causing a split in 1980 when the more progressive wing joined the FDR (Berryman 1984: l00).return to text

9. That the Nicaraguan revolution is now being transformed into a class-based revolution is beyond the scope of this paper.return to text



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Table 1
Land Devoted to Export Crops and Numbers of Cattle by Farm Size,
Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, 1962-63

Table 2
Central America: Land Distribution by Farm Size, 1962-63

Table 3
Central America: Distribution of the Rural Population by Type of Tenure, 1962-63