Indigenous Communities Commemorate 1932 Rebellion & Massacre in El Salvador

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Last January marked 84 years since the 1932 uprising of rural peasants and Communist Party organizers and the horrific State-led genocide that followed. Indigenous organizations in El Salvador gathered in the western departments of Ahuachapán and Sonsonate to remember those lost and call for justice.

“For us, this is a painful moment. They killed many defenseless people. Our grandparents cried for justice, they couldn’t stand the hunger, the misery, the slavery, and they started to organize,” Rafael Latin, elected indigenous leader of the town of Izalco, explained. “We have been pushed from our lands since the Spaniards arrived. They took away our collective lands; they tried to eliminate us.”

In response to the uprising, military forces murdered an estimated 10,000-30,000 peasants, beginning on January 22, 1932. The repression principally targeted the towns of Tacuba, Izalco, Nahuizalco and Juayúa, which were centers of the rebellion and home to a majority of the country’s Nahua-Pipil communities. The violence, and subsequent State prohibitions on speaking indigenous languages and using traditional dress, drove many to abandon external signs and practices of indigeneity.

Groups like the Indigenous Unification Movement of Nahuizalco (MUINA) and the Alcaldía del Común (City Council of the Majority) of Izalco, which is made up of elected indigenous authorities, joined the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman and local officials to organize ceremonies, cultural activities and conferences with survivors and their families. “Many sectors in the country have wanted to deny this event, which represents a serious affront to justice, memory, dignity and reparations to the victims, their families and the indigenous peoples of this country,” said Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales.

Many obstacles to justice and equality for El Salvador’s indigenous peoples remain, and the legacy of the 1932 massacre has painful reverberations in the present. The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) political party, for example, continues to inaugurate every electoral campaign in Izalco, celebrating the massacre as a victory over communism. Nevertheless, since the election of the country’s first-ever leftist government in 2009, El Salvador has enacted historic recognitions of the indigenous communities, including a 2014 constitutional reform acknowledging indigenous peoples and the State’s obligations to them. On January 22, leading a candle-lit walk to the site of a former mass-grave, Rafael Latin declared: “We are telling the country that we are here; they were wrong, they couldn’t exterminate us!”

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