816.00 Revolutions/35

The Minister in El Salvador ( Curtis ) to the Secretary of State

No. 21

Sir: Referring to my telegrams Nos. 97 to 104 of December 3 and 4,10 I have the honor to inform you that a revolution against the Government of President Araujo broke out in this city on the evening of December 2, and appears at this writing to have been successful.

Firing began at about 10:00 PM on the evening of December 2 and the President left his official residence, directly across the street from the barracks of one of the revolting regiments, almost as soon as the first shot was fired, leaving the city and establishing headquarters in the Government buildings of Santa Tecla, some 7 miles to the west of this city. Those armed forces in this city which had not joined the revolution in the beginning surrendered or adhered to the revolution in the course of the morning of December 3, but no move of any kind was made to attack the forces assembled by President Araujo in Santa Tecla until early in the evening of that day. By the time that the revolutionary forces reached Santa Tecla the President, with practically all of his men, had left that town for Santa Ana. At this place the troops proved loyal to the President to the extent that he was cordially received but on the morning of December 4, the Commanding officer and the President’s friends appeared to have persuaded him that his position was hopeless and at about noon of that day he is reported to have left for the Guatemalan frontier.

Causes of the Revolution

It is even now impossible to state with certainty what were the real reasons for the revolt or who were its real leaders.

An American tells me that he was informed by a young army officer that some ten days ago the army received 15 days pay out of more [Page 178] than 4 months pay which was due, but that the Government announced that it had been paid up to date, the result being that the life of all the officers was made miserable by their creditors and that a number of the younger officers of the artillery regiment at the fort of “El Zapote,” the machine gun unit near that fort, and the first regiment of infantry with barracks across the street from the President’s house, organized a revolution which was to break out at midnight of December 2 to 3. This story undoubtedly contains much truth although it is probably not the whole truth. President Araujo had become daily more unpopular with all classes, had shown great lack of capacity, and had neglected the first requisite for a President in such a country as El Salvador, that of seeing that the army was paid promptly. It is reported, none too reliably, that General Martínez, the Vice President and Minister of War, called upon the President on the evening of December 2 for the purpose of urging him to provide promptly all the pay due to the army; that the President was much angered by this and informed General Martínez that he was dismissed from his office as Minister of War and that the Sub-Secretary of War, General Menendez, was promoted to that Cabinet post. It hardly seems possible, however, that this could have had any real influence on the situation. The signal for the revolution was to have been certain shots fired by the different organizations concerned, but a few shots of unknown origin resulted in the revolutionary movement being begun at 10 o’clock.

Military Movements

During the night of December 2 to 3 the machine gun unit moved in the Zapote fortress, blank shells were fired from the mountain guns of the fortress, machine guns sprayed certain streets within their reach, there was considerable rifle fire from the barracks of the Infantry regiment and men seem to have gone a short distance out from each of the two centers, but no attempt was made to seize the whole of the city.

Early in the morning of December 3, the members of the National Guard who were outside their barracks on patrol in the ordinary course of their duty joined the revolution; those in the barracks remained for some time loyal to the Constitutional Government. These and the police, who also remained loyal, controlled with rifle fire all movements within the immediate neighborhood of their headquarters. The result of all this was that there were some four different points from which firing radiated while no soldiers, police or guards were to be seen throughout the larger part of the city remote from those centers.

[Page 179]

After several unsuccessful attempts made during the night to obtain reliable information by telephone, I made further attempts at dawn and finally succeeded in obtaining communication with the fortress of “El Zapote,” where I was informed that Captain Eugenio Palma was the leader of the revolution, and I informed him that I would come to see him at once. I was detained by a call from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Doctor Arrieta-Rossi, but left the Legation at about 7.00 AM.

Upon arrival at the fort I found that there was no one leader but that the fort was controlled by a Directorate composed of some seven very young officers. I talked with these in the presence of some fifteen other officers, received contradictory answers from half a dozen officers speaking at once and only with much difficulty and after much delay succeeded in learning what were the demands of the revolutionists; all willingly, though not promptly, agreed to my request for an armistice to last until 11.00 AM in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Here I met for a moment General Martínez, who had been made a prisoner the previous evening.

I now proceeded to the police headquarters where I found General Calderon and quickly obtained his assent to the armistice. After taking a messenger almost to the fort for the purpose of notifying them of the acceptance of the armistice, I drove to the barracks of the 1st Infantry which, I found, had no communication with the fort. In the barracks I found the control exercised by a group of officers entirely similar to that in the fort and had the same difficulty in making myself heard and in obtaining an answer; I found also that the infantry’s demands were different from those of the artillery, but while I was there a delegation from the artillery arrived. It was now about 8.45 AM and I was promised that I would be given at 10.15 AM the terms of the revolutionists as agreed upon by the two bodies; no urging on my part could obtain a promise of an earlier answer but it was agreed that the truce should continue for two hours after the terms were brought to me.

I now learned also that the statement made to me in the fort that the Cavalry regiment was participating in the revolution was false, so I had to go to the camp of that organization in order to make sure that it also would agree to the armistice; the commanding officer assured me that his regiment was loyal to the President, but there was a marked lack of enthusiasm on his part and that of the several officers with him and I felt that the President could not expect any real assistance from this regiment.

Returning to the Legation, I received one caller after another and prepared my telegram No. 98.11

[Page 180]

Having received no statement of the revolutionists’ conditions I, at 11.00 o’clock, obtained with difficulty telephone communication with the fort and then went there. It had now been agreed that the conditions of the revolutionists were three:

The immediate resignation of the President.
The President’s departure from the country within 24 hours.
The resignation of all of the members of the Cabinet.

I learned also that it had been agreed that General Maximiliano H. Martínez, the Vice President, should assume the Executive Power, but that Dr. Emeterio O. Salazar, the Rector of the University, should be named his adviser. There is enclosed herewith a copy of a document12 which had been agreed upon by the delegates of the two regiments showing these decisions.

I was informed also that the police had surrendered to the revolutionists and that the barracks of the national guard and the cavalry regiment had joined the revolution. I was able to obtain reliable confirmation of these statements.

I now drove to Santa Tecla where I had an interview with President Araujo who called in some 25 Generals and other higher military and civil officials, in whose presence he peremptorily rejected the proposals of the revolutionists and made the counter proposals that the rebellious army officers should return to their allegiance and duty and that he would then punish none of them for their actions in this matter, although he would retain full liberty of action as to transfers and changes in command.

Returning to the Legation, I lunched and gave to Consul Carleton (who was most useful to me throughout the entire period) the substance of the message which he incorporated in my telegram No. 100.13 After a little delay due to numerous callers, I left for the fort of El Zapote where I reported the President’s rejection of their terms and endeavored vainly to obtain agreement to his proposal that neither side should advance against the other until 10.00 AM on December 4. The most I could obtain was a promise that the revolutionary forces would not be advanced that day beyond kilometer 7 in the direction of Santa Tecla unless the President’s forces made an attack. Preparations were made at once to send troops by motor truck to that point and I left hastily for the purpose of informing the President that all his proposals had been rejected. While I was in the fort, two men whom I had seen in Santa Tecla among the President’s adherents and one of whom the President had spoken of as the best General in the country, came in and talked with the revolutionary [Page 181] leaders, saying casually that they had been adherents of the revolution from the beginning; also a telegram was received and shown to me saying that five more of the President’s leaders were coming from Santa Tecla to join the revolution.

At Santa Tecla I learned that President Araujo had left that town at 3.00 PM for Santa Ana, accompanied by motor trucks containing 200 men. The rest of the President’s adherents except the police of the town and soldiers to care for the prison were even then preparing to follow him to Santa Ana. As I had been informed by the revolutionists that the troops in Santa Ana had joined the revolution and bad obtained confirmation of this statement from a thoroughly reliable source, it seemed certain that some real fighting would take place in the course of the next hour, but’ it was impossible to do anything to prevent this owing to lack of communications.

Returning to the city, I sent my telegram No. 10114 and endeavored to obtain further information, finally learning that the commander of the troops in Santa Ana had acknowledged the authority of President Araujo upon the latter’s arrival there at 7.30, and I so reported in my telegram No. 102.15

Early in the morning of December 4, General Calderón came to inform me that the leaders of the revolution had received word that some 200 troops were coming from Ahuachapan and that men were flocking into the town of Santa Ana to join the forces loyal to President Araujo. Although General Calderón insisted that the President could not arm over 900 men with the resources immediately at hand, he exhibited great nervousness regarding the possibility that President Araujo might obtain arms, ammunition and possibly even men from President Ubíco of Guatemala who, he said, was a close personal friend of President Araujo. He said that the Directorate desired me to telegraph to the Legation in Guatemala to prevent this, and further desired that I should urge upon President Araujo the impossibility of his resisting successfully and assured me that I would be given telephone communication with Santa Ana for the purpose. This last I absolutely refused to do but I telegraphed the first request to the Legation in Guatemala for its information and for such action as it might see fit to take. (See my telegram No. 10316).

Later I sent a most unimportant message to the Military Directorate through Mr. Edward Huber, an American citizen, who returned with a message stating that President Araujo had crossed the frontier into Guatemala. Although I felt some doubt as to the accuracy of this [Page 182] statement, I transmitted it in my telegram No. 104.17 The information appears to have been premature but I learn from a reliable source that President Araujo did in fact leave Santa Ana before noon and that he crossed the frontier into Guatemala at about 1.30 PM.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This Military Directorate has decided that the Vice President, General Max. H. Martínez, shall succeed to the Presidency but it appears that thus far he has been allowed to take no action without its approval. Of such a Government it seems impossible to expect much. Nevertheless, it has made certain statements to me which I include here for what they are worth. These are:

That Government expenditures will be reduced immediately to Ȼ16,000,000. a year (the amount of the revenues anticipated upon the basis of current receipts);
That civilians of the highest type will be selected as members of the Cabinet; and,
That military control of the Government will be insured by the appointment of army officers as subsecretaries under each Minister.

I limit my comment to the query whether it is likely that any man of the highest caliber will be willing to serve as Minister with a military watch dog constantly at his heels.

Constitutional Problems Created

According to reliable information, President Araujo’s resignation received here late in the afternoon of December 4 states that he has resigned for the period of his absence—in order to avoid bloodshed and harm to his fellow citizens; and that, having to leave the country, he places the Presidency in the hands of the third Designate, Maximiliano Olano. Article 81 of the Constitution provides that the President shall be succeeded by the Vice President in case of the death of the President, his resignation, removal or any other impediment; if there is no Vice President, the Executive Power shall be exercised by one of the designates in the order of their appointment. It seems clear therefore that President Araujo could not place the Presidency in the hands of the third designate. Article 92 of the Constitution prohibits the President from leaving the territory of the Republic without leave granted by the Legislative Power unless the necessity of a war requires it. It is to be noted that the Legislative Power has not granted any such permission at the present time, and that President Araujo must therefore be considered to have vacated the Presidency by his action in leaving the country. In other words, his [Page 183] resignation was unnecessary and may prove more troublesome to the revolutionists than the absence of such a document.

Although the document transmitted as enclosure No. 118 states that in order to comply with the provisions of the Constitution the Vice President is called upon to take the oath required by law, the members of the Military Directorate have repeatedly stated to me that he is to be “Provisional” President. According to Article 81, of the Constitution cited above, it would appear that the Vice President becomes President for the unexpired term; consequently, if General Martínez is becoming President in accordance with the provisions of this article, his term will expire only on March 1, 1935. Article 36 of the Constitution, however, provides that the right of insurrection will be limited in its effects to separating from their posts insofar as may be necessary those persons who are governing and to naming temporarily others to take their places until the vacancies are filled in the form established by the Constitution. If General Martínez is Provisional President it is presumably in accord with the provisions contained in this Article and elections will have to be called within an undefined period. As stated in my telegram No. 100,19 I believe that he will be forced out of the Presidency as quickly as possible and that elections will be called almost as soon as the necessary arrangements for them can be made.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Article 132 of the Constitution includes in the list of the purposes for which the Army is created that of making effective the guarantees contained in the Constitution. This, of course, means that this revolution has been entirely constitutional!

International Problems Created

The Department’s telegram No. 56 of December 4, 12 Noon, assumes that I have made clear to the leaders of the revolution the policy of the United States, based upon the provisions of the Treaty of 1923 regarding the non-recognition of Governments coming into power through revolution. This matter was constantly in my mind but I regret to have to report that I did not bring it to the attention of the revolutionary leaders until the success of the revolution was already certain. Anyone who saw the utterly irresponsible youths with whom I had to deal in the beginning, and whose opinions on all subjects except the resignation of President Araujo were as far apart as the two poles, and who saw the almost endless discussion whether an armistice should last for three hours or only two, would [Page 184] appreciate my reasons for forming the opinion that it was futile to mention this subject and that nothing should be mentioned which was not absolutely essential to the obtaining of an agreement on the subject of an armistice.

As to the text of the Treaty, certain comments are pertinent:

Apparently a Presidential election must be held before any Government in this country can be recognized. This matter has been discussed above with regard to constitutional problems.
Even after such elections, no President, Vice President, nor Chief of State designate may fall under any of certain heads. While my information is at present necessarily incomplete, it would appear that the only person who might readily be expected to be a candidate for the Presidency but is rendered ineligible for recognition as President by the terms of the Treaty is General Martínez; whatever his position may be in the near future, he has been a Secretary of State within six months preceding the revolution. General Claramount, like every other army officer of higher rank, cannot fail to be suspected of complicity or at least of foreknowledge, but he was promptly imprisoned by the police and is not known to have taken any part in the revolutionary movement after his release. There is much talk regarding the formation of a Cabinet composed of men of the highest class and representing the principal political parties. Among those prominently mentioned for such positions are Messrs. Gomez Zarate and Enrique Cordova, but it is already rumored that they will not accept; acceptance would bar them from recognition as having been Secretaries of State within six months preceding the election; I reported in my telegram No. 100, that I had met them at the headquarters of the revolution, but I also reported in my telegram No. 10521 their explanation of their presence there and their declaration of their entire lack of participation in the revolutionary movement. Another man whom I met at the revolutionary headquarters was Doctor Emeterio Oscar Salazar, Rector of the University and second designate; he is considered a man of high education and sound judgement, not a politician; whether his acceptance which seems probable, of the position of adviser to the President named by the Military Directorate, a position certainly equivalent to that of Secretary of State, would not bar him from recognition should he be chosen President, is at least open to question. None of the officers who have appeared as leaders of the revolution can have any reasonable expectation of being even a candidate in any Presidential elections held in the near future; so far as I am at present aware, no one of them is closely related [Page 185] to any person who is likely to be a Presidential candidate, but until the names of these candidates are known it appears useless to study this matter closely.


President Araujo showed great incompetence, becoming even more unpopular than he deserved to be, and was easily overthrown by a revolution organized by a group of youths of whom many had not yet reached their majority. The Revolutionary Government promises much but there is little reason to suppose that it will be appreciably better than the Government that is overthrown. The Army has once more shown that it is the final arbiter concerning any Salvadoran Government, and it easily expects to control the new Government which it is establishing. Even if there should be any material improvement, there will yet be a decided moral retrogression. Fortunately, though no reliable figures are obtainable, the loss of life appears to have been very small. Finally, a period of some length must probably elapse before the Central American States or our Government recognize a new Government in El Salvador.

Respectfully yours,

C. B. Curtis
  1. Telegrams Nos. 99, 103, and 104 not printed.
  2. December 3, 11 a.m., p. 169.
  3. Not printed.
  4. December 3, 4 p.m., p. 170.
  5. December 3, 7 p.m., p. 171.
  6. December 3, 9 p.m., p. 171.
  7. December 4, 11 a.m., not printed.
  8. December 4, noon, not printed.
  9. Not printed.
  10. December 3, 4 p.m., p. 170.
  11. December 4, 1 p.m., p. 172.