The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Extortion, and Civil War in El Salvador

The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Extortion, and Civil War in El Salvador

The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Extortion, and Civil War in El Salvador

The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Extortion, and Civil War in El Salvador

Synopsis

In 1932 security forces in El Salvador murdered 25,000 peasants and workers. Between 1978 and 1991 the Salvadoran government killed an additional 50,000 civilians. This work demonstrates that the Salvadoran military state was essentially a protection racket.

Excerpt

With the Revolution of 1948, the Salvadoran military put itself forward as the one institution capable of distinguishing the national interest from the particular interests defended by the liberalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. in order to carry out its national development project, the military set itself apart both from strict accountability to the population (though elections would be held and popular policies enacted) and from the upper classes (though they would be allowed representation in areas of the state that regulated economic activity). the military, as the institutional heart of the state, intended to balance the conflicting demands in Salvadoran society; it would neither turn the state over to a civilian mass public that had proven itself prone to leftism, nor act merely as an instrument of an oligarchy whose selfish pursuit of private interests would impede national development, stability, and the ability to resist communism.

This ambitious program set the stage for disaster in El Salvador. the military proved ill-suited as an institution to implement the corporatist project that the Revolution of 1948 proposed. Successful corporatist politics generally depends upon an implicit agreement by poor and middle-class sectors to channel their political demands exclusively through official parties, unions, and associations, with the expectation that the state will respond effectively to some of those demands (Schmitter 1974). For their part, strategic sectors of the upper classes must be willing to defer to the state out of a recognition that their long-term collective interests, if not their short-term particular interests, are best served by an autonomous state.

Between 1948 and 1976 the Salvadoran military state failed on all of these dimensions. It proved unable to deliver enough socioeconomic benefits to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the country's poor majority. Until the 1960s, it failed to organize its own rural base of support, depending on conservative agrarian elites to deliver rural votes. When the military did begin to organize that base (initially the Democratic Nationalist Organization, ORDEN), it engaged more in intelligence gathering and repression than in political action. At the local . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.