The Tanda System and
Institutional Autonomy of the Military
José Z. García
The Salvadoran Polytechnic Institute, a military academy, was closed in 1922 by a shaken civilian president, Jorge Meléndez, as a punitive, cost-saving, and precautionary measure after cadets there participated in a failed coup attempt against him earlier that year.For the next few years officers were selected from the ranks of enlisted troops and promoted by ad hoc practices that caused widespread suspicion that professional criteria were not as important to a military career as favoritism. Partly in response to this criticism, a new military school, the Gerardo Barrios Military School, was organized in 1927; it commissioned forty-three officers three years later. Graduates from the class of 1930 are known in Salvadoran military history as the first tanda (turn, or rotation) of the modern period of the armed forces. 1
The first graduating cadets had reason to feel confident in their future prospects. Eight years had passed since the last professional officers had been commissioned from a military academy. Rapid acquisition of responsibility and rank seemed possible. New military codes were strict in rank-in‐ grade requirements, and training was far more extensive and up to date. By the late 1930s, however, disillusionment had set in among new graduates. Personal favoritism and political loyalty still counted, and officers in the higher ranks tended to band together against the new cadets. A dangerous conflict between young and older officers developed.
The new military academy was only five years old when Gen. Maximilian H. Martínez came to power in 1932, following the civil strife that ended with the matanza of that year.Martínez, desiring to build a loyal army to support____________________