Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl's Recuerdos de Sonsonate: A Chronicle of 1932

Antonio Bonilla, El Salvador
In the introduction to his rememberances Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl explains that he was motivated to write Recuerdos de Sonsonate (2001) by a personal longing for the past, but also because he felt that it was critical for Sonsonate and for El Salvador to understand what had happened in 1932.  Reynaldo Galindo Pohl’s deep sense of nostalgia for Sonsonate was more pronounced when his work as a lawyer and an international diplomat took him to far away places; waiting out the noon break from UNESCO on the steps of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, for example, or looking out over the Bahía de Guanabara from the balcony of the Hotel Gloria in Río de Janeiro.  His work in these and other international cities gave him a hopeful outlook about El Salvador despite Sonsonate’s own dark history: “…concluí que los pueblos antes de llegar a la culminación, sufren períodos de oscuridad, asociados a descalabros y angustias, que todo en la vida tiene un precio, a veces un precio muy alto, y que nada se obtiene súbitamante ni por arte de magia” (30). 
Galindo Pohl became fully immersed in the process of writing Recuerdos de Sonsonate in 1985, during the Salvadoran civil war.  He argues that 1932 had a decisive impact on El Salvador’s history and attributes the Salvadoran war of the 80’s to a continued lack of understanding about the problems that came to a head in 1932.  It is understandable that the Salvadoran Civil War of the 80’s brought back memories of 1932 for him and provided a framework for gauging the present: “Al cerrarse este capítulo, parecía que el nivel de la violencia de 1932 nunca jamás sería igualado y menos superado.  Sin embargo, la Guerra Civil superó en violencia al 32’ (36). 
In part, Recuerdos is also a response to other narratives that circulated about 1932.  According to Galindo Pohl, another reason for writing his account was to add to the completeness of the historical record: “Algunos hechos mencionados no aparecen en los libros que se han escrito sobre los sucesos de 1932, y es conveniente rescatarlos para entregar pistas que puedan conducir a su comprobación o rechazo” (32).  It is worth emphasizing that he would not have been able to make this claim without having read at least the main books about the uprising published through 1985, at least the primary Spanish language texts, including Joaquín Méndez’s Los sucesos comunistas en El Salvador (1932), Jorge Schlesinger’s Revolución comunista (1946) and Miguél Mármol: Los sucesos de 1932 (1972).
In Recuerdos, Galindo-Pohl is critical of  “wishful thinking” party line interpretations of the 1932 uprising, which he describes as too subjective: 
El tratamiento inteligente, efectivo y oportuno de problemas sociales, ecónomicos y politicos, ha de partir de la identificación objetiva de hechos, antecedentes y tendencias del pasado.  El peor enfoque en estas materias es lo que en inglés llaman wishful thinking.  Los respectivos antecendentes pueden ser identificados aplicando el método sociológico-histórico, dentro de criterios de máxima objetividad e imparcialidad.  (36)
He argues that some of the accounts of 1932 adjust historical events to the desires and realities of the present day context.  Here in particular it would seem that he is speaking directly to Roque Dalton who introduces Miguel Mármol declaring that his motives for writing Mármol’s account are eminently political and that he is not interested in reflecting reality, but rather in transforming it. CITE Galindo Pohl cautions against using history as a tool of present day politics:
Sin embargo, esa búsqueda se hace a veces de tipo delirante, al querer que los hechos se ajusten a la medida de los deseos y las conveniencias inmediatas.  De ese modo se rechazan, desde el principio y por principio, las razones de determinada posición.  Este modo de enjuiciar sucesos con razones de partido está bastante difundido, y equivale, mutatis mutandis, en cuanto a irrealidad, a la condición imposible de los juristas romanos, cuyos prototipos eran el alcanzar el cielo con la mano y el tapar el sol con un dedo. (36)
Certain methodological factors should be weighed when evaluating the reliability of Galindo Pohl’s account.  First of all, he describes his work as a “collection of memories” instead of as a product of investigative research (32).  While investigative research in itself does not ensure objectivity, the norms of research are principally concerned with fostering objective data and valid findings.  At the same time, Galindo Pohl refers to Recuerdos as his testimony.  Given his training in law and his experience working with international human rights, “ testimonial” should be taken strictly in its legal sense; the account of a witness who makes a solemn statement of fact. 
Lo que aquí se narra carece del propósito de distribuir culpas o de hacer proselitismo.  Refleja, dentro de la intención firme de objetividad e imparcialidad, lo visto y oído.  No es, pues, una novela ni un estudio de crítica histórica; es únicamente un testimonio (33).   
Recuerdos is, in fact, the eyewitness account of a young boy from Sonsonate who came up with various excuses to get permission to leave the house in order to attend the public meetings at Rafael Campos Park and the sessions held by the Regional de Trabajadores union.  Recuerdos is not an example of the testimonial literature genre that came out of Latin America in the 1970’s and 80s.  In comparison with the norms of the genre of testimonial literature, Galindo-Pohl was not a marginalized person excluded from public discourse; he had the privilege of an education and the resources to write and publish his Recuerdos.
Setting aside the extraordinary human quality of Galindo-Pohl, Recuerdos is fundamentally a personal account and, in this way, inescapably subjective.  Also, Galindo Pohl admits to a thick temporal and geographical filter; he wrote Recuerdos more than fifty years after the uprising of 1932 while abroad.  Galindo-Pohl also re-arranged the narrative in terms of events, people and commentary for the sake of the narrative composition and flow. 
The use of real names of people is also important methodological piece of information.  He explains that fictitious names would have detracted from the historical value of the text:
El uso generalizado de nombres ficticios hubiera podido lanzar la crónica por la vía de   la inventiva, en la cual los sucesos imaginados podrían apoderarse del lugar que corresponde a los sucesos de efectiva ocurrencia.  Tal vez algunas personas que sobreviven se decidan a poner por escrito sus recuerdos, para contribuir a la más axacta y completa relación de hechos y al mejor entendimiento de la conmoción socio-política de 1932.
Recuerdos focuses on reconstructing the community for the sake of remembering the historical identity of Sonsonate (31).  For this reason, Recuerdos de Sonsonate focuses on representing what people thought and believed in the 30’s.  Galindo-Pohl explains that at the time people did not know the facts, so it was their beliefs that motivated their actions: “la gente reaccionó con base en lo que creyó, y nadie por entonces tenía tiempo ni voluntad para indagar por la veracidad de estas y aquellas afirmaciones o noticias.” (33)
In Recuerdos Galindo Pohl brings up a nuanced set of causes behind the uprising of 1932 such as agrarian conflicts, the impact of the Great Depression and heightened government repression.  These causes have been overshadowed by the dominant communist interpretation of 1932.  Galindo Pohl discusses the division of land as a key cause of 1932 that has its roots in the conquest:
La cuestión de la tierra venía como consecuencia de una cantidad de factores que se remontaba a la conquista española, pues esta conquista asentó dos estratos básicos de población, la de los vencedores y la de los vencidos.  (273)
The extinction of ejidos and commonly held lands in 1885 was a result of liberal politics and economic policies that depicted these types of protectionist land holdings as backward.  National progress was thought to only be possible through economic policies that freed land ownership from provincialism.  Galindo Pohl reveals some of the racial tones that were intertwined with the arguments for progress; these suggest that cooperative land holdings were wasted on indigenous peoples who were not capable of, or simply did not have the desire to, make productive use of the land (277).  Galindo Pohl describes how the privatization of the ejidos impacted indigenous communities: “Para ellos la desocupación era rotundamente trágica, pues comportaba la transformación de la pobreza en miseria” (266). 
According to Galindo Pohl, the economic crisis of 1929 that began in the United States was another factor in 1932.  Salvadoran exports, particularly coffee, tied the country to the global economy and the Great Depression caused the Salvadoran economy to spiral downward dramatically after 1930.  The economists of the day viewed the depression as a corrective measure that was part of a normal economic cycle.  According to Galindo-Pohl, the popular uprising of 1932 was a response to the extreme frustration caused by the global economic crisis (282). 
The government adopted severe measures to prevent workers from agitating and hoped that the global economy would improve given time.  On August 12, 1930 the government of Pío Romero Bosque passed the first decree prohibiting meetings of workers.  On October 30th of that year, a more general decree was passed that prohibited all types of public meetings or protests (282).  On May 17 of 1931 Galindo Pohl describes one such public meeting in the Rafael Campos Park in Sonsonate of several hundred unarmed peasants.  When the first speaker began, armed agents from the National Police approached the speaker and dispersed the meeting.  Galindo Pohl says that the demonstrators cooperated and retreated but when they had walked about two blocks, the National Police open fired anyway.  Galindo Pohl was thirteen years old at the time and he describes seeing a wounded and bleeding man of about 40 years of age walking with difficulty and grasping at balconies and walls to steady himself.  Galindo Pohl portrays the polarization of Salvadorans who lived in the city and those who worked in the countryside; his Mother did not offer to help the injured man and the man did not ask anyone for help, “Mamá, mamá, ahí va un hombre herido; ¿ por qué no le damos posada? -¿Lo ha pedido? -No. -Entonces no lo necesita” (338).
According to Galindo Pohl people who participated in demonstrations of any kind were commonly identified as communists even though there was no evidence that they had any knowledge of the theoretical background of Marxism.  Galindo Pohl portrays demonstrators as more concerned with immediate needs than with an ideological program.  In contrast with the centrality of communism in the accounts of Méndez, Schlesinger and Mármol-Dalton, Galindo Pohl says there was no mention of the Communist Party at any of the student and labor demonstrations in Sonsonate:
Si ese partido tuvo participación importante en la insurrección fue cosa que no se dijo, ni siquiera los sectores profesionales y estudiantiles.  El contenido de las arengas, examinado únicamente con base de recuerdos, permite, muchos años más tarde llegar a esta conclusión. (335)
Socorro Rojo Internacional (SRI) provided modest economic assistance and moral support to labor activists, but Galindo Pohl argues that it was a myth that the SRI had an organizational role in the insurrection (336).  In early January a flyer circulated in Sonsonate that included the instructions of the Socorro Rojo Internacional to go ahead with an insurrection and to only respect the lives of children under two years old.  According to Galindo Pohl, this could have been a document spread by anyone intent on heightening tensions because the authenticity of this document was never verified (342).  Fascinatingly he places the SRI flyer incident alongside several other examples of unexplained omens of catastrophe.  For example, in early January a large red hot air balloon passed slowly above Sonsonate about 200 meters above ground.  People interpreted it as a signal that the city would be invaded that same night (347).  A few days later, citizens of Sonsonate woke up to find their homes marked with red chalk and numbered 1 through 50.  Galindo Pohl’s house was marked as number 26.  People suspected that these were the fifty houses that would be taken over for the rebel leaders.  Finally, around the 18th of January a cloud of ash rained several inches of soot from a nearby volcano.  People interpreted this as a natural sign of that the insurrection was at hand.  While each of these anecdotes helps to reconstruct the atmosphere of panic and fear of Sonsonate in the early days of 1932, but does not serve as evidence that the uprising of 1932 had communist origins.  
          Recuerdos de Sonsonate: Crónica del 32’ is a memoir that pushes back against the master narrative of 1932 as a communist uprising.  Galindo Pohl suggests that key causes such as land, the global economy, and repression have been marginalized in the collective memory and imagination, but played a much more significant role in the early 30’s in Sonsonate than did communism.  Galindo Pohl’s memoir offers anecdotes rich in socio-historical details from a perspective that is both inside and outside of the events.  Recuerdos is not free from the “narrative reconfiguration” of Roque Dalton's Miguel Mármol, but rather is the product of a new historical context in which communism is no longer perceived as a formidable threat given its global decline as a socio-political movement.  In the similar case of Alessandro Portelli's The Death of Luigi Trastulli, Portelli finds that it is not the historical events that are relevant, but rather how people remember them.  Narrative configurations change with the passage of time.  For this reason, Recuerdos de Sonsonate is not a corrective of earlier accounts, but rather should be read as a product of the war of the 80s and of the negotiated peace and in dialogue with other accounts of 32’.  

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