4 February, 2023

"Rich Dad", Mario Reni Roldán and the uprising of 1944 in El Salvador

Oscar Vigil

Toronto, Glen. No one doubts that the world is the size of a scarf, and that, if we stand in the center, we will realize that those who pass, and what happens, we know him. So it happened several weeks ago, when publishing a column after the death of the Salvadoran politician Mario Reni Roldán and telling some of his anecdotes, a reader realized that his father, Manuel de Jesus Rico, He was the prolific politician's comrade-in-arms in the battle that started the fall of the Salvadoran dictator Maximiliano Hernández Martínez in the year 1944.

The reader is Francisco Rico-Martínez, well-known Salvadoran-Canadian social leader who since his arrival as a political refugee in Canada has been committed to defending the rights of immigrants, refugees and undocumented in this country.

"When I was reading the article, the image of my father came to my mind, because when I was little, he told me that he had entered fighting for the Llanos del Espino, in Ahuachapán, just like Mario Reni Roldan did ”, Francisco Rico said.

The battle he refers to is the one that occurred on Sunday 2 April 1944, a Palm Sunday, that was carried out precisely in a rural area known as Llanos del Espino, which is located in the western department of Ahuachapán, in El Salvador, right on the border with Guatemala, where several hundred improvised Salvadoran militiamen with few weapons, but with an abundance of national love, they were part of a revolutionary movement against the dictator General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez.

The insurgent movement, which included the lifting of several military barracks precisely in the western part of the country, border with Guatemala, it was crushed and many of its main leaders were captured and shot, but it was the beginning of a broader movement that gave rise to the so-called General Strike of Fallen Arms, which culminated in Martinez's resignation from 28 May of the same year.

Francisco Rico-Martínez tells that his dad, who was a teacher trained at the Alberto Masferrer Normal School, must have had some 23 from 24 years when he joined this movement, and that years later he told him that he and many of his friends left for Guatemala to prepare militarily to later return to make the revolution in El Salvador.

His father, Manuel de Jesus Rico, was born in a small town called San Juan Opico, always in the Salvadoran west, and his life was marked by the indigenous insurrection of the year 1932, which was suffocated at gunpoint by General Martínez with a balance in which historians still cannot agree, but what about 10 thousand and 40 thousand murdered peasants.

"My dad did not experience this massacre because he will have had 13 from 14 years, but what he was telling me is that he lived through Martinez's land reform process, because there is a place that always, when we passed by, he mentioned it to me and he told me, 'look, these little houses that you see here, at the Child's Site (on the road to San Juan Opico from the Pan American Highway), are what Martínez did with the agrarian reform ’, but he emphasized to me that that was the only thing that remained of the aforementioned agrarian reform that distributed land, because he said that Martínez forgot that people ate and that they had to have land to cultivate and not only to live ”, Francisco account.

Remember that your father was marked by the time of General Martínez, because I told him that “the only good thing about this time is that you could leave a suitcase full of money in the central park of San Juan Opico and nobody touched it, because they knew that if they touched it they would kill them. That's a bit of a distorted concept of what oppression is, but he was very affected and shocked and that's when the illusion of revolution was created in him, of social change ”.

Martinez came to power on 1 March 1931 as Arturo Araujo's running mate, of the Labor Party, who won the elections with a progressive platform. But in the face of the military's dissatisfaction because their salaries were not supposedly paid, the 2 December of the same year they gave him a coup and Martínez was ruling the country for the following 13 years, standing out for its brutality and repression, as well as for promoting some progressive measures such as the famous Agrarian Reform.

"My dad was saying that Martinez had to be thrown out, it was already unbearable. He was a follower of the president who was before, by Arturo Araujo, who was the one that Martinez overthrew, because he told me that Araujo was a democratic president and that Martínez had played him back and that progress in El Salvador was raised with that president and that Martinez knocked him down ”.

With all these dissatisfactions, Francisco remembers that his dad told him that one day he and a group of friends went by bus to Guatemala., leaving Santa Ana. They contacted him and he contacted some friends, they went by bus, they crossed the border and then walked a long way until they reached a place where they were given military training.

"My dad talked about three weeks of training where several people split up because there was not even good food, and he told me that the training had been given by the Guatemalan military and that the weapons he believed had been donated by the Guatemalan armed forces at that time ”.

Once the day has come 2 of April, they armed, they got into trucks that left them near the border and entered through blind spots walking to El Salvador. Before reaching the city of Ahuachapán, there are the Llanos del Espino and there was the only armed confrontation that Manuel de Jesús Rico had. Francisco remembers that his dad told him that, before the intensity of the fight and the loss of the battle, the platoon leader, who was a lieutenant or captain named Julio Rivera, who would later become president of the republic, He told them that he was going to try to save the lives of those who were still fighting, and took them to the lower part of the Llanos del Espino, because if they kept going where they were going they were going to destroy. And there they captured them, but they captured the majority alive, because he told how he saw many of his colleagues fall, and also that many of his friends deserted.

"He told me the names, but I don't remember them. And he told me that when they were still in Guatemala and they came to El Salvador, it was that many made themselves and left, so they came with a smaller group of people because the others had been scared. He told me that when they were captured in El Espino they defended themselves, they shot, but that he always believed that the Salvadoran army had information, that someone had given them away that the invasion was coming ”.

Once captured, they had them in the same place, on the battlefield, for several hours, and then several trucks from the Salvadoran Armed Forces arrived at the street that goes to the border of Las Chinamas, with Guatemala, and there they put Manuel de Jesús Rico on a military truck that had a green tarp on it. It was still daylight, but inside the truck it was completely dark, but when they reached the city of Ahuachapán it was already night.

They crossed the city, but at the exit, the truck stopped. At that time they had already taken away their weapons, they were in t-shirts, they had taken off their shoes, the cinches, and practically everything. In the truck in which Manuel de Jesús Rico was riding, there were a total of around eight or nine combat partners, guarded by several soldiers, and other trucks also had other detainees.

When the truck stopped, Manuel de Jesús Rico told one of the soldiers guarding them that he had to urinate, and the soldier told him to get off and do it. He got out and stood to the side of the truck to urinate, when suddenly the truck started walking again and left.

Due to carelessness, they left it standing there, so he immediately went into the mountains and started running until he reached a house of a peasant family where they gave him clothes and money for the bus fare, and went home to San Juan Opico.

Manuel de Jesús Rico did not carry any identification, so there was no way they could identify him. He arrived at his house in San Juan Opico and stayed there until later he joined the fight again. A month later General Martínez fell as a result of the General Strike of Fallen Arms.

In one of the last conversations I had with Dr. Mario Reni Roldán, told me more or less the same story. The, who had also been a teacher trained at the Alberto Masferrer Normal School as well as Manuel de Jesús Rico, began his political activity precisely in the movements against the Martinez dictatorship.

Mario Reni Roldán had left for Guatemala to participate in the formation of a popular army to overthrow the dictator. He told me that the Guatemalan government of President Juan José Arévalo gave the necessary support to Salvadorans in arms, a large group of workers made students, peasants and military dissidents.

"I was with us a lieutenant named Julio Rivera, when we entered our country weapons. Ahuachapán walked through a 800 poorly armed men. I had a Mauser rifle. It was heavy. The planes of President Anastasio Somoza arrived from Nicaragua to machine-gun us and there was a massacre. I saw two of my colleagues when they fell dead ", the political leader told me, who was the founder of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in El Salvador in the early 1980, just at a time when the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), Until last year, the government party fought a fierce armed battle against the government and army of El Salvador..

Francisco Rico-Martínez and Mario Reni Roldán had known each other since that time of revolutionary war in El Salvador, since both were active in the left movements, but Francisco says that unfortunately they never talked about these events of 1944.

"It was so sad for me to have a man like Mario Reni Roldán, whom he knew and spoke to him many times, and not having talked about this topic. We came to Canada around the same time and it never occurred to me to ask him. You see a wrinkled face and maybe you think you were born that way, you forget that the person was young and that, just like us, they have had ideals for a long time and they have done things that they are proud of. And I would have loved to talk to him and ask him about my dad, confirm those romantic nights of my father when he became the revolutionary he always wanted to be, because he had had a few more drinks and was talking to me, who was the youngest son, the smallest".

Manuel de Jesús Rico was a close friend of the mythical commander of the Salvadoran revolution Mélida Anaya Montes, who slept many times at home in the period when Salvadoran teachers were organizing the National Association of Salvadoran Educators "ANDES 21 of June", which played a highly relevant role in the protest struggles of the 60’s and 70’s.

"My dad at that time was already working in a government position, I was already a teacher, and we joined the strikes because the central headquarters of the strike in Santa Ana was my mom's school, who was also a teacher at the "José Martí School". It was when I had 10 u 11 years and we were going to order food on the streets because there was no food for all the teachers who were on strike, so we went out into the streets with blankets and people gave us food ", remember Francisco.

More than half a century has passed since those “street fights” that Manuel de Jesús Rico carried out hand in hand with his son Francisco, and two more decades since the battles in which he participated with Mario Reni Roldán. And how life surprises you, Francisco had one of those great ones when a few weeks ago he read the article about Mario Reni Roldán on www.revistadebate.net and realized things he had no idea about..

"For me it was a feeling that I have rarely had in my life, finding my dad through a person in a newspaper article here in Canada, that's not normal", says Francisco.

“With Mario Reni Roldán we met in the decade of 1980 outside El Salvador and then we met two or three times in El Salvador, but those were times when there was no way to break underground. We greeted each other and I was wondering ‘and this old man will remember me or not?’Because I returned to El Salvador for the first time in December of 84 and he was trying to do his little things, and we found ourselves giving political training talks to unions, to cooperatives, and we had seen each other before and we knew each other, but we could never speak, until we meet again here in Canada we chatted and he said yes, who remembered me ”.

Francisco insists that he would have loved to speak with Reni Roldán about “Papá Rico”, as his father was known in western El Salvador, where he lived all his life, learn more about those conspiratorial times against the Martinez dictatorship and find out if the two had been friends in the training centers and on the battlefields. But he lost that opportunity without knowing that he had it at hand.

Now, he only remains with two reflections that for him are of great importance in life.

“One is that there is one thing that I share and will always share with my dad and Mario Reni Roldán, and it is that I see myself in a mirror and smiled. I am not satisfied, But I am proud of what I have achieved as a person and how I have kept the principles that my family and my father taught me., and then in the revolutionary process, in the political process, in the progressive academy, etc. I can see eye to eye and sleep peacefully, and I once talked to Mario Reni. He told me: 'I am calm, I did what I could. ’. And I think my dad too, and I think I'm still doing what I can from this little universe. That is one thing that I share with them ”.

"The other thing that I promised myself after reading the article is that when I see another old Salvadoran I am going to sit down and talk to him, to ask him questions, because we are wasting time, these people have a lot of answers, of experiences, of stories that can be compared or reflected in our lives, and they can help us get ahead. But one out of pride or ignorance or lack of time, or ‘because I liked that old man’, don't talk to them. I lost that opportunity and I see it, And now I promise myself that when I see one of these old men, be right, be on the left, whatever it is, I'm going to talk to them and I'm going to ask and I'm going to share what my father shared with me ”, ends.