(b. San Salvador, 21 Oct. 1882; d. Jamastrán, Honduras, 17 May 1966)
Salvadorean; President of the Republic 1931–44 El Salvador's most colourful and eccentric President came to power in a coup in December 1931. An officer of humble origins, he had been vice-presidential candidate in the 1930 election of President Araujo and subsequently became Minister of War in the government he replaced.
Martínez is remembered as the President who ordered the massacre of an estimated 30,000 peasants in the wake of the abortive peasant uprising of January 1932. But he is also remembered for his bizarre lifestyle and obsessions. He espoused the causes of temperance, vegetarianism, and theosophy, believing in the transmigration of human souls and reincarnation.
His dictatorial government also saw the establishment of El Salvador's first official party, ‘Pro-Patria’ (for the homeland), a personal instrument of the President. All other organizations were banned, while Martínez centralized decision-making and replaced civilian with military officers at local and national levels of government. Martínez was attracted by the Axis powers during the 1930s and Salvadorean officers went to train in Germany and Italy. Unable to sustain the economy through trade with these two powers, Martínez was forced for economic reasons to shift allegiances back to the Allies by 1940.
Martínez experienced at least three plots to overthrow him in the 1930s. Disaffection within the army continued to grow as a clique of the President's friends concentrated more and more power and privileges in their hands. Members of the landed oligarchy also grew restive at his economic policies of state interventionism and protectionism. When he tried to alter the constitution and secure a fourth term as President in 1944, a coup was staged. Although he survived the coup and executed all those involved, massive popular protests took place amongst students, workers, and peasants. On 8 May, Martínez announced his resignation, reportedly on the advice of the US President. He fled to Honduras, where he became a landowner; he was later hacked to death by one of his workers.
Martínez was the last of the caudillo political leaders of El Salvador, able to stamp their personal whims on public office. He lost power when civilians united against him; henceforth the military made sure of their social and political base of support, most notably from the country's oligarchic landowning class.