Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador

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Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador
Fullname: Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador
Origin: El Salvador
Foundation: October 15, 1979
Headquarters: San Salvador, El Salvador
Commanders: Jaime Abdul Gutiérrez
José Napoleón Duarte
Goals: Retain military rule over El Salvador (successful until 1982)
Crimes: Mass murder
War crimes
Crimes against humanity
Human rights violations
Ethnic cleansing

The Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador (Spanish: Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno, JRG) was the military dictatorship that ruled El Salvador between October 15, 1979 and May 2, 1982. It contained two colonels, Adolfo Arnaldo Majano Ramos and Jaime Abdul Gutiérrez Avendaño, and three civilians, Guillermo Ungo, Mario Antonio Andino and Román Mayorga Quirós. During its reign, the Revolutionary Government was the source of mass murder, torture, executions and unexplained disappearances via the use of death squads.

Internal contradictions within the Junta soon became apparent, with Colonel Majano representing a progressive view and Colonel Gutiérrez representing a more conservative viewpoint. On January 5, 1980 the three civilians resigned, and were replaced by José Antonio Morales Ehrlich and Héctor Miguel Dada Hirezi initiating the Second Revolutionary Government Junta. When Dada Hirezi resigned in protest at the violence of the Junta on March 3, José Napoleón Duarte took his place and this was the Third Revolutionary Government Junta.

On December 7, Majano was expelled from the junta (and went into exile) and on December 22, Duarte became head of the Junta, and also the head of state. Gutiérrez was Vice-President and considered to be the strong man of the regime. Two weeks after Duarte got into the Junta, Archbishop Romero was killed during mass in a Catholic church in the capital. On January 10, 1981 the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) launched a generalized attack on the government which resulted in the regime receiving immediate military aid from the U.S., including military advisers.

On March 26, 1982 elections to the National Congress were held. Then the new Congress chose Álvaro Magaña to become the new President of El Salvador, which resulted in the end of the Junta on May 2.


On October 15, 1979, young military officers staged a coup, which overthrew President Carlos Humberto Romero, ending 17 years of National Coalition Party rule over El Salvador. President Romero faced growing unrest in his country and had a threat of a revolution. Mass organizations had practically occupied the streets and were confronted with direct attacks by the National Guard and the Army. The guerrilla groups acted in the city and in the countryside with increasing development, and dedicated themselves not only to the fight against the security forces, but also to the extermination of the members of the Nationalist Democratic Organization (ORDEN), a political group created by the government in the early 1960s, which at that time was fulfilling paramilitary tasks or denouncing militants on the left.

From a year earlier, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) prepared a condemnatory report of Romero's government which was to be presented at a meeting to be held on October 22, 1979 in La Paz, Bolivia. In the previous months, US president Jimmy Carter sent undersecretary of state Viron P. Vakyl to meet Romero to warn him that he should resign or call early elections, preferably in 1980.

The leaders of the 1979 coup had the support of the government of the United States, which believed that President Romero had lost control of the situation in the country and showed concern about the strengthening of the armed groups of the left. After several months of conspiracies and negotiations within the army, the armed forces endorsed the coup.

The coup was endorsed by the so-called Popular Forum which was composed of some organizations currently fighting in the streets such as the National Federation of Salvadoran Workers' Unions (FENASTRAS), which was the most powerful central union belonging to the Unified Popular Action Front (FAPU), and the Popular Leagues "February 28" (LP-28). It was also supported by the Salvadoran Communist Party, the Nationalist Democratic Union, and several union groups. More support came from the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the Social Democratic National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and the Central American Unionist Party (PUCA).

After intense and rapid negotiations between the military, the Popular Forum, and members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador (CCIES), the first Revolutionary Government Junta of El Salvador (JRG), or First Junta, consisting of two military officers and three civilians, was formed.

The military was represented by Colonels Jaime Abdul Gutiérrez Avendaño and Adolfo Arnoldo Majano Ramos. The three civilians were Román Mayorga Quiroz, a professor at the Central American University of José Simeón Cañas, Mario Antonio Andino Gómez, the former vice president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Salvador (CCIES), and Guillermo Manuel Ungo, the president of the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR).

The coup leaders presented a centrist government program and promised a series of social reforms such as land reforms and the nationalization of banking and coffee trade. It also promised the cessation of violence by security forces against the civilian population and the implementation of a true democratic system in the country. A cabinet of ministers was appointed in which former opponents of the PCN governments participated, among them, the Democrat Rubén Zamora as Minister of the Presidency and businessman Enrique Álvarez Córdoba as Minister of Agriculture but also had representatives of the conservative sector of the country such as Colonel José Guillermo García who was Minister of Defense.

The Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who had denounced the human rights abuses of General Romero's government, publicly expressed his hope in the good intentions of the new government. On the contrary, leftist groups increased protests and strikes throughout the country and refused to dialogue with the new government.

Attention was drawn to the absence of the Christian Democratic Party in the junta, the traditionally strongest organization of the Salvadoran opposition. This was due to a maneuver of the MNR and the PCS in the Popular Forum which prevented the arrival of a Christian Democratic leader with power or with influence that neutralized the other civilian members such as José Napoleón Duarte, Adolfo Rey Prendes, or José Antonio Morales Erlich. However, the PDC did not plan to "spend" on its strong pieces, and sent junta young members of the progressive sector, such as Mario Zamora, Rubén Zamora, Héctor Dada Hirezi, and Jorge Villacorta, who obtained key positions such as the Ministry of the Presidency and other key ministries.

The presence of Mayorga, Ungo, and the PDC progressives, as well as figures linked to the left-wing Jesuits, put private companies on guard which did not support their representative. The traditionalist military, temporarily retracted, was also put on guard. Disputes immediately began between civilian and military representatives in the junta. It was clear that the alliance would not last long and the army began parallel conversations with the traditional members of the PDC.

Although it was expected that the coup d'etat and the conformation of the junta would slow down the popular protests, things got worse. Although the communist party gave "critical support" to the government and several of its most prominent militants occupied ministries, vice-ministries, and offices, the FAPU began fighting in the streets together with the Popular Revolutionary Bloc to demand a petition sheet, very similar to the one proposed by the Armed Forces, as part of its government plan: salary increases, agrarian reform, dissolution of ORDER, rental freezes, upon many more demands.

As if that were not enough, the LP-28 made shots of peripheral populations, supported by the People's Revolutionary Army, and called for insurrection; they were fought off by the security forces, with significant casualties between their militants and the civilian population. The repression against the left did not cease since numerous officers of the Armed Forces maintained ties of collaboration with death squads (far-right groups) under the new government. As during the presidency of General Romero, the death squads exerted considerable pressure on any junta official who attempted to implement the promised reform plan. Death squads acted with impunity, killing those suspected of being supporters of left-wing armed organizations and even members of the Christian Democratic Party despite the fact that the party supported the new government. Within the first week after the junta took power, human rights organizations reported a hundred deaths due to political violence.

On December 28, 1979 there was a meeting between members of the civil cabinet, the junta, and representatives of the different sectors of the army, which ended in a confrontation that led to the end of the first junta. The spiral of violence between the armed groups of the left, the death squads, and the security forces continued throughout November and December 1979; the country lived in a pre-war environment. Meanwhile, the internal contradictions within the junta soon became apparent, with Colonel Majano representing a progressive point of view while Colonel Gutiérrez represented the opinion of the conservative sectors of the Armed Forces.

Between January 2 and 5, 1980, the three civilian members of the junta resigned. The cabinet of ministers, except the defense minister, Colonel García, also resigned. On January 2, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero held a mediation meeting which failed.