Lieutenant-Colonel José María Lemus, a protégé of President Oscar Osorio (1950-1956), rose
to power in 1956. Lemus is often remembered as an authoritarian ruler, but at the outset of his
presidency he allowed the return of exiles and abolished the “Law in Defense of Democratic
and Constitutional Order,” sanctioned during Osorio’s anti-communist crackdown in 1952.
Lemus governed El Salvador during a period of declining prosperity as coffee prices plunged
in the international markets, forcing an economic restructuring which had particularly negative
consequences for the poor. But more importantly, the changing political landscape in Latin
America posed enormous challenges to Lemus, as opposition forces ousted Venezuelan dictator
Marcos Pérez Jiménez in January 1958 and revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro took power in Cuba
in January 1959. Political events in Venezuela and Cuba inspired a new wave of mobilization in
El Salvador led by the recently formed Partido Revolucionario Abril y Mayo (PRAM) and Frente
Nacional de Orientación Cívica (FNOC) which challenged Lemus’ authoritarian regime. While
the local press followed step by step events in Cuba as reported by U.S. press agencies, Lemus
and the Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unification (PRUD), the official party, showed a
renewed determination to prevent the spread of “Cuban-inspired subversion” in El Salvador. To
this end, Sidney Mazzini, a representative of the PRUD at the National Assembly envisioned the
formation of what he termed a “sanitary cordon” around Cuba.

Palabras clave: totalitarismo, exiliado, comunismo, política, sistema económico