Martinez and Alfaro

Historical and Biographical Background

Dr. Francisco X. Martinez (1850-1917) was a prominent Ecuadorian Surgeon but he also spoke out on public issues confronting Ecuadorian Culture in his times and in later life he became a prominent Statesman.  When he was a young man studying medicine in far-away Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the presidency of Ecuador was occupied by a fervent Catholic (Garcia Moreno) who was determined to bring revolutionary changes to the political structure of Ecuador -giving to the Vatican powers unknown in all the world since medieval times.

After his graduation in spring of 1871 Dr. Martinez stayed in the Philadelphia area for some time serving in several key medical positions but by 1873 he had returned to Ecuador and married on October 13, 1873 in Quito.  In the early 1870’s the second term of president Gabriel Garcia Moreno was coming to a close. Garcia Moreno had first come to the presidency in 1861 and he had attempted to reform the country by forcing an archaic form of Catholicism on the entire population even going so far as to deny citizenship to non-Catholics. President Garcia Moreno was violently assassinated by a small group of assassins in 1875.

Garcia Moreno had certainly not been without opposition in Ecuador.  One of his staunchest opponents was a young man named Eloy Alfaro who participated in an uprising against Garcia Moreno in 1864 and in other uprisings against conservative governments later in the 1880’s.  Alfaro was 33 years old at the time ofGarcia Moreno’s death – eight years older than Francisco Martinez.  Meanwhile after his return, Dr. Francisco Martinez established himself as a leading physician and was on the faculty of the newly-formed Medical School at the 100 year-old Central University in Quito1.  But he also spoke out on the issues of his day.  In those times the great issue confronting the country was the church-state issue.  Those who advocated the granting of sweeping powers to the Catholic Church – and the disenfranchisement of non-Catholics – were dubbed conservatives and those who opposed it were dubbed liberals.   Dr. Martinez was opposed to this idea of turning Ecuador into a Roman Catholic theocracy.  After Garcia Moreno’s death, a later president (Veintimilla) attempted initially to reverse the policies of Moreno but he was not successful.  Then a few years later another president was elected (Caamano) who was determined to re-establish the Theocratic system of Moreno.  Just a year or two into Caamano’s presidency Dr. Martinez could remain silent no longer and began to speak out against the theocratic ideologies, editing and publishing his own Weekly newspaper.  This newspaper was called “El Perico” (“The Parakeet”).  It did not attack or insult specific individuals.  Instead the authors were birds such as “Mr. Woodpecker” or “Cyril Cockatoo” or fictitious characters such as “Clarissa the Unfortunate.” Attacks were directed against metaphorical characters created in the text and against current pernicious ideologies – not against real-life individuals.
Jose Antonio Gomez Iturralde, author of the copious survey of two centuries of Guayaquil Newspapers states that in it’s time El Perico was “…the most popular newspaper in Guayaquil”. It was generally satirical in tone and contained cartoons with a message similar to “political cartoons”.  One such cartoon was of a witch stirring a cauldron labeled “The Society of the Catholic Republic”. The stirrer used to stir the cauldron was labeled “El Criterio” – a reference to “discernment” or the judgment of the populace who were being misled by contemporary leaders of public opinion. By speaking out in this way Dr. Martinez placed himself and his family at great risk and within three months of initiating publication, his newspaper was shut down and he was briefly imprisoned 2 and exiled from Ecuador (to Peru). He was married and had six childran at the time …in addition to being a well-established physician and university professor.

Collaborator of Eloy Alfaro

The Church-State controversy raged on in Ecuador in the two decades following Garcia Moreno’s death.  While an exile in Peru, Dr. Martinez met Eloy Alfaro who was there at the time preparing a revolutionary campaign. R. Andrade’s early biography of Alfaro, “Vida y Muerte de Eloy Alfaro” (pub. 1916), mentions:

“The Ecuadorians who Surrounded Alfaro in Lima guarded him with care and held him in high esteem. …Mature elderly men and young people, they were all followers, the later guarding him, alternating because he always feared some treachery. Among the former was Dr. Serrano, a man of many years, virtuous, austere… …among the latter, Drs. Felicis Lopez, Francisco Martinez Aguirre…”

–From “Vida y Muerte de Eloy Alfaro”, p. 185

The two men recognized that they were working toward a common objective and would continue to do so for the rest of their lives.    After three years of exile in Peru Dr. Martinez was allowed to return after another president (Jijon) came to power in Ecuador, permitting the exiles to return.  Publication of “El Perico” was resumed at that time.  Several years later, in 1895, Eloy Alfaro assumed the presidency.  During Alfaro’s presidency, Dr. Martinez became one of his closest collaborators.   For at least the last two years of Alfaro’s Presidency, Dr. Martinez served as Secretary of Defense (Ministerio de la Guerra) in Alfaro’s government.  But throughout Alfaro’s presidency Dr. Martinez served in several other key posts.

Writing of the opening period of Alfaro’s second term which began in 1906, historian Ayala Mora says:

…the new cast of Ministers was composed as follows: Jose Maria Aguirre Carbo (Interior), Pacifico Villagomez (Foreign Affairs), Amalio Puga (Finance), Francisco Martinez Aguirre (public education), Gral Francisco H. Moncayo (Army and Navy)…

…this period was characterized by great instability in the ministerial team. Sometimes ministers were changed month to month, but many times the names of the ministers rotated through several posts. Francisco Martinez Aguirre, for example, occupied at different times the five posts. He was also the Governor of Guayas3.
–from Ayala Mora, Enrique “Historia de la Revolucion Liberal Ecuatoriana”, page 162


The new constitution promulgated at the opening of Alfaro’s second term in 1906 – often dubbed the Magna Carta of liberalism was conspicuous for its separation of Church and State, guarantee of freedom of conscience, and establishment of secular education. This establishment of secular education was an important milestone in Ecuador. The fight had been long and arduous since the days of Garcia Moreno who had handed over to the Church full control of education in Ecuador. Clearly, Dr. Martinez’ original appointment as “Minister of public instruction” in 1906 was important for the progress of education in Ecuador.

Alfaro Today

In Ecuador today, President Eloy Alfaro is credited with the founding the movement that ultimately led to separation of church and state4 and for instituting legal guarantees of many fundamental human rights,  such as freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, legalization of civil marriage and divorce and the establishment of public schools.    In the socio-economic sphere he also made it his life’s work to connect the sea-level city of Guayaquil with the two-mile-high Capitol city of Quito by a “Trans-Andean” railroad.   It was an extremely daunting task and one of the most expensive railroads ever in the world but it was desperately needed by the people of Ecuador and Alfaro would let nothing get in the way of its completion.

“Without a railway, so much individual strength, thirsty for productive occupation and finding it nowhere, is wasted; so many lives end in misery, for lack of work. …” -Eloy Alfaro (quoted in Clark “The redemptive work: railway and nation in Ecuador”)

President Alfaro’s remains were re-interred nearly a century after his death – in the place of his birth  with great honors by President Rafael Correa – who is himself descended from the family of Alfaro – in a ceremony in which President Correa referred to Alfaro as “The greatest Ecuadorian”.

In popular Ecuadorian culture Alfaro is rightly regarded as a symbol of those inalienable human rights which were denied Ecuadorians for so long during the 19th Century and of the urgently necessary social reforms that helped Ecuador to begin her journey out of the deep dark night of superstition and fanaticism.  This movement faced powerful opposition from elements deeply entrenched in Ecuadorian Culture.   The evidence clearly shows that the assistance rendered to this movement by Dr. Martinez became a significant factor in its eventual success.

  1. For more details (in English) on Central University of Quito see the Wikipedia Article
  2. Gomez Iturralde states that Dr. Martinez was “taken prisoner and sent into exile” at this time. Further research may uncover more details on this brief imprisonment; for now all we have is this brief reference from Gomez Iturralde.
  3. Guayas province is the province in which Ecuador’s main port city Guayaquil is located.
  4. As historian Enrique Ayala Mora has argued forcefully, the great church-state reforms in Ecuador were finally and conclusively pushed through not by Alfaro but by Plaza. The reason is that during Alfaro’s first term he was not able to consolidate his power base sufficiently and he adopted a more conciliatory approach toward Church authorities in his reluctance to cause excessive social disruption.
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