The Economic Elite

The Economic Elite

In popular usage, the term oligarchy referred to the old Quito upper class, whose fortunes were amassed originally through ownership of land, and to prominent commercial groups in Guayaquil. Although members of the wealthiest families historically seldom participated personally in politics--except for serving in diplomatic posts in Europe or the United States or as foreign ministers--the economic elite often appeared to manage political affairs to its own advantage.

Since the mid-twentieth century, associational interest groups representing the upper class have proliferated. Commercial, industrial, and agricultural associations became increasingly important, even in provincial capitals where informal connections were previously considered sufficient. After the constitution of 1967 allowed agricultural, commercial, and industrial associations to elect one senator each from the Sierra and one from the Costa, the Senate became dominated by representatives of employer groups.

Although lacking the claims to aristocracy of the Quito upper class, Guayaquil's commercial and financial elite was the wealthiest in the country. Its members espoused liberal principles, such as the expansion of political participation, but generally seemed even less disposed toward economic reforms than did its counterparts in Quito. The coastal elite participated in the political process by financing the campaigns of various parties and factions. It was well organized, principally through the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce, and was capable of raising the banner of regional autonomy whenever its interests were threatened.

The provincial landowners formed the most conservative of all significant political groups. Their strength was much greater in the Sierra than on the Costa, and they were especially powerful in provincial and municipal affairs in the south. Until the dissolution of Congress in 1970, hacendado associations were strongly represented in that body, both through the regional senators and deputies representing the southern highland provinces and through the senators elected by the associations themselves. There was broad sympathy and support for the hacendado viewpoint among those who monopolized most instruments of power.

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