The Economic Elite
A view of the Northern Sierra
Courtesy Patricia Mothes
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
, ch. 2).
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.
Data as of 1989