The Long War: Dictatorship and Revolution in El Salvador

By James Dunkerley | Go to book overview
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1
THE RISE OF THE OLIGARCHY

The Dueñas, the Reglados, the Hills, the Meza Ayaus, the De Solas, the Sol Millets, the Guirolas, the Alvarez, the Melé, the Menéndez Castros, the Deiningers, the Quinoñ the Garcia Prietos, and the Vilanovas: this oligarchy runs the lives of three million mestizos.

Marcel Neidergang, The Twenty Latin Americas

They remain as always, rude and superstitious, obtaining their simple food and scanty dress at a cost of great work. Without social needs, without awish to improve their condition. . . they do not pursue progress nor do they seem to consider the wellbeing of their descendants . . .

"Los Indios", Diario Oficial del Gobierno, 23 August 1855

For the last century economic and political power in El Salvador have been concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy that has a good claim to be one of the smallest, most omnipotent, pugnacious and reactionary in the world. It is not, as popular opinion would have it, comprised solely of 'fourteen families', although in the early years of this century it had a core of fourteen family groups with some 65 families in all. In 1974, 67 family firms exported coffee on a commercial scale while an inner group of 37 enterprises dominated the production of coffee, sugar and cotton (see Appendix Two.)

The key to the formation of this veritable aristocracy and to the development of the social structure of El Salvador, as well as that of most of Central America, lies with coffee. It was the introduction of this plant and its transformation into the region's leading export crop in the mid-nineteenth century that hauled the gaggle of isolated isthmian provinces into the world market and provided the conditions for the subordination of feudal, pre-capitalist economic relations that had endured under the Spanish colony. Coffee became the axis around

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