The Origins of the Ecuadorian Bourgeoisie: Its Implications for Democracy, Challenges and Limits to Latin America's Democratic Revolution

Article excerpt

Abstract. Based on interviews with 83 Ecuadorian business leaders, this article finds that many of the most prominent members of the bourgeoisie were of recent foreign origin while another large group came from families of landowners. Sons of landowners tended to be strongly anti-statist, while sons of industrialists tended to be relatively more statist. But only children of public employees and politicians had a positive view of state economic activity. All business leaders favoured military over civilian governments. The sons of landowners and professionals were most partial to military regimes, and they were also the most anti-union. These results support previous research that finds the Ecuadorian business elite to be conservative, anti-statist, and weakly committed to democracy, but also traces attitudinal different within this orientation to the social origins of the bourgeoisie. While a variety of factors have contributed to the weakness and instability of democracy in Ecuador in recent decades, this article provides evidence that the political attitudes of the bourgeoisie are a part of the explanation.

Resume. Cet article, base sur l'analyse des entrevues avec 83 hommes d'affaires equatoriens, permet de conclure qu'un grand nombre des membres les plus eminents de la bourgeoisie etaient d'origine etrangere recente, alors qu'un autre large groupe appartenait a la classe des proprietaires terriens. Pour leur part, les fils des proprietaires terriens etaient fortement antietatistes, tandis que les fils d'industriels etaient de tendance plus etatiste. Seuls les enfants d'employes du secteur public et ceux de politiques avaient une opinion favorable de l'activite economique de l'Etat. Tous les hommes d'affaires etaient plus favorables aux gouvernements militaires que civils. Les fils de proprietaires terriens et de membres des professions liberales etaient les plus partisans d'un regime militaire et aussi les plus antisyndicalistes. Ces resultats viennent confirmer ceux des recherches precedentes, a savoir que l'elite des milieux d'affaires equatoriens est conservatrice, antietatiste et peu portee a soutenir la democratie, mais ils permettent aussi de constater que les differences d'attitudes au sein de cette tendance sont attribuables aux origines sociales de la bourgeoisie. Bien qu'au cours des recentes decennies toute une variete de facteurs aient contribue a affaiblir et destabiliser la democratie en Equateur, cet article apporte la preuve que les attitudes politiques de la bourgeoisie y ont joue leur part.


It is now some 25 years since the world's "third wave" of democracy spread across Latin America. (1) But while the region has enjoyed its longest and most extensive period of electoral democracy, serious concerns remain about the quality and stability of democratic governance. Problems of quality are pervasive through the region, including unresponsive government officials, weak political institutions (most notably political parties, congress, and the courts), violations of the rule of law, and extensive corruption. While electoral democracy seems fairly well consolidated in most of the region, its stability has been undermined by super-presidentialism in Peru (Alberto Fujimori), in Venezuela (Hugo Chavez), and in Argentina (Carlos Menem), attempted coups in Haiti and Ecuador, and non-electoral changes in the presidency in Argentina and Ecuador. Thus, for example, in 2001 Argentina had five presidents in the space of less than two weeks.

This article examines the political attitudes of the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie in Ecuador, a country where democratic institutions and practices have been relatively weak. For much of the twentieth century, the country oscillated between unstable populist governments (most often led by Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, who was elected president five non-consecutive times but rarely finished his term),(2) conservative administrations closely linked to the nation's oligarchy, and military regimes. …