Archive for February, 2006|Monthly archive page

The Importance of Being Ecuador, 5

The Replicant Bourgeoisie

1. Capitalism in Ecuador doesn’t actually emerge from the struggle against the vice-royalty, but oozes and seeps out of the pores of the successful and failing vice-royalty. Capitalism in Ecuador withers as it grows, expands here faster there more slowly that its rates of decay, but never without decay. At every moment between origin and demise, capitalist development in Ecuador is the product of accelerated decrepitude.

At origin, capitalism in Ecuador is the offspring, the idiot offspring of conquest and conquerors, survives on a stipend, a “trust fund” established in the impressment, the forced servitude, the degradation of the labor of the indigenous peoples.

With no economic life of its own, the bourgeoisie of Ecuador exist as caretakers of poverty; as agents and the agency of anti-development, and anti-history. Where there has never been a nation, and only a suppressed domestic market, the bourgeoisie propagate a myth of a nation; a pseudo-history of imagined development. The failure of the struggle to overturn the social legacy of the vice-royalty is refurbished and recirculated as the future of liberation. Nostalgia for the construction of an obsolete historical project, “democratic,” “national” “independent” capitalism, brands the programs of “progressive” democrats and radicals. The bourgeoisie pursue memories of emancipation, but as with the actual fundamentals of the economy, the memories are not their own, the memories belong to others.

2. Loathed and adored, condemned and honored, tyrant and savior, Garcia Moreno is the perfect picture of the triumphant and failed Ecuadorian bourgeoisie; in his very existence the compressed composite of the baptism of Ecuadorian capitalism in the church of counterrevolution. Born of the proverbial “modest circumstances” in Guayaquil, Garcia Moreno studied in Quito where he married into the local aristocracy. Journeying to Europe after the failed revolutions of 1848, Garcia Moreno studied the importance of counterrevolution to Christianity under the learned theologians of the Catholic Church.

Upon those rocks of Catholicism and counterrevolution, Garcia Moreno built his church and state. Catholicism was not just the official religion, it was the only religion, named as such in two constitutions of Ecuador. The “republic” itself was dedicated to the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

The anti-clerical, trading liberals of Guayaquil were incensed by the restrictions on exchange, on access to property inherent in the conservative church-state. Garcia Moreno, however, fought off coup and invasion, and even overthrew his own successor in 1869 when it appeared that scheduled elections favored the Liberals.

Finally, or not, in 1875 Garcia Moreno was hacked to death on the steps of the presidential palace by a Colombian man wielding a machete, avenging perhaps his own sense of aggrieved “national honor,” that Ecuador had left the Confederacion Gran Colombia in the first place.

Garcia Moreno’s rule had overseen significant structural change in the economy. Economic growth was restored as a product of export and production for export. Roads and railroad were constructed linking Quito, Guayaquil, Riobamba, Babahoyo, Esmeraldas.

Exports grew tenfold between 1850 and 1890, and cacao became the number one export crop. Production tripled in this same period. With this growth in exports, the economic power of the Guayaquil liberals grew, but their social cohesion did not.

It took the Liberals 20 years to consolidate themselves enough to take power in Ecuador. That opportunity was seized not when the Conservatives were in power, but when the Progressives, who pretended at a compromise between Liberals and Conservatives, assumed leadership.

In 1895, the Progressive president, Cordero, resigned amid charges of bribery and betrayal in allowing Chile to used the Ecuadorian flag as cover for selling a warship to Japan. In June 1895, the Liberals in Guayaquil seized power in the name of a caudillo, General Jose Eloy Alfaro Delgado. In September, Alfaro returned from his exile and marched into Quito.

3. In the first years of Liberal rule significant political and structural changes of occurred. The Catholic Church was divested of its official status and of its control of the educational system. Civil marriage and divorce were institutionalized. More than that, the church’s rural properties were seized by the government. The Church in turn incited a civil war. The church in Ecuador, led by its foreign-born bishops of Portoviejo and Riobamba, preached and fought agains the “atheistic alfaristas.”

The arbitrary debt-peonage that had survived from the conquest was not abolished. It was regulated. Imprisonment for debt was finally abolished in 1918. Still, these structural changes were overwhelmed by the real economic decline that pressed upon the indigenous and workers. The liberal government suppressed by force of arms the struggles of both groups for economic power.

The economy remained what it always had been. In decline, ruinous to the living standards of the indigenous and the poor. In expansion, opposed to improvements in those standards. In expansion, the Ecuadorian economy remained deformed, suppressed, stunted; its deformation being the greatest achievement of bourgeois power.

Exports and export earnings financed the spending plans of the governments, with such plan inevitably requiring the assumption of greater debts. The power of the Liberals was centered in Guayaquil; the center of power in Guayaquil was the group of bankers, landowners, merchants known as la argolla– the ring. At the center of the ring was the Commercial and Agricultural Bank of Guayaquil, making large loans to the government. What the Catholic Church was to the Conservatives, the bank was to the Liberals.

And then, again as before, the influence of Britain in the world markets pushed the export economy of Ecuador to collapse. This time however, in the 20th century, it wasn’t the domestic industry of British capitalism that overwhelmed export Ecuador. This time, in the 20th century, it was the cacao production from Britain’s African colonies that undermined Ecuador’s position.

Inflation coupled with declining export earnings forced the the economy into depression. A general strike in Guayaquil in 1922, and a rebellion by indigenous rural workers and peasants in 1923 were subdued only after massacres of the strikers.

Finally, or not, in 1925 a group of reformist military officers, the League of Young Officers, overthrew the Liberal president Cordova.

S. Artesian
address all comments to: sartesian@earthlink.net

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