Students of Salvadoran history will recognize the reference to the "14 Families," the oligarchy which controlled most of the land and wealth in El Salvador during the 19th and 20th centuries. A recent article by Juan Jose Dalton in Raices describes the evolution of economic power in El Salvador in the past two decades. Citing a study by economist Alfonso Goitia, Dalton makes the case that wealth today is not controlled by 14 families, but by 8 financial conglomerates. Here is my translation of the introduction to the article:
In the last 35 years, the men of economic power in El Salvador have transformed themselves: landowning agricultural exporters converted into powerful financiers.
The riches of El Salvador have been reconcentrated in a few hands, an event without precedent in the history of this country or the Central American region. From the 14 oligarchic families of the past century, now capital is distributed among 8 powerful business groups.
Before the commencement of the civil war in 1980, the Salvadoran economy revolved around three agricultural products: coffee (which was pre-eminent), sugar cane, and cotton. These defined the life of this small country that had a population of no more than 3 million inhabitants.
In the present reality, agriculture is practically lost, and banks and grand shopping centers arise where previously coffee plantations flourished. The population of El Salvador is now 6.7 million, but 2.5 million reside in the United States and from there they send such immense quantities of money that the dollar has taken the place of the national currency, the Colón. In fact, remittances have become the most important source -- and permanently growing -- of foreign exchange income.
The article goes on to explain that 8 business conglomerates now dominate economic life in El Salvador and they are largely owned by the descendents of original 14 families of the coffee oligarchy. Those 8 business groups are:
- Grupo Cuscatlán
- Banco Salvadoreño
- Banco de Comercio
- Grupo Agrisal
- Grupo Poma
- Grupo de Sola
- Grupo Hill.
The article describes how these 8 business conglomerates have a variety of interlocking ties and investments, and worries that such an aggregation of wealth threatens increased social inequality and places the government of the country at the service of a very few.