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CLALS | Reconfiguration of Elites and Power in Central America

The publications and working papers featured on this page have been produced as a result of and in association with the project Reconfiguration of Elites and Power in Central America, generously funded by the Ford Foundation.


Política fiscal: Expresión del poder de las élites centroamericanas

Política fiscal:
expresión del poder de las élites centroamericanas

This project-sponsored volume is a collection of studies carried out by the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) analyzing how elites influence fiscal policymaking in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Purchase an electronic or print version of the book, published by F&G Editores.

Working Papers

Working papers posted here are organized around three main themes: historical context, associated with the period prior to 1980; rupture, a period of critical juncture within the region throughout the 1980's; and the regional and sectoral dimensions of the current landscape. The majority of these papers will be included as part of a two-volume publication to be released in summer 2015.

Historical Context

A field worker harvests sugar cane with a machete

Photo by Bill Gentile

Essays posted within this section address the ways in which power was constituted and exercised in pre-1980 Central America and shaped the ways in which the period of rupture unfolded in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

State Formation in Costa Rica and Nicaragua: A comparative perspective

Independent of the structural conditions that establish the basis of accumulation for dominant classes, it is the political sphere - the confrontation, cooperation or collaboration between dominant and popular sectors of the population - which ultimately achieves or fails to achieve the centralization of power or formation of the state. This paper examines the connections between political centralization and the monopolization of the exercise of power, the effects that this process has on mechanisms used by elites to access and maintain power and resources, and how the State provides or fails to provide both political and ideological legitimacy through the creation of a national community in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (Download the paper)

The Violent North: Guatemala and El Salvador, Independence to 1980

Guatemala and El Salvador have shared a history of labor-repressive landowning elites concentrated in the agro-export sector, the oppressive nature of which contributed to prolonged civil wars in both countries. Avri Beard explains the divergent outcomes between elite composition and power structures in El Salvador and Guatemala through a comparative historical analyses. (Download the paper)


The following essays address issues related to the period of "rupture" in the 1980s-90s including war, regime change and globalization, all of which played pivotal roles in undermining inherited structures and creating new logics for the exercise of power.

Structural Adjustment

Authored by Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz of FLACSO-CR, this paper brings into question whether structural adjustment policies, which swept the region in the 1980s, have resulted in a rupture or merely a continuation of a trend of disempowerment of the subordinate sectors within society. Pérez Sáinz explores three major themes: national labor markets and the increasingly precarious nature of salaried workers, emigration trends and remittances, and the issue of social inclusion through changing citizenship regimes. (Download the paper)

State Building Under Globalization

Aaron Schneider identifies state building as an ongoing process that shifts with changes in international capitalism. He examines the varied ways in which Central American elites have adapted strategies to expand accumulation, accumulate by dispossession, and regulate social and political life as they confront the changing nature of their relationship to capitalism in the 1980s. (Download the paper)


Avri Beard and Elizabeth Oglesby examine the varied economic effects of the civil wars that tool place in the 1980s in Central America and how the conflict impacted intra-elite and elite-state interactions.

(Download the paper)

Sectoral and Geographic Distribution

Papers within this section analyze the current landscape of elites, exploring bases of accumulation and how they exert economic influence.

Globalización y nuevos ejes de acumulación en Costa Rica.

In this paper, Juan Pablo Pérez Sáinz and Kimberly Alvarado Ríos of FLACSO-Costa Rica, explore natural resource, knowledge and political rent seeking amongst elites through three case studies of new axes of accumulation: the urbanization of land previously dedicated to agriculture in the metropolitan region of San Jose, software production as an industrial export, and the opening of national communication entities. (Download the paper)

Elites y lógicas de acumulación en la modernización económica guatemalteca

Mayra Palencia explores Guatemala's current elite landscape, which continues to have roots in landholding, and most often focuses on agro-industry and agro-exports. Palencia analyzes the paternalistic relationship elites hold with the state, the repositioning of elites to adapt to neoliberal policies as well as the effects of such phenomena on social equality. (Download the paper)

Business and State Relations in Post-Revolutionary Nicaragua: Elite Realignment and the New Strategy of Collaboration

Rose Spalding examines the political and economic segmentation of the Nicaraguan business elite following the return of FSLN leader Daniel Ortega to the presidency in 2007. She analyzes three sectors of the business community: “traditional” elites rooted in conventional agro-export production; “new” elites who emerged with the post 1990 shift to market reform (elites in non-traditional agricultural exports, tourism, maquila production, banking, upscale commerce and real estate); and “emerging” elites associated with the FSLN business sector and new ALBA-financed investments. Special attention is paid to organizational dynamics in the business sector (APEN, COSEP, AMCHAM) and the role of business leaders in economic policy deliberations. (Download the paper)

Inversiones y dinámicas territoriales en Centroamérica

Members of the Programa Salvadoreño de Investigación sobre Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente (PRISMA) joined CLALS at the February 2012 project meeting held in Guatemala, where they presented findings from their publication on investments and territorial dynamics in Central America. The document, available below, explores Central America as a new region of investment for raw materials and agricultural products, and how that has effected the relationship between elites and the larger society. (Download the document on PRISMA's website)

Central American Fiscal Policy in a Time of Crisis

The Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) works closely with CLALS on this project and has released their 2012 report, "Central American Fiscal Policy in a Time of Crisis." The report analyzes the principal components of fiscal policy in the region during the last decade and their impact on equality. It also explores how elites have affected the implementation of socially progressive fiscal policies. ICEFI concludes that a sustainable fiscal policy, directed at promoting economic growth and improved distribution, amidst fluctuations of the international economy will require profound reforms in taxation, public expenditure and fiscal transparency.

Download the full report from ICEFI

View the video or read a summary of ICEFI's June 2012 panel discussion of the report at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The State of the Honduran Fiscal Economy 2013

ICEFI economists Hugo Noé Pino and Jonathan Menkos presented their findings from "Diagnóstico de las finanzas públicas 2008-2012 y perspectivas para 2013" in Tegucigalpa. The report analyzes Honduras's current fiscal crisis and provides recommendations on how fiscal policy can be used as a development tool.

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Working Paper Index

Historical Context

  • State Formation in Nicaragua and Costa Rica: A Comparative Perspective
  • The Violent North: Guatemala and El Salvador, Independence to 1980


  • The Redefinition of Power Relations with Subordinate Sectors in Central America in the late 20th Century
  • Political Economy of Central American State-building under Globalization

Sectoral and Geographic Dimensions

  • Globalization and New Axes of Accumulation in Costa Rica
  • Elites y lógicas de acumulación en la modernización económica guatemalteca
  • Investments and Territorial Dynamics in Central America
  • Central American Fiscal Policy in a Time of Crisis
  • Diagnóstico de las finanzas públicas 2008-2012 y perspectivas para 2013