Ecuador’s Rivalry of the Cities

Most countries experience some degree of rivalry between different regions or their larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, Tokyo and Osaka, and so on. Often these rivalries are played out – literally – on the sports field. On one notable occasion, however, a sports rivalry blew up into war between nations. This was the so-called “Soccer War” between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.

The 5-day war was actually the result of ongoing tensions between the two countries, but rioting following a contentious soccer game was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In Ecuador’s case, the rivalry is between its two leading cities: Quito and Guayaquil.

The Quito-Guayaquil rivalry goes back generations, nearly as far back as the birth of Ecuador itself. In the years following independence in 1830, two political figures became opposing poles that attracted adherents of competing political views. Juan Jose Flores was Ecuador’s first president, and much of his support came from the city of Quito and the highlands in the central part of the country. Flores’ supporters were basically conservative, while those of Vicente Rocafuerte, based in the coastal city of Guayaquil were liberal. As Flores and Rocafuerte jockeyed for power and, at times, alternated as Ecuador’s president, a fierce rivalry became established that continued long after these two founding fathers passed away.

Sierra and Costa – these names signify both the regional and cultural identities that have clashed in Ecuador since the days of Flores and Rocafuerte. The Sierras based in Quito are traditional in outlook; they speak softly and deliberately. The liberal Costas of Guayaquil and the lowlands talk loud and fast, and their conversations are peppered with words and expressions that are distinct to the region. Each group is convinced of their superiority and disdains the other. The Sierras resent the fact that their region’s exports must go through Guayaquil and have their competitive value reduced by fees and charges.

The Costas have always felt that government bureaucrats in Quito overtax them and spend money earned on the coast on projects that benefit the highlands. At times, this rivalry has erupted into violence. Presidents and politicians were assassinated in the late 19th century and the country lurched into a brief civil war. These days, passions between Quito and Guayaquil can still get hot, but the rivalry is played out in a more civilized way: on the soccer pitch.