ref: "Ecuador," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004
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Ecuador, republic in northwestern South America, bounded by Colombia on
the north, by Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean on the
west. The country also includes the Galápagos Islands (Colón Archipelago)
in the Pacific, about 965 km (about 600 mi) west of the mainland. Ecuador
straddles the equator (Ecuador is the Spanish word for “equator”) and has
an area of 272,045 sq km (105,037 sq mi). Quito is the country’s capital.
Ecuador has a diverse population composed of people of European, Native
American, and African descent. The majority are mestizos, individuals of
mixed European and Native American ancestry. Most of the Native Americans
live in poverty in the highlands region, where a small elite of European
descent controls most of the land and wealth.
Ecuador was a Spanish colony until 1822, when independence forces won a
decisive victory over Spain. Ecuador has had a democratically elected
government since 1979, but historically the government has alternated
between civilian rule and military dictatorship. Most political conflicts
involved squabbles among groups within the upper classes who controlled
the nation’s wealth.
Agriculture dominated the economy of Ecuador until the 1970s, when the
discovery of petroleum deposits brought added income to the nation.
Although the money generated by the oil industry produced a decade of
prosperity, it eventually caused a chaotic dislocation of the economy. The
influx of cash resulted in price increases for many goods. In addition,
because Ecuador had a limited manufacturing base, people spent the new oil
money on consumer products imported from abroad, thus increasing Ecuador’s
II. Land and Resources
Ecuador is divided into four geographic regions: The Costa, or coastal
plain, covers a little more than one-quarter of the area of the country;
the Sierra, or central highlands, extends as a double row of high and
massive mountains enclosing a narrow, inhabited central plateau; the
Oriente, or eastern jungle, covering about one-half the country, consists
of gentle slopes east of the Andes; and the Galápagos Islands include six
larger and nine smaller islands containing many volcanic peaks, mostly
The Sierra region lies between two chains of the Andes, the Cordillera
Occidental and the Cordillera Oriental, which have more than a dozen peaks
higher than 4,877 m (16,000 ft). Cotopaxi (5,897 m/19,347 ft), one of the
highest active volcanoes in the world, is located between the two mountain
Although Ecuador lies on the equator, the country has a wide range of
climates because of the varying elevations. The Costa is generally hot and
humid, with a mean annual temperature of about 26°C (about 78°F). On the
Sierra the temperatures range between about 7° and 21°C (about 45° and 70°
F), depending on the elevation. Quito, which is some 2,850 m (9,350 ft)
above sea level, has an average annual temperature of 13°C (55°F). The
Oriente is warmer and more humid than the Costa; temperatures approach the
upper 30°s C (lower 100°s F), and annual precipitation is about 2,030 mm
(about 80 in).
B. Natural Resources
Forests, an important resource of Ecuador, cover 38.1 percent of the
country. The mineral resources of the country include petroleum, gold,
silver, lead, zinc, salt, copper, iron, coal, and sulfur.
C. Plants and Animals
Along the northern part of the Ecuador coast, and within the inner portion
of the southern coast, tropical jungles abound. In some places the jungles
extend up the slopes of the Andes as wet, mossy forests. Both flanks of
the Cordilleras, as well as the Oriente, are densely forested up to about
3,050 m (about 10,000 ft). At higher elevations, paramo grass
The animal life of Ecuador is varied. Large mammals include the bear,
jaguar, and wildcat, and among the smaller mammals are the weasel, otter,
and skunk. Reptiles, including the lizard, snake, and crocodile, thrive on
the slopes of the Andes and along the coastal lowlands. Birds are the most
varied group, and many North American birds migrate to Ecuador during the
northern winter. The Galápagos Islands, with many unusual native animals,
serve as a wildlife sanctuary.
Approximately 80 percent of the population of Ecuador is composed of
Native Americans and mestizos (persons of mixed Native American and
European ancestry); the remainder is equally divided between Europeans
(chiefly of Spanish descent) and blacks. The population is 64 percent
A. Population Characteristics
At the 1990 census, Ecuador had a population of 9,648,189; the 2004
estimate is 13,971,798. The average population density is 51 persons per
sq km (131 per sq mi). Some 47 percent of the people live on the Sierra,
where the population is predominantly Native American. About 49 percent,
mostly mestizos and blacks, live on the Costa. The remainder of the
population is scattered within the Oriente and Galápagos Islands. The only
significant groups of people of predominantly Spanish descent are in the
cities of Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil.
B. Political Divisions and Principal Cities
Ecuador is divided into 21 provinces, which are subdivided into cantons
and urban and rural parishes.
Quito, the capital, is situated in the northern Andes and in 2001 had a
population of 1,399,814. Guayaquil, in the southwest, with a population of
1,952,029, was the principal port and commercial center. Other cities
include Cuenca (276,964), an industrial and commercial center; Machala
(198,123), a commercial and farming center; and Ambato (154,369), a resort
area and a commercial and transportation center.
C. Language and Religion
The official and most widely used language in Ecuador is Spanish. Many
rural Native Americans speak Quechua, the original language of the Inca
Most Native Americans in Ecuador became converts to the Roman Catholic
faith during the years following the conquest of Peru and Ecuador by the
Spanish. Roman Catholicism became the state religion in 1863, but by 1889
a liberal movement resulted in a partial severance of church from state. A
decree of 1904 placed the church under state control; properties of
religious orders were confiscated, and absolute freedom of religion was
introduced. Today Roman Catholicism is the faith of about 96 percent of
the population. The Native Americans of the Oriente maintain ancient
religions; members of various Protestant denominations make up about 2
percent of the population.
A campaign to reduce the high illiteracy rate in Ecuador was started in
1944; in 2004 some 92.8 percent of the people aged 15 or older were
literate. Education in principle is free and compulsory for all children
between the ages of 5 and 14. Many rural areas, however, do not have
D.1. Elementary and Secondary Schools
In the 2000 school year 2 million pupils were enrolled in 18,014 primary
schools. While nearly all children attended primary school, only 57
percent of secondary-school-aged children were enrolled in school.
D.2. Universities and Colleges
The main institutions of higher education in Ecuador include the Central
University of Ecuador (1826) and the Pontifical Catholic University of
Ecuador (1946), in Quito; the University of Cuenca (1868); and the
University of Guayaquil (1867).
Because the inhabited regions vary greatly in their ethnic makeup, Ecuador
is a country of contrasting cultural patterns. The Native Americans of the
highlands, the descendants of tribes conquered by the Inca, still play
traditional Native American songs on ancient-style flutes and panpipes.
The Oriente is populated almost entirely by Native Americans whose
ancestors escaped both Inca and Spanish rule and whose customs resemble
those of Native Americans of the Amazon Basin. Along the coast,
descendants of Spanish settlers and black African slaves have intermingled
to produce a culture that is a combination of Spanish and African
E.1. Painting and Sculpture
Ecuador was a famous art center during the colonial period. The first of a
long line of colonial painters was Adrián Sánchez Galque. He taught Miguel
de Santiago, the most famous of all the Ecuadorian colonial artists.
Santiago, in turn, taught Nicolás Javier de Goríbar. These three artists
formed the "glorious trinity" of colonial Ecuadorian painting. In
18th-century Quito, sculpture flourished through the works of Manuel Chil
Caspicara and Bernardo de Legarda. In the 20th century, a generation of
talented artists inspired by contemporary Mexican painters arose in
Ecuador, including Camilo Egas and Eduardo Kingman, both of whom are
muralists, engravers, and oil painters, and Oswaldo Guayasamín, a painter,
sculptor, and graphic artist.
Colonial literature in Ecuador, like painting of the colonial period, was
baroque in style. Baroque literature is characterized by exuberant and
often somber emotion presented in an elaborate style rich in imagination
and metaphorical imagery. By 1800 Ecuadorian literature came under the
influence of neoclassicism and later romanticism. The neoclassical style
emphasized common sense, moderation, reason over emotion, and elegance
over brevity. Romanticism stressed reliance on the imagination and
subjectivity of approach, freedom of thought and expression, and an
idealization of nature. José Joaquín de Olmedo, one of the first
neoclassic poets of Latin America, was also active in Ecuador's struggle
for independence. Juan Montalvo, perhaps the most respected of all
Ecuadorian authors, is known for his political essays.
The best-known Ecuadorian writers of the 20th century include Jorge Icaza
Coronel, a scathing novelist with a leftist political slant, whose most
famous novel is Huasipungo (1934; translated 1962); José de la Cuadra, a
short-story writer; and Alfredo Pareja Díez-Canseco, Demetrio Aguilera
Malta, Enrique Gilbert, and Humberto Salvador, all of whom were writers
preoccupied with the struggle for social justice.
Quito, the least changed of any of the old colonial capitals of South
America, is a fine example of early Spanish architecture. All the arts in
colonial days were inspired by the church and reflected the baroque style
prevalent in Europe. Many of the churches of Quito are now art galleries
as well as places of worship; they contain priceless paintings,
altarpieces, woodcarvings, statues, and adornments.
The National Library, founded in Quito in 1792, is one of the oldest in
the country and contains about 70,000 volumes. The university libraries in
Quito and Cuenca have less extensive collections. Other libraries are
maintained in the larger cities.
Many museums in Ecuador preserve artifacts and records of historic
interest. Several historical and archaeological museums are in Quito,
including the School of Fine Arts; the National Museum of Fine Arts in the
Sucre Theater building; the Museum of Colonial Art; and the Franciscan and
Santo Domingo museums. Near Cuenca, a private museum has on display an
excellent collection of Inca and pre-Inca objects.
Agriculture has traditionally been the basis of the Ecuadorian economy.
For most of the century and a half after 1822, when Ecuador won its
independence from Spain, the Ecuadorian economy underwent only sluggish
development and remained predominantly agrarian. The highlands, where most
of the people lived, displayed a sharp social division between the masses
of Native American peasants and a small class of rich creole (individuals
of Spanish descent) landlords. The Indians generally farmed small plots,
using traditional methods, on latifundia (big estates) owned by the creole
elite. Ecuador's main exports were cacao, coffee, and, later, bananas.
Limited commercial and industrial development occurred along the coastal
area centering on the country's commercial capital, Guayaquil.
In 1965, however, an industrial development law was passed that brought
about the establishment of factories manufacturing textiles, electric
appliances, pharmaceuticals, and other products. In the 1970s substantial
amounts of petroleum began to be produced and exported, with the
completion of the trans-Andean pipeline providing a line between oil
fields and the port of Esmeraldas. The profitable exploitation of
petroleum produced rapid economic growth. Substantial progress was made in
education, public health, irrigation, hydroelectric power generation,
transportation, urban construction, and industrialization. However, social
inequalities increased, the highland Native Americans remained
impoverished, and foreign debt grew to high levels.
In 2002 industrial production accounted for 28 percent of the gross
domestic product (GDP) while agriculture, including fishing and forestry,
accounted for only 9 percent. The GDP was estimated at $24 billion in
The cultivated area (just 6 percent of Ecuador) lies primarily on the
Sierra and the Costa. Bananas are the chief crop; also important are
coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, rice, plantains, maize, and potatoes. Some 9.3
million metric tons of fruits, primarily bananas, were produced in 2002.
B. Forestry and Fishing
Ecuador is one of the world’s chief sources of balsa wood. Other forest
products include mangrove bark, tagua nuts (vegetable ivory), and rubber.
The waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands constitute one of the richest
tuna fisheries in the world. Shrimp are also found in abundance. The
coastal waters off mainland Ecuador also are rich in fish. The fish catch
totaled 654,539 metric tons in 2001.
Gold, silver, lead, zinc, and salt are mined in Ecuador, the last-named
under government monopoly. Petroleum resources, which were first uncovered
in the early 1920s and are still being discovered today, form the basis
for a major industry. The deposits are the property of the country, but
large, taxable concessions have been made to foreign concerns. Petroleum
production in 2001 totaled 154 million barrels.
Traditionally, Ecuadorian industry was confined to the manufacture of
goods for local consumption. Under the industrial development law,
production plants were established for the manufacture of food products,
petroleum products, textiles, and chemicals. In 2002 manufacturing
accounted for 11 percent of the GDP.
Ecuador has great potential for producing hydroelectricity, and 65 percent
of its electricity is generated in hydroelectric facilities. Almost all
the rest is produced in thermal plants burning coal or petroleum products.
In 2001 the country produced 10.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.
F. Currency and Banking
In March 2000 the government changed the basic unit of currency in Ecuador
from the sucre to the United States dollar, with the exchange rate set at
25,000 sucres to the dollar. The Central Bank of Ecuador (1927) is the
bank of issue, and the country is served by several domestic commercial
banks as well as offices of foreign banks.
G. Foreign Trade
The value of Ecuador’s yearly exports is generally somewhat higher than
the cost of its imports. In 2001 the country’s exports earned $4.6 billion
and its imports cost $5.4 billion. Export earnings from food products such
as shrimp, cacao, and coffee accounted for 42 percent of the total, with
41 percent coming from sales of fuels, principally petroleum. Major
imports included transportation equipment, machinery, metal, chemicals,
and foodstuffs. The United States is by far the leading trade partner of
Ecuador; considerable commerce also is conducted with Japan, a number of
countries in the Americas, and many European countries. Ecuador, along
with Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, is a founding member of the
Acuerdo de Cartagena (Cartagena Agreement), also known as the Andean
Group. The group works toward common policies on energy, tariff reduction,
industrial and agricultural development, political cooperation, improved
internal and international trade, and the creation of a common market.
Ecuador is also a founding member of the Latin American Free Trade
Association (LAFTA) which was replaced in 1980 by the Latin American
Integration Association (LAIA). The LAIA aims to improve the economic and
social conditions in member countries by improving trade within the group,
which includes most of the countries in South America. Ecuador was a
member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from
1973 to 1992.
The road system of Ecuador comprises 43,197 km (26,841 mi) of roads, of
which only about one-sixth are paved. The Pan-American Highway runs
through the country from north to south. The nationalized railroads
transport freight and passengers over 960 km (600 mi) of track.
Ecuador has several seaports. Guayaquil, which is connected by air and
rail to the major cities, and La Libertad are the main ports. Other ports
include Esmeraldas, Manta, and Puerto Bolívar. Many rivers, including the
Guayas, Daule, and Vinces, have been dredged and are now navigable.
International airports are located near Quito and Guayaquil.
The major cities and towns of Ecuador are connected by telephone;
telegraph and cable services link the country with all parts of the world.
There are about 320 commercial radio stations. There were 413 radio
receivers and 216 television sets in use for every 1,000 inhabitants in
2000. Influential daily newspapers include El Comercio and Ultimas
Noticias in Quito, and El Universo in Guayaquil.
The total labor force of Ecuador numbers 5.1 million people, of whom 8
percent are employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; 24 percent
work in manufacturing, mining, and construction; and the remaining 68
percent engage in services. Skilled workers make up only a small
percentage of the labor force. The country has several trade union
associations; the largest is the Frente Unitario de Trabajadores, which
comprises the Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Clasistas, the
Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Sindicales Libres, and the
Confederación de Trabajadores del Ecuador. There are also major unions
representing manual laborers, intellectuals, maritime and port workers,
and railway workers.
Ecuador is governed under a constitution put into effect in 1979. Ecuador
has had more than 15 constitutions since it achieved independence. Most
have followed the classic republican form, providing for a directly
elected president, an elected legislature, and a separate independent
judiciary. In practice, however, Ecuador's presidents and military leaders
have frequently annulled constitutions and canceled elections.
The constitution of Ecuador vests executive power in a president elected
by direct popular vote for a four-year term. The president, who cannot
serve two successive terms, is assisted by a cabinet and appoints the
governors of the provinces. The chief executive is commander in chief of
the armed forces and holds extraordinary powers in time of national
B. Health and Welfare
Effective programs designed to check communicable diseases have been
instituted in Ecuador. The country has greatly reduced the incidence of
yellow fever, malaria, and tuberculosis. Malnutrition and infant
mortality, however, still pose serious problems. In 1991 an outbreak of
cholera spread to Ecuador from Peru. More than 35,000 cases were diagnosed
and 606 people died.
A government-sponsored social security program, in existence since 1942,
provides farmers, domestic workers, artisans, and professional people with
such benefits as health, accident, maternity, and unemployment insurance,
as well as old-age pensions. In 1999 the country had 1 physician for every
Legislative power in Ecuador is vested in the unicameral National
Congress. It is made up of 121 members, 79 of whom are elected at-large
nationally and 42 of whom are elected to represent the provinces. All
members of Congress serve four-year terms. In addition to lawmaking,
Congress ratifies treaties and chooses judges for the country’s supreme
and divisional courts.
D. Political Parties
Traditionally, the important political groups were the Conservative Party
and the Liberals (officially the Liberal Radical Party). The Conservatives
spoke for the landed aristocracy and the Catholic Church. Their stronghold
was the old administrative capital Quito. The Liberals represented the
country's wealthy and anticlerical mercantile elite. Their base was
Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city and commercial center. Until the second
half of the 20th century, the great majority of the population had no
political voice. The real stakes of political conflicts, whether electoral
or violent, were the division of spoils among groups within the upper
Since World War II (1939-1945), although the social structure has not
basically changed, the vote has been vastly extended. Ecuadorian political
life has become much more varied and open, and the two traditional parties
have dwindled into relative insignificance. In the early 21st century
Ecuador had more than ten political parties, and they often formed
coalitions to support candidates for election. Some of the more important
parties included the leftist People’s Democracy-Christian Democrat Union,
the conservative Social Christian Party, the populist Ecuadorian Roldosist
Party, the centrist Party of the Democratic Left, and the Plurinational
Pachakutik Movement-New Country, a Native American party. In the 1990s
Native Americans gained increased influence over Ecuador’s politics
through both the Pachakutik party and the Ecuadorian Confederation of
Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), a group led by Native American farmers.
E. Local Government
Each province of Ecuador is administered by a governor, who is appointed
by the country’s president, and a popularly elected provincial council.
Urban cantons popularly elect a municipal council, which, in turn, elects
the council officers. Each rural canton and each parish is administered by
an official who is appointed by the president.
The court system of Ecuador includes a supreme court of 16 judges, 10
divisional courts, and numerous lower courts. Criminal cases are heard
before a “special jury,” consisting of one judge and three members of the
bar. Capital punishment is prohibited.
A 12-month term of conscription is compulsory for all male citizens of
Ecuador. In 2002 the armed forces included an army of 50,000 members, a
navy of 5,500, and an air force of 4,000.
Architectural remains of ancient civilizations dating back thousands of
years, and probably related to the Maya civilization of Central America,
have been discovered in Ecuador. The present-day city of Quito served as
the fortified capital of several Native American groups and is one of
three cities in the Americas that antedate the coming of the Europeans.
The other two are Mexico City, capital of the Aztec Empire, and Cuzco,
Peru, capital of the Inca Empire. Quito was the center of the ancient
Native American kingdom of Quito, which was conquered by the Inca Empire
in the late 15th century. None of these pre-European civilizations left
written records of their cultures. The Inca dominated the Native American
tribes of Ecuador and provided the major military obstacles to the early
Spanish invaders, who eventually conquered the region in the 16th century.
A. Spanish Rule
The Spanish first landed on the coast of what is now Ecuador in 1526, led
by Bartolomé Ruiz. Spanish conquistadores under Francisco Pizarro invaded
the country in 1532 and two years later were in control of the area.
Pizarro, acting in the name of the Spanish crown, appointed his brother
Gonzalo governor of Quito in 1540. A short time later Francisco Pizarro
was assassinated, and Gonzalo Pizarro led a rebellion against Spain. His
independent rule lasted until 1548, when forces of the Crown defeated his
army at Jaquijaguana and he was executed.
Colonial Ecuador was at first a territory directly under the rule of the
Viceroyalty of Peru, one of the two major administrative divisions of
16th-century Spanish America. In 1563 Quito, as Ecuador was then called,
became a presidency, or a judicial district of the viceroyalty. From 1717
to 1723 the Quito presidency was under the authority of the Viceroyalty of
New Granada in Bogotá, but it was then returned to the authority of the
viceroy of Peru until 1739, when it reverted to New Granada.
The first revolt of the colonists against Spain took place in 1809, but it
did not last long. A second attempt in 1810 resulted in a revolutionary
government that was suppressed by Spanish troops in 1812. Revolutionary
forces, led by General Antonio José de Sucre, chief lieutenant of South
American independence leader Simón Bolívar, did not win final victory
until 1822. Ecuador became the Department of the South, part of the
confederacy known as the Republic of Colombia, or Gran Colombia, which
also included Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia.
In 1830 Ecuador withdrew from Gran Colombia and gained independence under
its present name. The first century of the republic is bound up with four
remarkable men: General Juan José Flores, Vicente Rocafuerte, Gabriel
García Moreno, and General Flavio Eloy Alfaro.
C. Regimes of Flores and Rocafuerte
Flores and Rocafuerte shared the government of the new republic from 1830
to 1845. They alternated between hostility and friendship, and likewise
alternated in government. When Flores was president, Rocafuerte was
governor of Guayaquil; when Rocafuerte was president, Flores was the
commander of the army.
Flores was born in Venezuela and was an officer in Bolívar’s army in the
War of Independence. He was in command of troops in Quito in 1830 and
after Bolívar left Ecuador, Flores took advantage of the division and
anarchy in Gran Colombia to head the movement that withdrew Ecuador from
the federation. Flores was barely 30 years old when he first took power.
His repressive government angered the Liberals, led by Rocafuerte.
Rocafuerte, a member of Quito’s upper class, was the first active opponent
of the tyranny of Flores. Tolerant, progressive, a man of travel and
culture, Rocafuerte was educated in Europe. Flores recognized his enemy as
the kind of man he needed in the government, invited Rocafuerte to join
him, and helped Rocafuerte to become president in 1835.
Rocafuerte gave Ecuador a remarkable four years of administration, with
government reform, new schools and hospitals, and friendly relations with
neighboring countries. At the end of his term, he returned to his position
as governor of the port city of Guayaquil and left Flores in the
presidential mansion in Quito. In 1845 Flores was ousted and exiled by the
Flores fled to Spain, where he plotted with Queen Isabella II to bring the
west coast of South America under Spanish rule. Ecuador's neighbors became
so alarmed that they called a conference at Lima, Peru, in 1847 to plan a
mutual defense. Flores's plans were foiled, but five years later he again
menaced Guayaquil with ships obtained in Peru. No welcome awaited him
there, and he departed. In 1860, with Ecuador in the throes of civil war,
President García Moreno invited Flores back to command the army and help
D. García Moreno and Eloy Alfaro
García Moreno, a staunch Conservative, dominated Ecuador from 1860 to
1875. García Moreno favored road building, administrative reform,
modernization of agriculture, and, above all, the development of a school
system under the complete control of the Catholic clergy. In 1875 García
Moreno was assassinated. His death was followed by two more decades of
Conservative rule—at first under the dictatorship of General Ignacio de
Vientimilla and then under a succession of civilian governments. During
this period, world demand for Ecuadorian farm products, especially coffee,
was high, and Ecuador was generally prosperous. Prosperity especially
benefited the port of Guayaquil, stronghold of the Liberal opposition.
In 1895 the Liberals seized power in a coup led by their strongman Eloy
Alfaro. After two years of dictatorial rule, he was elected president in
1897. In 1901 he was succeeded by another Liberal general, Leónidas Plaza
Gutiérrez, but retained great influence. After a break between the two
Liberal generals, in 1906, Eloy Alfaro overthrew Plaza Gutiérrez's chosen
successor and returned to power. In 1907 he was again elected president,
and he held office until 1911, when he was overthrown. During his years of
political dominance, Eloy Alfaro put into effect the essential points of
the Liberal program—elimination of the privileged legal position of the
Roman Catholic Church, establishment of a system of public education, and
construction of a railroad between Guayaquil and Quito.
The next half century was marked by both economic and political
instability. Starting in the 1920s, bananas were a major export crop, and
Ecuador eventually became the world's leading banana exporter. Thus the
collapse of world markets for farm products during the Great Depression of
the 1930s dealt Ecuador a hard blow. The country also suffered a military
disaster in 1941, when it was invaded and partly occupied by Peru. An
inter-American arbitration commission later awarded Peru sovereignty over
a vast stretch of land in the Amazon basin that had been in dispute
between the two countries ever since the breakup of Gran Colombia in 1830.
Ecuador later repudiated the arbitration award, and the border between the
two countries remained a point of contention until the end of the 20th
Ecuador followed the United States into World War II (1939-1945) against
the Axis powers. At home, the end of the war coincided with a waning of
Liberal influence. In 1944 the Liberal president Carlos Alberto Arroyo del
Río, formerly president of the Chamber of Deputies, was forced from office
and replaced by former President José María Velasco Ibarra, who had held
office in 1934 and 1935 and who was supported by the Conservative faction.
In 1945 Ecuador became a charter member of the United Nations. A new
constitution, promulgated in December 1945, remained in force until 1967.
In 1947 Velasco was deposed by a military group that was almost
immediately ousted by counterrevolutionaries. After a brief rule by a
provisional government, Galo Plaza Lasso, a former ambassador to the
United States, was elected president in June 1948. In early 1948 Ecuador
attended the ninth Inter-American Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, and
became a signatory of the charter of the Organization of American States.
The long-standing border dispute with Peru, which had been revived in
1941, cropped up again in 1950. Both times the issue was submitted to
arbitration. Most of the disputed area had been awarded to Peru in 1942,
and no boundaries were changed following the 1950 incident. (In 1960,
reviving the dispute, Ecuador unilaterally nullified the 1942 settlement.)
F. Series of Short-Lived Administrations
In 1952 Velasco, this time the candidate of a coalition of left- and
right-wing groups, was chosen president for the third time, holding office
until 1956. In the presidential elections that year, the conservative
candidate Camilo Ponce Enríquez won a close victory over a liberal
candidate. Velasco ran as an independent candidate in the elections of
1960. Sharply critical of the conservative economic policies of the Ponce
government, he promised widespread reforms and was elected by a wide
margin. Lacking any well-defined program, however, he did not last long;
he was forced to resign in 1961. Shortly before, he had signed the charter
of the Alliance for Progress, a document providing for extensive aid from
the United States to signatories over a ten-year period.
Velasco’s successor, Vice President Carlos Arosemena Monroy, did not enjoy
a long tenure either. He was overthrown in 1963 by a military junta, which
implemented economic and social reforms in a series of decrees, including
one for agrarian reform. In 1964 the junta submitted a ten-year national
development plan to the Alliance for Progress commission, thus opening the
way for negotiation of loans to finance development projects. It soon,
however, faced mounting demands for a return to constitutional government,
and after two weeks of rioting in July 1965 it installed a cabinet more
acceptable to the opposition, but political unrest continued. In 1966
violent antigovernment demonstrations that provoked harsh retaliation
triggered a countrywide upheaval. The junta was then forced out.
An interim government held power until November of that year, when a newly
elected constituent assembly chose Otto Arosemena Gómez to head the state.
His government survived a difficult initial period of widespread
opposition, and in May 1967 a new constitution was promulgated. In the
first elections under the new charter, in 1968, Velasco was once more the
winner. His fifth administration, however, was no more successful than the
previous ones. He assumed dictatorial powers in 1970 in order to counter
dwindling support, but in 1972 he was once again overthrown by the
military. The leader of the coup, General Guillermo Rodríguez Lara, chief
of the army, then assumed the presidency.
G. A New Prosperity
Among the first acts of the new regime was establishment of a five-year
economic plan, stressing agriculture, housing, and industry. In August
1972 the first exports of petroleum were made from new fields developed
and operated by U.S. companies. This made Ecuador, at the time, the second
largest exporter of petroleum in Latin America, after Venezuela. Oil
revenues provided Ecuador with badly needed foreign exchange and
investment funds, which produced a decade of nearly uninterrupted
prosperity and rapid economic growth, but also spurred inflation and
increased the gap between rich and poor. Increased incomes among the
Ecuadorians also led to large imports of consumer goods, which resulted in
a foreign indebtedness that reached dangerously high levels.
President Rodríguez was replaced by Admiral Alfredo Poveda Burbano in
1976; he ruled at the head of a three-man junta. In the following years
inflationary pressures were somewhat alleviated. A referendum on a new
constitution and subsequent presidential elections were held in 1978, and
a runoff between the two top presidential candidates followed in 1979.
Later that year Jaime Roldós Aguilera was installed as president, and the
new constitution took effect. Roldós promised to initiate social and
economic reforms, but conservatives in the legislature blocked his
program. Another outbreak of border fighting with Peru was ended by
international arbitration in March 1981. Two months later Roldós was
killed in a plane crash; his brother León Roldós Aguilera then was named
vice president, as former vice president Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea succeeded
to the presidency.
H. Economic Stagnation
Hurtado attempted to continue the reformist and expansionary policies of
his predecessors, but Ecuador's excessive burden of foreign debt rendered
him unable to overcome the effects of international recession and falling
world demand for petroleum. The 1980s became a decade of stagnation, made
worse by bad floods in 1983, the collapse of world oil prices in 1985 and
1986, and a devastating earthquake in 1987.
In 1984 a conservative businessman, León Febres Cordero Rivadeneira, won
the presidency in a runoff election against a left-wing opponent. He
proposed to keep Ecuador from defaulting on its foreign debt by devaluing
the currency, cutting public spending, lessening protection of domestic
industries, and reducing real wages. But these policies, which drew strong
opposition from Ecuador's labor unions and opposition parties, were even
less successful than the nationalistic policies of the preceding regimes.
In 1986 Febres Cordero's Social Christian Party was badly beaten in
midterm parliamentary elections. In 1987 Ecuador finally was forced to
suspend indefinitely all payments on its foreign debt, which by then had
soared well beyond $9 billion. The Febres Cordero government had to put
down repeated military rebellions, including a January 1987 uprising in
which the president was seized and beaten.
Rodrigo Borja Cevallos of the Democratic Left became president after
winning a runoff election in 1988. Borja was unable to reduce inflation,
unemployment, and the foreign debt, and his party suffered major losses in
parliamentary elections in 1990 and 1992.
Succeeding him as president in 1992 was Sixto Durán Ballén, who was born
and educated in the United States. Durán’s government instituted
privatization measures, resulting in the breakup of Petroecuador, the
state-owned oil company. Other measures included land-reform efforts
requiring that unused land be sold rather than given to poor farmers, a
policy that provoked massive protests. In 1994 congressional elections
resulted in increased opposition to Durán’s conservative policies, but in
a plebiscite held the same year, voters approved most of Durán’s proposed
constitutional reforms. In 1995, however, voters rejected a number of
proposed reforms, including privatization of the country’s health and
social security systems and a restructuring of the presidential,
congressional, and judicial powers. Loyalty to Durán’s government had
waned earlier that year following a scandal in which Ecuador’s Supreme
Court gathered enough evidence to arrest the country’s then-vice
president, Alberto Dahik Garzoni, on charges of embezzlement. Dahik
resigned his post and fled to Costa Rica to seek political asylum. The
Chamber of Representatives elected former Education Minister Eduardo Peña
to the vacant seat.
Also in early 1995 Ecuador became involved in skirmishes with Peru in the
border region claimed by both countries. Fighting lasted for almost two
months until a cease-fire was signed. In 1998 Ecuador and Peru signed a
peace treaty that finally ended their long-standing border dispute.
I. Presidential Crisis
In 1996 voters elected Abdalá Bucaram, a populist, as president. Bucaram,
who received much of his support from the poorer members of society,
campaigned against corruption and opposed the tight fiscal policies that
were being implemented in many Latin American countries. However, after
the elections, Bucaram retreated from his populist campaign position and
introduced austere measures designed to curb Ecuador’s rampant inflation.
This cost him much support among the poor, a problem that was compounded
by charges that he had engaged in nepotism and corruption. Within six
months Bucaram’s administration was widely unpopular.
Up to 2 million citizens took part in a general strike on February 5,
1997, with more than 10,000 surrounding the Congress building and calling
for impeachment proceedings. On February 6 the National Congress voted to
remove Bucaram for “mental incapacity.” Congress voted to replace Bucaram
with Fabián Alarcón, president of the Congress, but Alarcón’s succession
to the presidency was challenged by Bucaram and by Vice President Rosalía
Arteaga Serrano, who claimed the right, as vice president, to succeed
Bucaram. A compromise allowed Arteaga to serve briefly as interim
president, but she stepped aside following a second vote by Congress on
February 11, in which it became apparent that Alarcón had enough support
to assume the presidency by amending the constitution. In April 1998
Arteaga resigned as vice president and was replaced by Pedro Aguayo.
J. Recent Developments
In July 1998 Ecuadorians elected a new president. Jamil Mahuad, the mayor
of Quito and the presidential candidate of the Popular Democracy Party,
took office in August. Mahuad faced a number of difficult economic
problems. During the late 1990s Ecuador’s foreign debts increased
substantially, while its economy declined as a result of several factors
beyond the control of the government. The 1997 and 1998 El Niño severely
damaged crops. A drop in world oil prices reduced the national income from
petroleum production. In addition, a financial collapse in Asian economies
in 1997 caused an economic slowdown in Ecuador and many other Latin
American countries. Many of Ecuador’s banks faced collapse due to the
Mahuad announced a series of austerity measures designed to get the
nation’s unsteady economy back on its feet. The government eliminated
gasoline and electricity subsidies, announced plans to reduce the number
of employees in the government agencies, and began plans to sell
state-owned companies, including the government-run oil company, to
private businesses. Widespread public reaction to the austerity measures
led to strikes and public demonstrations. In February 1999, following
disturbances in cities across Ecuador, Mahuad reinstated the gasoline
subsidy and announced that he would reevaluate his austerity program. The
economy continued to worsen, however, with inflation remaining high and
the currency, the sucre, losing much of its value. In September 1999 the
government failed to make payments on foreign loans.
In January 2000, as the sucre kept declining, opposition parties, labor
unions, and Native American groups banded together to demand Mahuad’s
resignation. Mahuad announced a plan to replace the sucre with the U.S.
dollar with the intent of giving the country a stable currency. Thousands
of poor Native Americans marched on Quito to protest, fearing that the
adoption of the dollar would make them even poorer.
On January 21, 2000, sympathetic junior military officers led a bloodless
coup d’état, and a three-man junta announced its rule from the Congress
building. However, on January 22 the junta turned power over to Vice
President Gustavo Noboa Bejarano after the United States threatened to cut
aid and the United Nations and the Organization of American States
condemned the military coup. That same day the Congress met in a special
session at Guayaquil and ratified Noboa’s ascension to the presidency.
Noboa followed through on Mahuad’s currency plan, signing a bill in March
2000 that made the U.S. dollar Ecuador’s official currency. The bill also
allowed more foreign investment in Ecuador’s oil, electricity, and
telecommunications industries. The International Monetary Fund then
announced a $2-billion aid package for Ecuador.
In 2002 Lucio Gutierrez, a former army colonel, won the presidency of
Ecuador. Gutierrez was part of the three-man junta that briefly ruled the
country after the 2000 coup ousted Mahuad. After serving a few months in
jail for his role in the coup, Gutierrez began campaigning for president.
He won the support of many indigenous organizations and left-wing
political parties. As president-elect, he pledged to fight corruption and
help the country’s poor.