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Ecuador by Jeff Haycraft


Ecuador, located in northwestern South America, is situated directly on the equator, hence its name. Ecuador is bordered on the north by Colombia, the east and south by Peru, and has the Pacific Ocean as its western border.

The country is one of the smallest in South America. Its landmass includes 109,483 square miles (283,560 square kilometers), or about the size of Colorado in the United States. Ecuador is divided into four major geographical regions: the Costa (coastal lowlands), the Sierra (Andean highlands), El Oriente (eastern lowlands), and the Archipelago Colon (Galapagos Islands).

The Costa, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, contains fertile agricultural land. The Sierra consists of two parallel ranges of the Andean mountains with the inter-Andean plateau located in-between. With thirty plus volcanoes within this area, it is known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Most of these volcanoes are inactive. The highest elevations within the Sierra are Chimborazo, at 20,561 feet (6,267 meters), and Cotopaxi, at 9,347 feet (5,897 meters). Beginning at the foothills of the eastern most range of the Andes, El Oriente contains mostly tropical rain forest. The Galapagos Islands are located approximately 600 miles west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. It was on these islands that Charles Darwin performed the majority of his work on the theory of evolution.

Although lying on the equator, only the eastern lowlands and the northern coastal region have tropical climates with abundant rains, high humidity and little seasonal change in temperature. The temperature in these regions averages around 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius. In the rest of mainland Ecuador, the climate varies more with elevation than season. In the Andes, the temperature can range from below freezing at the snow covered peaks to subtropical in the valleys. Quito, located in the central valley, has an average year round temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit or 16 degrees Celsius. The Galapagos Islands' climate is influenced both by the ocean currents and the elevation of a specific area, but is for the most part considered cool. In general, the rainy season for Ecuador is from November to May.


By 1500, Inca invaders had conquered the indigenous peoples who populated what is present-day Ecuador. Huayna Capac, the Inca ruler, incorporated the land and people into Tawantinsuyu, the Inca empire. In 1525, Capac divided his empire between two of his sons. Atahualpa received the northern portion which included Ecuador, and Huascar received the southern portion which included present day Peru and Bolivia. After Huayra Capac's death in 1525, a five year civil war erupted between supporters of the two sons. Atahualpa was eventually successful and captured his brother, Huascar.

While the Incan brothers were fighting for control of the Incan empire, Spanish explorer, Bartlomé Ruiz, under the command of Francisco Pizarro, landed on Ecuadorian soil in the year 1526. Ruiz had peaceful interaction with the coastal natives; however, the Spanish attitude would soon change. In 1532, Spanish conquistadors, under the command of Pizarro, invaded the land with 183 men and 37 horses. By 1533, Pizarro's forces were in control of the area. Atahualpa was captured and later executed by the Spaniards.

Pizarro not only had to fear reprisal from the Incas, but also discord from other conquistadors. Fellow Spaniard Pedro de Alvarado sailed from Guatemala and tried to conquer Ecuador, but was defeated by Pizarro.

On December 1, 1540, Pizarro appointed his brother, Gonzalo, governor of Quito, which is what Ecuador was called at the time. A short time later, Francisco Pizarro was assassinated by troops loyal to his former partner Diego de Almagro, who several years earlier had rebelled against Pizarro but was defeated in battle, tried, and executed.

In an attempt to control the unruly conquistadors, Spain passed the New Laws in 1542. The New Laws were an attempt to abolish the practice of enslavement of the native population of America. This was followed two years later with the creation of a new colonial administrative system and the arrival of its first viceroy.

Gonzalo Pizarro resisted this change and defeated the viceroy on the battlefield. In 1548, Pizarro was defeated by forces of a subsequent royal emissary and executed for treason. This was the end of the era of the conquistador and the start of two and one-half centuries of colonial rule.

Colonial Ecuador was at first considered a territory within the vice-royalty of Peru. Then in 1563, Quito became a presidency, or a judicial district of the vice-royalty. It now had its own court, or audiencia, presided over by a president. The presidency was at first only given judicial authority: however, later he received added administrative authority.

In 1822, Quito, after several attempts dating back to 1809, finally gained freedom. At the Battle of Pichincha, Spanish royalists were defeated by republican forces led by Antonio José de Sucre Alcala, a lieutenant of Simón Bolívar. With the victory, Quito became known as the Department of the South, part of the confederacy known as the Republic of Colombia. This confederation also included Venezuela and Colombia.

By 1830, the confederation had failed, and the Republic of Colombia was broken up. Quito became an independent state and adopted the name Ecuador. Its first president was Juan José Flores, a Venezuelan and hero of the independence wars. In 1833, the Flores administration was confronted with a civil war. Flores had represented the arch conservatives of the city of Quito and this led to the civil unrest initiated by the liberals from the city of Guayaquil. The attempt by the liberals to overthrow Flores was unsuccessful.

To present day, the revolutionary struggles within Ecuador have invariably been between the conservatives of Quito and the liberals of Guayaquil. Even to this day, Guayaquil is known as a hotbed of revolutionaries. The rivalry between conservatives and liberals has always been intense. The conservatives have been associated with the church and have supported church-sponsored religious education for all Ecuadorians and rigid controls on labor. On the other hand, the liberals traditionally oppose church intervention into political affairs and advocate less state control of economic activities. Ecuadorian politics have a history of unrest, between 1830 and 1948, the country had sixty-two presidents, dictators, and military juntas.

The administration of Galo Plaza Lasso, elected in 1948, was the first full term of a freely elected president the country experienced. The two following administrations were also peaceful, but were again followed by military rule in 1963. Ecuador would not again have a freely elected President until the new Constitution of 1979 made it possible. Until this time, the government alternated between military and civilian rule. The 1979 election of Jaime Roldos was the first of four consecutive peaceful transitions of power and evidence of Ecuador's commitment to democracy.

In 1941, Ecuador and Peru battled over contested land in the southeastern portion of Ecuador. A treaty, the Rio de Janeiro Protocol, mediated by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States, gave control of this area to Peru. Although Ecuador initially agreed to the terms, it later rejected the treaty. Ecuador has continued to claim the territory, and hostilities between the two countries erupts periodically, and has occurred as recently as 1995.


Depending on the source, the population of Ecuador is estimated to be between 10,677,067 and 11,566,000 with an annual growth rate estimated between 2.01% to 2.5%. This population can be divided into four ethnic divisions. The mestizo (Spanish-Indian mix) are the majority with 55% of the population. Indians, descendants of various ancient peoples including the Incas, represent 25% of the population. This ethnic group includes the Quechua speaking inhabitants of the Sierra region, the Amazonian Indians which include the Shuan, Waorani, Cofan, Secoyas, Siona, and Eaparos, and three small Indian nations in the coastal region. People who are of Spanish descent make up 10% of the population, and the last 10% of the population is Black.

Approximately 56% of all Ecuadorians live in urban areas. The largest city, Guayaquil, has a population estimated at 1.8 million. Quito, the capital and one of the oldest continuous inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere, has an estimated population of 1.3 million.


Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. Quechua, the original language of the Incas, is widely spoken in the Sierra and is being pushed for recognition as an official language. It is recognized by the Ecuadorian Constitution as an important part of Ecuadorian culture, but not yet classified an official language. Many Quechua words have been adopted into the colloquial language, oftentimes used to describe something that does not have a Spanish translation. Many of the Indians are bilingual using both their native languages and Spanish. Although not spoken outside the tourist areas, English is understood by many business people.


Ecuador is predominately a Catholic nation. Although approximately 95% of the population is classified Roman Catholic, most do not practice their religion, or practice a combined version with another religion.

Ever since the Spanish conquest of Ecuador, the Roman Catholic Church has played a dominate role in Ecuadorian society, gaining great wealth and power. By the end of the 17th century, there were a total of forty-two Catholic convents in the country. Quito was said to have had approximately 1000 priests in the city alone. The church's influence became so oppressive that in 1889 a liberal movement resulted in the separation of church and state. The 1945 and 1979 Constitutions both firmly reaffirmed the separation of church and state and established a guaranteed freedom of religion for the populace. The Ecuadorian people are considered generally tolerant of other beliefs and this is evident with the growing popularity of other Christian churches.


In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a major expansion of educational opportunities for the Ecuadorian populace. By 1980, one third of government spending was for education. Today Ecuador has a literacy rate of 85.6%, although education is free and compulsory for people between the ages of six and fourteen years old. The literacy rates varies from 93.8% in the urban areas to 72.3% in the rural areas. There is also a difference in the literacy rate based on sex. The male literacy rate is at 90%, while the female literacy rate stands at 86%. A country-wide campaign has been instituted in an attempt to boost the level of literacy among adults. There area total of twenty-one universities in Ecuador, which includes a number of polytechnic schools and teachers' colleges. Central University in Quito has an enrollment of 45,000 students.


In 1822, Ecuador was liberated from Spanish rule and became part of Grand Colombia. By 1830, it became a separate and independent republic. Although it has had a turbulent political history marked with many military coups, the inauguration of President Jamine Roldos Agileoraon August 10, 1976 ended the last military regime that started in 1972 and initiated the continuous civilian rule that is in place today. The present Constitution, which took affect on August 10, 1979, provides for a democracy with three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. The Constitution also guarantees civil rights for all citizens, and forbids religious discrimination. All literate citizens eighteen years and older are required to vote. Those who are illiterate and over the age of eighteen have the option not to vote.

The executive branch consists of the President and Vice-President. The President is responsible for the country's foreign policy. They must receive at least half of the direct popular vote before they can take office for a non-renewable four year term.

The president appoints a cabinet to assist in the exercise of his executive powers. The president also appoints the twenty provincial governors of Ecuador. The president has the power to veto laws presented by Congress, and also has the power to enact laws by decree.

There are two types of veto power: partial and total. In the use of the partial veto, The president can object to parts of a bill and return it to Congress, which in turn can override the partial veto with a two-thirds majority vote. If the president declares a total veto of a bill, Congress cannot debate the subject again for at least one year. This veto can only be overridden by Congress through its power to request a referendum on the bill which had been rejected. The current president, Sixto Durán Dahik Gazoni, was elected in August, 1992.

The unicameral legislature is represented by twelve nationally elected members and sixty-five provincial representatives. The elections for the national seats are held every four years, while the provincial seats are voted for every two years. Congress meets for a sixty day period from August 10 to October 8. It may also be convened during the recess by the leader of the House, the President, or by two-thirds majority of deputies. There are four congressional committees which meet throughout the year: civil and penal problems; labor and social issues; taxes, banking, and the budget; and, the economy, agriculture, industry and commerce. Congress has the power to pass laws, ratify treaties, and appoint senior judges and certain government officials. The chamber also has the power to override a presidential declaration of a state of emergency and overturn amendments made by the President to legislation submitted for presidential approval. Members of Congress can not be re-elected to consecutive terms, but may switch from provincial to national deputy status, or vice versa, and be elected and not violate the law.

The judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court, whose justicies are appointed by Congress for four year, renewable terms. This court oversees the system of superior courts, which likewise supervise the provincial and cantonal courts.


When Sixto Durán Dahik Gazoni took office as President in 1992 , the Ecuadorian economy was in a downward trend. He immediately implemented new government policies that would encourage privatization, bring in more foreign investment, provide for the elimination of red tape and bureaucracy, reduce taxes, increase nontraditional exports, and tighten control of imports. The President also instituted some economic austerity measures that included large fuel and electricity prices, a 4% reduction in state expenditures, and the freezing of public sector hiring. These measures have helped to drop the inflation rate of 50% in the early 1990s to less than 10% by 1996. Although over half the population still lives at subsistence levels, the real gross domestic product per capita is up to $4,140, more than double that of thirty years ago.

Agriculture, fisheries, and forestry combined provided employment for about 31% of the population. Even though only 6% of Ecuador is considered arable land, the agricultural practices provide approximately 20% of the country's GNP while employing over 28% of the population. The present agricultural system can be considered small scale production, having low productivity, in need of improved infrastructure and methods of disease control and irrigation techniques. The government has welcomed foreign investment to help improve and increase agriculture and the agro-industry production of the country for both domestic consumption and export. Some of the products produced in Ecuador include; bananas, coffee, sugar cane, fruits, corn, potatoes, rice, flowers, tuna, shrimp, fish oil, and fish meal, as well as timber products. Bananas rate second only to oil as the leading export product. Petroleum alone accounts for 47%of the nation's export.

The economy under the Durán Ballen administration is improving. The country is operating with a balanced budget, $1.9 billion in revenues while having expenditures of $1.9 billion. Exports exceed imports by $.5 billion. The major imports are commodities such as transportation equipment, vehicles, machinery and chemicals which should help improve the production of export goods. Ecuador still has an external debt of $12.7 billion as of 1992, however with the policies now implemented, this debt should start to shrink.


Cueva, Agustín. The Process of Political Domination in Ecuador. New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1982.

Fitch, John S. The Military Coup d'Etat as a Political Process: Ecuador, 1948-1966. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University 1977.

Hanratty, Dennis M. Ecuador, a Country Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.

Hurtado, Oswaldo. Political Power in Ecuador. Translated by Nick Mills, Jr. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1980.

Luzuriaga, Carlos C. and Clarence Zuvekas. Income Distribution and Poverty in Rural Ecuador, 1950-1979: A Survey of the Literature. Tucson: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona State University Press, 1983.

Martz, John D. Regimes, Politics and Petroleum: Ecuador's Nationalistic Struggle. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1986.

Rodríguez, Linda A. The Search for Public Policy: Regional Politics and Government Finances in Ecuador. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

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Whitten, Norman E. Sicuanga Runa: The Other Side of Development in Amazonian Ecuador. Champaign, IL: University of IIlinois Press, 1985.

Whitten, Norman (ed.). Cultural Transformations and Ethnicity in Modern Ecuador. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Culturegrams: Republic of Ecuador. Salt Lake City, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1995.