Herbert Rau L.
Ecuador is a small country in South America. It is located on the western coast of South America, facing the Pacific Ocean. It borders Colombia on the north and Peru on the east and south. Ecuador is crossed by the high Andes mountains and lies on the equator. The country takes its name from the Spanish word for equator. Ecuador's territory also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
About 80 percent of Ecuador's people are Indians or mestizos. Mestizos are people of mixed Indian and European (mainly Spanish) ancestry. About 10 percent of the people are of Spanish descent. Many of these trace their origins to the Spaniards who ruled Ecuador for nearly three hundred years, from the 1500s to the early 1800s. Blacks and people of mixed black ancestry make up another 10 percent of the population. The blacks are descendants of slaves brought from Africa during the period of Spanish colonial rule.
Where the People Live.
Slightly more than half the people live in rural (country) areas. The remainder live in urban areas (cities and towns). Most of the population is concentrated in two geographical regions: the highlands of the Andes mountains, or sierra, and the Pacific coastal lowlands, or costa. Each region is dominated by a major city. Quito, the capital, lies in the sierra. Guayaquil, the largest city and chief seaport, is situated on the costa..
Most Indians historically have lived in the rural areas of the Andean highlands. Ecuadorians of Spanish descent live mainly in Quito, Guayaquil, and other cities. Some mestizos live in rural areas, but others have moved to the cities. Most blacks live in the northern part of the Pacific coastal region.
Language, Religion, Education.
Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. Indian languages, particularly Quechua, are spoken by some Ecuadorian Indians. Most of the people are Roman Catholics.
Education is free and required by law for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. In practice, however, many Ecuadorian children, especially in the rural areas, do not complete their required schooling. In recent years the government has made progress in increasing the number of children attending school. About 85 percent of the population 15 years of age and older are literate (able to read and write). Ecuador has a number of universities. The largest is the Universidad Central de Ecuador (Central University of Ecuador), located in Quito.
Way of Life.
Life in Ecuador strongly reflects its history and geography. The country's upper social class consists of whites of Spanish ancestry. These include the large landowners and the relatively few wealthy businessmen. The landowners are the oldest ruling group. Most operate large haciendas, or plantations, in the sierra. The businessmen live mainly in Guayaquil and other cities of the costa, the most rapidly growing region.
Ecuador's small middle class includes office workers in the cities, government employees, and professional people. At the lowest social level are the Indians of the sierra, the rural mestizos, and the blacks. Most highland Indians and many mestizos have traditionally worked on the large mountain haciendas. They received little money. But they were allowed to live on and cultivate small plots of land of their own.
The Indians of the Andean highlands have been the most reluctant to leave their ancestral plots of land. Many of the mestizos who have migrated to the cities work in factories or as shopkeepers, laborers, or servants.
The mainland of Ecuador consists of three distinctive regions: the coastal lowlands (costa), the Andean highlands (sierra), and the Oriente, or eastern region. The Galápagos Islands form a fourth region.
The coastal lowlands extend from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes mountains and make up about one quarter of Ecuador's area. The region varies from about 7 to 125 miles (11 to 200 kilometers) in width. Its vegetation ranges from dense tropical forests in the north to open grasslands to the south. The coastal region includes a rich agricultural area, where most of Ecuador's commercial crops are grown. The region's major river systems are the Esmeraldas in the northwest and the Guayas, which flows into the Bay of Guayaquil in the south.
The backbone of Ecuador is formed by two parallel rows of peaks of the Andes. These lie in the center of the country and stretch for about 425 miles (680 kilometers) from north to south. The highest peak, Chimborazo, rises to 20,577 feet (6,272 meters). The second highest, Cotopaxi, at 19,344 feet (5,896 meters), is the world's highest active volcano.
The valleys and plateaus between the two rows of mountain peaks are Ecuador's most fertile areas. The Andean highland region occupies an additional one quarter of Ecuador's territory. Most of the population was concentrated here until recent times, when increasing numbers of people began to settle in the coastal lowlands.
The Oriente lies to the east of the Andean highlands and is part of the great Amazon River basin. It is the country's largest region, with about one half of its total area, but it is only thinly populated. Most of its people are Indians. The Oriente is covered with thick tropical rain forests. Its rivers are part of the Amazon River system. The region is important economically because of its extensive petroleum deposits.
The Galápagos Islands.
The Galápagos Islands are a group of islands and numerous islets, lying about 600 miles (965 kilometers) west of the coast of Ecuador. They are a province of Ecuador, officially known as the Archipiélago de Colón. The islands, which are scattered over a wide area of the Pacific, have a total land area of about 3,000 square miles (7,700 square kilometers). Their combined population is about 9,000. Only a few of the islands are inhabited.
The largest islands are Isabela (Albemarle), which occupies nearly half the total area; Santa Cruz (Indefatigable); Fernandina (Narborough); San Cristóbal (Chatham); San Salvador (James); and Santa María (Charles). The English names were given to the islands by British seamen who visited them in the 1600s and 1700s. The Galápagos Islands are famous for their unusual animal life, which includes the giant Galápagos tortoise.
Altitude, or distance above sea level, is the strongest influence on Ecuador's climate. The higher the altitude, the lower the temperature. The coastal lowlands, the lower western Andean slopes, and the Oriente generally have a warm, tropical climate. The climate grows much cooler in the highland valleys. Above 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) it is continually cold, and the higher Andean peaks are snow-covered all year long. Rainfall is heaviest in the Oriente, which may receive 100 inches (2,500 millimeters) or more of rain a year.
Petroleum is Ecuador's most important mineral and its most valuable natural resource. The country's proven oil reserves amount to more than 1 billion barrels. Ecuador has small deposits of other minerals, including gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc.
Forests cover more than half of the Ecuadorian mainland. The tropical rain forests of the coastal lowlands and the Oriente are an important source of timber. Some of the world's richest fishing grounds are found off the Ecuadorian coast. The many streams that rise high in the Andes are a potential source of hydroelectric power.
Quito is Ecuador's capital, second largest city, and the country's cultural center. It is situated in the Andean highlands, at an elevation of more than 9,200 feet (2,800 meters). The city lies at the foot of Cerro Pichincha, an extinct volcano.
Quito was the site of an Indian city and served as the northern capital of the Inca Empire, before the arrival of Spanish conquerors, who founded the present city in 1534. The decisive battle of Ecuador's war of independence from Spain was fought near Quito in 1822. The city has been the capital of the Republic of Ecuador since 1830. The old part of the city has retained much of the architecture of the Spanish colonial period. Economically, Quito is a processing center for the agricultural products of the region.
Guayaquil is the largest city, main seaport, and manufacturing center of Ecuador. It is situated in the southern part of the coastal region, on the Guayas River, near the Bay of Guayaquil. The city was founded by the Spanish in 1535. Guayaquil's chief manufactured products are textiles, leather goods, refined sugar and other processed foods, and cement and other construction materials.
Other important cities include Cuenca and Machala in the Andean highlands, and the port city of Esmeraldas on the northern coast. Esmeraldas is the country's petroleum refining and shipping center.
Until the discovery of large petroleum deposits in the 1970s, Ecuador's economy was based largely on agriculture. Agriculture is still important economically, even though only about 10 percent of Ecuador's land is suitable for farming.
Farming and related activities employ about one third of the workforce. Bananas are Ecuador's most valuable cash crop, followed by coffee, cacao (from which chocolate is made), and sugarcane.
Beef and dairy cattle are also raised in the highland region. On the higher mountain slopes, sheep are grazed.
Fishing and Forestry.
The waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador abound in fish, particularly tuna. Most commercially caught fish is canned for export. Ecuador is also one of the world's leading suppliers of shrimp, most of which is exported frozen.
Ecuador is the world's major producer of balsa wood. Its forests also contain mahogany and other valuable hardwoods. Most of the country's forest resources, however, are still untapped.
Petroleum production and refining is Ecuador's most important industry. Petroleum accounts for at least half of the country's exports by value, and a decline in world oil prices can have a severe effect on the economy. A 300-mile (480-kilometer) pipeline carries oil from the Oriente across the Andes to the port of Esmeraldas, where it is refined and shipped abroad.
Ecuador's chief manufactured goods are processed foods and other agricultural products, textiles, and shoes and other leather products. One of the country's traditional industries is the manufacture of Panama hats, so named because at one time Panama was the main distribution center for the hats. They are woven from fibers made from the leaves of the jipijapa tree, which resembles a palm tree.
Ecuador's government is based on its most recent constitution, which went into effect in 1998. The president, who is the head of state and government, is elected (together with a vice president) for a 4-year term of office and is not eligible for re-election. The legislature is the unicameral (one-house) National Congress. Most representatives are elected on a national basis and serve 4-year terms. The remainder are elected on a provincial basis, also to 4-year terms. In addition to passing laws, the legislature ratifies (approves) treaties. Ecuador has 22 provinces. Each is headed by a governor appointed by the president.
Early Period and Spanish Rule.
As early as AD 1000, Indians of the Andean highlands had established a kingdom at Quito. In the late 1400s, the Quito Kingdom became the northern part of the Inca Empire, which fell to the Spanish conquistador (conqueror) Francisco Pizarro in the 1530s. One of Pizarro's lieutenants, Sebastián de Benalcázar, completed the conquest in Ecuador, founding a new city at Quito in 1534. Slaves were imported from Africa as laborers in the tropical coastal region.
In the early 1800's, Ecuadorians fought under Simón Bolívar as part of a widespread struggle for the liberation of the Spanish colonies in South America. The defeat of royalist troops by Antonio José de Sucre at the Battle of Pinchincha, near Quito, in 1822 freed Ecuador from Spanish rule. After independence, Ecuador joined Bolívar's Republic of Gran Colombia, which also included what are today the nations of Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama.
Republic of Ecuador.
In 1830, Gran Colombia fell apart and Ecuador declared itself a separate republic. General Juan José Flores became its first president.
A revolution in 1895, led by General Eloy Alfaro, began a period of liberal government. A new constitution, framed in 1906, provided for the separation of church and state. Measures were taken to establish greater freedom of speech and worship. Social reforms to benefit the Indians also were enacted.
After 1911, the trend toward liberal government faded, and the next nine years were marked by civil war. Between 1925 and 1948, Ecuador was governed by 22 heads of state, none of whom succeeded in completing his term of office.
For many years Ecuador's dominant political figure was José Maria Velasco Ibarra. Velasco served as president of Ecuador five different times. Four times he was deposed by the armed forces — the last time in 1972. Following Velasco's final fall from power, the country was governed by the military, who ruled by decree. A new constitution paved the way for a return to an elected civilian government in 1979. Successive governments faced periodic protests by labor unions and by Indians opposed to the exploitation of their homelands.
In 1998, Jamil Mahuad won the presidential election. In the same year, he and Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori signed a peace treaty that settled a long-standing border dispute between the two countries. But Mahuad's popularity quickly waned. Within a year, disastrous weather conditions combined with plunging oil prices and a huge national debt led to a complete financial collapse.
In January 2000, thousands of Indians seized the Congress building in Quito and demanded Mahuad's resignation. When he refused, Mahuad was overthrown by the military in a bloodless coup, and Vice President Gustavo Noboa was elevated to the presidency. Later in the year, in a desperate attempt to stabilize the economy, the new government adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency. In 2002, Lucio Gutierrez Borbua, a former army colonel who had taken part in the 2000 coup, was elected president.