Ecuador flag

PRESIDENT: Rafael Correa (Jan. 2007 - Jan. 2012)

POPULATION: 13.0 million

KEY EXPORTS: Petroleum, bananas

Andrew Clem blog

Ecuador



Ecuador blog archives


Recent chronology

Feb. 1997Pres. Abdala Bucaram is ousted because of corruption scandal; Jamil Mahuad is named president after chaotic transition.
Mar. 1999Pres. Mahuad announces harsh austerity, with large gas price hikes. State of emergency declared after drivers go on strike.
Jan. 2000Pres. Mahuad is ousted by Indian-led insurrection, protesting proposed switch from sucre to U.S. dollar. V.P. Gustavo Noboa is sworn in.
Sept. 2000Ecuador adopts the U.S. dollar as its official currency, abandoning efforts to maintain its sucre.
Oct. 2000Rebels kidnap six Americans from jungle oil field and take them to Colombia.
Dec. 2000Fishermen on Galapagos Islands rebel against conservation restrictions, stealing giant tortoises. Sea cucumber is endangered.
Jan. 2001Oil tanker capsizes, oil spill briefly threatens Galapagos Islands.
Feb. 2001Government rolls back gasoline price hikes after deadly protests by Indian groups.
Jan. 2002Ecuadoran airliner with 92 aboard crashes just north of the border with Colombia.
Oct. 2002Retired colonel Lucio Gutierrez, a former coup plotter, received 19.5% in the first round elections; Alvaro Noboa received 17.6%.
Nov. 2002Quito hosts the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit. Ten people were wounded in protests led by students, leftists, and Indians.
Nov. 2002Severe earthquake in remote area, but little damage. Later in the month, a volcano near Quito spewed ash and sulfur fumes.
Nov. 2002Lucio Gutierrez won runoff elections, with 54.3%. He tried to assuage fears that he would be like Hugo Chavez, pledged diverse cabinet.
Dec. 2002Fidel Castro arrived in Quito to attend the opening of a museum of indigenous cultures. He avoided talk of politics.
Jan. 2003Lucio Gutierrez inaugurated Jan. 15. He tried to calm investor fears and decreed a "war economy", raising price of gasoline by 35%.
Feb. 2003New Pres. Gutierrez met with Pres. Bush in Washington. He said he wants Ecuador to be one of the United States' best allies, attracting investment in the petroleum industry.
Mar. 2003U.S. Embassy in Quito was closed again after anti-U.S. protests became violent. Crowds threw rocks at McDonalds and KFC.
Apr. 2003Police disclosed that they had foiled a plot to assassinate Pres. Gutierrez, helped by cooperation with Colombian police and Interpol.
May 2003American lawyers file a billion dollar law suit against Chevron-Texaco, for ecological damage caused by oil exploration and pipeline construction.
June 2003PetroEcuador declared force majeure, unable to export crude oil because workers are on strike to block privatization. Former pres. Borja called on Gutierrez to resign.
Oct. 2003Indian movement Pachacutik resumes street protests, accusing Pres. Gutierrez of being a traitor to their cause.
Oct. 2004Police seize control of offices on Galapagos Islands after park wardens resisted newly named governor who doesn't care about nature.
Jan. 2005Pres. Gutierrez sparks controversy by trying to dismiss Supreme Court justices who stand in his way. The Civic Convergence for Democracy has been protesting.
Apr. 2005After protests escalate out of control, the Congress votes to remove Pres. Gutierrez, who is replaced by V.P. Alfredo Palacio.
July 2005The Colombian government complained to Ecuador that it's not doing enough to control the guerrillas who take sanctuary in Ecuador.
Aug. 2005Demonstrators forced a shutdown of oil production in the eastern jungles to back up demands that more oil money be spent on infrastructure and jobs.
Aug. 2005At least 100 people died, and only a few survived, when a boat from Ecuador carrying passengers in the cargo hold (to the U.S.) sank in rough seas off the coast of Colombia.
Oct. 2005Returning from exile in Brazil, ex-Pres. Gutierrez is jailed for challenging the legality of the vote by Congress to remove him from office.
Mar. 2006A judge released ex-Pres. Gutierrez from jail.
May 2006Government cancels contract with Occidental Petroleum, troops occupy facilities.
Oct. 2006Alvaro Noboa and Rafael Correa get the most votes in the first-round presidential election.
Nov. 2006Rafael Correa wins the presidential election by a two-to-one margin over wealthy conservative populist Alvaro Noboa.
Dec. 2006Ecuador protests herbicide spraying by Colombia along the border, part of the anti-drug campaign.
Jan. 2007Rafael Correa is inaugurated, and calls for a referendum on rewriting the constitution.
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SOURCES: Washington Post, New York Times, CNN


External links

Ecuador map Ecuador & S. America map

Geography

Ecuador is small but more densely populated than most other countries in South America. It is like Peru in terms of having three very distinct geographical zones -- coast, mountain, and jungle -- but differs in that the coast receives plenty of rainfall, which sustains the banana crop. There are sizable petroleum deposits, mostly in the eastern jungle. The Andes mountains block access to interior, impeding development. Ecuador historically considered itself an "Amazonic" country and once laid claim to lands held by Peru, and the territorial dispute flared into warfare in 1941 and 1995. A treaty resolving this issue was signed in 1998.

History

Compared to its neighbors, Ecuador has been relatively peaceful for most of its history. That does not mean it has been stable, however. Indeed, abrupt changes in government have been the rule, not the exception. Ecuador was part of "Gran Colombia" until it and Venezuela seceded in 1830. Conservatives (based in Quito) dominated the government from 1860 to 1895, and the country was officially dedicated to the "Sacred Heart of Jesus." Eloy Alfaro led Liberals (based in Guayaquil) to power in "Revolution of 1895," but was killed by a mob in the brief civil war of 1911. Cacao (cocoa) exports led development (especially on the coast) until the market dropped in 1920s. After World War II, banana exports grew rapidly and led development, which stabilized politics. Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, a fiery populist, served as president four times from 1933 to 1972, but was overthrown each time! Oil was discovered in 1960s, leading to first big modernizaiton boom in Ecuador's history. A miltary government ruled from 1972 to 1979, emulating Velasco in Peru, and likewise failed. The vast oil wealth was largely wasted. The party system in Ecuador is extremely fragmented, so congresses can hardly ever get a majority vote to adopt budgets, policies, or reforms. Thus, presidents often resort to issuing emergency decrees. For example, President Febres Cordero (1984-1988) tried to impose orthodox economic policy but was stymied by Congress. During his term there were two coup attempts, and he was actually held hostage by the Air Force in 1987! An erratic populist named Abdala Bucaram (who called himself "El Loco") was elected president in 1996. He had campaigned against economic liberalism, but after his inauguration he imposed austerity and price hikes anyway. Rather corrupt, he was impeached for "mental incompetence" in February 1997. After a chaotic interlude, Jamil Mahuad became president in 1998, but soon gave up trying to stabilize economy and proposed adopting U.S. dollar, provoking outrage. He was ousted in a coup in January 2000, but the new president Gustavo Noboa went ahead with dollarization anyway.

Culture

Politically and socially, the country is divided between the capital Quito in highlands, where customs are conservative, and the coastal port Guayaquil, which is more modern and liberal. Like Peru, the people of Ecuador are mostly of mestizo and Indian ancestry. The Quecha language is still spoken in rural areas, a legacy of the Inca Empire. Indians are better organized politically in Ecuador than in any other country in South America. Indian groups supposedly spearheaded the coup that toppled President Mahuad in 2000, but most observers believe they were being manipulated by military officers. One unique aspect of Ecuadoran society is that there are substantial number of Arab-descended people, including former president Mahuad.


 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:

A street market in the town of Latacunga;

Quito, the capital city in the highlands;

Doing the laundry in Latacunga;

Golden altar in a Quito cathedral;

Monument at The Equator.

(photos by Remey L. Clem)


Politics

The cultural division between the highland and coastal areas has created a political rivalry that has severely impeded the articulation of a truly national development agenda. Populist politics became deeply entrenched from the 1930s to the 1970s as the result of four-time President Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, hindering occasional efforts to reform the economy along liberal free-market lines. The country's desperate situation was confirmed when it gave up on trying to maintain its own currency and adopted the U.S. dollar instead in 2000. That means that the government has effectively surrendered control over its own economic destiny. So far, dollarization seems to be working out in strictly economic terms, but paved the way for inevitable protests against the United States. At first, many believed that the election of former Colonel Lucio Gutierrez heralded a shift toward radical politics, but he angered his supporters -- mostly poor Indians -- when he sought friendly relations with the United States. The former coup plotter was himself the victim of an insurrection in April 2005, as a fearful Congress ratified the decision rendered in the streets, voting to remove him from power.

Ecuador's political party system is classified as "inchoate," split into numerous small factions. A "Democratic Alliance" has emerged to unite the left-of-center factions, emulating a similar multiparty movement in Chile.

Democratic Left (ID) Patriotic Society Party (PSP) Ecuadoran Roldosista Party (PRE) Nat. Action Instit. Renewal Party (PRIAN) Social Christian (PSC)
Guillermo Landazuri Lucio Gutierrez Abdala Bucaram Alvaro Noboa Leon Febres Cordero
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