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Ecuador - SOCIETY

Ecuador - Society

PROFOUND REGIONAL, ETHNIC, AND social divisions continued to characterize Ecuadorian society in the 1980s. The country's three main geographic regions, differing in their histories and economies, provided one of these divisions, and there were also ethnic and social cleavages within the regions. The Oriente (eastern region) traditionally was a neglected backwater, isolated geographically and culturally from the rest of the nation. Its population was limited to dispersed groups of indigenous tropicalforest Indians who lived by slash-and-burn agriculture or hunting and gathering. European intrusion was limited to the occasional missionary or trader. Beginning in the 1960s, however, the Oriente experienced colonization by land-poor peasants from the Sierra (Andean highlands) and exploration by oil companies. Both colonization and exploration had a devastating impact on the indigenous population.

The Sierra, the region of earliest European settlement, was ruled for most of its history by a narrow rural oligarchy whose power base lay in the sizeable haciendas they controlled. The haciendas dominated both social and economic relations. Most of the population depended to a greater or lesser extent on the largess of the white elite who controlled land. This elite ruled virtually without challenge until the mid-twentieth century. Between this white elite and the mass of Sierra Indians, were the mestizos or cholos--persons of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry. In values and identity, they were closer to the dominant whites. The Sierra Indians, who stood at the bottom of the social pyramid, had very limited opportunities for economic security or social advancement. Both mestizos and whites regarded Indians as immutably inferior. The latter's only hope for improvement lay in assimilating the norms and values of the dominant ethnic groups, thereby changing ethnic affiliation.

Like the hacendados of the Sierra, the elite of the Costa (coastal region) also had its roots in agriculture and the control of land, but its attention focused primarily on export crop production and commerce. Ethnically more diverse than the Hispanic elite of the Sierra, the Costa upper class included successful immigrant families drawn over the years by the region's expanding economy. Most of Ecuador's blacks, the descendants of the small numbers of African slaves who came to work on the region's plantations, were also costeños (residents of the Costa).

The twentieth century saw the rise of an Ecuadorian middle class whose interests were genuinely distinct from the narrowly based rural oligarchy, and the demise of the self-contained, autonomous hacienda. Changes in the hacienda economy created a mobile, rural-based labor force, and by the end of the 1980s, society consisted of a small, privileged elite; a more numerous, diverse, and politically active middle class; and the mass of impoverished small-scale peasants, artisans, and wage earners. The middle class transformed Ecuadorian politics.

Like many other Latin American nations, Ecuador had enacted agrarian reform legislation in the 1960s and 1970s. These laws brought little substantive improvement in the lives of most peasants, but rather afforded Costa and Sierra landlords an impetus and an opportunity to replace their resident and permanent laborers with temporary workers. In the Sierra this trend, coupled with increased population pressure on land, continued a pattern of migration to the Costa and the Oriente that had begun in the 1950s. The volume of rural-urban migration grew in both the Costa and Sierra until, in the early 1980s, nearly half of all Ecuadorians lived in cities.

Ecuador - Population

The government conducted national censuses in 1950, 1962, 1974, and 1982 and scheduled another for 1990. In the late 1980s, estimates of total population by 1990 ranged from 10.8 to 11 million. The annual growth rate was an estimated 2.3 to 2.8 percent. Population growth rates had been high since the onset of modern census-taking, with an increase of 3.2 percent annually in the 1960s and 3.0 percent in the 1970s. Demographers expected the rate to decline to approximately 2.4 percent by the end of the century. Their estimates of total population in 2000 ranged from 13.6 to 14.2 million with the lower figure more commonly accepted.

Despite the declining growth rate, a variety of indicators from the 1980s showed the country to be in the midst of a population explosion that was likely to continue beyond the year 2000. Between the early 1950s and the mid-1980s, the crude death rate fell by nearly 60 percent. The infant mortality rate, which dropped by nearly half to approximately 63 per 1,000 live births in 1985, accounted for most of the decline. The crude birth rate dropped from 47 to 37 per 1,000 population during the same time; given the relative youthfulness of the population, however, growth rates could be expected to remain high for decades. Only Bolivia had a higher population birth rate among South American countries. Life expectancy increased by more than 25 percent between the 1950s and the mid-1980s.

The total fertility rate (the number of children a woman could expect to bear during her life) dropped by an estimated one-third between 1950 and 1990. Socioeconomic background had a significant impact on the rate; the mean by region or ethnic group varied by as much as 3.5 children per woman. Estimates of the rate by the year 2000 ranged from 3.6 to 4.3 children per woman.

The high rate of population growth generated pressure on the country's limited resources. Even assuming only moderate growth to the end of the century, the primary and secondary schools' budget would have to rise to 70 percent over that of 1980 to keep pace with population. Moreover, more than 120,000 new jobs would be required each year to maintain employment levels of the early 1980s.

Increasingly aware of the high costs of continued population growth, the government in the 1970s accepted in principle the need for family planning and control of child spacing and attempted to incorporate demographic variables into national economic planning. Nonetheless, maternal and child health programs were often ineffective. A contraceptive practices survey in 1982 found that 65 percent of the women not using contraceptives nevertheless wanted to participate in some form of family planning and would have participated in family planning if a program were available. Given continued high birth rates, many demographers doubted government estimates that 40 percent of women of childbearing age were using contraceptives in the mid-1980s.

Updated population figures for Ecuador.


For most of Ecuador's history, the majority of the population lived in the Sierra. Most of the Sierra population was clustered in the more habitable hoyas. For example, the capital city, <"http://worldfacts.us/Ecuador-Quito.htm">Quito, is located in a hoya at the foot of Mount Pichincha.

From 1950 to 1974, however, large numbers of land-poor Sierra peasants migrated to the Costa; as a result, the Costa grew substantially faster than the nation as a whole. By the mid-1970s, population figures for the Sierra and the Costa were roughly similar. The Costa expanded only at roughly the national average during the 1974-82 intercensal period. Nonetheless, by 1982 the Costa had become the most populated region in the country.

Migration (coupled with the high birth rate) transformed the country in the twentieth century. Costeños from the central region often migrated to Guayaquil and its hinterland following declines in export crop production. Serranos (residents of the Sierra) were often first "pulled" by the expanding coastal economy and then "pushed" by population pressure, agrarian reform, and modernization. The cacao-producing areas of Guayas and El Oro provinces--strategically located for those escaping the 1960s drought in Loja Province--became the most common destinations for serranos.

The cacao boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also had initiated a limited pattern of immigration to the Costa. Immigrants from Europe and Latin America generally arrived with capital to exploit the lucrative Costa commercial opportunities. Significant numbers of Lebanese, referred to locally as turcos or arabes, also moved to Guayaquil and gained considerable influence in coastal commerce and local politics. The Lebanese retained their ethnic identity and married within their own community, and both their distinctiveness and their level of prosperity set them apart and made them the target of prejudice.

Two distinct migration waves to the Oriente occurred in the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, some serranos trekked to the Oriente to pan gold and stayed to settle on the east slopes of the Andes. These migrants acquired land from the indigenous population and set up small, largely subsistence-oriented farming communities. Beginning in the 1950s, large numbers of serranos arrived in search of available land; most simply went to the Oriente province most accessible to their place of origin. Between 1950 and 1982, the Oriente experienced a more than fivefold population increase. The growth rate averaged approximately 5.6 percent annually, nearly double that of the nation as a whole. By the mid-1970s, migrants constituted nearly half the region's residents.

Beginning in the 1950s, large numbers of Ecuadorians also migrated from the countryside to the cities--a trend apparent in both the Costa and the Sierra. This migration changed life not only in the nation's two largest cities, Guayaquil and Quito, but also in intermediate-sized cities.

Both Guayaquil and Quito reflected their different histories, their distinctive regional settings, and their roles in contemporary national politics and economic development. Guayaquil was founded as a commercial link to Spain. The city's contemporary configuration began to take form with the beginning of cacao production in the eighteenth century. Always tied to international markets, Guayaquil's development reflected the perturbations of whatever export crop was currently profitable. From the colonial era onward, Quito developed principally as an administrative center. As the capital city, Quito represented the epitome of the serrano elite's Hispanic values.

From 1950 to 1982, the population of Guayaquil and Quito expanded at rates substantially above the national average. Guayaquil's rate of growth was highest in the 1950s--a response to the rise in banana cultivation on the coast. Ecuador's oil boom of the 1970s generated rapid population growth in Quito during that decade, a trend that continued into the early 1980s. By 1982 Guayaquil's population stood at approximately 1.2 million residents and Quito's at roughly 870,000. Together, they represented 60 percent of the urban population.

Both cities faced a number of common problems resulting from the tremendous influx of migrants. The numbers of the poor employed in marginal sectors and occupations increased to the point that they defeated the ability of Guayaquil and Quito governments to provide basic services and employment. Each city had a central core that was ringed with densely populated tenement slums. Much of the population of these slums consisted of relatively recent migrants.

Another phenomenon affecting Guayaquil and Quito was the emergence of large squatter settlements on previously unoccupied marginal lands. The establishment of suburbio (the collective name for squatter settlements) in the marshy areas southwest of Guayaquil proper began in the 1960s; by the early 1980s, suburbio had pushed into the Guayas River estuary and encompassed half of the metropolitan population. Although the older sections of suburbio had reasonably well-provisioned water lines, sewage disposal, and streets, newer communities lacked basic services. Those who had settled in the estuary system faced the added problem of persuading municipal authorities to provide landfill and to deal with periodic flooding. Quito municipal authorities tried to prevent the spread of squatter settlements up the mountainsides to the west of the city by strictly limiting the provision of water above certain altitudes. In addition, the government squelched numerous attempts by squatters to take over private or public lands. Despite these actions, however, settlements expanded throughout the 1970s and represented between 10 and 15 percent of Quito's population by the mid-1980s.

In contrast to much of Latin America, Ecuador's intermediatesized cities experienced very high rates of growth after 1950. This was especially the case in the Costa, where the annual growth rate of intermediate-sized cities dwarfed even that of Guayaquil. Expansion of second-tier cities in the Costa resulted in part from export growth. In the 1950s and early 1960s, for example, the spread of banana cultivation and the increasing need for port facilities spurred the growth of cities like Santo Domingo, Quevedo, Esmeraldas, and Marchala. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Santo Domingo continued to grow as African palm plantations spread throughout its hinterland. Other coastal cities expanded in response to shrimp raising, fishing (and related industries), or <>tourism.

In general, mid-sized cities in the Sierra were less dynamic than their Costa counterparts. From the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, only Cuenca--Ecuador's third largest city--achieved growth rates roughly comparable to that of Quito. Agrarian reform and the reduction of the resident labor force on haciendas fostered expansion primarily of intermediate-sized cities in the Sierra. When employment opportunities existed, mid-sized cities drew migrants because they were closer to home, less disruptive to ties with the countryside, and less threatening than Guayaquil or Quito.



Ecuador's elite, in the late 1980s, included Sierra latifundistas (large landowners), Costa agro-exporters, financiers, and industrialists. Commercial and industrial interests overlapped with those of agriculture, as families in finance and industry often maintained at least a token interest in agriculture. Indeed, the purchase of land with the profits of commerce had long been considered a critical step in improving a family's standing. In addition to this overlap, there were strong intragroup ties among the elite; kinship and marriage contributed to cohesion. Newly rich families tried to turn their economic success into social capital by marrying into older, established families.

Historically, the basis of class in Ecuador lay in the control of land and the labor of those who lived on it. The Spanish conquistadors had found the region devoid of valuable minerals and the ready wealth mining provided, so the combination of land and Indians welded together in vast haciendas formed the basis of the colonial economy. The few who held land constituted a rural oligarchy. The rest of society depended on this pivotal group, in varying degrees, for livelihood, political participation, and social identity. Hacienda owners spent much of their time in their urban residences; cities existed principally to serve their wants. The small, ill-defined middle levels of urban professionals found employment serving the commercial and administrative needs of the hacienda. Artisans likewise produced mainly for hacendados.

The hacienda with its resident labor force was the center of the Sierra elite family's influence. The landowner's power within his domain was nearly absolute. Ideally, the hacendado exercised this power beneficently, to protect his followers and dependents. Whatever his inclination, everything from private morality to public religious observances fell within his purview. He settled land disputes among his resident peons, arranged marriages, and dispensed favors.

The Costa elite's lifestyle, values, and economic interests differed from its Sierra counterpart. Trade grew on the coast in response to the impetus of export agriculture. As a result, the elite on the coast had ties to other Latin American seaports and links with world commerce.

The cleavage between the two elite groups, in evidence at independence, continued to play a pivotal role in Ecuadorian politics in the 1980s. Governments parceled out political offices between the two groups, and region of origin was a critical factor in an individual's political career. Economic developments since the 1950s reinforced the dichotomies between the Costa and Sierra. The banana boom of the 1950s and 1960s revived the Costa cacao elite and funneled money to Guayaquil; in contrast, the oil boom of the 1970s benefited Quito.

Agrarian organization provided the model for other social institutions and the exercise of authority in general. Social rank and power, in the elite view, were a natural part of the social order. Individuals were ranked on the basis of birth, race, wealth, breeding, and education. The elite (and middle class) often described itself as la gente buena (the good people) or la gente decente (the respectable people), contending that it had sufficient breeding, intelligence, and culture to rule others. The subordination of workers, peasants, servants, and all Indians was an essential part of this scheme. In the elite view, gains achieved by subordinates came not as their natural right but through the beneficence of their betters.

Land reform legislation in the 1960s and 1970s left elite hegemony in agriculture and landholding largely unscathed. For one thing, Costa and Sierra landholders mounted an intense effort to oppose those elements of agricultural reform that threatened their diverse interests. For another, the laws were designed to benefit resident agricultural laborers, but on most of the coast and on the more advanced haciendas of the northern and central Sierra, landowners had already begun switching to wage labor, so there were few peons and sharecroppers to receive expropriated land. Instead, the legislation merely freed the owners from their customary obligations to resident laborers. Land reform eliminated the paternal obligations landowners had previously assigned toward their workers.

The landed elite benefited in a number of others ways as well. The price paid in compensation for expropriated private land was often inflated well above market value. Well-connected landlords usually fared better in the courts than their less-privileged tenants. Those peasants who received land rarely became selfsupporting and had to supplement their subsistence plots with seasonal wage labor elsewhere. Large landowners gained a supply of temporary wage laborers with limited political ability to make demands beyond a single season's work.

<>Middle Class

Ecuador - Middle Class

Ecuador's diverse middle class was concentrated in cities and larger towns. A minute, ill-defined group during most of the country's history, its numbers grew in the twentieth century. In the late 1970s, estimates based on income indicated that roughly 20 percent of the population was middle class. Economic expansion increased the opportunities available to the able and ambitious. The rapid increase in government employment contributed both to the size of the middle class in absolute numbers and to the group's political awareness. The rise of a middle class whose interests were not those of the rural oligarchy transformed national politics.

Businessmen, professionals, clerical employees, mid-level bureaucrats and managers, army officers, and teachers comprised the middle levels of society. They constituted a diverse group, often poorly defined in terms of both self-identity and criteria for membership. At a minimum, an individual had attained a certain level of education (at least a secondary school degree), practiced an occupation that did not require manual labor, and manifested proper manners and dress to be considered middle class.

The upper echelons frequently identified with and emulated the elite. By contrast, the lower levels of the middle class often made common cause with the more prosperous segments of the working class. The cleavage between these two groups--a prosperous, uppermiddle class oriented toward the elite and a less economically secure lower group often allied with the more privileged sectors of the working class--was reflected in lifestyle, patterns of association, and political loyalties.

In addition to the economic division, an ethnic component emerged in the ranking of the various levels of the middle class. In general, individuals became more "white" and less obviously mestizo farther up the social ladder. In addition, the middle class was ethnically more diverse than other groups. Over the years, immigrants from southern Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in Latin America arrived to take advantage of expanding economic opportunities on the Costa. These immigrants formed the core of Ecuador's commercial interests.

Ecuador - Peasants

Until the early 1950s, peasant families formed the vast majority of the populace. Historically, these families were isolated from national society, a pattern reinforced by the nature of traditional rural social life. Social arrangements aimed at self-defense limited the intrusions of outsiders. The individual "nested" within the protective layers of family, kin, neighborhood, and village.

Peasant links to city, region, and nation were mediated through powerful outsiders, such as foremen, landowners, merchants, priests, or law enforcement officials. Such relations were typically exploitative to the peasant, but they were also multistranded--however uneven the exchange, the two parties were linked by more than just the naked self-interest of the powerful.

At the center of the peasant family's life and livelihood stood access to land. Landholding not only assured the family subsistence, but also defined its status within the community. Adult participation in village social life demanded land; nonholders remained peripheral to the most significant aspects of the community's social life, such as participation in justice.

Elite control over most land, however, left those at the bottom of the social pyramid with limited options and created the classic latifundio-minifundio (small landholding) complex. Large landholders monopolized the most desirable holdings and left marginal lands to peasants. Sierra haciendas extended from valley floor to mountain crest. The fertile valley bottoms were assigned to hacienda production whereas the steeper lands went to peons. Costa plantation owners reached the same end by controlling riverine land with ready access to markets.

Historically, the traditional Sierra hacienda engaged in mixed livestock and crop production and relied on a "captive" labor force. On the eve of land reform in the 1960s, about two-thirds of all farmers owned some land, but still remained dependent to varying degrees on haciendas. Haciendas regulated access to land mainly through the huasipungo system. The huasipunguero or concierto peon was a resident laborer who received a plot of land in return for labor on the hacienda and domestic service in the landlord's household. Although precise terms of tenure varied from valley to valley and from time to time, they were typically disadvantageous to the peon. The huasipunguero usually had to provide four days of work per week to the hacienda as well as domestic service--an especially onerous obligation that required both husband and wife to work full time at hacienda maintenance for a specified period. Finally, peons had to participate in collective work parties during planting and harvesting.

A variety of subsidiary arrangements provided an auxiliary supply of laborers. Peasants from neighboring free communities often negotiated for the use of hacienda firewood, water, and pastures. These peasants, known as yanaperos, typically worked one or two days per month and helped out at planting and harvest times. Other peasants worked hacienda lands through some type of sharecropping arrangement. Some casual wage laborers or skilled specialists were employed as production dictated, but these constituted a very minor part of the hacienda's total labor force.

The classic huasipungo system continued in use in the 1960s in relatively remote but well-populated valleys. Near towns, where other employment was available, smaller holdings and more diverse tenure arrangements typically prevailed. Merchants and other townsmen frequently owned small parcels of land, which peasants worked through sharecropping agreements. Typically, the sharecropper had lands of his own nearby; he provided labor, draft animals, tools, seed, and fertilizer. The landowner and sharecropper split the harvest.

Landowners who wished to exploit the growing urban market (especially for dairy products) found it more profitable to consolidate their holdings and sell the less desirable plots to their peons. This process of transferring marginal hacienda land to peasants was most evident in Pichincha, Imbabura, and Carchi provinces. Elsewhere (in Chimborazo and Cayambe, for example) landlords simply evicted peons and refused to compensate them, treatment that fueled peasant unionization drives.

Sharecropping and wage labor arrangements historically prevailed on the export-oriented Costa plantations. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a cacao boom occurred in the Costa. Sharecroppers on cacao plantations cultivated the crop in exchange for advances on the harvest. Plantation owners controlled most marketing channels; their economic clout came not merely from landholding, but because rental agreements typically obliged the sharecropper to sell at terms set by the landlord.

Landlords' effective control over sharecroppers declined following the 1922 blight of the cocoa crop. Sharecroppers either purchased their plots, simply assumed control of them, changed the terms of their rental agreements, or they moved onto unoccupied land. As cocoa prices rose in the 1950s, however, landowners attempted to reinstate their control. Tenants responded with efforts to unionize and, by the early 1960s, with land invasions and rent strikes. Workers on banana plantations, which developed in the 1950s employing wage labor, also tried to unionize.

Land reform legislation in the 1960s and the 1970s aimed at eliminating minifundio plots under 4.8 hectares and subjected absentee landholders to the threat of expropriation. The threat prompted some landlords to sell off at least a portion of their holdings; the main beneficiaries were peasants who could muster sufficient resources to purchase land. Land reform also eliminated the various demands for time that landlords had placed on peasants. By 1979, however, when most expropriations were completed, less than 20 percent of peasant families and 15 percent of agricultural land had been affected by agrarian reform. The legislation did little to change the structure of landholding, which remained roughly as concentrated in the mid-1970s as it had been in the mid-1950s. Nearly 350,000 farms contained less than five hectares--the minimum experts considered necessary to support a family. Almost 150,000 plots were less than one hectare.

The degree of land fragmentation in the Sierra added to the problems of poorer farmers. Andeans had long preferred some dispersion of their lands in order to take advantage of the diversity in microclimates in the region and to limit the risks to any given field. A family might have as many as twenty to thirty small fields scattered around a village. In addition to the poor farmers, there were more than 220,000 landless laborers whose situation was even more tenuous.

For the mass of small producers, agrarian reform simply increased the amount of time available to work on their own holdings. Most had so little land, however, that their own farms could hardly absorb the added labor. Some peasants, especially in the northern Sierra around Otavalo, supplemented their farming with profitable crafts production. Other families produced items such as bricks and tiles for which there was a local market. In these instances, then, additional time afforded a measure of prosperity. A survey of Sierra families in the early 1980s found, however, that fewer than 10 percent earned any of their income from traditional rural crafts. Instead, families with sufficient resources might purchase a small truck and market agricultural products.

The mass of small farmers were not so fortunate; those who did not have any plots to work or whose plots were too small to provide subsistence had to seek wage labor, since land reform regulations had deprived them of the option of working on haciendas as peons or sharecroppers. By the mid-1970s, wages, not agricultural products, had become the largest portion of small farmers' income. As nonagricultural employment expanded during the oil boom, peasant laborers increasingly chose urban employment over agricultural work. Fully one-third of all rural Sierra families surveyed in the early 1980s had at least one member working away from the family landholdings. Peasant laborers had enjoyed a measure of well-being during the economic growth of the 1970s. Both the construction and the service sectors expanded apace and cushioned land-poor peasants. The economic downturn that occurred in the 1980s, however, hit wage earners particularly hard and severely limited employment opportunities.

In the late 1970s, analysts estimated that between 370,000 and 570,000 rural Ecuadorian families lived in poverty. The worst levels of Sierra poverty were found in Chimborazo Province. Poverty in the Sierra correlated with altitude: the higher the family's holdings, the more limited its production options and the greater its poverty. Access to modern transportation was a main determinant of farm income in the Costa. The poorest coastal areas were found in isolated settlements, fishing towns, and villages in Esmeraldas Province.

The emergence of crafts as a major component in some peasant families' livelihood created the potential for intergenerational conflict. Children learned new production techniques in school that sometimes increased their own earning power beyond that of their parents. As some family members sought wage labor farther from home, those remaining relied more heavily on nonfamily wage laborers to assist with farming. Cooperative work exchanges declined in favor of hired casual labor.

The increased pressure on land also sharpened disputes about inheritance and divisions among siblings. Traditionally, inheritance provided the main means of access to land. Individuals began receiving parcels of land from their parents at marriage. Without sufficient land, a couple could not fulfill the wider obligations of sharing and reciprocity that were part of communitywide fiestas. With less land available, moreover, parents tended to favor the youngest son--the child who would stay at home and care for them in their old age. Older siblings increasingly fended for themselves or depended on the largess of the younger sibling.

The need for wage labor in the Sierra reinforced traditional patron-client ties. Former peons found themselves and their children dependent on powerful and influential outsiders as they had once been on landowners. Clientalistic bonds linked the powerless with those who could help them in finding work, emergency loans, and other forms of assistance.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the government pinned most of its hopes for a relief of rural poverty not on land redistribution but on colonization of relatively underpopulated regions, especially the Oriente. By the late 1970s, the Ecuadorian Institute of Agrarian Reform and Settlement (Instituto Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonización--IERAC) had awarded 2.5 times more land in areas of new settlement than it had redistributed in agricultural reform zones. Further, colonists normally received a forty- to fifty-hectare parcel in contrast to the minifundio typically awarded former sharecroppers or huasipungueros. Land distribution in the Oriente was more equal than in either the Costa or the Sierra. The average Oriente holding in the mid-1970s was thirty hectares. Farms from 10 to 100 hectares--65 percent of all holdings--accounted for 83 percent of the agricultural land.

Migrants to the Oriente were typically males between the ages of twenty-five and forty with little land in their home communities. They began homesteading with a small amount of savings accumulated through agricultural wage labor. Migrants cleared as much land as they could on their parcel and brought their families to join them as soon as possible. As savings were exhausted, migrants had frequent recourse to wage labor either for oil companies or for more established settlers.

The Oriente's poorly developed transport and marketing infrastructure severely constrained Sierra migrants. Settlements typically consisted of a series of long, narrow parcels of land strung along both sides of a road. Roadside land was at a premium; as it was claimed, subsequent settlers repeated the same pattern of narrow rectangular holdings behind those already established. In the more heavily settled areas, homesteads stood four to six properties deep by the late 1970s. Colonists at farthest remove were six to ten kilometers from an all-weather road--a significant impediment in marketing their crops and increasing family income.

Ecuador - Workers

The urban lower class had its roots, as a distinct social group, in the artisans of colonial society. Artisans were ethnically and socially separate from the mass of Indian laborers employed in the textile factories. Typically lower-class Spaniards or mestizos, artisans provided the urban elite with finished goods, especially luxury items. They were politically powerless. The local municipal council (cabildo) controlled the movement of artisans from their city of residence and regulated the details of workshop organization, labor practices, prices, and production.

The urban working class took on its contemporary configuration with the onset of industrialization in the twentieth century. Manufacturing remained heavily in the hands of artisans, but largescale industries such as food processing, textiles, and the railroads began to employ significant numbers of workers.

A renewed industrialization drive beginning in the 1950s, increased levels of rural to urban migration, and the oil development of the 1970s all contributed to the growth and diversity of the contemporary urban working class. Workers in stable, well-established enterprises represented the most heavily unionized portion of the lower class and counted as an articulate, well-organized voice in political affairs. These employees earned steady wages and received the benefits of social security and worker protection legislation.

Few workers enjoyed such benefits, however; the vast majority were classified as artisans or self-employed. Artisan firms ran the gamut from small, family-run businesses to middling manufacturing enterprises employing as many as thirteen workers. Self-employment typically offered little in the way of economic security. The mass of street vendors, carpenters, tailors, painters, and the like worked long hours for low earnings. In the mid-1970s, nearly onequarter of peddlers were classified as living in poverty; more than 30 percent of craftsmen and artisans also fell below the poverty line.

In addition to economic differences, the various segments of the working class were divided in other ways. Clerical workers and most white-collar workers considered themselves as superior to the rest of the working class because of education and, frequently, ethnic affiliation. The needs of wage earners for benefits and a living wage often conflicted with the interests of the more prosperous artisans, who needed to hire cheap labor.

The volume of permanent and temporary migration from the 1960s to the 1980s changed the configuration of the urban working class. Temporary was a relative concept for many migrants: for example, surveys of Quito temporary construction workers in the early 1980s found they had worked in the city for an average of six years. Migrants followed a well-trod path to urban employment, relying on fellow villagers and kin who had made the transition earlier.

The informal sector offered a haven of sorts to many unskilled and uneducated migrants and first-time job seekers. Although fiercely competitive and usually poorly remunerated, it fit with the limited capital commanded by most of these workers. It cost relatively little to build a kiosk and stock it with secondhand goods, clothes, newspapers, and the like. Some ambulatory vendors or kiosk sellers obtained higher-cost items on consignment. Only a minimal cash outlay was required to repair electrical appliances in a corner of one's home or to do laundry or cook and sell food. Such endeavors also permitted the use of unremunerated family labor and, for women, meshed well with the demands of child care. Migrants also gained an entry into the city by selling fruits and vegetables from their villages.

The construction boom fueled by oil development in the 1970s generated considerable employment for temporary migrants to Quito. Labor contractors congregated at certain well-known meeting places in the city to gather the workers they needed. Construction offered unskilled recent male migrants (and minimally educated first-time job seekers in general) positions that were poorly remunerated, insecure, nonunionized, and untouched by most worker protection legislation. Nonetheless, such work provided the beginning of an urban livelihood. A fortunate migrant might form compadrazgo (the set of relationships between a person or couple, their parents, and their godparents) ties with a labor contractor--thus obtaining a better chance at regular employment. Some seemingly menial jobs, depending on the individual's circumstances, offered significant advantages. To receive a hut on the job premises in order to guard the construction materials and tools at night, for example, solved the worker's housing dilemma and allowed him to bring his wife, who then could earn income by cooking and washing for other laborers. Migrants who stayed in the city usually became master craftsmen in a construction trade, but some, especially those who remained identifiably Indian, often remained in menial employment.

Both temporary and permanent migrants sought to maintain ties with families in the countryside. Temporary migrants' work schedules remained tied to the agricultural cycle. Those workers returned home for planting and harvest and, whenever possible, weekend visits. A migrant's involvement in farm work was a sensitive barometer of his or her ultimate intentions. An end to routine participation in the agricultural cycle marked completion of the gradual switch from temporary to permanent city dweller. Although most migrants did not send remittances home, those who did increased the earnings of a one- to five-hectare plot by an average of one-third. Even permanent migrants occasionally returned to the village for the local patron saint's feast. If a migrant had enough money, he or she bought land--typically leaving the holdings to be farmed by a relative.

Workers made some gains during the economic expansion of the 1970s. Employment was plentiful, and earnings generally kept pace with inflation. Even this prosperity was relative, however; in 1975, for example, 43 percent of the urban work force received less than the minimum wage. The economic crisis of the early and mid1980s hit the working class particularly hard. The number of workers totally unemployed reached 10 percent in 1986. Those classified as "subemployed by income" rose from 29 percent of the work force in 1970 to 40 percent in 1980. By the end of 1986, the average worker's salary met roughly half of a family's basic needs.


The country's ethnic groups descended from Spanish colonizers and South American Indians; indeed, the relationship between the two groups defined Ecuador's subsequent pattern of ethnicity. The mix of these groups created a third category, described variously as mestizos or cholos. The fourth element consisted of descendants of black slaves who arrived to work on coastal plantations in the sixteenth century. Censuses did not record ethnic affiliation, which in any event remained fluid; thus, estimates of the numbers of each group should be taken only as approximations. In the 1980s, Indians and mestizos represented the bulk of the population, with each group accounting for roughly 40 percent of total population. Whites represented 10 to 15 percent and blacks the remaining 5 percent.

The precise criteria for defining ethnic groups varied considerably. The vocabulary that more prosperous mestizos and whites used in describing ethnic groups mixed social and biological characteristics. Typically, higher-status whites considered their own positions as derived from a superior racial background. Nonetheless, ethnic affiliation remained dynamic; Indians often became mestizos, and prosperous mestizos sought to improve their status sufficiently to be considered whites. Ethnic identity reflected numerous characteristics, only one of which was physical appearance; others included dress, language, community membership, and self-identification.

No pretense to equality or egalitarianism existed in ethnic relations. From the perspective of those in the upper echelons, the ranking of ethnic groups was undisputed: whites, mestizos, blacks, and Indians. As the self-proclaimed standard bearers of civilization, whites contended that only they manifested proper behavior, an appropriate sense of duty to family and kin, and the values integral to the Christian, European culture.

As with much of social life, this particular view of ethnicity had strongly feudal overtones. The conquistadors accepted and lauded hierarchy and rank. Their success in subduing the Inca Empire made them lords of the land and justified holding Indians as serfs, to serve as a cheap source of labor. Although individuals might change their position in the hierarchy, social mobility itself was not positively viewed. The movement of individuals up and down the social scale was regrettable--ideally, a person should be content with, and maintain, his or her assigned role in the social order.

The geography of ethnicity remained well-defined until the surge in migration that began in the 1950s. Whites resided primarily in larger cities. Mestizos lived in small towns scattered throughout the countryside. Indians formed the bulk of the Sierra rural populace, although mestizos filled this role in the areas with few Indians. Most blacks lived in Esmeraldas Province, with small enclaves found in the Carchi and Imbabura provinces. Pressure on Sierra land resources and the dissolution of the traditional hacienda, however, increased the numbers of Indians migrating to the Costa, the Oriente, and the cities. By the 1980s, Sierra Indians--or Indians in the process of switching their ethnic identity to that of mestizos--lived on Costa plantations, in Quito, Guayaquil, and other cities, and in colonization areas in the Oriente and the Costa. Indeed, Sierra Indians residing in the coastal region substantially outnumbered the remaining original Costa inhabitants, the Cayapa and Colorado Indians. In the late 1980s, analysts estimated that there were only about 4,000 Cayapas and Colorados. Some blacks had migrated from the remote region of the Ecuadorian-Colombian border to the towns and cities of Esmeraldas.

<>Whites and Mestizos
<>Sierra Indians
<>Oriente Indians

Ecuador - Whites and Mestizos

Whites constituted the most privileged ethnic group and occupied the top of Ecuador's social pyramid. Despite their own realization that there was an admixture of Indian genes in their heritage, whites placed considerable emphasis on their purported purity of blood and Spanish ancestry. Although whites shared a common cultural background, differences in class and regional loyalties--especially the split between Quito and Guayaquil-- remained important.

In general, financially successful whites were employed as high-status professionals, government officials, prosperous merchants, and financiers. In the white ideal, manual labor was viewed as degrading and evidence of an inability to maintain a proper lifestyle. Accordingly, business interests were geared toward maintaining the family's social status rather than the pursuit of economic success for its own sake.

Below the white elite, but merging with it, were mestizos or cholos. Mestizos shared, to a large extent, a common set of values and a general cultural orientation with whites. Indeed, the boundary between the two groups remained fluid. Geography also played a role. In the smaller towns of the Sierra, those of mixed ancestry would call themselves whites, but they would be considered as mestizos by whites of larger cities or by those with more clearly superior social status. Income and lifestyle also constituted important factors; a wealthy mestizo might be called a white, whereas a poorer one would be classified as a mestizo. Those in rural areas sometimes distinguished between "whites" and "legitimate whites." The latter could demonstrate to the satisfaction of the local community that their parents were considered white. Differing views of ethnicity partially reflected status differences between those involved in a given exchange. Hacienda foremen, for example, typically thought of themselves as whites. Although Indians would agree with that classification, hacendados regarded foremen as mestizos.

The terminology and categories themselves derived from colonial legal distinctions. Peninsulares (Spanish-born persons residing in the New World) ranked at the top of the social hierarchy. They enjoyed a range of legal privileges and status denied even wealthy criollos born of Spanish parents in the colonies. The pedigree of forbearers defined status at every level. Individuals were ranked by the number of grandparents legally classified as white.

Common usage, however, modified the categories through the centuries. In the nineteenth century, for example, the term mestizo described a person whose parents were an Indian and a white. In contrast, a cholo was one whose parents were an Indian and a mestizo. By the twentieth century, mestizo and cholo were frequently used interchangeably. On occasion, however, some people used cholo in a derogatory sense to describe an Indian trying to rise above his or her proper station. Other people might use cholo to designate an intermediate category between Indian and mestizo.

As with whites, facility in Spanish, urban orientation, livelihood, manners, and fineness of clothing defined mestizo identity. Traditionally, mestizos filled the intermediate occupations such as clerk, small merchant, hacienda foreman, and low-ranking bureaucrat. Although mestizos were assumed to be of mixed Indian-white ancestry, an Indian might gradually become mestizo by abandoning his or her previous lifestyle.

Usually, individuals desiring to switch ethnic affiliation had to leave their villages, learn Spanish well enough to mask their origin, and acquire a mestizo occupation. They also had to acquire sufficient finesse and confidence in dealing with whites and mestizos not to be marked as Indians. It was virtually impossible for an Indian to change ethnic identity in his or her home community. No improvement in expertise, level of education, or facility in Spanish would cause locals to treat one born an Indian as a mestizo.

In special circumstances, individuals could move from one group to the other without leaving their communities. For example, the Saraguro Indians of southern Ecuador were generally more prosperous than local whites. Indeed, the latter either depended on the Saraguros for their livelihood or lived in communities where typically most of the populace was Indian. As a result, a distinctive pattern of ethnic change prevailed. Some whites opted to become Indians, usually improving their economic options in the process. A few Indians decided to improve their ethnic status and became white. The switch was made, however, without resort to subterfuge. Indians did not hide their origins, nor leave their home communities.

Ecuador - Blacks

Approximately one-half million blacks lived on the north coast and its riparian hinterlands, the descendants of African slaves who worked on coastal sugar plantations in the sixteenth century. Blacks held a slightly higher position in the ethnic hierarchy than Indians, manifesting little of the subservience that characterized Indians in dealing with whites and mestizos. Few readily identifiable elements of African heritage remained, although observers noted aspects of dance, music, and magical belief that represented purported vestiges of African influence. Some linguists saw evidence of an "Africanized" Spanish in the dialects spoken by those blacks living in the more remote areas.

Most blacks earned their livelihood in subsistence agriculture supplemented by wage labor, fishing, and work on cargo boats. Women on the coast earned income through shellfish gathering. Before the onslaught of Sierra to Costa migration in the 1960s and 1970s, some black males earned their living running small stores and cantinas and others served as intermediaries between black laborers and white and mestizo employers. White and mestizo migrants, however, took over virtually all small-scale commerce and marketing efforts and increasingly served as employment brokers. The switch made skin color more important as an ethnic marker, with light-skinned blacks enjoying greater opportunities for mobility than those with darker skin.

Ecuador - Sierra Indians

Sierra Indians had an estimated population of 1.5 to 2 million in the early 1980s and lived in the intermontane valleys of the Andes. Prolonged contact with Hispanic culture, which dated back to the conquest, had a homogenizing effect, reducing the variation among the indigenous Sierra tribes.

The Indians of the Sierra were separated from whites and mestizos by a castelike gulf. They were marked as a disadvantaged group; to be an Indian or indígena in Ecuador was to be stigmatized. Indians were usually poor and frequently illiterate, they enjoyed limited participation in national institutions, and they commanded access to few of the social and economic opportunities available to more privileged groups.

Visible markers of ethnic affiliation, especially hairstyle, dress, and language, separated Indians from the rest of the populace. Indians wore more manufactured items by the late 1970s than previously; their clothing, nonetheless, was distinct from that of other rural inhabitants. Indians in communities relying extensively on wage labor sometimes assumed Western-style dress while still maintaining their Indian identity. Indians spoke Quichua--a Quechua dialect--although most were bilingual, speaking Spanish as a second language with varying degrees of facility. By the late 1980s, some younger Indians no longer learned Quichua.

Most whites and mestizos viewed Indians as inherently inferior. Some regarded indígenas as little better than a subspecies. A more benign perspective condescendingly considered the Indian as an intellectual inferior, an emotional child in need of direction. Such views underlay the elaborate public etiquette required in Indian-white/mestizo interactions. Common practice allowed whites and mestizos to use first names and familiar verb and pronoun forms in addressing Indians.

Although public deference to other ethnic groups supported stereotypes of Indians as intellectually inferior, Indians viewed deference as a survival strategy. Deference established that an individual Indian was properly humble and deserving of the white's or mestizo's aid and intercession. Given the relative powerlessness of Indians, such an approach softened the rules governing interethnic exchanges.

The tenor of such exchanges differed in cases of limited hacienda dominance. The Otavalos of northern Ecuador, the Saraguros, and the Salaacas in the central Sierra resisted hacienda intrusion and domination by whites and mestizos. These Indians were thus less inclined to be subservient and adopted instead an attitude of aloofness or distance in dealing with whites and mestizos.

Most Indians, however, could improve their situation only by changing their ethnic affiliation. Such a switch in allegiances was fraught with risk, since individuals thereby lost the security offered by their small community of family and neighbors. Many rejected such an extreme move and instead made a series of accommodations such as changing their dress and hairstyle while working for brief periods away from home and gradually increasing the length of their absences.

By the early 1980s, changes in Indian ethnic consciousness could be identified in some communities. An increasing number of educated Indians returned to work in their native communities instead of assuming a mestizo identity and moving away. They remained Indian in their loyalty and their ethnic allegiance. The numbers of Indian primary school teachers of Quichua increased, and literacy programs expanded; both trends reinforced Indian identity.

Although these developments were most prominent among prosperous groups such as the Otavalos and the Saraguros, the number of Indians in general moving into "mestizo jobs" increased during the oil expansion. New opportunities gave Indians the option of improving their economic status without sacrificing their ethnic identity. Observers also noted a general growth in ethnic pride coupled with negative reactions toward those Indians who chose to abandon their roots and become mestizos.

Ecuador - Oriente Indians

Although the Indians of the Oriente first came into contact with whites in the sixteenth century, the encounters were more sporadic than those of most of the country's indigenous population. Until the nineteenth century, most non-Indians entering the region were either traders or missionaries. Beginning in the 1950s, however, the government built roads and encouraged settlers from the Sierra to colonize the Amazon River Basin. Virtually all remaining Indians were brought into increasing contact with national society. The interaction between Indians and outsiders had a profound impact on the indigenous way of life.

In the late 1970s, roughly 30,000 Quichua speakers and 15,000 Jívaros lived in Oriente Indian communities. Quichua speakers (sometimes referred to as the Yumbos) grew out of the detribalization of members of many different groups after the Spanish conquest. Subject to the influence of Quichua-speaking missionaries and traders, various elements of the Yumbos adopted the tongue as a lingua franca and gradually lost their previous languages and tribal origins. Yumbos were scattered throughout the Oriente, whereas the Jívaros--subdivided into the Shuar and the Achuar--were concentrated in southeastern Ecuador. Some also lived in northeastern Peru. Traditionally, both groups relied on migration to resolve intracommunity conflict and to limit the ecological damage to the tropical forest caused by slash-and-burn agriculture.

Both the Yumbos and the Jívaros depended on agriculture as their primary means of subsistence. Manioc, the main staple, was grown in conjunction with a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables. Yumbo men also resorted to wage labor to obtain cash for the few purchases deemed necessary. By the mid-1970s, increasing numbers of Quichua speakers settled around some of the towns and missions of the Oriente. Indians themselves had begun to make a distinction between Christian and jungle Indians. The former engaged in trade with townspeople. The Jívaros, in contrast to the Christian Quichua speakers, lived in more remote areas. Their mode of horticulture was similar to that of the non-Christian Yumbos, although they supplemented crop production with hunting and some livestock raising.

Shamans (curanderos) played a pivotal role in social relations in both groups. As the main leaders and the focus of local conflicts, shamans were believed to both cure and kill through magical means. In the 1980s group conflicts between rival shamans still erupted into full-scale feuds with loss of life.

The Oriente Indian population dropped precipitously during the initial period of intensive contact with outsiders. The destruction of their crops by mestizos laying claim to indigenous lands, the rapid exposure to diseases to which Indians lacked immunity, and the extreme social disorganization all contributed to increased mortality and decreased birth rates. One study of the Shuar in the 1950s found that the group between ten and nineteen years of age was smaller than expected. This was the group that had been youngest and most vulnerable during the initial contact with national society. Normal population growth rates began to reestablish themselves after approximately the first decade of such contact.

Increased colonization and oil exploration also displaced the indigenous population, hurt the nutritional status of Indians, and damaged tribal social relations. The Indians' first strategy was to retreat to more remote areas--an option that became less available with increased settlement of the tropical forest. Land pressures also produced a decline in the game available and, hence, in Indian protein levels. Even livestock raising did little to improve Indian diets, since this was done primarily for sale rather than consumption. In addition, the decline in migration opportunities increased tribal hostility and competition between rival shamans.

Critics contended that the government took little effective action to protect Indians. Although the government had designated some land as "indigenous communes" and missionaries had organized some Indians into cooperatives, Indians remained disadvantaged in conflicts with settlers, who had greater familiarity with the national bureaucracy.


Family and kin constituted the most enduring and esteemed institutions in the country's social fabric. Both Indian and Hispanic traditions emphasized the family; indeed, few alternative institutions competed for an individual's loyalty. The family buffered Indians from the vagaries of a hostile world. For the landed gentry, a distinguished family name played a major role in the assignment of status.

As circumstances dictated, a household commonly consisted of a nuclear family--husband and wife with their unmarried children--and one or more members of the wider circle of kin. Couples often resided with the parents of one of the spouses for a period after marriage. Parents typically spent their declining years with the youngest son and his spouse, who remained at home to care for them. Although individuals owed their primary allegiance and responsibility to their families, ties extended outward from this group. The wider circle of kin offered the individual a potential source of assistance and support. Trust and responsibility flowed along the lines of kinship at each level of the social scale.

The Hispanic man served as the unquestioned head of the household and the model of manhood to his sons. Although he might also be a kindly and affectionate parent, he was unlikely to take an active role in the day-to-day functioning of the family. Social tradition granted men the right of independence in their leisure time; many took full advantage of their freedom, spending much time in clubs, coffeehouses, and bars or simply on the street, depending upon the social stratum to which they belonged.

A woman's range of activity, by tradition, rested within the home and that remained true into the 1980s. She managed the household and the day-to-day upbringing of children. Provided she ran the family in a way her husband deemed appropriate, a woman could normally expect considerable autonomy. Even in the more cosmopolitan sectors of the larger cities, the traditional role of the wife and mother remained largely unchanged. Even young women who had high levels of education and a professional career were subordinate to their husbands in a wide variety of matters.

Less stress on the contrasting roles of men and women existed among Sierra Indians. Women's economic role in the household economy demanded that they take the initiative in many matters. Women bore primary responsibility for the health and welfare of the family's members. In addition, the double standard for marital fidelity--tacitly accepted or even lauded in Hispanic culture--was replaced among Indians by a moral code demanding faithfulness on the part of both members.

Family and kin served as a bulwark against the indígena's frequently precarious circumstances. The married couple was the center of a social system extending outward in concentric circles. The couple's parents and their siblings (and the siblings' spouses) formed the primary extended kin group and were bound by strong ties of trust and cooperation. Most marriages took place within the small village or community; generations of intermarriage created a web of reticulate kin ties within the community. The bonds of kinship reinforced cohesion and a sense of shared identity among kin and community members alike.

For all ethnic groups, the range of recognized kin beyond the nuclear family and close relatives varied depending on their economic and social circumstances. Large landowning families of the Sierra derived part of their status and power from their farreaching kinship ties. Families of lower status typically chose which of their kin to recognize and cultivate. Beyond a fairly narrow circle, an individual had an element of choice and activated the relationship through mutual gift giving, shared meals, and reciprocal participation at family and community fiestas.

The strength of kin ties at every level of society often allowed unrelated persons to establish bonds of fictive kinship through the institution of compadrazgo. In Hispanic and Indian traditions alike, compadres (people related through compadrazgo) should manifest the highest regard and loyalty toward one another. Although individuals might criticize and argue with relatives, such actions with compadres would be unthinkable.

The occasions for selecting godparents varied from group to group; Christian Indians and Hispanics commonly choose them at baptism, confirmation, and marriage. In each instance, the godparents assumed ritual and financial obligations to the child (or couple) and the parents involved. In the case of baptism, the tie between the child's godparents and parents persisted even if the child died. Marriage compadres were part of a four-way relationship linking the couple, the compadres, and each spouse's parents. Beyond their immediate responsibilities in the marriage ceremonies, compadres had a duty to take an ongoing interest in the marriage. Great care went into the choice of godparents for every occasion.

Compadrazgo ties cut across class and ethnic boundaries. Indians and mestizos often asked wealthy and influential whites to serve as godparents. In so doing, they established a patron-client relationship with the higher status person. The lower status person expected to receive various forms of assistance; in return, the higher status person gained a loyal follower. For Indians the link with white or mestizo compadres represented one of the few relationships of trust with members of the dominant ethnic group.

People also chose compadres of equal status, selecting distant kin, close friends, business associates, or neighbors to serve as godparents. The advantage in asking neighbors and kin was that the parents knew their reputation and standing in the community more thoroughly than they knew this about the others. Among compadres of equal status, people tried to match the economic resources of the couples involved, so that the reciprocal obligations and gifts between the two families balanced evenly.

Ecuador - RELIGION

The Roman Catholic Church assumed a pivotal role in Ecuador virtually at the onset of the Spanish conquest. Catholicism was a central part of Hispanic culture, defining the ethos and worldview of the time. Through the Office of the Inquisition, the church examined the "purity" of possible officeholders. The church was virtually the only colonial institution dealing with education or the care of the needy. It amassed great wealth through donations, dowries, and outright purchases. Virtually every segment of the organization--the hierarchy, individual clerics, and religious orders--owned some form of assets.

The liberals' ascendancy in 1905 brought a series of drastic limitations to the Roman Catholic Church's privileges. The state admitted representatives of other religions into the country, established a system of public education, and seized most of the church's rural properties. In addition, legislation formally abolished tithes (although many hacienda owners continued to collect them). The 1945 constitution (and the Constitution of 1979) firmly established freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.

Beginning in the 1960s, the country's Catholic bishops became increasingly active in supporting social change. Church leaders organized literacy campaigns among the Indians, distributed the institution's remaining lands, assisted peasants in acquiring land titles, and helped communities form cooperatives. In the 1970s and 1980s, the bishops espoused a centrist position on social and political issues. The episcopate contended that the unjust organization of Ecuadorian society caused many to live in misery. The bishops also claimed that the economic development of the 1970s and early 1980s had merely widened the gap between rich and poor. At the same time, however, Catholics were warned against employing Marxian analyses of society or endorsing violence or class conflict.

Church support for social reform occasionally brought it into conflict with government authorities. In 1976, for example, police arrested Riobamba bishop Leonidas Proaño Villalba--the espiscopate's most outspoken critic of Ecuadorian society and politics--and sixteen other Latin American bishops who were attending a church conference in Chimborazo Province. After accusing the prelates of interfering in Ecuador's internal politics and discussing subversive subjects, the minister of interior released Proaño and expelled the foreign bishops from the country. Some Catholics formed groups to support conservative causes. The Committee of Young Christians for Christian Civilization, for example, advocated scuttling the "confiscatory and anti-Christian" agrarian reform laws.

In 1986 the Roman Catholic Church was organized into three archdioceses, ten dioceses, one territorial prelature, seven apostolic vicariates, and one apostolic prefecture. The church had only 1,505 priests to minister to a Catholic population of slightly more than 8 million, a ratio of 1 priest for every 5,320 Catholics.

Although approximately 94 percent of Ecuadorians were Roman Catholic, most either did not practice their religion or pursued a syncretistic version. Most Sierra Indians, for example, followed a type of folk Catholicism in which doctrinal orthodoxy played only a small part. Indigenous beliefs combined with elements of Catholic worship. Much of community life focused on elaborate fiestas that marked both public and family events. Although the precise configuration of fiestas varied from community to community, in general public fiestas involved an individual in a series of increasingly demanding and expensive sponsorships (cargos) of specific religious celebrations. By the time individuals had completed all the expected cargos, they were recognized community leaders.

The Roman Catholic Church's relatively weak presence in the countryside and in squatter settlements, coupled with the nominal, syncretistic practice of most Catholics, created a fertile ground for Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal missionary activity. Although multidenominational groups such as the Gospel Missionary Union (GMU) had been active in Ecuador since the beginning of the twentieth century, significant levels of conversion did not occur until the late 1960s. By the late 1970s, the GMU reported that it had converted 20,000 Sierra Indians in Chimborazo Province alone. The Christian and Missionary Alliance indicated that conversions among Indians in Otavolo climbed from 28 in 1969 to 900 in 1979. By the mid-1980s, an estimated 50,000 Ecuadorians had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Other significant forces in the Protestant camp included World Vision, an evangelical development group based in California, and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). The Texas-based SIL dispatched linguists to remote areas of Ecuador to study and codify tribal languages. The eventual goal of such efforts was to translate the Bible.

The phenomenal pace of conversion--some observers estimated that evangelicals and Pentecostals totaled 40 percent of the population in Chimborazo Province in the late 1980s--had an impact on social relations in rural areas. Change in religious affiliation was a major rupture with an individual's past traditions and social ties, effectively removing him or her from participation in fiestas--a major focus of much of community life. Families and extended families found the break with the rest of the community easier in the company of fellow converts. Protestantism replaced the patterns of mutual reciprocity characteristic of peasant social relations with a network of sharing and support among fellow believers. This support system extended to migrants; converts who left for the city or the coast sought out their coreligionists for assistance in finding lodging and employment even as Catholics looked to their compadres.

Ecuador - Education

In the late 1980s, formal education was divided into four cycles: a preprimary two-year cycle, six years of primary school, secondary school, which was divided into two three-year cycles, and higher education. Children could begin attending preprimary school at four; primary school began at age six. Attendance theoretically was compulsory for children from six to fourteen years of age. The first three-year cycle of secondary school was a general curriculum that elaborated on that of primary school. In the second cycle, students could specialize in one of several different curriculums. An academic, liberals arts course led to university admission; other specialized courses prepared students for technical schools or teachers' training.

Roughly 20 percent of primary and secondary schools were privately run. The role of private schools increased with grade level; slightly less than 20 percent of primary students and more than 40 percent of secondary students attended private schools. Private education was a predominantly urban phenomena. Approximately one-third of city primary and secondary schools were private.

The country had twelve state universities, equally divided between the Costa and the Sierra, and an additional five private universities--three in the Sierra and two in the Costa. A number of polytechnic schools and teachers' colleges offered specialized postsecondary studies. The number of university students per 100,000 population grew fivefold from 1960 to 1980; the number of professors grew ten times. About two-thirds of those enrolled in higher education attended public institutions, especially the Central University in Quito.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a major expansion in educational opportunities at every level. Spending increased until by 1980 education represented one-third of total government outlays. Enrollments, which had begun to climb in the 1950s, continued their increase. Retention rates at the primary and secondary level also improved.

Expansion created its own set of problems, however. Construction failed to keep up with the increase in students. A significant proportion of teachers lacked full accreditation, especially at the levels of secondary and higher education. These deficiencies were most evident in the countryside where the percentage of uncertified primary teachers was estimated to be double that of the cities. Finally, despite enrollment increases, by the 1980s the percentage of school-aged children attending school lagged. Rates were particularly low for rural primary-school-aged children. Relatively few children continued beyond the first cycle of secondary school.

Illiteracy rates, especially those in the countryside, also remained elevated. The Ministry of Education and Culture, municipal governments, and the military all offered literacy classes. Overall, the programs had limited impact, however; most of the decline in illiteracy came through increased school enrollments. In the 1980s, there were efforts to target literacy programs to the needs of the rural populace and non-Spanish speakers.

Ecuador - Health and Social Security

Both the public and the private sectors provided health services. Most public health care came under the aegis of the Ministry of Public Health, although the armed forces, the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social--IESS), and a number of other autonomous agencies also contributed. The Ministry of Health covered about 80 percent of the population and IESS another 10 percent.

The Ministry of Public Health organized a four-tiered system of health care. Auxiliary health-care personnel staffed posts that served small rural settlements of fewer than 1,500 inhabitants. Health centers staffed with health-care professionals serviced communities of 1,500 to 5,000 inhabitants. Urban centers took care of the larger provincial capitals. Provincial and national hospitals were located in the largest cities. In the early 1980s, there were approximately 2,100 health establishments nationwide; the Ministry of Public Health ran more than half. Both the limited numbers of health-care professionals and their lack of training hampered public health care. These deficiencies were most apparent in regard to medical specialists, technicians, and nurses.

Infant mortality-rate estimates in the early 1980s ranged from 70 to 76 per 1,000 live births, with government projections of 63 per 1,000 live births for the period 1985 to 1990. Although these rates were a significant improvement from the death figure of 140 recorded in 1950, they remained a serious concern. Infant mortality varied significantly by region and socioeconomic status. Surveys in urban areas showed a range of 5 to 108 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, whereas those in rural areas varied from 90 to 200. Intestinal ailments and respiratory diseases (including bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and pneumonia) caused roughly three-fourths of all infant deaths.

Childhood mortality (deaths among one- to four-year olds) dropped to 9 per 1,000 in the mid-1980s following immunization campaigns and some attempts to control diarrheal diseases. Acute respiratory infections represented one-third of all deaths in this age group. Further improvement in the childhood mortality rate demanded extending the immunization program, increasing the availability of oral rehydration therapy, improving nutrition, and controlling respiratory ailments.

Precise, detailed evidence about children's nutritional status remained limited and contradictory. The government conducted a national survey in 1959 and followed this with more limited studies in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1960s, 40 percent of preschool children showed some degree of malnutrition. Among children under 12 years of age, 30 percent were malnourished and 15 percent anemic.

The main causes of death among adults in the mid-1980s were motor vehicle accidents, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, cancer, and tuberculosis. Maternal mortality remained high--1.8 per 100,000 live births in the mid-1980s. As with the case of infant mortality, maternal mortality national averages masked considerable regional variation, with the rate nearly three times higher in some areas. These higher percentages reflected the limited access many rural women had to health care. In the early 1980s, more than 40 percent of all pregnancies were not monitored; the majority of births were unattended by modern medical personnel.

A number of tropical diseases concerned health officials. Onchocerciasis (river blindness) was found in a number of small areas; its range was expanding in the mid-1980s. Although Chagas' disease (a parasitic infection) was not prevalent, environmental factors favored its spread. Leishmaniasis (also a parasitic infection) was expanding in the deforested areas of the coast and coastal tropical forest. Malaria was found in 60 percent of the country and became a major focus of public health efforts in the late 1980s. A drop in mosquito control programs coupled with severe flooding in 1981 and 1982 led to an increase in the prevalence of malaria in the mid-1980s. Between 1980 and 1984, the number of reported cases increased ten times. As of 1988, Ecuador also reported forty-five cases of, and twenty-six deaths from, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The Ecuadorian Social Security Institute, an autonomous agency operating under the Ministry of Social Welfare, offered its members old-age, survivor, and invalidism benefits, sickness and maternity coverage, and work injury and unemployment benefits. In 1982, however, the system covered only approximately 23 percent of the economically active population (21 percent of men and 33 percent of women). Coverage varied widely according to urban or rural residence as well as sex. Urban women had the highest rates of coverage (42 percent), whereas rural men had the lowest (9 percent). Employees in banking, industry, commerce, and government, and self-employed professionals had coverage for most benefits. Agricultural workers were covered for work injury and unemployment benefits and were gradually being included in pension funds and survivors' and death benefits.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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