Ecuador offers little archeological evidence of its preHispanic
civilizations. Nonetheless, its most ancient artifacts-- remnants of the
Valdivia culture found along the coast north of the modern city of Santa
Elena in Guayas Province--date from as early as 3500 B.C.. Other major coastal archaeological sites are found in the
provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas; major sites in the Sierra are found
in Carchi and Imbabura provinces in the north, Tungurahua and Chimborazo
provinces in the middle of the Andean highlands, and Cañar, Azuay, and
Loja provinces in the south. Nearly all of these sites are dated in the
last 2,000 years. Large parts of Ecuador, including almost all of the
Oriente, however, remain unknown territory to archaeologists.
Knowledge of Ecuador before the Spanish conquest is limited also by
the absence of recorded history within either the Inca or pre-Inca
cultures as well as by the lack of interest taken in Ecuador by the
Spanish chroniclers. Before the Inca conquest of the area that comprises
modern-day Ecuador, the region was populated by a number of distinct
tribes that spoke mutually unintelligible languages and were often at
war with one another. Four culturally related Indian groups, known as
the Esmeralda, the Manta, the Huancavilca, and the Puná, occupied the
coastal lowlands in that order from north to south. They were hunters,
fishermen, agriculturalists, and traders. Trade was especially important
among different coastal groups, who seem to have developed considerable
oceanic travel, but the lowland cultures also traded with the peoples of
the Sierra, exchanging fish for salt.
The Sierra was populated by elements, from north to south, of the
Pasto, the Cara, the Panzaleo, the Puruhá, the Cañari, and the Palta
cultures. These people lived mostly on mountainsides and in widely
dispersed villages located in the fertile valleys between the Cordillera
Occidental (Western Chain) and the Cordillera Oriental (Eastern Chain)
of the Andes. The Sierra natives were a sedentary, agricultural people,
cultivating maize, quinoa, beans, and many varieties of potatoes and
squashes. The use of irrigation was prevalent, especially among the Cañari.
A wide variety of fruits, including pineapples and avocados, was grown
in the lower, warmer valleys. Historians believe that political
organization centered around local chieftains who collaborated with one
another in confederations or were subjected to "kings." Such
local chiefs had considerable authority; they could raise armies, for
example, and administer communal lands.
The Inca expansion northward from modern-day Peru during the late
fifteenth century met with fierce resistance by several Ecuadorian
tribes, particularly the Cañari, in the region around modern-day
Cuenca; the Cara in the Sierra north of Quito; and the Quitu, occupants
of the site of the modern capital, after whom it was to be named. The
conquest of Ecuador began in 1463 under the leadership of the ninth
Inca, the great warrior Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. In that year, his son
Topa took over command of the army and began his march northward through
the Sierra. After defeating the Quitu, he moved southward along the
coast, and from there he launched an extensive ocean journey that took
him, depending on the account, to the Galápagos Islands or to the
Marquesas Islands in Polynesia. Upon his return, he tried unsuccessfully
to subdue the populations around the Gulf of Guayaquil and the island of
Puná. By 1500 Topa's son, Huayna Capac, overcame the resistance of
these populations and that of the Cara, and thus incorporated all of
modern-day Ecuador into Tawantinsuyu, as the Inca empire was known.
The influence of these conquerors based in Cuzco (modern-day Peru)
was limited to about a half century, or less in some parts of Ecuador.
During that period, some aspects of life remained unchanged. Traditional
religious beliefs, for example, persisted throughout the period of Inca
rule. In other areas, however, such as agriculture, land tenure, and
social organization, Inca rule had a profound effect despite its
relatively short duration. Farming remained the major form of
subsistence, but the Inca introduced a variety of new crops, including
yucca, sweet potatoes, coca, and peanuts. The use of llamas and
irrigation was expanded considerably. Largely in private hands
previously, land became, in theory at least, the property of the Inca
emperor. In practice, most land was held collectively by the ayllu,
an agrarian community group headed by a curaca, that was the
basic social grouping under the Inca. Within the ayllu, each
domestic family unit was allotted a small plot of arable land to grow
food for its own consumption. The state and the clergy also held a
substantial amount of land, which was worked by the emperor's subjects
as part of their obligatory public service.
Emperor Huayna Capac became very fond of Quito, making it a secondary
capital of Tawantinsuyu and living out his elder years there before his
death in about 1527. He preferred to rule through local curacas
as long as they were willing to accept the divine authority of the Inca
and to pay tribute. When he met opposition, the emperor dispersed large
parts of local populations to other areas of the empire and replaced
them with colonists who were brought from as far away as Chile. This
wholesale movement of populations helped spread Quechua, the language of
Cuzco, into Ecuador. A standing army, a large bureaucracy, and a
temporally important clergy further enforced the rule of the emperor.
Huayna Capac's sudden death from a strange disease, described by one
Spanish chronicler as "probably smallpox or measles,"
precipitated a bitter power struggle between Huascar, a son borne by
Huayna Capac's sister and thus the legitimate heir, and Atahualpa, a son
who, although borne by a lesser wife, was reputedly his father's
"favorite." This struggle raged during the half-decade before
the arrival of Francisco Pizarro's conquering expedition in 1532. The
key battle of this civil war was fought on Ecuadorian soil, near
Riobamba, where Huascar's northbound troops were met and defeated by
Atahualpa's southbound troops. Atahualpa's final victory over Huascar in
the days just before the Spanish conquerors arrived resulted in large
part from the loyalty of two of Huayna Capac's best generals, who were
based in Quito along with Atahualpa. The victory remains a source of
national pride to Ecuadorians as a rare case when "Ecuador"
forcefully bettered a "neighboring country."
Ecuador - DISCOVERY AND CONQUEST
The discovery and conquest of Ecuador by Spanish forces in the early
sixteenth century are adjuncts to the history of the conquest of Peru,
the richest of the New World prizes won for the Spanish crown. The
central figure of that history is Pizarro, an illiterate adventurer from
Trujillo in the Spanish region of Extremadura, who had accompanied Vasco
Núñez de Balboa in his crossing of the Isthmus of Panama to discover
the Pacific in 1513. Eleven years later, Panamanian governor Pedro Arias
de Avila ("Pedrarias") authorized Pizarro, in partnership with
an equally questionable character, a Castilian named Diego de Almargo,
and a priest named Fernando de Luque, financing to explore southward
down the west coast of South America. Their first two voyages, in 1524
and 1526, ended in failure; not until the third voyage, launched in
1531, would the Peruvian prize be won and the Inca be conquered.
The first European to set foot on the territory of modern-day Ecuador
was probably Bartolomé Ruiz de Estrada, the pilot for Pizarro on his
second voyage, who pushed southward while Pizarro explored the Colombian
coast and Almargo returned to Panama for supplies. Pizarro himself
landed on the Ecuadorian coast later during his exploratory voyage and
traveled as far as Tumbes in the extreme north of present-day Peru, in
defiance of official orders to return to Panama.
Having thus lost the favor of the king's representatives in Panama,
Pizarro was forced to return to the royal court in Spain to petition
King Charles I personally for authorization of a third voyage. Flush
with the success of Hernán Cortés in Mexico and tantalized by the gold
pieces brought by Pizarro from Tumbes and growing fables of great wealth
in the South American interior, Charles granted Pizarro authorization
and much more: the titles of governor and captain-general of Peru, a
generous salary, and extensive territorial concessions. Almargo was
granted important, although less generous, titles and privileges; his
resentment of this slight would affect relationships for the rest of the
conquest. At the time that Charles granted various titles to Pizarro and
Almargo, he named de Luque Bishop of Tumbes. Before returning to Panama
in 1530, Pizarro recruited for the conquest several immediate family
members, including two full brothers named Gonzalo and Juan as well as
two half-brothers. The participation of so many of Pizarro's relatives
further strained relations between the two partners in conquest.
Pizarro then embarked from Panama with some 180 men while Almargo
remained there to gather additional recruits. After thirteen days at
sea, Pizarro landed once again on the coast of Ecuador, where he
procured some gold, silver, and emeralds, which were dispatched to
Panama and put to good use in Almargo's efforts. Although the capture of
the Inca stronghold of Tumbes was Pizarro's first objective, he was
forced to spend several months in Ecuador, first nursing a rash of
ulcers and then fighting the fierce warriors of the island of Puná. By
the time the conquerors arrived in Tumbes, it had been destroyed by the
Puná warriors and its population dispersed. Just to the south, they
founded the first Spanish settlement in Peru, San Miguel de Tangarará.
Upon their fateful departure to Cajamarca on September 24, 1532, Pizarro
left a lieutenant, Sebastián de Benalcázar, in charge of protecting
and developing San Miguel as a Spanish base of operations. Two years
later, Benalcázar would lead the conquering forces that moved northward
Meanwhile, Atahualpa was resting near Cajamarca, in the Sierra of
northern Peru, following the defeat and capture of his brother. He had
known of the arrival of foreign invaders for several months; it is not
clear why he did not order their obliteration before they could
penetrate into the heart of the empire. After a march of almost two
months, Pizarro arrived in Cajamarca and summoned Atahualpa from the
nearby thermal baths known today as the Baños del Inca. Reluctantly,
accompanied by several thousands of his best troops, Atahualpa went to
Cajamarca's central plaza, where he was met, not by the conquistadors,
but by their chaplain, Fray Vicente de Valverde, who called upon the
Inca emperor to submit to the representatives of the Spanish crown and
the Christian god. Atahualpa replied disparagingly and, upon his
throwing a Christian prayer book to the ground in contempt, concealed
Spanish soldiers opened fire, killing thousands of Atahualpa's defenders
and taking the Inca emperor captive. This slaughter, called "the
decisive battle" of the conquest of Peru by historian Hubert
Herring, took place on November 16, 1532.
A panic-stricken Atahualpa, fearing that Pizarro might be planning to
depose him in favor of his rival brother, summoned Huascar, at this time
imprisoned in Cuzco, to Cajamarca, then ordered him to be executed along
with hundreds of Huascar's nearest of kin. It served the Spaniards'
purposes to allow Atahualpa the freedom, from his cell, to command his
forces. Thus continued the rapid annihilation, through a vicious civil
war that now overlapped with the Spanish conquest, of the army and
leadership of one of the great polities of modern history. Pizarro was
not planning to depose Atahualpa, of course, but to execute him. First,
however, he had Atahualpa fill his cell, once with gold, then twice with
silver (estimated at 4,850 kilograms of gold and 9,700 kilograms of
silver) supposedly as ransom for his release. Instead the Spaniards
garrotted Atahualpa on August 29, 1533, following a mock trial at which
he was convicted of every charge that Pizarro could invent for the
occasion. Having deprived the Inca empire of leadership, Pizarro and
another conquistador, Hernando de Soto, moved south to Cuzco, the heart
of Tawantinsuyu, which they captured in November 1533; they then led
their men in an orgy of looting, pillaging, and torture in search of
more precious metals.
Benalcázar, Pizarro's lieutenant and fellow Extremaduran, had
already departed from San Miguel with 140 foot soldiers and a few horses
on his conquering mission to Ecuador. At the foot of Mount Chimborazo,
near the modern city of Riobamba, he met and defeated the forces of the
great Inca warrior Rumiñahui with the aid of Cañari tribesmen who,
happy to throw off the yoke of their Inca rulers, served as guides and
allies to the conquering Spaniards. Rumiñahui fell back to Quito, and,
while in pursuit of the Inca army, Benalcázar encountered another,
quite sizable, conquering party led by Guatemalan Governor Pedro de
Alvarado. Bored with administering Central America, Alvarado had set
sail for the south without the crown's authorization, landed on the
Ecuadorian coast, and marched inland to the Sierra. Pizarro had heard of
this competing expedition some time earlier and had sent Almargo north
to reinforce Benalcázar. Together, Pizarro's two representatives
managed to convince Alvarado, with the help of a handsome amount of
gold, to call off his expedition and allow the "legal"
conquest to proceed as planned. Most of Alvarado's men joined Benalcázar
for the siege of Quito.
Rumiñahui left Quito in flames for the approaching conquistadors. It
was mid-1534 and, after the customary orgy of violence, in December the
Spanish established the city of San Francisco de Quito on top of the
ruins of the secondary Inca capital. Benalcázar was soon off on more
conquests in Colombia to the north; it was not until December 1540 that
Quito received its first captain-general in the person of Gonzalo
Pizarro, the brother of Francisco.
Benalcázar had also founded the city of Guayaquil in 1533, but it
had subsequently been retaken by the local Huancavilca tribesmen.
Francisco de Orellana, yet another lieutenant of Francisco Pizarro from
the Spanish city of Trujillo, put down the native rebellion and in 1537
reestablished this city, which a century later would become one of
Spain's principal ports in South America.
Orellana is chiefly remembered, however, for being the first European
to travel the length of the Amazon River. This journey, one of the great
adventure tales of Spain's conquest of America, began in February 1541,
when the lure of spices, particularly cinnamon, led Pizarro's brother
Gonzalo to set off from Quito to the eastern jungle with a party that
included 210 Spaniards and some 4,000 Indians. Orellana was second in
command. After several months of hardship and deprivation during a
crossing of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes that cost the lives of
nearly half the party, Gonzalo Pizarro placed Orellana in charge of
building a brigantine in the Coca River in present-day Ecuador. Together
with fifty-seven Spaniards and several hundred Indians, Orellana sailed
downstream in search of food and friendly natives. The explorers never
rejoined Pizarro, however, but set out on their own in search of neither
food nor spices, but gold. "Having eaten our shoes and saddles
boiled with a few herbs," wrote Orellana in a caricature of the
ruggedness for which the Extremaduran conquerors were noted, "we
set out to reach the Kingdom of Gold." The group reached the mouth
of the Amazon, a name given by Orellana because he believed that they
had been attacked by the legendary giant female warriors at a point
below the Negro River, and sailed northward along the Atlantic coast as
far as Venezuela, then back to Spain. The journey completed by the
expedition headed by Orellana was not to be repeated for 100 years.
In the same August 1542, as Orellana reached the Atlantic, Gonzalo
Pizarro was stumbling back to Quito with the few surviving members of
his party. He found Peru in political chaos. Several years earlier,
Almargo had entered into open rebellion against Francisco Pizarro and
been defeated in battle, tried, and executed in his newly founded
capital city of Lima. The resentment among Almargo's followers did not
end, however, and in June 1541, Francisco Pizarro had been assassinated
by the remnants of Almargo's army. In an attempt to try to control the
unruly conquistadors and to end the enslavement of the native population
of America, the Spanish crown had promulgated the New Laws in 1542,
which in theory though not in practice abolished encomiendas,
and two years later it sent its first viceroy to head a newly created
colonial administrative system.
Gonzalo, who had little interest in being controlled by anyone,
defeated and killed the first viceroy on a battlefield near Quito. After
a brief period of glory, however, the younger Pizarro was himself
defeated by the forces of a subsequent royal emissary, and in 1548 he
was tried and hung for treason. It was the end of the tumultuous era of
the conquistadors and the beginning of two and a half centuries of
relatively pacific colonial rule.
Ecuador - SPANISH COLONIAL ERA
Spain's colonies in the New World were, legally, the personal
patrimony of the king, and he held absolute control over all matters in
Ecuador. Colonial administration at all levels was carried out in the
name of the monarch. The king's chief agency in Madrid was the Council
of the Indies, which devoted most of its energies to formulating
legislation designed to regulate virtually every aspect of colonial
life. The House of Trade, seated in Seville, was placed in charge of
governing commerce between Spain and the colonies. In America, the
king's major administrative agents were the viceroyalty, the audiencia
(court), and the municipal council (cabildo).
Between 1544 and 1563, Ecuador was an integral part of the
Viceroyalty of Peru, having no administrative status independent of
Lima. It remained a part of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1720, when it
joined the newly created Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada; within the
viceroyalty, however, Ecuador was awarded its own audiencia in
1563, allowing it to deal directly with Madrid on certain matters. The
Quito Audiencia, which was both a court of justice and an
advisory body to the viceroy, consisted of a president and several
judges (oidores). The territory under the jurisdiction of Quito
considerably exceeded that of present-day Ecuador, extending southward
to the port of Paita in the north of present-day Peru, northward to the
port of Buenaventura and the city of Cali in the south of present-day
Colombia, and well out into the Amazon River Basin in the east. Quito
was also the site of the first (founded in 1547) and most important
municipal council within the area comprising modern-day Ecuador. It
consisted of several councilmen (regidores) whose extensive
responsibilities included the maintenance of public order and the
distribution of land in the vicinity of the local community.
The borders of the Audiencia (or kingdom as it was also
known) of Quito were poorly defined, and a great deal of its territory
remained either unexplored or untamed throughout much of the colonial
era. Only in the Sierra, and there only after a series of battles that
raged throughout the mid-sixteenth century, was the native population
fully subjugated by the Spanish. The jungle lowlands in both the Oriente
and the coastal region of Esmeraldas were, in contrast, refuges for an
estimated one-quarter of the total native population that remained
recalcitrant and unconquered throughout most or all of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. Despite Orellana's harrowing journey of
discovery, the Oriente remained terra incognita to the Spanish until its
settlement by Jesuit missionaries beginning in the mid-seventeenth
century, and it continued to be largely inaccessible throughout the
remainder of the colonial period.
The coastal lowlands north of Manta were conquered, not by the
Spanish, but by blacks from the Guinean coast who, as slaves, were
shipwrecked en route from Panama to Peru in 1570. The blacks killed or
enslaved the native males and married the females, and within a
generation they constituted a population of zambos (mixed black
and Indian) that resisted Spanish authority until the end of the century
and afterwards managed to retain a great deal of political and cultural
The relative autonomy of this coastal region nearest to Quito
enhanced the effect of the Andes in isolating the Ecuadorian Sierra from
the rest of the world during most of the nearly three centuries of
colonial rule. Behind these barriers a social system was established
that was essentially a replica of the Spanish feudal system at the time
of the conquest, with the peninsulares (Spanish-born persons
residing in the New World) being the ruling, landed elite and the
Indians being the subject people who worked the land. Although a few
towns, particularly Quito, Riobamba, and Cuenca, grew along with the
administrative and Roman Catholic bureaucracies and the local textile
industries, colonial Ecuador was essentially a rural society.
The most common form in which the Spanish occupied the land was the encomienda.
Settlers were granted land, along with its inhabitants and resources, in
return for taking charge of defending the territory, spiritually
indoctrinating the native population, and extracting the crown's annual
tribute (payable half in gold, half in local products) from the encomienda's
Indian population. By the early seventeenth century, there were some 500
encomiendas in Ecuador. Although many consisted of quite
sizable haciendas, they were generally much smaller than the estates
commonly found elsewhere in South America. A multitude of reforms and
regulations did not prevent the encomienda from becoming a
system of virtual slavery of the Indians, estimated at about one-half
the total Ecuadorian population, who lived on them. In 1589 the
president of the audiencia recognized that many Spaniards were
accepting grants only to sell them and undertake urban occupations, and
he stopped distributing new lands to Spaniards; however, the institution
of the encomienda persisted until nearly the end of the
Land that was less desirable was never distributed, but rather was
left to traditional Indian communities or simply remained open public
land. In the late sixteenth century, the estimated one- quarter of the
total native population on such public lands was resettled into Indian
towns called reducciones in order to facilitate the collection
of the Indians' tribute, their conversion to Christianity, and the
exploitation of their labor.
Outside the encomienda, Indian labor was most commonly
exploited through the mita, modeled after the Inca institution
of the same name. All able-bodied "free" Indians were required
to devote one year of their labor to some public or private Spanish
concern, be it constructing a church, road, or public building, or
working in a textile mill. Although mitayos were paid for their
labor, the amount was extremely meager, often less than debts
accumulated through purchases from their employer, thus requiring the
them to continue working, sometimes indefinitely, after their assigned
period of service. In this way, the mita system disintegrated
into debt peonage. Debts were commonly passed on to ensuing generations,
in which cases the mita was, in effect, slavery. Black slaves,
in comparison, were extremely expensive and were thus used almost
exclusively in the lowland plantation culture along the hot, humid
coast, where the Sierra Indians proved unable to adapt. Black slaves
numbered some 60,000 by the end of the colonial period.
The best estimates of the size of Ecuador's native population at the
time of the conquest range between 750,000 and 1 million. Diseases
imported by the Spanish, particularly smallpox and measles, virtually
wiped out the indigenous coastal population during the sixteenth century
and also decimated the Sierra population, although not as thoroughly as
in the Costa or many other areas of Latin America. Despite a succession
of deadly earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the native population
increased steadily during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
except in the 1690s, when an epidemic of smallpox and diphtheria was
reported to have killed one-third of Ecuador's population.
Ecuador's Indians probably owe their relative prosperity during the
colonial period to the audiencia's lack of mineral resources.
The hardships of working in the silver and mercury mines of Peru cost
the lives of millions of Indian mitayos; Ecuador, in contrast,
had only small deposits of gold and silver in its southern provinces of
Cuenca and Loja, and these deposits were depleted by the end of the
sixteenth century. Its serrano economy was based, instead, on
agriculture and textiles. Cotton, grown on the eastern slope of the
Andes in Quijos Province, and wool, from imported merino sheep that
thrived in the high Andean valleys, provided the raw materials for
high-quality textiles that were manufactured in hundreds of sweatshops,
called obrajes, and exported throughout Latin America. Indian mitayos,
who commonly worked from dawn to dusk chained to their looms, provided
the labor. As appalling as were the preindustrial working conditions in
the obrajes, most historians agree that they were more bearable
than those found in the Peruvian mines at the time.
The coastal economy revolved around shipping and trade. Guayaquil,
despite being destroyed on several occasions by fire and incessantly
plagued by either yellow fever or malaria, was a center of vigorous
trade among the colonies, a trade that was technically illegal under the
mercantilist philosophy of the contemporary Spanish rulers. The guiding
principle of mercantilism in the New World was that the colonies existed
to serve the commercial needs of Spain. Since trade among the colonies
would not enrich Spain, it was banned. In addition to textiles and other
light manufactures from the Sierra, hardwoods and cacao from coastal
plantations were exported from the port of Guayaquil to points all over
Spanish America, while a wide variety of items were imported, including
foods and wines from Peru. Guayaquil also became the largest
shipbuilding center on the west coast of South America before the end of
the colonial period.
The Ecuadorian economy, like that in the mother country, suffered a
severe depression throughout most of the eighteenth century. Textile
production dropped an estimated 50 to 75 percent between 1700 and 1800.
Ecuador's cities gradually fell into ruins, and by 1790 the elite was
reduced to poverty, selling haciendas and jewelry in order to subsist.
The Indian population, in contrast, probably experienced an overall
improvement in its situation, as the closing of the obrajes
commonly led Indians to work under less arduous conditions on either
haciendas or traditional communal lands. Ecuador's economic woes were,
no doubt, compounded by the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 by King
Charles III. Missions in the Oriente were abandoned, and many of the
best schools and the most efficient haciendas and obrajes lost
the key personnel that made them outstanding institutions in colonial
The Bourbon kings were best known for their economic and
administrative reforms, which, like the expulsion of the Jesuits, were
designed to enhance the flagging power of the crown in Spanish America.
As a result of those reforms, the Quito Audiencia was
transferred in 1720 from the authority of the Peruvian viceroyalty to
the newly created Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada, whose capital was in
Bogotá. In the process, the Quiteño authorities gained jurisdiction
over their own political and military affairs, while the audiencia's
southern and eastern boundaries were delineated more specifically and
retracted. A royal decree (cédula) in 1802 further shrank the
area of the audiencia by transferring the provinces of Quijos
and Mainas in the Oriente to Peru. Another decree by Charles IV in 1803
transferred the port of Guayaquil to Peru, but resistance by port
citizens led to its being returned to the jurisdiction of Quito in 1819.
Between 1736 and 1745, a French scientific mission with some of the
best minds in Europe resided in Quito and contributed to the development
of ideas in Ecuador. While carrying out their scientific
mission--measuring the earth's circumference at the equator--the members
of the mission disseminated the message of the Enlightenment, which
stressed nationalism, individualism, and a questioning of authority and
tradition. Works of Voltaire, Jean- Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Paine,
introducing such revolutionary concepts as equality and freedom, managed
to elude the censors of both the Inquisition and a languishing political
authority, and penetrated Ecuador's historical cultural isolation. The
most famous Ecuadorian intellectual of the age, Eugenio de Santa Cruz y
Espejo, was a physician and a writer who advocated emancipation from
Spain and a republican, democratic system of government. Honored today
as the precursor of Ecuadorian independence, Espejo was imprisoned for
his ideas and died in jail in 1795.
The coming of independence was also foreshadowed by the numerous
civil disturbances that rocked the Ecuadorian Sierra from the 1760s
until the end of the colonial era. In 1765 the Quiteño white and
mestizo or cholo (a person of mixed white and Indian ancestry)
population revolted against reforms in the colonial tax system.
Potentially more serious was a subsequent series of Indian rebellions in
Latacunga and Riobamba. Although clearly of a political nature, calling
for the overthrow of the Spanish regime and the expulsion of all the
whites from the land in addition to putting an end to the odious mita
system, these uprisings never led to such large-scale insurrections as
occurred in Peru at the same time. Ironically, the passing of the
colonial era, according to most historians, occasioned a worsening of
conditions for the indigenous population.
Ecuador - THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
The struggle for independence in the Quito Audiencia was
part of a movement throughout Spanish America led by criollos (persons
of pure Spanish descent born in the New World). The criollos resentment
of the privileges enjoyed by the peninsulares was the fuel of
revolution against colonial rule. The spark was Napoleon's invasion of
Spain, after which he deposed King Ferdinand VII and, in July 1808,
placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne.
Shortly afterward, Spanish citizens, unhappy at the usurpation of the
throne by the French, began organizing local juntas loyal to Ferdinand.
A group of Quito's leading citizens followed suit, and on August 10,
1809, they seized power from the local representatives of Joseph
Bonaparte in the name of Ferdinand. Thus, this early revolt against
colonial rule (one of the first in Spanish America) was, paradoxically,
an expression of loyalty to the Spanish king.
It quickly became apparent that Quito's criollo rebels lacked the
anticipated popular support for their cause. As loyalist troops
approached Quito, therefore, they peacefully turned power back to the
crown authorities. Despite assurances against reprisals, the returning
Spanish authorities (Bonaparte's men) proved to be merciless with the
rebels and, in the process of ferreting out participants in the Quito
revolt, jailed and abused many innocent citizens. They actions, in turn,
bred popular resentment among Quiteños, who, after several days of
street fighting in August 1810, won an agreement to be governed by a
junta to be dominated by criollos, although with the president of the
Audiencia of Quito acting as its figurehead leader.
In spite of widespread opposition within the rest of the Quito Audiencia,
the junta called for a congress in December 1811 in which it declared
the entire area of the audiencia to be independent. Two months
later, the junta approved a constitution for the state of Quito that
provided for democratic governing institutions but also granted
recognition to the authority of Ferdinand should he return to the
Spanish throne. Shortly thereafter, the junta elected to launch a
military offensive against the Spanish, but the poorly trained and badly
equipped troops were no match for those of the viceroy of Peru, which
finally crushed the Quiteño rebellion in December 1812.
The second chapter in Ecuador's struggle for emancipation from
Spanish colonial rule began in Guayaquil, where independence was
proclaimed in October 1820 by a local patriotic junta under the
leadership of the poet José Joaquín Olmedo. By this time, the forces
of independence had grown continental in scope and were organized into
two principal armies, one under the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar Palacios
in the north and the other under the Argentine José de San Martín in
the south. Unlike the hapless Quito junta, the Guayaquil patriots were
able to appeal to foreign allies, Argentina and Venezuela, each of whom
soon responded by sending sizable contingents to Ecuador. Antonio José
de Sucre Alcalá, the brilliant young lieutenant of Bolívar who arrived
in Guayaquil in May 1821, was to become the key figure in the ensuing
military struggle against the royalist forces.
After a number of initial successes, Sucre's army was defeated at
Ambato in the central Sierra and he appealed for assistance from San
Martín, whose army was by now in Peru. With the arrival from the south
of 1,400 fresh soldiers under the command of Andrés de Santa Cruz
Calahumana, the fortunes of the patriotic army were again reversed. A
string of victories culminated in the decisive Battle of Pichincha, on
the slopes of the volcano of that name on the western outskirts of
Quito, on May 24, 1822. A few hours after the victory by the patriots,
the last president of the Audiencia of Quito signed a formal
capitulation of his forces before Marshal Sucre. Ecuador was at last
free of Spanish rule.
Two months later Bolívar, the liberator of northern South America,
entered Quito to a hero's welcome. Later that July, he met San Martín
in Guayaquil and convinced the Argentine general, who wanted the port to
return to Peruvian jurisdiction, and the local criollo elite in both
major cities of the advantage of having the former Quito Audiencia
join with the liberated lands to the north. As a result, Ecuador became
the District of the South within the Confederation of Gran Colombia,
which also included present-day Venezuela and Colombia and had Bogotá
as its capital. This status was maintained for eight tumultuous years.
They were years in which warfare dominated the affairs of Ecuador.
First, the country found itself on the front lines of Bolívar's war to
liberate Peru from Spanish rule between 1822 and 1825; afterward, in
1828 and 1829, Ecuador was in the middle of an armed struggle between
Peru and Gran Colombia over the location of their common border. After a
campaign that included the near destruction of Guayaquil, the forces of
Gran Colombia, under the leadership of Sucre and Venezuelan General Juan
José Flores, proved victorious. The Treaty of 1829 fixed the border on
the line that had divided the Quito audiencia and the
Viceroyalty of Peru before independence.
The population of Ecuador was divided during these years among three
segments: those favoring the status quo, those supporting union with
Peru, and those advocating autonomous independence for the former audiencia.
The latter group was to prevail following Venezuela's withdrawal from
the confederation during an 1830 constitutional congress that had been
called in Bogotá in a futile effort to combat growing separatist
tendencies throughout Gran Colombia. In May of that year, a group of
Quito notables met to dissolve the union with Gran Colombia, and in
August, a constituent assembly drew up a constitution for the State of
Ecuador, so named for its geographic proximity to the equator, and
placed General Flores in charge of political and military affairs. He
remained the dominant political figure during Ecuador's first fifteen
years of independence.
Ecuador - THE FIRST CENTURY OF THE REPUBLIC
Before the year 1830 drew to a close, both Marshal Sucre and Simón
Bolívar would be dead; the former, murdered (on orders from a jealous
General Flores, according to some historians), and the latter, from
tuberculosis. Heartbroken at the dissolution of Gran Colombia, Bolívar
is quoted as saying shortly before his death, "America is
ungovernable. Those who have served the revolution have plowed the
sea." These words would seem prophetic during the chaotic first
thirty years in the life of the Republic of Ecuador.
Initial Confusion, 1830-60
Independence did not occasion a revolutionary liberation of the
masses of Ecuadorian peasants. On the contrary, as bad as the peasants'
situation was, it probably worsened with the loss of the Spanish royal
officials who had protected the indigenous population against the abuses
of the local criollos. This criollo elite, which had spearheaded the
struggle for independence, was to be its principal beneficiary. The
early battle to define the political parameters of the new state was
fought, to a great extent, among the various sectors--Ecuadorians and
foreigners, military personnel and civilians--of this elite.
Flores was of the foreign military variety. Born in Venezuela, he had
fought in the wars for independence with Bolívar, who had appointed him
governor of Ecuador during its association with Gran Colombia. Although
of humble origins with little formal education, Flores married into the
Quiteño elite, gaining acceptance, initially at least, within the local
criollo upper class. As a leader, however, he appeared primarily
interested in maintaining his power. Military expenditures, from the
independence wars and from an unsuccessful campaign to wrest Cauca
Province from Colombia in 1832, kept the state treasury empty while
other matters were left unattended.
In 1833 four intellectuals who had begun publishing El Quiteño
Libre to denounce the "pillaging of the national treasury by
foreigners" were killed by the authorities at a time when Flores
was absent from Quito. Although not directly responsible for the
killings, Flores inevitably became associated with them, and criticism
of his regime grew. In 1834 opponents staged a rebellion in an effort to
place José Vicente Rocafuerte y Rodríguez de Bejarano, a member of the
Guayaquil aristocracy who had recently returned from fourteen years
abroad, into the presidency. The rebels effort failed; Flores then
coopted his opponent and sponsored Rocafuerte as a presidential
candidate. For four years following this Machiavellian political
move--in effect the nation's first coup d'état--Flores continued to
wield considerable power from behind the scenes as commander of the
President Rocafuerte's most lasting contribution was to begin
development of a public school system. Although he had previously
condemned Flores's violations of civil liberties, Rocafuerte argued that
"the backwardness of Ecuador makes enlightened despotism
necessary." At the end of his term in 1839, Rocafuerte returned to
his native Guayaquil as provincial governor, while in Quito Flores was
again inaugurated into the presidency. After four years in office,
Flores summoned a constitutional convention that wrote a new
constitution, dubbed "the Charter of Slavery" by his
opponents, and elected him to a new eight-year term of office.
After 1843 the opposition to Flores often manifested itself in
unpleasant ways: in reference to the dark skin of Flores and his fellow
Venezuelan and Colombian soldiers, Rocafuerte (by now exiled in Lima)
wrote that "the white oppressors of the peninsula were less
oppressive than the Negro vandals who have replaced them." A young
student named Gabriel García Moreno--later to become the most infamous
of all of Ecuador's nineteenth century dictators--tried unsuccessfully
to assassinate Flores. Discontent had become nationwide by 1845, when an
insurrection in Guayaquil forced Flores from the country. Because their
movement triumphed in March (marzo), the anti-Flores coalition
members became known as marcistas. They were an extremely
heterogeneous lot that included liberal intellectuals, conservative
clergymen, and representatives from Guayaquil's successful business
The next fifteen years constituted one of the most turbulent periods
in Ecuador's century and a half as a nation. The marcistas
fought among themselves almost ceaselessly and also had to struggle
against Flores's repeated attempts from exile to overthrow the
government. The first marcista president was a businessman,
Vicente Ramón Roca, who served a full four-year term of office. The
most significant figure of the era, however, was General José María
Urbina, who first came to power in 1851 through a coup d'état, remained
in the presidency until 1856, and then continued to dominate the
political scene until 1860. During this decade and the one that
followed, Urbina and his archrival, García Moreno, would define the
dichotomy--between Liberals from Guayaquil and Conservatives from
Quito--that remained the major sphere of political struggle in Ecuador
in the 1980s.
Liberalism under Urbina took on anticlerical, ethnic, and regional
dimensions. In 1852 he accused a group of Jesuit priests-- admitted by
his predecessor, Diego Noboa, only a year earlier--of political meddling
and expelled them. Urbina freed the nation's slaves exactly one week
after his coup of 1851, and six years later, his successor and life-long
friend, General Francisco Robles, finally put an end to three centuries
of required annual payments of tribute by the Indian population.
Henceforth, liberalism associated itself with bettering the position of
Ecuador's non-white population. Urbina's and Robles's favoring of the
Guayaquil business classes over the Quito landowners reinforced the
regional aspect of the political dichotomy.
Opposition against Robles intensified after his signing, in 1857, of
an unpopular contract aimed at alleviating the burdensome foreign debt.
By 1859--known by Ecuadorian historians as the Terrible Year--the nation
was on the brink of anarchy. Local caudillos had declared several
regions autonomous of the central government. One of these caudillos,
Guayaquil's Guillermo Franco, signed the Treaty of Mapasingue ceding the
southern provinces of Ecuador to an occupying Peruvian army led by
General Ramón Castilla. This action was outrageous enough to unite some
previously disparate elements. García Moreno, putting aside both his
project to place Ecuador under a French protectorate and his differences
with General Flores, got together with the former dictator to put down
the various local rebellions and force out the Peruvians. This effort
opened the last chapter of Flores's long career and marked the entrance
to power of García Moreno.
Ecuador - The Era of Conservatism, 1860-95
García Moreno is the father of Ecuadorian conservatism and no doubt
the most controversial figure in the nation's history, condemned by
Liberal historians as Ecuador's worst tyrant but exalted by
Conservatives as the nation's greatest nation-builder. In the end, both
appraisals may be accurate; the man who possibly saved Ecuador from
disintegration in 1859 and then ruled the nation with an iron fist for
the subsequent decade and a half was, in fact, an extremely complicated
personality. Born and raised under modest circumstances in Guayaquil, he
studied in Quito, where he married into the local aristocracy, then
traveled to Europe in the aftermath of the 1848 revolutionary uprisings
and studied under the eminent Catholic theologians of the day.
García Moreno's religious education had a profound impact on the
future president. In the words of historian Frederick B. Pike:
His personal experiences seem to have influenced his attitudes toward
governing his country. In his own case, liberalism and religious
indifference had gone hand-in- hand with personal debauchery and lack
of self-control, while religious fervor had been intertwined with a
life of rigorous self-control and spartan discipline. After coming to
the presidency, García Moreno set out to rekindle religious fervor
among Ecuadorians in the expectation that the entire country could be
made to undergo a transformation paralleling his own.
President García Moreno saw Roman Catholicism as the ingredient of
Ecuadorian culture that, through its emphasis on order, hierarchy, and
discipline, could unite the nation and save it from the multiple crises
and disorder of the 1850s. Catholicism thus held a prominent position in
each of the two new constitutions that he introduced: the charter of
1861 named Catholicism as the exclusive religion, and its replacement in
1869, in addition to providing for a six-year presidential term and
unlimited reelection, made citizenship dependent on one's adherence to
the Roman Catholic religion. In 1863 García Moreno promulgated
Ecuador's first concordat with the Vatican, bestowing vast powers on the
Ecuadorian Roman Catholic Church, especially with respect to education.
A decade later, the dictator's puppet congress dedicated the republic to
the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Despite such proclerical measures that have led many historians to
dub his regime a theocracy, the local clergy believed García Moreno to
be fanatical and criticized him for it. The president, in turn, replaced
many local clergymen with foreign priests in an effort to revitalize the
Roman Catholic Church in Ecuador, which he considered degenerate and
The highly anticlerical Liberals were, of course, livid. Urbina
organized an invasion in 1864, which was defeated with the help, once
again, of General Flores. García Moreno was ruthless in his repression
of the captured rebels, as he was commonly with less formidable
opponents as well. Nor did he hesitate to manipulate the presidential
succession. Finding his hand-picked successor deficient after two years
in office, in 1867 García Moreno presided over the installation of a
second puppet, whom he also overthrew in 1869, when it appeared that the
Liberals might win scheduled elections. In 1869 García Moreno also
formally established the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador--PC).
Shortly after the onset of his third presidential term in 1875, García
Moreno was hacked to death with a machete on the steps of the
presidential palace. The exact motives of the assassin, a Colombian,
remain unknown, but the dictator's most outstanding critic, the liberal
journalist Juan Montalvo, exclaimed, "My pen killed him!"
Although maligned for his highly proclerical and dictatorial ways,
García Moreno made a number of vital contributions to the development
of the nation. Perhaps the most important advances were in education.
The generation of many new schools at all levels, from primary to the
polytechnical training school in Quito, elicited universal praise,
despite the fact that the Jesuits were largely responsible for these
accomplishments. Transportation links with Quito were also vastly
improved with the building of roads to Esmeraldas and to Babahoyo, near
Guayaquil, as well as the first portion of the railroad linking Quito
with Riobamba and Guayaquil. These public works not only promoted
national unity but also helped Quito begin a long-delayed effort to
overcome the geographic barriers that had historically caused its
isolation, an isolation that had hindered the nation's integration into
the world economy.
Between 1852 and 1890, Ecuador's exports grew in value from slightly
more than US$1 million to nearly US$10 million. Production of cacao, the
most important export product in the late nineteenth century, grew from
6.5 million kilograms to 18 million kilograms during the same period.
The agricultural export interests, centered in the coastal region near
Guayaquil, became closely associated with the Liberals, whose political
power also grew steadily during the interval. After the death of García
Moreno, it took the Liberals twenty years to consolidate their strength
sufficiently to assume control of the government in Quito.
Five different presidents governed during the two decades of
transition between Conservative and Liberal rule. The first, Antonio
Borrero, tried valiantly to return the nation to the rule of law, but,
after only ten months in office, he was overthrown by the only military
dictator of the period, Ignacio de Veintemilla. Although he came to
power with the help of the old Liberal General Urbina, Veintemilla later
evolved into a populist military dictator rather than a politician with
any party or ideological affiliation. He was extremely popular with his
troops and able to woo the masses with employment on public works
programs and large-scale public festivals and dances during holiday
periods. In office until 1883, Veintemilla enjoyed a period of relative
prosperity resulting primarily from increased maritime activity while
Peru, Bolivia, and Chile were mired in the War of the Pacific.
José María Plácido Caamaño, a Conservative, then served as
president until 1888, and he remained a powerful figure during the
administrations of the duly elected Progressive Party (Partido
Progresista) presidents who followed him, Antonio Flores Jijón and Luis
Cordero Crespo. Flores, who was the son of President Juan José Flores,
intended progressivism to represent a compromise position between
liberalism and conservatism. The Progressive program called for support
for the Roman Catholic Church, rule by law, and an end to dictatorship
and military rule. Although neither Caamaño, Flores, nor Cordero was
able to curtail the growing animosity between Conservatives and
Liberals, their periods in office were, for the most part, characterized
by relative political stability and prosperity. The latter resulted more
from favorable international circumstances for cacao exports than from
astute government policy making.
In 1895, midway through his term in office, Cordero fell victim to
scandal and charges of "selling the flag" over an agreement
made with Chile. Cordero allowed the warship Esmeralda, which
Chile was selling to Japan, to fly the Ecuadorian flag briefly in order
to protect Chile's neutrality in the conflict between Japan and China.
Bribes were apparently involved and, tremendously weakened by the
scandal and also challenged by the outbreak of several military
rebellions, the president resigned in April. In June the Liberals seized
power in Guayaquil in the name of their most popular caudillo, General
José Eloy Alfaro Delgado. Three months later, "the old
battler" (a name Alfaro had earned during his armed struggle
against García Moreno) returned after a decade of exile in Central
America and marched triumphantly into Quito. It was the end of Ecuador's
brief experiment with progressivism and the beginning of three stormy
decades of rule by the Radical Liberal Party (Partido Liberal
Radical--PLR), commonly referred to as the Liberal Party (Partido
Ecuador - The Rule of the Liberals, 1895-1925
Eloy Alfaro is the outstanding standard-bearer for Ecuador's
Liberals, much as García Moreno is for the Conservatives. Some Marxist
groups have also looked to Alfaro; although his political program was in
no way socialist, it did prove to be revolutionary in the extent to
which it stripped the Roman Catholic Church of the power and privileges
previously granted to it by García Moreno. Catholic officials and their
Conservative allies did not give up without a fight, however. During the
first year of Alfaro's presidency, Ecuador was ravaged by a bloody civil
war in which clergymen commonly incited the faithful masses to rise in
rebellion against the "atheistic alfaristas" and
were, just as commonly, themselves victims of alfarista
repression. The foreign-born Bishops Pedro Schumacher of Portoviejo and
Arsenio Andrade of Riobamba led the early resistance to Alfaro. A
fullfledged bloodbath may well have been averted only through the
magnanimous efforts of the outstanding historian and Archbishop Federico
González Suárez, who urged the clergy to abandon the pursuit of
This final ecclesiastical struggle for control of Ecuador was in
vain, however. By the end of the Liberals' rule in 1925, Roman
Catholicism was no longer the constitutionally mandated state religion,
official clerical censorship of reading material had been suppressed,
many powerful foreign clergy had been expelled, education had been
secularized, civil marriage as well as divorce had been instituted, the
concordat with the Vatican had been broken, most of the church's rural
properties had been seized by the state, and the republic was no longer
dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Roman Catholic Church in
Ecuador would never again hold prerogatives as extensive as those it
enjoyed during the late nineteenth century.
The other accomplishment for which the three decades of PLR rule are
remembered is the completion, in 1908, of the GuayaquilQuito railroad.
At the time, however, Alfaro was condemned by his critics for
"delivering the republic to the Yankees" through a contract
signed with North American entrepreneurs to complete the project begun
by García Moreno. Although the criticism did not halt Alfaro on this
project, a similar nationalistic outcry did force him to end
negotiations with the United States, which wanted to protect the
soon-to-be-completed Panama Canal, over military base rights in
Ecuador's Galápagos Islands. Alfaro's affinity for the United States
was also evident in 1910, when war between Peru and Ecuador over their
perennial boundary dispute was narrowly averted through the mediation of
the United States, together with Brazil and Argentina.
The Liberals can be credited with few further accomplishments of
major proportions. The system of debt peonage that lingered in the
Sierra came under government regulations, albeit weak ones, and
imprisonment for debts was finally outlawed in 1918. These and other
limited social benefits gained by the Indians and the mixedblood montuvio
(coastal mestizo) working class were overshadowed by the ruinous
economic decline world wide and the severe repression of the nascent
labor movement at the hands of the Liberals during the early 1920s.
Furthermore, Liberal rule did little to foster the development of stable
democracy. On the contrary, the first half of the period saw even more
illegal seizures of power and military-led governments than in previous
A major cause of the instability of the period was the lack of unity
within the PLR itself. Alfaro and a second military strongman, General
Leónidas Plaza Gutiérrez, maintained a bitter rivalry over party
leadership for almost two decades. Following Alfaro's first period in
the presidency, Plaza was elected to a constitutional term of office
that lasted from 1901 until 1905. In 1906, shortly after a close
associate of Plaza had been elected to succeed him, however, Alfaro
launched a coup d'état and returned to the presidency. Alfaro, in turn,
was overthrown in 1911 after refusing to hand power over to his own
hand-picked successor, Emilio Estrada. Four months later, Estrada's
death from a heart attack precipitated a brief civil war that climaxed
the rivalry between Alfaro and Plaza. Alfaro returned from his exile in
Panama to lead the Guayaquil garrison in its challenge to the
Quito-based interim government, which was under the military authority
of General Plaza. The rebellion was quickly defeated, however; Alfaro
was captured and transported to Quito via the same railroad that he had
done so much to complete. Once in the capital, Alfaro was publicly and
unceremoniously murdered, along with several of his comrades, by a
Shortly thereafter, Plaza was inaugurated into his second
presidential term in office. It was the first of four consecutive
constitutional changes of government: following Plaza (1912-16) came
Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno (1916-20), then José Luis Tamayo (1920-24),
and Gonzalo S. Córdova (1924-25). Real power during this second half of
the period of Liberal rule was held, not by the government, but by a
plutocracy of coastal agricultural and banking interests, popularly
known as la argolla (the ring), whose linchpin was the
Commercial and Agricultural Bank of Guayaquil led by Francisco Urbina
Jado. This bank gained influence by loaning vast quantities of money to
the free-spending government as well as to private individuals.
According to Ecuadorian historian Oscar Efrén Reyes, the bank was
influential "to the point that candidates for president and his
ministers, senators, and deputies had to have the prior approval of the
bank." Many of the private loans were to members of the Association
of Agriculturists of Ecuador, an organization that also received
government funds intended to promote an international cartel of cacao
growers, but which instead were used to line members' pockets.
All parties involved in la argolla, from the government
officials to the bankers and the growers, were professed militants of
the Liberal cause. It was not only the political fortunes of the party
that fell victim to their financial activities, however, but also the
national economy, which experienced runaway inflation as a result of the
printing of money by the private banks. The severe economic problems
during the final years of Liberal rule were also partially caused by
factors beyond the control of the politicians. A fungal disease that
ravaged Ecuador's cacao trees and the growth of competition from British
colonies in Africa abruptly ended conditions that had favored Ecuador's
exportation of cacao for over a century. What was left of the nation's
cacao industry fell victim to the sharp decline in world demand during
the Great Depression.
Ecuador's economic crisis of the early 1920s was especially
devastating to the working class and the poor. With real wages, for
those lucky enough to have jobs, eaten away by inflation, workers
responded with a general strike in Guayaquil in 1922 and a peasant
rebellion in the central Sierra the following year. Both actions were
aimed at improving wages and working conditions; both were put down only
after massacres of major proportions.
President Córdova, closely tied to la argolla, had come to
office in a fraudulent election. Popular unrest, together with the
ongoing economic crisis and a sickly president, laid the background for
a bloodless coup d'état in July 1925. Unlike all previous forays by the
military into Ecuadorian politics, the coup of 1925 was made in the name
of a collective grouping rather than a particular caudillo. The members
of the League of Young Officers who overthrew Córdoba came to power
with an agenda, which included a wide variety of social reforms, the
replacement of the increasingly sterile Liberal-Conservative debate, and
the end of the rule of the Liberals, who had become decadent after three
decades in power.
Ecuador - Reform, Chaos, and Debacle, 1925-44
The reformist officers initially named a governing junta consisting
of prominent opponents of the Liberal plutocracy, but neither it nor a
succeeding junta was able to consolidate the power necessary to govern
effectively. In 1926 they named as provisional president Isidro Ayora, a
dedicated reformer who, although married into one of the wealthiest
coastal families, possessed a social conscience and the vision to see
that reform would help preserve the status of the upper classes. Ayora
quickly assumed dictatorial powers, with which he set out to institute
reforms that were partly of his own making and partly the making of the
League of Young Officers.
An advisory mission from Princeton University, headed by Edwin W.
Kemmerer, was invited to propose measures to reorganize Ecuador's fiscal
and monetary structures. Its major accomplishment was the creation of
the Central Bank of Ecuador (Banco Central), which replaced the private
banks' authority in the issuing of currency; in addition, the Kemmerer
mission also reorganized the state budgeting and customs agencies. The
appropriation of these functions, which were previously under the
control of la argolla, brought a revenue windfall to the
government during the next half-decade. In addition to building state
fiscal and social agencies, the funds were used to initiate a number of
programs, including pensions for state workers, that enhanced the
security of the middle and lower economic sectors of the population. A
range of social legislation--quite progressive for its day--intended to
protect the working class from unscrupulous employers and to improve
working conditions emerged from the enactment of the 1929 constitution.
The same constitution, Ecuador's thirteenth in just under a century
as a republic, also provided for a powerful legislative body with
authority to censure presidential ministers. This diminution of
executive power, the appearance of a wide variety (socialist, communist,
and populist) of new groupings in political competition with the
traditional parties and with the military, and the devastating effects
of the Great Depression combined to make Ecuador's political record
especially unstable during subsequent years. Ayora was the first of
fourteen chief executives during the 1930s.
World demand for cacao and other Ecuadorian export crops dropped
precipitously in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street crash: export crop
value fell from US$15 million in 1928 to US$7 million in 1931 and US$5
million in 1932, causing widespread unemployment and misery. Few
objections were voiced in 1931 when Ayora was the victim of a military
coup. Neptalí Bonifaz Ascázubi was then elected with the help of a
quasi-fascist grouping of the serrano lower classes called the
Consolidation of National Workers (Compactación Obrera Nacional). In
August 1932, after various Liberal and leftist elements in Congress
blocked Bonifaz's assumption of power, the Compactación fought a bloody
four-day civil war against other paramilitary forces amassed by
opponents of the president-elect. The latter were victorious, largely
because the great majority of the government military forces remained in
their barracks rather than defend Bonifaz.
Another election two months later brought victory for the Liberal
candidate, Juan de Dios Martínez Mera, but soon accusations arose that
the election had been fraudulent. The congressional opposition censured
virtually every minister as soon as he was named and also encouraged the
Compactación to lead demonstrations against the president in the
streets of Quito. The campaign against Martínez was led by the
charismatic president of the Chamber of Deputies, José María Velasco
Ibarra, who at the time professed a "total lack of presidential
ambitions." In September 1934, less than a year after Martínez was
forced to resign, Velasco assumed the presidency after having won
popular elections by an overwhelming margin.
The first of Velasco's five periods as president lasted only eleven
months. He was overthrown by the military after attempting to assume
dictatorial powers by dissolving Congress and jailing his congressional
opponents. Shortly thereafter, the military placed Federico Páez in the
presidential palace. An engineer and former senator, Páez ruled
precariously for two years, first with the political support of the
socialist left and then with that of the right, and he tried to advance
the reforms undertaken by Ayora a decade earlier. Ongoing fiscal
difficulties severely limited Páez's efforts, however, and in September
1937 he was overthrown by his minister of national defense, General
Alberto Enríquez Gallo. Although he ruled for less than a year, Enríquez
achieved note as a social reformer by his promulgation of the Labor Code
Enríquez is also remembered for having initiated a protracted
confrontation with the United States-based South American Development
Company over the terms of its Ecuadorian concession and the wages it
paid its Ecuadorian employees. The company refused to comply with Enríquez's
entreaty that more of the profits from its mining operations stay in
Ecuador, and it won the support of the United States Department of
State. The Ecuadorian government continued its demands despite United
States pressure. In 1940 the United States, hoping to obtain Ecuadorian
cooperation in its anticipated war effort, ended its support for the
mining firm. Ecuadorian President Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, in
turn, proved generous in his cooperation with the Allies, allowing the
United States to build a naval base on the Galápagos Islands and an air
base at Salinas on the Ecuadorian mainland.
In addition to being a genuine friend and admirer of the United
States, Arroyo del Río was the leader of the PLR and a representative
of the Guayaquil-based "plutocracy." He came to power
constitutionally in November 1939 upon the death of his predecessor, but
he continued in office in January 1940 through fraudulent elections that
were universally believed to have been won by Velasco, and continued in
power later, through repression. Despite such antipopular methods of
ruling, he managed to remain in office for almost four years, thanks to
economic support by the United States and the recuperation of Ecuador's
export markets as worldwide economic depression gave way to recovery
during World War II.
Arroyo del Río's undoing was the disastrous 1941 war with Peru.
Although the prior sequence of events--the breakdown of talks aimed at
resolving the boundary issues in 1938, followed by repeated border
skirmishes--had given ample warning of a possible outbreak of
large-scale hostilities, Ecuador was unprepared to meet the July 5
Peruvian invasion. Furthermore, the president's fear of being left
unprotected from his opponents led him to keep the nation's best
fighting forces in Quito while Peruvian troops continuously attacked the
nation's southern and eastern provinces until a ceasefire went into
effect on July 31.
Peru's occupation ended only after January 1942, when the two nations
signed the Protocol of Peace, Friendship, and Boundaries while attending
the Third Conference of Foreign Ministers of the American Republics in
Rio de Janeiro. Under the terms of the Rio Protocol, the informal name
of the agreement, Ecuador renounced its claim to some 200,000 square
kilometers of territory. Shortly afterward, the Rio Protocol was
ratified by a bare plurality of the Ecuadorian legislature.
The Ecuadorian government quickly regretted having become a party to
the Rio Protocol. The protocol became the focus of a surge of Ecuadorian
national pride and concomitant opposition to Arroyo in a new
coalition--the Democratic Alliance. The coalition brought together a
wide array of Ecuadorian politicians dedicated to replacing the
"president who had been unable to defend the national honor."
Arroyo's rejoinder that he would remain in office the full four years,
"neither one day more nor one day less," and his being
prominently hailed in Washington as "the Apostle of PanAmericanism
" only increased his political isolation. A persistent inflation
that whittled away at the purchasing power of salaried workers was a
further cause of popular resentment against Arroyo.
In May 1944, following an uprising in Guayaquil that pitted the
military and civilian supporters of Velasco against Arroyo's police, the
president finally resigned. The military handed power to the Democratic
Alliance, which in turn named Velasco, whose electoral candidacy had
recently been vetoed by Arroyo, as the popularly acclaimed president of
the republic. The populist master returned triumphantly from exile in
Colombia, greeted by throngs of enthusiasts during a three-day journey
to Quito, to assume the presidency for the second time.
Ecuador - THE POSTWAR ERA, 1944-84
Galo Plaza differed from previous Ecuadorian presidents. The son of
former President Plaza Gutiérrez, he had been born in the United
States, where he also attended several universities. His ties to the
United States grew even closer as a result of serving there as
ambassador under President Arroyo del Río. These links, as Pike points
out, "rendered him vulnerable to charges by Velasco Ibarra and
other demagogic opponents of being the lackey of U.S. imperialism."
Galo Plaza was not a professional politician, but a gentleman farmer
with a sizable cattle ranch near Quito, where he customarily spent
weekends throughout his four years as president.
Galo Plaza brought a developmentalist and technocratic emphasis to
Ecuadorian government. He invited a wide variety of foreign experts in
economic development and in governmental administration to recommend and
catalog reforms in both areas. In large part because of a lack of
political will within either the executive or the legislature, however,
virtually none of the recommended reforms was enacted. Nevertheless, the
economy experienced a marked improvement, with inflation finally slowing
down and both government budget and foreign currency accounts balancing
for the first time in many years. This achievement was even more
remarkable in light of the series of major earthquakes, landslides, and
floods suffered by Ecuador in 1949 and 1950.
No doubt Galo Plaza's most important contribution to Ecuadorian
political culture was his commitment to the principles and practices of
democracy. Galo Plaza endorsed such democratic guarantees as freedom of
the press and the freedom of opponents to voice their opinions, to
assemble for political purposes without fear of being jailed or worse,
and to be elected to the legislature without fear of being defrauded or
arbitrarily dismissed. Galo Plaza was able to create a mystique around
the idea of his completing his term in office, something no president
had accomplished since 1924, and this mystique no doubt helped him
achieve his goal.
As Galo Plaza readily admitted, however, his greatest asset, both
politically and economically, was the onset of the nation's banana boom,
as diseases plaguing plantations in Central America turned Ecuador into
an alternative supplier to the huge United States market. Ecuador's
banana exports grew from US$2 million to US$20 million between 1948 and
1952. During these years, Ecuador also benefited from sizable price
increases--generated by the Korean War--for its commodity exports.
A proof of the politically stabilizing effect of the banana boom of
the 1950s is that even Velasco, who in 1952 was elected president for
the third time, managed to serve out a full four-year term. He continued
to spend as before--building bridges, roads, and schools at will and
rewarding his political supporters (including, this time, the military)
with jobs, salary increases, and weapons-- but, in contrast to his
previous times in office, there were now sufficient funds to pay for
Always the master populist, Velasco (who by now liked to be known as
"the National Personification") again came to power with the
support of the common man, this time through the vehicle of the
Guayaquil-based Concentration of Popular Forces (Concentración de
Fuerzas Populares--CFP). Once in office, however, he arrested and
deported the CFP boss, Carlos Guevara Moreno, together with several
other party leaders. Guevara Moreno reassumed control of the CFP in 1955
following a three-year exile. Velasco's subsequent party support during
the 1950s came from the Conservatives, the conservative Social Christian
Movement (Movimiento Social Cristiano--MSC), and the highly
nationalistic, anticommunist, quasi-fascist Ecuadorian Nationalist
Revolutionary Action (Acción Revolucionaria Nacionalista
On repeated occasions, members of ARNE acted as thugs and shock
troops, attacking students, labor unions, and the press. In 1955 Velasco
also chose to pick a fight with the United States. In the opening round
of what would later become known as the "tuna war," Ecuadorian
officials seized two fishing boats carrying the United States flag,
charging them with fishing inside the 200-nauticalmile limit claimed by
Ecuador as territorial seas under its sovereignty.
In 1956 Camilo Ponce Enríquez, the MSC founder who had served in
Velasco's cabinet, assumed the presidency after a close election replete
with allegations of fraud. Although late support from Velasco proved
crucial to Ponce's victory, shortly afterward "the National
Personification" became the principal opponent of the new chief
executive. In a display of statesmanship and political acumen, Ponce
co-opted the Liberal opposition by including it, along with
Conservatives and the MSC, in his cabinet.
Although Ponce did not enact the Social Christian reforms of which he
spoke vaguely during the campaign, the relative political calm that
prevailed during his four years in office was, in itself, an
accomplishment given the worsening economic situation. Ponce's term saw
the end of the banana boom that had sustained more than a decade of
constitutional rule. Falling export prices led to rising unemployment
and a social malaise that briefly erupted into riots in 1959. By the
following year, the effects of the discontent were ready to be exploited
by the populist appeal of the irrepressible Velasco, who was elected
with his widest margin of victory ever. Velasco's fourth turn in the
presidency initiated a renewal of crisis, instability, and military
domination and ended conjecture that the political system had matured or
developed a democratic mold.
Ecuador - Instability and Military Dominance, 1960-72
The instability began immediately. Ponce was so angry over Velasco's
vicious campaign attacks on his government that he resigned on his last
day in office rather than preside over the inauguration of his
successor. During his campaign, "the National Personification"
had promised government support to the masses of urban poor, many of
whom had recently migrated to Guayaquil and other major cities in search
of a decent job and a place to live. Velasco's populism continued into
his inaugural address, when he renounced the hated 1942 Rio Protocol. He
thus came to power with the adoration of the masses, but he saddled
himself with expensive commitments to the poor at a time when deficits
in the state coffers were approaching a critical level. Additionally,
Velasco threatened Ecuador's shaky economy with what amounted to a
declaration of hostilities against Peru and the guarantors of the Rio
Protocol, namely Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and the United States.
Sensing the direction of the political wind in the wake of the Cuban
Revolution, Velasco magnified his anti-United States rhetoric and
included leftists in his government. Meanwhile, the United States
encouraged Latin American governments to break diplomatic relations with
Cuba. Before long, Ecuador's widening political polarization became
manifest in outbreaks of violence between leftist students and the
The rapidly deteriorating economic situation soon brought about a
split in the velasquista coalition, however, with the left, led
by Vice President Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy (who was also president
of the Chamber of Deputies) openly opposing the government in July 1961.
By October relations between Velasco's government and Congress had
deteriorated to the point where legislators and progovernment spectators
engaged in a gun battle. Although dozens of bullet holes were later
found in the Chamber, no one was injured.
A series of new sales taxes imposed during the same month in order to
raise desperately needed revenues then sparked a general strike and a
series of demonstrations and riots in several major cities. Amid growing
chaos, Velasco ordered the arrest of his vice president, a move that
opened him to charges of violating the constitution. On November 8,
after only fourteen months in office, Velasco was ousted by the military
and replaced by Arosemena, who was his constitutional successor as well
as his leading opponent.
Arosemena came from a well-known Guayaquil family; his father had
briefly served as president following a previous anti-Velasco coup in
1947. In an attempt to allay concerns about his being a dangerous
leftist (as Velasco's vice president he had expressed warm sympathy for
Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz and made a much- criticized trip to the
Soviet Union), Arosemena named a cabinet that included Liberals and even
Conservatives and quickly sent former President Galo Plaza on a goodwill
trip to Washington.
Arosemena's insistence on maintaining relations with Cuba, however,
became a major domestic political issue in Ecuador. Political opponents
labeled Arosemena a dangerous communist, and part of the military went
into open rebellion in March 1962. The following month, Ecuador broke
diplomatic relations with Cuba, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The crisis
over Cuba proved to be very costly for Arosemena, who lost not only much
of his local political support, but also the self-confidence to pursue
his own, independent course. Afterward, the government drifted with
little leadership from the president, who allegedly indulged in frequent
The brief appearance of a guerrilla movement in the coastal jungle
and a rash of small-scale terrorist incidents (many of which later were
found to have been staged by right-wing provocateurs) also left
Arosemena open to accusations of being either unable or unwilling to
stop communist subversion. By early 1963, military conspiracy was again
afoot. On July 11 the high command of the armed forces decided, without
dissent, to depose Arosemena.
The four-man military junta that seized power announced its intention
not to return the nation to constitutional rule until the institution of
basic socioeconomic reforms, which both Velasco and Arosemena had
promised but never implemented. This failure by their two civilian
predecessors, the junta believed, had become a source of growing
frustration within the lower classes, thus making them more receptive to
the lure of communism. The junta combined its reformist anticommunism
with the more traditional hard-line variety. After jailing or exiling
the entire leadership of the communist left, the new government
reorganized the nation's two leading universities in an effort to
eliminate them as sources of left-wing political activity.
In July 1964, the junta decreed the Agrarian Reform Law to
commemorate the first anniversary of its assumption of power. The law
abolished the huasipungo system, the feudalistic land tenure
arrangement widely used in the Sierra. However, the law resulted in little real improvement in the
lives of the long-suffering Sierra peasants and died from lack of
funding under subsequent civilian governments.
Meaningful reform was precluded, in part at least, by the
increasingly cumbersome process of decision making within the
politically heterogeneous, plural executive. Insubordination by the air
force representative on the junta led to his dismissal and arrest in
November 1965; thereafter, the junta had only three members.
In 1965 Ecuador also saw a dramatic drop in its revenue from banana
exports and, despite generous development assistance from the United
States government and the Inter-American Development Bank, the junta
suddenly faced an economic crisis of major proportions. The announcement
of increased taxes on imports sparked the opposition of the powerful
Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce, which in March called for a general
strike. Long- disgruntled student groups and labor unions were only too
happy to join in the protest, which rapidly spread to other cities. On
March 29, 1966, following a bloody and demoralizing attack on the
Central University in Quito, the disillusioned military reformers
The following day, a small group of civilian leaders named Clemente
Yerovi Indaburu, a non-partisan banana grower who had served as minister
of economy under Galo Plaza, to be provisional president. In October a
popularly elected constituent assembly drafted a new constitution and
elected Otto Arosemena Gómez, a cousin of Carlos Julio and a political
centrist, to act as a second provisional president. During his twenty
months in office, the new constitution went into effect in May 1967, and
popular elections for president were held in June 1968. Incredibly,
Velasco--now seventy-five years old--was voted into the presidency for
the fifth time, an incredible thirty-four years after his initial
The weakness of Velasco's mandate--he managed only a plurality of
barely one-third of the popular vote in a crowded field of five
candidates--foreshadowed political difficulties that plagued him during
his final term. His newly formed National Velasquista Federation
(Federación Nacional Velasquista--FNV) was far short of a majority in
either house of Congress, and a failure to build any working coalition
made for a stalemate in the legislative process. Even Velasco's own vice
president, a Guayaquileño Liberal named Jorge Zavala Baquerizo, turned
into a strident and vocal critic. Cabinet ministers came and went with
astonishing frequency. This political impasse soon combined with the
fiscal and balance-of- payments crises, which by now had become
customary under the spendthrift habits and administrative mismanagement
associated with each of Velasco's terms in office, to spawn a major
political crisis. The turning point came on June 22, 1970, when Velasco,
in an action known as an autogolpe (self-seizure of power),
dismissed Congress and the Supreme Court and assumed dictatorial powers.
Velasco subsequently decreed a number of necessary, though extremely
unpopular, economic measures. After devaluing the sucre for the first time since 1961, he placed tight controls on
foreign exchange transactions and then decreed a number of new tax
measures, the most controversial of which raised import tariffs
considerably. Velasco attempted to compensate for his lost prestige by
baiting the United States, seizing and fining United States fishing
boats found within 200 nautical miles of the Ecuadorian coast. The
intensification of the "tuna war" inflamed tempers in both
countries; Ecuador dismissed United States military advisers, and the
United States withdrew almost all economic and military aid to Ecuador.
Such nationalistic adventures were of only momentary value to Velasco,
however. In 1971, amid mounting civic unrest that verified the extent of
the opposition, he was forced to cancel a scheduled national plebiscite
in which he hoped to replace the 1967 constitution, with the charter
written under his own auspices in 1946 the Constitution, Velasco argued,
made the president too weak to be effective.
The president's autogolpe and his continuance in power were
possible because of support from the armed forces. Velasco's key ally
was his nephew and minister of defense, General Jorge Acosta Velasco,
who continually reshuffled the high command in order to retain velasquistas
in key posts. In the wake of a failed attempt to oust the powerful
commandant of the Quito military academy in April 1971, however, Acosta
himself was forced to resign his ministerial portfolio and was summarily
dispatched to Madrid as ambassador. Having lost the man who was his
linchpin in the armed forces and the only apparent heir to the velasquista
throne, Velasco was left to the mercy of the high command.
Two circumstances proved critical in persuading the military to
overthrow Velasco before the scheduled completion of his term in 1972.
On the one hand, the state was due very shortly to begin reaping vast
revenues under a 1964 petroleum concession. On the other hand, the
overwhelming favorite to win the presidency in 1972 was Asaad Bucaram
Elmhalim, a former street peddler who in 1960 had seized the leadership
of the CFP from Guevara Moreno and later had twice been an extremely
popular mayor of Guayaquil. Both the military and the business community
regarded Bucaram as dangerous and unpredictable and unfit to be
president, especially at a time when unprecedented income was expected
to flow into the state coffers. On February 15, 1972, four months before
the scheduled elections, the military once again overthrew Velasco, who
was sent into his final period of exile. He was replaced by a three-man
military junta headed by the Army chief of staff, General Guillermo Rodríguez
Ecuador - Direct Military Rule, 1972-79
The military regime called itself "nationalist and
revolutionary," but the well-known connections of Rodríguez Lara
to the Guayaquil business community signaled disappointment for those
who anticipated that he would head a progressive military regime such as
was ruling in Peru at the time. It shortly became apparent that,
ideologically, the Rodríguez Lara regime was a hybrid, reflecting a
tenuous equilibrium among the widely divergent political tendencies
within the Ecuadorian armed forces. Nevertheless, like the contemporary
Peruvian and Brazilian regimes, the regime of Rodríguez Lara, he
promised, would not be an interim government, but rather a long-term
venture dedicated to introducing structural changes thought necessary to
unfreeze the development process.
Rodríguez Lara's regime gave early emphasis to a campaign designed
in part to exert firm control over the nation's petroleum resources and
in part to consolidate the government's political authority. Several
former political leaders, including ex-President Otto Arosemena, were
tried for corruption in connection with oil concessions granted during
the 1960s. In addition, a large number of functionaries of the Velasco
government, supporters of Bucaram, as well as drug traffickers,
legitimate importers, and customs officials were charged with corruption
and "illegal enrichment." Although it thus assailed its major
opponents from the start the military regime, however, failed to build
its own civilian base of political support.
Promises of a "meaningful agrarian reform" under the
auspices of Minister of Agriculture Guillermo Maldonado, a dedicated
reformer, were frustrated by intense opposition from traditional elites.
Maldonado was eventually forced out, and by the end of Rodríguez Lara's
four years in office less than 1 percent of Ecuador's cultivable land
had changed hands under the reform. More notable achievements came in
the areas of building infrastructure projects, such as the major oil
refinery and petrochemical complex in Esmeraldas; various highway and
electrification projects; and state capitalist enterprises, particularly
the Ecuadorian State Petroleum Corporation (Corporación Estatal
Petrolera Ecuatoriana-- CEPE). The lateter corporation was founded in
1972 and grew to become the major actor in Ecuador's exploitation of its
Oil policy was the regime's vehicle for its most forceful expression
of nationalism. Minister of Natural Resources Gustavo Jarrín Ampudia
presided over Ecuador's 1973 entry into the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC), with all its attendant prestige and economic
benefits. He was also responsible for Ecuador's renegotiation of a
number of oil concessions, including the key Texaco-Gulf concession in
the Oriente, on terms much more favorable to the state, such as
substantial increases in both the royalties paid by foreign firms and
the tax rate they paid on petroleum exports. These efforts were
initially successful in allowing the government to retain a larger share
of Ecuador's petroleum earnings.
The oil companies became increasingly disconcerted, however, when
Jarrín proposed in late 1974 that the share of stock in the Texaco-Gulf
subsidiary held by CEPE be increased from 25 to 51 percent. Claiming
that the terms of their concessions negotiated with Jarrín had priced
Ecuadorian oil beyond the world market price, the oil companies cut back
drastically on their exports, at a cost to the government of hundreds of
millions of dollars over the following nine months. This intense
financial pressure finally led to a July 1975 announcement that taxes on
the oil companies' exports were being reduced. It was thus clear that
the military regime had overplayed its nationalistic oil policy, having
failed to keep in mind that Ecuador was, after all, a relatively small
oil producer and thus not a powerful player within OPEC.
The moderation of the regime's oil policy, however, did not result in
the anticipated resolution of mounting economic problems. Oil exports
rose only slightly, while imports, particularly of luxury items,
continued to soar, aided by a low-tariff policy that had been designed
to soak up petroleum earnings, and thus control inflation. In excess of
22 percent during 1974, inflation was rapidly eroding the real value of
wages within the middle class.
In August, in an effort to resolve its balance-of-payments
difficulties, the regime decreed a 60 percent duty on imported luxury
items. The measure was condemned by the Chambers of Commerce in Quito
and Guayaquil, whose constituents had grown dependent on the sale of
imports, and caused, a week later, a bloody attempt led by the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Raúl González Alvear, to
overthrow Rodríguez Lara. Although this coup attempt failed, at a cost
of twenty-two lives, on January 11, 1976, a second, bloodless coup was
successful in removing Rodríguez Lara. He was replaced by a Supreme
Council of Government consisting of the commanders of the three armed
Virtually the only item on the agenda of the new military triumvirate
was to preside over a return of the government to constitutional,
civilian rule. The bloody September 1975 coup attempt had revealed the
depth of the breach in the institutional unity of the armed forces.
Handing the government back to civilians, it was hoped, might remove the
causes of divisions within the military, or at least make it easier to
hide them from public view.
The original timetable, announced in June 1976, called for a
transition that was to culminate in presidential elections in February
1978. First, new government charters and electoral laws were to be
drafted by appointed commissions, and then a public referendum would
choose between two proposed constitutions. The transition was repeatedly
slowed down, however, and in the end, instead of the less than two years
originally scheduled, three years and eight months elapsed between the
1976 coup and the inauguration of a civilian president.
Two reasons are commonly cited for the delay: the slowness of
decision making within the Supreme Council of Government because of
ongoing disagreement within the military high command and repeated
maneuverings by the military government to manipulate the electoral
process, thereby controlling its outcome. Like the Rodríguez Lara
government, the Council was particularly interested in seeing a poor
electoral performance by the CFP and, especially, preventing Bucaram
from winning the presidency.
The national referendum to choose the constitution was finally held
on January 15, 1978. The results saw 23 percent of the voting population
nullify their ballots, an action that had been advocated by the
traditional right; 31 percent of the population voted in favor of a
revised version of the 1945 constitution, and a plurality of 44 percent
voted in favor of the newly drafted national charter. The charter was
the more progressive of the two constitutions, its major reforms being
the acknowledgement of a role for the state in socioeconomic
development, the legalization of a worker self-managed (autogestional)
sector in the economy, a unicameral legislature, no presidential
reelection, and, for the first time in Ecuador, electoral suffrage for
Five candidates then campaigned for the presidency. The consistent
favorite in polls was Rodrigo Borja of the social democratic Democratic
Left (Izquierda Democrática--ID). Because the Supreme Council of
Government made sure that Bucaram was barred from running, the CFP
strongman named his second in command, Jaime Roldós, to be the party's
candidate. In order to broaden the appeal of the ticket, Osvaldo
Hurtado, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata
Cristiano--PDC), was tapped to be Roldós's vice presidential running
mate. The traditional rightist vote was split between two candidates,
and the various parties of the Marxist left coalesced to name one
candidate. After a lengthy recount, the final results of the July 16
election confirmed the initial tally of a surprise victory by Roldós,
with 27 percent of the national vote. Sixto Durán Ballén, candidate of
a coalition of rightist parties, finished second with 24 percent. The
electoral law mandated that when no candidate achieved a majority vote,
a run-off election between the two top finishers be held.
It was more than nine months before the second-round election took
place, however. They were months of considerable political tension and
doubt as to whether the transition would proceed as planned. First,
widespread problems in organizing the election and in the vote count
during the first round left serious doubts as to the competence and
honesty of the electoral authorities. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal
(Tribunal Superior Electoral--TSE) was, as a result, completely
reorganized. Second, the government-- remembering a campaign slogan
calling "Roldós to the government, Bucaram to power"--was
understandably dismayed with results of the first-round election. By
delaying the second round, the government sought to give rightists the
time to build an anti-Roldós coalition under which Durán could emerge
as the second-round victor. To complicate matters further, Abdón Calderón
Múñoz, a populist candidate who had won 9 percent of the vote in the
first round, was murdered under circumstances implicating the
government. Finally, as a further distraction during this difficult
period, Velasco returned from exile to bury his wife and died in March
1979 at age eighty-six.
The second round was finally held on April 29, 1979, with the Roldós-Hurtado
ticket sweeping to an overwhelming 68.5 percent victory against a weak
performance by Durán. Doubts persisted, however, up to the moment that
the winners took office three months later, that the military would
allow them to assume their duly elected offices. The size of their
popular mandate and, according to political scientist John D. Martz,
pressure from the administration of President Jimmy Carter in Washington
made it difficult for the military to stop the
"democratization" process at this late date. The military did
extract as a price, in any case, unprecedented powers to name
representatives to the boards of directors of major state corporations
and to participate directly in the naming of the minister of defense.
The outgoing government also made it clear to Roldós (who had an early
campaign slogan of "we will not forgive, we will not forget")
that it would not tolerate any investigation into the behavior of the
military with respect to human rights. With his autonomy thus
diminished, Roldós finally assumed the presidency on August 10, and
thus Ecuador returned to constitutional, civilian rule after almost a
decade of dictatorship.
Ecuador - Return to Democratic Rule, 1979-84
Roldós presided over a nation that had undergone profound changes
during the seven years of military rule. During the ceremony to pass the
mantle of power to Roldós, Admiral Alfredo Poveda Burbano pointed
proudly to impressive indicators of economic growth between 1972 and
1979: the government budget expanded some 540 percent, whereas exports
as well as per capita income increased a full 500 percent. Industrial
development had also progressed, stimulated by the new oil wealth as
well as Ecuador's preferential treatment under the provisions of the
Andean Common Market (Ancom, also known as the Andean Pact).
Past export "booms" in cacao and bananas were managed by
and for private coastal interests, but the state controlled the
petroleum bonanza and thereby transformed the social landscape.
Quito--the seat of the bureaucracy and the closest major city to the oil
fields--reaped the benefits of the economic growth. The capital city
lost much of its sleepy Sierra character and in the 1980s competed with
Guayaquil as a center of modern economic endeavor. Employment in the
public sector grew in excess of 10 percent annually throughout the late
1970s, creating a new consumption-oriented middle class in Quito. But
such change highlighted the persistence of the traditional rural
campesino and the unskilled urban subproletariat; petroleum revenues
thus widened Ecuador's habitual inequality in income distribution.
Expectations that the economic and social changes would transform the
traditional political culture were unfulfilled. Customary aspects of
civilian politics, such as regionalism and personalism, reflected in the
proliferation of political parties; and rivalry between the executive
and legislature persisted during the five years that Roldós and his
vice president, Osvaldo Hurtado, were in power.
The most destructive of these traditions was evident in the intense
rivalry that developed between Roldós and Bucaram, the strongman of the
president's own CFP who, having twice been prevented from running for
the presidency, was now determined to run the country from his power
base in the unicameral legislature, the National Congress (Congress
Nacional--hereafter, Congress). Bucaram's coalition building secured him
the presidency of the legislature during the first year of the new
government. The president, for his part, was determined to retain his
independence from the autocratic and increasingly conservative party
boss. Bucaram had no apparent agenda other than blocking the reformist
agenda of the president, who was thus forced to spend most of his first
year in office scratching together his own political base, independent
of the CFP, in order to achieve a legislative majority.
Roldós proved successful in this effort; in August 1980, his
candidate for the congressional presidency narrowly defeated the bucaramista
candidate, and the CFP also suffered major losses in the municipal and
provincial elections in December. The president was not able to enjoy
the fruits of his success, however; on May 24, 1981, he was killed,
along with his wife and the minister of defense, in an airplane crash in
the southern province of Loja.
The death of Roldós generated intense popular speculation. Some
Ecuadorian nationalists attributed it to the Peruvian government because
the crash took place near the border where, four months previously, the
two nations had participated in a bloody flare-up in their perpetual
border dispute. Many of the nation's leftists, pointing to a similar
crash that had killed Panamanian President Omar Torrijos Herrera less
than three months later, blamed the United States government.
Roldós's constitutional successor, Hurtado, immediately faced an
economic crisis brought on by the sudden end of the petroleum boom.
Massive foreign borrowing, initiated during the years of the second
military regime and continued under Roldós, resulted in a foreign debt
that by 1983 was nearly US$7 billion. The nation's petroleum reserves
declined sharply during the early 1980s because of exploration failures
and rapidly increasing domestic consumption.
The economic crisis was aggravated in 1982 and 1983 by drastic
climatic changes, bringing severe drought as well as flooding,
precipitated by the appearance of the unusually warm ocean current known
as "El Niño". Analysts estimated damage to the nation's
infrastructure at US$640 million, with balance-of- payments losses of
some US$300 million. The real gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 2
percent in 1982 and to -3.3 percent in 1983. The rate of inflation in
1983, 52.5 percent, was the highest ever recorded in the nation's
Although widely considered a center-leftist, Hurtado confronted the
economic crisis by instituting highly unpopular austerity measures aimed
at gaining the approval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
international financial community at large. Hurtado eliminated
government subsidies for basic foodstuffs--thus contributing to both
inflation and the impoverishment of the masses--and substantially
devalued the sucre. With unemployment increasing to as high as 13.5
percent, the United Workers Front (Frente Unitario de Trabajadores--FUT)
launched four general strikes during Hurtado's period in office. The
most militant of these nationwide strikes, in October 1982, was called
off after forty-eight hours because of union leaders' fears of provoking
a coup d'état.
Outside observers noted that, however unpopular, Hurtado deserved
credit for keeping Ecuador in good standing with the international
financial community and for consolidating Ecuador's democratic political
system under extremely difficult conditions. The political right,
nevertheless, believing that the economic crisis was caused by
presidential policies that were inimical to free-enterprise capitalism,
bitterly criticized Hurtado. The right united for the 1984 elections in
order to back León Febres Cordero Ribadeneyra, a businessman from
Guayaquil, with Borja running a close second. As Febres Cordero entered
office on August 10, there was no end in sight to the economic crisis
nor to the intense struggle that characterized the political process in
Ecuador - GEOGRAPHY
Ecuador is divided into three continental regions--the Costa, Sierra,
and Oriente--and one insular region--the Galápagos Islands. The
continental regions extend the length of the country from north to south
and are separated by the Andes Mountains. The Galápagos Islands,
officially called the Archipiélago de Colón, are located 1,000
kilometers west of the Ecuadorian coast within 1 south of the equator.
The Costa, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains,
consists of coastal lowlands, coastal mountains, and rolling hills that
separate river valleys. The widest part of the region stretches 150
kilometers from Cabo San Lorenzo in Manabí Province to the foothills of
the Andes Mountains. In the southern part of Guayas Province, east of
the Gulf of Guayaquil, the narrow coastal plain is only fifteen to
twenty kilometers wide. The lowlands of the Costa do not exceed 200
meters in elevation, whereas the coastal mountains extend no higher than
1,000 meters. The coastal mountain chain, known as the Cordillera Costañera,
divides the region into the Costa Externa, next to the coast, and the
Costa Internal, next to the Andes. The Cordillera Costañera reaches
from Esmeraldas in the north to Guayaquil in the south. North of
Portoviejo in Manabí Province, the Cordillera Costañera loses its
character as a mountain chain and becomes a series of hills and small
The Sierra consists of two major chains of the Andes mountains, known
as the Cordillera Occidental (Western Chain) and Cordillera Oriental
(Eastern Chain), and the intermontane basin or plateau between the two
chains. Several transversal mountain spurs, known as nudos, cut
across the plateau. The Nudo del Azuay, at 4,500 meters the highest of
these transversal spurs, divides the Sierra into two subregions--the
area of modern volcanism to the north and the area of ancient volcanism
to the south. The former area consists of newer, higher mountains than
those in the ancient volcanism section, which with time have eroded to
The Sierra has at least twenty-two peaks over 4,200 meters in height.
Of the two cordilleras, the Cordillera Oriental is wider and generally
higher, with peaks averaging over 4,000 meters. The Cordillera
Occidental, however, contains the highest point in Ecuador, which is the
Mount Chimborazo at 6,267 meters. The Sierra also contains the highest
point on the equator, Mount Cayambe at 5,790 meters.
The Sierra has at least thirty peaks of volcanic origin, including
six still active. These peaks, which vary in width from 80 to 130
kilometers, are located in the area of modern volcanism known as the
Avenue of the Volcanos. The most active volcano is Mount Sangay, 5,230
meters high. Although its last major outpouring of lava occurred in
1946, specialists consider Mount Sangay to be in a constant state of
eruption because of fires and bubbling lava at its crater. Mount
Cotopaxi, at 5,897 meters the highest active volcano in the world, last
erupted in 1877 and is now listed as "steaming." Its crater is
800 meters in diameter. In addition to the other damage caused by
eruptions, volcanos in the Sierra have melted snowcaps, which in turn
generate massive mudslides and avalanches. Earthquakes and tremors also
are common in the region.
The intermontane plateau between the two cordilleras is divided by
the nudos into roughly 10 basins, or hoyas, that range
from 2,000 to 3,000 meters in altitude. The average altitude of the
plateau is 2,650 meters.
The Oriente to the east of the Cordillera Oriental consists of two
subregions: the Andean piedmont and the Eastern lowlands. The piedmont
drops from a height of 3,353 meters to the featureless lowlands, which
spread out at an altitude of 150 to 300 meters.
The Galápagos Islands consist of a chain of large, medium, and small
islands that have a combined area of roughly 8,000 square kilometers.
The largest island is Isabela Island, also known as Albemarle Island,
which is 120 kilometers long with an area of 4,275 square kilometers.
All of the islands are of volcanic origin, and some have active cones.
Santo Tomás, located on Isabela Island, is the highest peak of the Galápagos
at 1,490 meters. Its crater is ten kilometers in diameter.
Ecuador - Rivers
Each region has different factors that affect its climate. The Costa
is influenced primarily by proximity to warm or cool ocean currents. By
contrast, climate in the Sierra varies more as a function of altitude.
The Oriente has a fairly uniform climate that varies only slightly
between the two subregions. Climate in the Galápagos Islands is both
moderated by the ocean currents and affected by altitude. Throughout
Ecuador variation in rainfall primarily determines seasons. Temperature
is determined by altitude. With each ascent of 200 meters in altitude,
temperature drops 1° C. This phenomenon is particularly significant in
The Costa has a tropical climate. Temperatures for the region as a
whole remain fairly constant, ranging from 23° C in the south to 26° C
in the north. Although seasonal changes in temperature are not
pronounced, the hottest period occurs during the rainy season,
especially from February to April. Near Guayaquil, the coolest months
are August and September. Rainfall in the Costa decreases from north to
south, with vegetation changing from tropical rainforest in the north to
tropical savannah to desert in the south.
Differences in temperature and rainfall in the Costa are caused by
the Peruvian Current and periodic appearances of El Niño. The Peruvian
Current, also formerly known as the Humboldt, is a cold ocean current
that flows north along the coasts of Chile and Peru. At Cabo Blanco,
where the Gulf of Guayaquil begins, the main current veers to the west;
a branch continues northward to Cabo Pasado, in Manabí Province, where
it also turns westward to merge with the main current near the Galápagos
Islands. The cold water and air temperatures associated with the
Peruvian Current inhibit rainfall along the coast, creating dry to arid
conditions. This effect is greatest along the southern coast of Ecuador.
The El Niño occurs periodically every six or seven years. Starting
in late December, a change in atmospheric pressure shifts ocean currents
so that warm waters come closer to shore and displace the cold waters.
During this time, air and water temperatures, tides, sea levels and wave
heights, and relative humidity all are higher than usual. These
conditions produce heavy rainfall that generally lasts until May in an
area that normally experiences nothing more than a drizzle. The
resulting flooding and landslides can be devastating.
When the Peruvian Current is dominant, the amount of precipitation
along the coast varies from north to south, with levels ranging from 300
centimeters to 30 centimeters, respectively. Two rainy seasons in the
northernmost part of the coast become a single season (December through
June) not far south. Near Esmeraldas, average annual rainfall is 250
centimeters. The rainy season shortens farther south, lasting only from
January to May at Guayaquil. Very little rainfall occurs on the end of
the Santa Elena Peninsula west of Guayaquil. Arid conditions prevail on
the border with Peru south of the Gulf of Guayaquil.
Separated from the effects of ocean currents by the Cordillera Costañera,
the Costa Internal has a hot and humid climate. Temperatures can surpass
26° C, and the vegetation and cloud cover tend to retain and augment
the heat. Rain is constant during the winter months of December through
May, with the heaviest rainfall occurring in February and March.
Temperatures in the Sierra do not vary greatly on a seasonal basis;
the hottest month averages 16° C and the coolest month, 13° C in the
upper elevations. Diurnal temperatures, however, vary dramatically, from
cold mornings to hot afternoons. The almost vertical sun and the
rarified air in the higher Sierra region allow the land to warm quickly
during the day and lose heat quickly at night. Mornings typically are
bright and sunny, whereas afternoons often are cloudy and rainy. In
general, rainfall amounts are highest on exposed locations at lower
altitudes. Rain also can vary on a local basis. Sheltered valleys
normally receive 50 centimeters per year, whereas annual rainfall is 150
centimeters in Quito and can reach 250 centimeters on exposed slopes
that catch rain-bearing winds. On a seasonal basis, the driest months
are June through September.
Climate in the Sierra is divided into levels based on altitude. The
tropical level--400 to 1,800 meters--has temperatures ranging from 20°
C to 25° C and heavy precipitation. The subtropical level-- 1,800 to
2,500 meters--has temperatures from 15° C to 20° C and moderate
precipitation. The temperate level--2,500 to 3,200 meters- -has a
year-round temperature in the range of 10° C to 15° C and an annual
rainfall of 100 centimeters. The temperate level experiences rainstorms,
hailstorms, and fog. Winter, or the rainy season, lasts from January
through June, and the dry season or summer from July through December.
Most rain falls in April. There also is a short rainy period in early
October caused by moisture penetrating the Sierra from the Oriente.
Quito and most other populated areas in the Sierra are located at this
temperate level. The cold level extends from the temperate zone to 4,650
meters. Here, average temperatures are 3° C to 9° C, and the
precipitation often appears in the form of rain, hail, and thick fog.
Above 4,650 meters is the frozen level, where peaks are constantly
capped with snow and ice, and temperatures range from below zero to 3°
C. Precipitation frequently is in the form of snow, fog, and rain.
The Eastern lowlands in the Oriente experience an equatorial climate.
Rainfall is abundant, especially in the Andean piedmont, sometimes
exceeding 500 centimeters per year. Temperatures average 25° C in the
western parts of this region. The jungle-covered plains of the Eastern
lowlands register high levels of rainfall and temperatures surpassing 28°
Being located on the equator, the Galápagos Islands would have an
equatorial climate were it not for the modifying effects of the Peruvian
Current. Instead, climate on the islands follows a pattern more like
that of the Sierra than the Costa. At sea level, the land is desertlike
with temperatures of 21° C. The eight summer months experience no
precipitation, whereas the winter months of January through April have
some fog and drizzle. Above sea level to an altitude of 450 meters, the
islands have a mixture of tropical, subtropical, and temperate climates.
In general, temperatures are around 17° C. There is constant fog and
drizzle in the summer and rain in the winter. The cold level above 450
meters has temperatures below 14° C.
Ecuador - Society
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
Ecuador - ETHNIC GROUPS
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Ecuador - Education
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
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.
Ecuador - The Economy
Colonial Ecuador was governed first by the Viceroyalty of Peru and
then by the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada. Ecuador differed significantly from the
viceroyalty centers (Lima and Bogotá), however, in that mining never
became a vital part of the economy. Instead, crop cultivation and
livestock raising dominated the economy, especially in the Sierra. The
Sierra's temperate climate was ideal for producing barley, wheat, and
corn. The Costa became one of the world's leading producers of cacao.
Sugarcane, bananas, coconuts, tobacco, and cotton also were grown in the
Costa for export purposes. Foreign commerce expanded gradually during
the eighteenth century, but agricultural exports remained paramount.
Manufacturing never became a significant economic activity in colonial
Ecuador, but busy sweatshops, called obrajes, in Riobamba and
Latacunga made Ecuador an exporter of woolen and cotton fabrics; a
shipyard in Guayaquil was one of the largest and best in Spanish
America; and sugar mills manufactured sugar, molasses, and rum made from
When Ecuador gained complete independence in 1830, it had a largely
rural population of about one-half million. The rural economy came to
rely on a system of peonage, in which Sierra and Costa Indians were
allowed to settle on the lands belonging to the hacendado, to whom they
paid rent in the form of labor and a share of their crop. The economy of
the new republic, based on the cultivation of cash crops and inexpensive
raw materials for the world market and dependent on peonage labor,
changed little during the remainder of the nineteenth and first half of
the twentieth century. Vulnerable to changing international market
demands and price fluctuations, Ecuador's economy was often
characterized by instability and malaise.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, cacao production
nearly tripled, and total exports increased tenfold. As a result, the Costa became
the country's center of economic activity. Guayaquil dominated banking,
commercial, and export-import affairs. During the first two decades of
the twentieth century, cacao exports continued to be the mainstay of the
economy and the principal source of foreign exchange, but other
agricultural products like coffee and sugar and fish products were also
important exports. The decline of the cacao industry in the 1930s and
1940s, brought about by chronic pestilence and the loss of foreign
markets to competitors, had debilitating repercussions for the entire
economy. During the 1950s, government-sponsored replanting efforts
contributed to a partial revival of the cacao industry, so that by 1958
Ecuador was the world's sixth leading exporter of cacao. Nonetheless, by
the early 1950s bananas had replaced cocao as the country's primary
The Ecuadorian economy made great strides after 1950, when annual
exports, 90 percent of which were agricultural, were valued at less than
US$30 million, and foreign-exchange reserves stood at about US$15
million. Between 1950 and 1970, a slow, steady expansion of
nonagricultural activities took place, especially in the construction,
utilities, and services sectors. Construction, for example, made up only
3 percent of the GDP in 1950, but it contributed 7.6 percent to the GDP
in 1971. Agriculture's annual share of the GDP was 38.8 percent in 1950
compared with a 24.7 percent share in 1971.
The 1960s saw an acceleration and diversification of the
manufacturing sector to meet domestic demand, with an emphasis on
intermediate inputs and consumer durable goods. By 1971 these accounted
for about 50 percent of industrial output. Still, manufactured
products--mainly processed agricultural goods--made up only about 10
percent of Ecuador's exports in 1971. Industry was still at an early
stage of development, and about 50 percent of the labor force worked in
agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Traditional industries, such as food
processing, beverages, and textiles, were largely dependent on
agriculture. The small size of the domestic market, the high production
cost in relation to available external markets, and an undeveloped
human, physical, and financial infrastructure all combined to limit the
expansion of consumer durable goods in the Ecuadorian economy.
The discovery of new petroleum fields in the Oriente (eastern region)
after 1967 transformed the country into a world producer of oil and
brought large increases in government revenue beginning in 1972. That
year saw the completion of the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline, a
503-kilometer-long oil pipeline leading from the Oriente to the port
city of Esmeraldas. A refinery also was constructed just south of
Esmeraldas. In addition, in 1970 large quantities of natural gas
deposits were discovered in the Gulf of Guayaquil. Largely because of
petroleum exports, Ecuador's net foreignexchange earnings climbed from
US$43 million in 1971 to over US$350 million in 1974.
The production and export of oil that began in the early 1970s,
coupled with dramatic international price increases for petroleum,
contributed significantly to unprecedented economic growth. Real GDP
increased by an average of more than 9 percent per year during 1970 to
1977 as compared with only 5.9 percent from 1960 to 1970. The
manufacturing sector alone experienced a 12.9 percent average annual GDP
real growth rate during 1975-77. Ecuador became a lower middle-income
country, although it remained one of the poorer countries of South
America. Economic growth had negative side effects, however. Real
imports increased by an annual average of 7 percent between 1974 and
1979; this spawned an inflationary pattern that eroded income. During
the same period, the country's external debt grew from US$324 million to
about US$4.5 billion.
Ecuador - THE ECONOMY - ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
The Ecuadorian public sector, comprising the central government,
state enterprises, and autonomous agencies operating on a national
scale, expanded rapidly during 1972-77. Public-sector expenditures,
adjusted for an average annual inflation rate of 14 percent, swelled
about 65 percent during this period. Such increases were made possible
because of the boost in revenue derived from a rise in international oil
prices and the expansion of oil exports, especially during the 1972-74
period, when petroleum revenues rose as a proportion of GDP from 2
percent to 8.4 percent. Meanwhile, revenues from nonpetroleum commodity
exports declined from 18.7 percent of GDP in 1972 to 13.8 percent in
1975. In effect, the government substituted the taxation of oil for the
taxation of other traditional products.
This policy caused no harm until 1975, when the volume of petroleum
exports began to moderate and oil revenues declined relative to GDP. As
the gap between public revenues and expenditures widened, budget
deficits became the norm, and the government resorted increasingly to
foreign borrowing as a substitute for declining tax revenues from nonoil
products. Between 1976 and 1979, the foreign debt more than quadrupled;
after 1979 the rate of borrowing decelerated, but still the foreign debt
had doubled by the end of 1986. In 1983, as foreign banks reduced the amount of credit
available to the government, unpopular austerity measures were adopted
to help reduce the public-sector deficit.
The oil bonanza encouraged the government to undertake two
deficit-producing policies. First, the government used about 50 percent
of total public revenues from oil exports to subsidize domestic
consumption of such items as food products, electricity, and gasoline
and other oil derivatives. Government subsidies to consumers reached a
peak of 10 percent of GDP in 1981. Second, the government increased
substantially its public-sector employment and public capital
expenditures. Although the labor force increased at an average annual
rate of only 2.8 percent between 1970 and 1984, public-service
employment rose at an average annual rate of 7 percent during the same
period. A moderate expansion in public capital expenditures during the
1974-82 period contributed to improvements in the transportation and
utility infrastructure and also in water and sewerage systems. During
this period, public capital spending increased from 7.3 percent of GDP
to 10.1 percent of GDP. Overall government revenue, however, had
declined by 1 percent of GDP between 1973 and 1982. The public-sector
deficit in 1982 represented 7.5 percent of GDP, most of which was
financed by foreign borrowing.
The sharp drop in the international price of petroleum in 1986,
followed a year later by a US$700-million loss of oil revenue in the
aftermath of the March 1987 earthquake, generated increased foreign
borrowing by the government, reduced debt-service payments, and induced
the government to print money to make up for revenue shortfalls. To help
keep inflation down to 32.5 percent in 1987 (about a 5-percent increase
over 1986), liquidity was restricted in the private sector by raising
bank reserve requirements. This policy made it difficult to acquire a
commercial loan during the second half of 1987.
Although oil production reached near-record levels of 310,000 barrels
per day following the repair of the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline in August
1987, international crude oil prices remained low, averaging about
US$17.70 for that year. The government's failure to raise domestic
energy prices or reduce spending in other areas contributed to a fiscal
deficit approaching 12 percent of GDP.
Real GDP improved 8 percent in 1988, mainly as the result of
increases in crude petroleum exports. The government's deficit reached
about 12 percent of GDP. The government controlled the fiscal deficit by
doubling domestic fuel prices, eliminating wheat import subsidies, and
increasing electricity rates by 40 percent for household users and 60
percent for industrial users.
In 1989 the fiscal budget totalled US$1.4 billion, of which 49
percent was financed by oil export revenues and most of the remainder
through taxes. About 38 percent of expenditures went to meet foreign
debt payments after April, 10 percent for internal investment, and the
balance to meet internal debt payments and current government
expenditures. During 1989 the Borja administration accelerated efforts
to curtail public spending, but the deficit, 10 percent of GDP, was
still too high to be fiscally sound. The government continued its tight
money policies, sustaining high interest rates and strict credit
requirements, especially for noncorporate consumers.
Ecuador - THE ECONOMY - Government Budget Process
Agriculture and fishing were the country's largest employers in the
late 1980s, providing nearly half of all export earnings. Including
livestock raising, forestry, and fishing, agriculture generated almost
16 percent of the GDP in 1986 and nearly 18 percent in 1987. The three
principal export crops--bananas, coffee, and cocoa--alone accounted for
2.4 percent of the total GDP in 1986, while livestock raising
contributed 5.3 percent of the GDP, and forestry and fishing contributed
1.1 and 1.9 percent, respectively.
Land Use and Tenure
Data on land use varied widely and were often considered by analysts
as unreliable or at best an approximation of actual numbers. In the
mid-1980s, for example, estimates of cropland ranged from 1.6 to 2.5
million hectares out of the total land area of 27.1 million hectares.
Different sources put the amount of pastureland at 4.4 or 4.8 million
hectares. Estimates for the total land area suitable for agriculture
showed an even wider variation, from less than 50 percent to as high as
90 percent. Over half of the cultivated land was in the Costa (coastal
region), about a third in the Sierra, and the remainder dispersed
throughout the Oriente region. The Costa, with the exception of the area
near the Santa Elena Peninsula, had generally fertile land with a
climate conducive to agriculture. Altitude, rainfall, and soil
composition determined land use in the Sierra. The intermontane basins
near Quito and farther south near Cuenca and Loja offered the most
productive Sierra lands, whereas the basins surrounding Latacunga and
Riobamba had dry and porous soil and the least fertile lands. Higher
areas of the Sierra contained grasslands suitable only for grazing or
cold-tolerant crops, such as potatoes.
Modern land tenure patterns developed from Spanish colonial land
systems. The Spanish encountered large native populations in the Sierra
and established the encomienda system whereby the crown granted
individual colonists rights to land and the Indians who lived there.
This system gradually produced haciendas worked by a "captive"
labor force composed of huasipungueros. These huasipungueros
worked without salary in return for the farming rights to minifundios
(small plots) on the haciendas. In many cases, the huasipungueros
were bought or sold with the hacienda. Large-scale agriculture developed
later in the Costa, where farming for export used sharecroppers or paid
labor to harvest crops. The monetary labor system that developed in the
Costa began to compete with the feudal system of the Sierra for cheap
Pressure to reform feudal agricultural practices came from abroad,
from humanitarian and liberal elements within the country, and from
large landowners in the Costa, who needed additional cheap labor. A land
reform law enacted in 1964, the Land Reform, Idle Lands, and Settlement
Act, outlawed the huasipungo system and also set up the
Ecuadorian Institute of Agrarian Reform and Settlement (Instituto
Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonización--IERAC) to administer the
law and to expropriate idle arable land for redistribution to farmers.
The law outlawed absentee ownership and limited the size of holdings to
800 hectares of arable land in the Sierra, 2,500 hectares of arable land
in the Costa, and 1,000 hectares of pastureland in either region. The
law also set the minimum amount of land to be granted in the
redistribution at 4.8 hectares. Revisions of the law in the early 1970s
required that all land with absentee landlords be sold to the tenants
and that squatters be permitted to acquire title to land they had worked
for three years.
Although IERAC made some progress initially, political opposition
slowed implementation of the land reform act. IERAC received little
government funding and was not permitted to actively encourage
expropriation. Later amendments to the land reform act exempted all
farms that were efficiently run. In addition, redistributed land was
frequently poor or on mountainsides because the large landowners kept
fertile valley lands for themselves. Except for a few showcase examples,
farmers on minifundios received no government assistance or
services to make the plots productive. In spite of these difficulties,
however, by 1984 over 700,000 hectares had been distributed to 79,000
Distribution of the land remained highly unequal. In 1982, 80 percent
of the farms consisted of less than ten hectares; yet these small farms
accounted for only 15 percent of the farmland. Five percent of the farms
had more than fifty hectares, but these large farms represented over 55
percent of the land under cultivation. In addition, minifundios
were more likely to be found in the Sierra in areas of poor soil or with
poorer growing conditions than in other areas.
Agricultural censuses revealed that over three-quarters of the farms
were worked by their owners. About 12 percent of the farms were occupied
by families that did not hold title to the land but rented it, sometimes
hiring additional laborers. Sharecroppers or communal farmers cultivated
the remaining 7 percent.
Although intensely cultivated, minifundios in the Sierra
could not sustain the region's occupants. Because of the higher wages
for nonagricultural jobs, many farmers held unskilled jobs in the cities
while family members stayed on the land to grow crops for home use or
for sale. A study in the late 1970s indicated that over half of small
farm earnings came from off the farm.
Patterns of cultivation ranged from primitive to modern, with the
more modern methods generally used in the Costa, where much of the
production was geared for export. In 1982 Ecuador had fewer than 7,000
tractors in use. Ox-drawn plows were used on some farms, and digging
sticks were used for cultivation on slopes. High prices limited the use
of chemicals; manure was the common form of fertilizer in the Sierra,
but farmers had increased the use of pesticides and fungicides.
Sizeable areas of land, estimated at over 320,000 hectares, were
under irrigation using ditches dug by individual farmers, and about
40,000 hectares were irrigated under government-supported irrigation
projects. State support for irrigation schemes began in 1944 with the
creation of the Ecuadorian Institute of Hydraulic Resources (Instituto
Ecuatoriano de Recursos Hidráulicos--Inerhi). Inerhi's largest project,
inaugurated in 1970, brought water to 10,000 hectares of land in
A variety of temperature and rainfall patterns resulted in a
diversity of tropical and temperate crops. Moderate or cool temperatures in highland areas
allowed the cultivation of products usually associated with more
northern latitudes. In the Costa, a warm climate, fertile soils, and
proximity to ports led to large-scale production of such export crops as
coffee, bananas, sugar, cacao, palm oil, and rice. Smaller plots in the
Sierra produced potatoes, corn, beans, wheat, barley, and tea. Larger
farms practiced dairy farming as well as increasing production of
nontraditional crops such as cut flowers, asparagus, and snow peas.
Farmers planted some coffee and tea in transition areas between the
Sierra and the Oriente, but in general the Oriente's poor soil made it
badly suited to agriculture.
Ecuador began marketing bananas abroad after World War II. By 1947
bananas had become the country's leading export crop. Capitalizing on
problems with hurricanes, disease, and labor unrest in the traditional
banana-growing regions of Central America, Ecuador emerged as the
world's largest exporter of bananas by the mid-1980s. The main
banana-producing areas were the eastern parts of Los Ríos, Guayas, and
especially El Oro provinces. Banana production involved few very large
or very small plantations; most ranged from 80 to 120 hectares.
In 1969 the Ecuadorian National Board of Planning and Economic
Coordination recommended that land devoted to banana cultivation be more
than halved and that the higher yielding, disease-resistant
Cavendish-type bananas replace the traditional Gros Michel variety. This
latter change prompted modifications in production patterns. Cavendish
bananas bruised easily and required more careful handling. In addition,
they could not tolerate transport in open trucks, so boxing had to take
place at the plantation. Centralized, specialized packing meant the end
of small-farm production. Since the new variety had triple the yield of
the Gros Michel banana, the government realized that the hectares
planted in bananas needed to be reduced to avoid a sharp drop in world
prices. Statistics showed the change: land devoted to bananas dropped
from 200,000 hectares in 1972 to about 110,000 in 1980, yet production
remained fairly constant. In 1987, 2.4 million tons of bananas were
produced on 120,000 hectares of land; 1.4 million tons were exported.
Coffee, introduced into the country early in the nineteenth century,
was the second most valuable crop throughout the 1980s. Ecuador produced
both arabica and robusta varieties, with over half of the plantings in
the hilly areas of Manabí Province; most of the remaining plantings
were found in the western foothills of the Andes south of Guayaquil. In
1987 over 380,000 hectares were devoted to coffee, and 373,000 tons were
produced. Most of this coffee was exported. Coffee was generally grown
on small landholdings with about half the land planted in coffee trees
alone and the rest planted with coffee trees mixed with cacao, citrus
fruits, bananas, or mangoes.
The small size of typical coffee farms usually resulted in poor
production techniques, yields, and quality. Much of the coffee produced
retained the pulp after processing and therefore brought a lower price
on world markets. Other than establishing minimum prices for coffee, the
government provided little technical assistance to coffee farmers.
Cacao was the mainstay of the economy in colonial times. The Spanish
found the Indians cultivating cacao when they arrived in the sixteenth
century, and it first became an export crop in 1740. Produced on large
Costa plantations, the crop was nearly wiped out by a fungal disease in
the 1920s. Low world prices during the Great Depression further
discouraged production, and the plantations were broken up and
diversified into rice, sugar, corn, and bananas. After World War II,
increased prices and new disease-resistant strains revitalized the
Most cacao production took place on small farms, frequently only to
provide supplemental income to the farmer. Most small producers
preferred traditional cultivation techniques and did not harvest the
beans in years when the price was low. In contrast, the few large
plantation owners systematically replaced older trees with newer
disease-resistant varieties and used fertilizer to increase yields. Most
cacao farmers grew an aromatic variety used for flavoring. In 1987,
311,000 hectares were planted in cacao, producing 57,000 tons of cocoa
beans. Sugarcane was grown widely, both in the Sierra and in the Costa.
Over 44,000 hectares were planted in 1987, producing 3 million tons of
sugarcane. The sugar extraction rate from the cane was about 10
kilograms of sugar from 100 kilograms of cane. Sugar was an important
export crop in the 1960s and 1970s, but production levels dropped in the
1980s, and the supply could not satisfy the domestic market, so that
Ecuador had to import refined sugar. Almost all of the sugarcane grown
in the Costa was used to make centrifugal sugar, so called because of
the means of extracting the sugar. Centrifugal sugar was the type most
used in foreign trade. Sugarcane in the Costa was grown on large
plantations and processed in one of the five mills located east of
Guayaquil. Sierra peasants grew sugarcane on small landholdings and used
much of the cane for noncentrifugal sugar, mainly in a form known as panela
(a raw brown-sugar cake). Growers also marketed molasses, a sugarcane
by-product, exporting some of it and using the rest for the domestic
manufacture of alcohol or for livestock feed.
Farmers cultivated rice, a staple of the Ecuadorian diet, mainly on
the flood plains of the Guayas River Basin in Guayas and Los Ríos
provinces. Rice production fluctuated depending upon the weather, but
during the 1980s the harvest increased by an annual average of 7
percent. In 1987, 780,000 tons were produced on 276,000 hectares of
land. In years of good harvest, growers produced enough rice to meet
domestic demand and to export a surplus. Because of low international
market prices for rice, however, the government policy stabilized rice
production at the level required to meet domestic needs.
Corn, another basic foodstuff, had been grown since precolonial
times. Corn was widely grown throughout the country and could be planted
from sea level to an altitude of 2,200 meters. Farmers used about half
the crop for animal feed, particularly for poultry. In 1987 over 422,000
tons were produced on 460,000 hectares.
Barley, a crop introduced by the Spaniards, proved highly adaptable
to the rigorous climate of the Sierra. Its tolerance for cold and severe
weather allowed it to be grown at higher altitudes than corn. Widely
planted on small landholdings in the central highlands areas, it was
grown both for food and for malt for the beer industry. Figures for 1987
showed 43,000 tons produced on 61,000 hectares.
Wheat, almost all of which was used to make bread, was formerly
widely grown in the Sierra. Ironically, however, as bread increased in
popularity and replaced potatoes and corn as a dietary staple, domestic
wheat production decreased. Perhaps the most significant reason was that
the government introduced subsidies on wheat imports in order to ease
the effects of the inflation that began in the oil-boom years of the
1970s. As a result, consumption of the more expensive domestic wheat
declined from 46 percent in 1946 to 7 percent in 1980. The breakup of
the large wheat-producing haciendas in the Sierra also contributed to
lower levels of wheat production.
Cotton and hemp were the principal fiber crops. The government
carried out a program in the 1980s to increase both the quality and
quantity of cotton produced. Output increased, and by 1986 Ecuador was
nearly self-sufficient in cotton. Hemp was turned into Manila hemp fiber
used to produce tea bags. Lesser fiber crops included aloe, which was
used to make cloth for sacks, and ramie, which was woven into a cloth
Tea was produced near Puyo on the eastern slopes of the Andes at
elevations of about 1,000 meters. An even distribution of rainfall
allowed for year-round harvests, a condition not usually found in
African palms were widely planted and were the main source of
vegetable oil. The government promoted and financed large plantings to
cut imports of expensive cooking oils. Although not as high in oil
content as the nuts of the royal palm, previously the principal domestic
source of vegetable oil, African palms bore more nuts and matured more
Cottonseed, sesame seed, peanuts, coconuts, and soybeans were other
sources of vegetable oils. Cottonseed production fluctuated, depending
upon weather conditions. Sesame could be planted from two to three times
a year on the warm coastal plains where it took only three months to
mature. About 9,000 hectares of peanuts were planted, but most of the
production was used for direct consumption as peanuts rather than for
crushing into oil. Production of coconut oil varied because most
coconuts were consumed directly and not processed. Soybean plantings had
increased, and soybeans could be grown both in the Costa and lower
reaches of the Sierra.
Ecuador was one of the world's major castor bean producers. Although
the bean was inedible, its oil was used for medicinal purposes and as a
lubricant in precision tools. The plant could be grown on dry lands
where it was uneconomical to raise other crops, or planted along with
corn, peanuts, or cotton.
Black tobacco, Ecuador's traditional type, made up the bulk of the
3,600 tons grown in 1987. Blond tobacco for cigarettes was introduced in
the late 1960s and was produced mainly in Loja Province. The growth of a
domestic cigarette industry was slowed, however, by the high volume of
cigarettes smuggled into the country.
Farmers also grew numerous minor crops for domestic food consumption
or for export in small quantities. Growers raised pears, peaches,
apples, berries, grapes, and plums in the Sierra and citrus fruit,
avocados, mangoes, and a wide variety of tropical fruits in the Costa.
Important vegetable crops included garlic, onions, cabbage, lettuce,
cucumbers, tomatoes, and various types of melons and peppers. Spices
included annatto seed, anise, and cardamon. Rubber and mocora
and toquilla grass, used to make Panama hats, were minor
Ecuador - Livestock and Poultry
The natural resource sector of the Ecuadorian economy contributed
almost 15 percent to the GDP in 1986, with the petroleum industry
providing virtually all of that total. Although analysts believed that
Ecuador had numerous mineral deposits, few metals had been exploited.
Hydroelectric power from several large dams provided the primary source
Petroleum and Natural Gas
Petroleum was the single most important element in the Ecuadorian
economy, accounting for over 14 percent of the GDP in 1986, two-thirds
of all export revenues in that year, and much of the foreign investment.
In 1987 petroleum and mining together accounted for only about 8 percent
of GDP because of a significant drop in petroleum production, but
estimates for 1988 indicated that petroleum production had risen,
exceeding its 1986 level. Although Ecuador's level of production in the
late 1980s ranked near the bottom of the thirteen members of OPEC, it
exceeded all countries in Latin America except Mexico and Venezuela.
Petroleum was first discovered in the early 1900s both on and
offshore from Salinas on the Santa Elena Peninsula west of Guayaquil.
More than 100 million barrels of crude petroleum were removed in six
decades of exploitation; by the mid-1980s, however, Costa production had
fallen to less than 1,000 barrels per day (bd). Old,
expensive-to-maintain equipment produced high operating costs, making
continued exploitation uncertain.
The Oriente, however, had long since eclipsed the Costa as the center
of Ecuador's petroleum activity. In the late 1980s, the vast majority of
Ecuador's 1.6 million barrels of proven reserves lay in the northern
part of the Oriente, between the Napo River and the Colombian border.
This area formed part of a rich oil-bearing region extending from
southern Colombia through Ecuador and northeastern Peru. Indeed,
analysts believed that this region represented one of the richest
oil-bearing areas of the Western Hemisphere.
Although exploration in the Oriente began in the 1920s, petroleum was
not actually found until a consortium formed by the Texaco Petroleum and
Gulf Oil companies discovered several rich fields near Lago Agrio (now
Nueva Loja) in 1967. The success of the Texaco-Gulf exploration
attracted other companies, and over the next two decades more than fifty
new wells began producing commercial quantities of crude petroleum.
Production in 1989 had risen to over 1.1 billion barrels, over 99
percent from the Oriente fields.
Ecuador built the 503-kilometer Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline to carry
crude petroleum from the Oriente fields across the Andes to a new
refinery just south of Esmeraldas. Although the pipeline was designed to
carry as much as 400,000 bd, volume averaged just over 300,000 bd in the
late 1980s. A landslide caused by a severe earthquake in March 1987
destroyed forty kilometers of an aboveground section east of Quito. To
keep exports from stopping completely, Ecuador quickly constructed a
thirty-eight-kilometer spur from the Oriente fields to Colombia's
pipeline. Oil was then either exported directly as crude from Colombian
ports or taken by tanker from Colombia to Ecuador's largest refinery at
Esmeraldas. Although this stopgap measure allowed for some petroleum to
be exported, production at the Oriente fields had to be trimmed by more
than half for the five months it took to repair the TransEcuadorian
Unlike many of the larger OPEC countries, Ecuador refined less than
half of the petroleum it produced. Most of the country's 123,000 bd
refining capacity was located at two refinery complexes, one at
Esmeraldas and a complex of three refineries at the Santa Elena oil
fields. The Esmeraldas refinery had a 90,000 bd capacity, whereas the
three older Santa Elena refineries had a combined output of 32,000 bd.
Ecuador's newest refinery, completed in 1987 near Nueva Loja in the
Oriente fields, had a capacity of 1,000 bd.
Control and ownership of petroleum production and refining was held
by foreign oil companies, the government-owned PETROECUADOR which
replaced the former Ecuadorian State Petroleum Corporation (Corporación
Estatal Petrolera Ecuatoriana--CEPE), or consortia composed of both.
PETROECUADOR assumed complete control of the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline
in 1989 and announced it would take over most other foreign interest in
the petroleum industry in the early 1990s.
In addition to abundant supplies of petroleum, observers estimated
that the country had natural gas reserves in the Oriente and offshore in
the Gulf of Guayaquil totalling 400 billion cubic meters. Reserves in
the Oriente were collocated with petroleum deposits. Producers flared
most of the gas associated with petroleum drilling, using only small
amounts as fuel. Distance from markets made exploitation of the gas
uneconomical, although a small plant to harness the gas as a fuel was
completed near Nueva Loja in the mid-1980s. Reserves in the Gulf of
Guayaquil, thought to be among the largest in Latin America, remained
unexploited because of an uncertain domestic market for natural gas and
a legal dispute between the government and foreign companies over
<>Mining and Minerals
Industrialization occurred later in Ecuador than in most other Latin
American countries. As late as 1960, the small industrial sector
consisted almost entirely of textile production, food processing, and
artisan activity. Manufacturing began to develop in the mid-1960s, and
during the 1970s, spurred by petroleum revenues and exports to other
nations in the Andean Common Market (Ancom, also known as the Andean
Pact), manufacturing became the most dynamic sector of the economy.
Manufacturing stagnated in the 1980s, however, with an average annual
growth of only 0.8 percent for the period 1981-87. In 1987 it accounted
for over 17 percent of the GDP.
Food processing and textile manufacturing accounted for almost 60
percent of the total value of manufacturing in 1986. Nonmetallic
minerals and metals comprised 12 percent of the total value; all other
industries accounted for the balance.
Most industrial establishments were small and barely more than
handicraft operations. A government industrial census in the early 1980s
listed more than 35,000 firms, but only 28 of these had more than 500
employees; more than 31,000 had from 1 to 4 workers. Individual
proprietors owned and managed most firms. Shoemaking shops, woodworkers,
or furniture makers represented nearly half of the establishments listed
in the census.
Guayaquil was the most important industrial center, followed by
Quito. Together the two cities accounted for about two-thirds of total
factory employment. Agricultural and beverage processing plants,
sawmills, shipyards, iron foundries, and cement and chemical plants were
Guayaquil's main industries. Textile production and food processing
topped the list of industrial activities in Quito. The government had
made an attempt in the early 1970s to disperse industrial activity by
promoting industrial parks in other cities, with some success.
Sugar refining, rice milling, and flour milling were among the
largest sectors in the food-processing industry. Two sugar mills
dominated the industry and processed most of the sugar used
domestically. Rice milling was concentrated in the Costa and consisted
of numerous publicly owned mills, as well as many smaller private ones.
Most flour mills were located near larger cities in the Sierra and used
locally grown wheat; the three large flour mills near Guayaquil used
mainly imported wheat. Ecuador also had a large baking industry, and
nearly all cities had commercial bakeries producing bread and cakes.
The textile industry, which ranked next to food processing in value
of production, was concentrated in the Sierra, where it originated as an
outgrowth of home weaving. Most textile plants remained small, although
one Quito firm was among the largest employers in the country.
The construction industry showed a steady decline during the 1980s
and accounted for only about 4 percent of the GDP in 1987. Because over
95 percent of the construction in Ecuador resulted from
government-financed projects, the industry remained highly vulnerable to
periods of austerity in government spending. Indeed, the sector's only
growth year in the decade of the 1980s occurred in 1987, reflecting
large-scale highway rebuilding after the earthquake. High interest rates
and a shortage of cement also hampered construction projects.
Artisan activity constituted a large part of the manufacturing labor
force. Although many of the artisans had considerable skills in such
occupations as weaving, their wages were among the lowest in the labor
force, and as machine-weaving became more widespread their skills were
increasingly obsolete. In the 1980s, the government offered special
credits and loans to encourage a transition from artisan workshops to
The largest number of artisans produced clothing and furniture. This
group included dressmakers, tailors, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, and
carpenters. Several thousand additional artisans were goldsmiths or
Ecuador - SERVICES
The service sector constituted the largest component of the
Ecuadorian economy, accounting for almost 50 percent of the GDP in 1987.
The largest parts of the service sector were wholesale and retail trade
at 29 percent, financial services at 23 percent, and transportation and
communications at 15 percent of services. Although contributing half the
nation's wealth, financial services were inadequate, and the
communication and transportation networks remained underdeveloped.
The country's modern finance and banking system began in 1948 with
the establishment of the Central Bank. The Law of the Monetary System of
1961 defined the functions of the Central Bank, which included issuing
and stabilizing the national currency, providing credit to the private
sector, managing foreign-exchange reserves, controlling import-export
permits, carrying out the Monetary Board's policies, supervising private
banks, and regulating international financial transactions. The bank
also maintained a check clearinghouse, rediscounted and made advances to
commercial banks, and published economic data.
In 1989 the structure of the banking system resembled a threetiered
pyramid with the Monetary Board at the apex. The Bank Superintendency
and the Central Bank occupied the next tier and lent funds to four
state-owned financial institutions. At the bottom came the commercial
banks, savings and loan associations, and finance companies, which
operated at the local level.
The Monetary Board regulated the entire banking and credit system,
including the Central Bank. In the 1980s, the board's eleven members
included the chairman, appointed by the president of Ecuador, and the
ministers of finance and credit; agriculture and livestock; energy and
mines; and industry, commerce, integration, and fishing. Also included
were the president of the National Planning Board, two representatives
of national chamber of commerce organizations, a representative of the
commercial banks, the general manager of the Central Bank, and the head
of the Bank Superintendency. The Monetary Board's functions included
formulating the country's economic policy; determining interest rates;
and setting Central Bank credit levels, minimum reserve requirements,
and exchange rates.
The Bank Superintendency supervised and controlled banks, finance
companies, and insurance companies. The Congress appointed the head or
superintendent from three candidates proposed by the president. Funded
by compulsory contributions from the financial institutions under its
control, the Bank Superintendency also collected and published banking
The national government and the private banks jointly owned the
Central Bank and tasked it with carrying out the policies of the
Monetary Board and for supervising the activities of private banks. All
private banks in Ecuador were required to invest at least 5 percent of
their capital and reserves in the Central Bank, and together they owned
the majority of shares in the Central Bank. Headquartered in Quito, the
Central Bank had sixteen branches in other cities and towns in the late
The four major government-owned financial institutions were the
National Development Bank (Banco Nacional de Fomento--BNF); the
Securities Commission-National Financial Corporation (Comisión de
Valores-Corporación Financiera Nacional--CV-CFN), more commonly known
as the National Financial Corporation (Corporación Financiera
Nacional--CFN); the Ecuadorian Housing Bank (Banco Ecuatoriano de la
Vivienda--BEV); and the Development Bank of Ecuador (Banco de Desarrollo
de Ecuador--Bede), formerly known as the Cooperatives Bank of Ecuador.
Each institution had a specialized role: the BNF provided loans for
agriculture and industry, the CFN lent capital to industries utilizing
local raw materials or making handicrafts, the BEV promoted low-income
housing, and the Bede lent funds to local credit cooperatives,
especially those in rural areas.
The thirty-one commercial banks were the most important financial
institutions in the country, attracting the major portion of deposits
and making the largest percentage of total loans in the banking system.
Only four of the commercial banks were foreign: the United Holland Bank
from the Netherlands, Citibank and the Bank of America from the United
States, and Lloyd's Bank from Britain, formerly known as the Bank of
London and South America. In 1986 the Bank of Pichincha, Pacific Bank,
Philanthropic Bank, People's Bank, and Continental were the five largest
locally owned commercial banks.
Several other types of private financial institutions existed in
1988. Eleven savings and loan associations, 26 finance companies, 123
cooperative savings institutions, and 4 credit card companies provided
various forms of financing or credit. The Ecuadorian Development Finance
Company (Compañía Financiera Ecuatoriana de Desarrollo--Cofiec) was
founded in 1966 by local and foreign commercial banks, local
businessmen, several international finance firms, and the CFN. Cofiec
was an important source of funds to private industry, both in the form
of loans and in equity investment.
Two stock exchanges operated, one each in Quito and Guayaquil.
Although the Quito exchange handled almost twice as many transactions as
the Guayaquil exchange in 1986, neither was large. The great majority of
trading occurred in government issues and mortgage bonds, with only a
small amount of trading in common stocks or other securities. Most
Ecuadorian businesses were owned by small numbers of individuals, and
few resorted to public financing to raise capital.
ONE OF THE LEAST POLITICALLY stable of the South American republics
for most of its history, Ecuador had 86 governments and 17 constitutions
in its first 159 years of independence. Only twenty of those governments
resulted from popular elections, and many of the elections were
fraudulent. José María Velasco Ibarra, who completed only one of his
five terms as president, often stated, "Ecuador is a very difficult
country to govern."
Ecuador had four successive democratic elections from 1948 to 1960,
but the country did not experience relative political stability under
democratic rule again until the 1980s. Seven years of military
dictatorship ended with the presidential inauguration of Jaime Roldós
Aguilera on August 10, 1979. After Roldós died in an airplane crash on
May 24, 1981, Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea assumed the
presidency. The completion of the Hurtado/Roldós administration and the
constitutional and orderly transfer of power--the first such transfer in
twenty-four years--to conservative León Febres Cordero Ribadeneyra
(1984-88) in August 1984 seemed to affirm the restoration of democracy
in Ecuador. Nevertheless, as Roldós himself had cautioned shortly
before taking office, the nation had only a formalistic and ritualistic
Indeed, Ecuador has been shaken periodically since 1984 by bitter
conflicts between the executive branch on the one side and the
unicameral legislature and the judiciary on the other. These clashes
were particularly pronounced during Febres Cordero's polemical
administration. His authoritarian rule also provoked military mutinies
and even his brief abduction by rebellious troops. Although battered,
Ecuador's democratic system survived, and Febres Cordero transferred
power to his long-time rival, Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, in August 1988.
Whereas Febres Cordero, a millionaire businessman from Guayaquil, had
advocated a free-market economy, strong executive control, and close
alignment with the United States, Borja, a social democrat from Quito,
espoused a mixed economy, a pluralist government, and a nonaligned
foreign policy. In his first two years, Borja succeeded in softening the
impact of his predecessor's legacy of political, economic, and social
Despite a decade of civilian democratic rule marked by three peaceful
transitions of government, analysts generally agreed that the political
system remained vulnerable. Political scientist John D. Martz noted, for
instance, that the transition to a third democratic government in 1988
provided "little reason to believe that the fragile democratic
system in Ecuador had been strengthened, nor that the historic pattern
of instability had been fundamentally reversed or modified."
The destabilizing conflicts among the executive, legislative, and
judicial branches of government resulted primarily from idiosyncrasies
of Ecuador's institutional structure. For example, the judiciary,
despite being independent, lacked the authority needed to serve as an
effective check on the abuse of presidential powers. Although the
Supreme Court of Justice (Corte Supremo de Justicia--CSJ) carried out
many judicial duties normally expected of a nation's highest court, it
did not rule on constitutional issues. A nonjudicial appendage of the
National Congress (Congreso Nacional--hereafter, Congress), the Tribunal
of Constitutional Guarantees (Tribunal de Garantías
Constitucionales--TGC), exercised that function, thereby giving the
legislative body the power to, in effect, control interpretation of the
The traditional, deep-seated division between the liberal,
trade-oriented, tropical Costa (coastal region) and the conservative,
agrarian-oriented Sierra (Andean highlands) also helped explain
Ecuador's bitter infighting over political and economic affairs. This
fundamental division pitted the Pacific port city of Guayaquil, the
country's principal economic center, against the highland capital of
Quito. The enmity between natives of Guayaquil and of Quito was
reflected in the alignment of the country's sixteen registered political
parties, in the 1988 elections, as well as in the refusal of outgoing
President Febres Cordero, a native of Guayaquil, to speak to his
successor, Rodrigo Borja, a native of Quito, or even to personally pass
the presidential sash to him on August 10, 1988. According to political
scientist and former president Hurtado, rivalry among provinces and
regions for central government attention in the form of development
projects, principally road construction, also was a major source of
Although Ecuador's political parties and its free and partisan press
participated in a lively and contentious democratic political process,
parties suffered from factionalism, weak organization, lack of mass
participation, and blurred ideologies, as well as from the competing
influences of populism and militarism. Analysts generally agreed that
the proliferation of small parties and the need to negotiate alliances
contributed significantly to political instability in the 1980s.
The tension between civilian and clerical authority dominated
Ecuador's constitutional history for much of the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. This issue provided one of the bases for the
lasting dispute between Conservatives, who represented primarily the
interests of the Sierra and the church, and the Liberals, who
represented those of the Costa and anticlericalism.
Ecuador's first constitution of 1830, when the country seceded from
the Confederation of Gran Colombia, followed the precedents of other
independence documents: the Quito State Charter (1812) and the Gran
Colombia constitutions of Cúcuta (1821) and Bogotá (1830). The Quito
State Charter, framed before independence, called for a unicameral
legislature and a popular and representative state established through
indirect elections by its citizens. The term "popular,"
however, meant in practice participation by only wealthy and influential
persons. Succeeding constitutions clearly defined the stringent
property, professional, and literacy requirements for citizenship and
distinguished between citizens and Ecuadorians. Only a small, white-male
minority (initially those over twenty-one years of age) met these
requirements and therefore enjoyed the impressive rights guaranteed
under these and other nineteenth- century constitutions.
Ecuador's first constitution as a republic, that of 1830, also became
known as the Floreana constitution, after the new nation's first
president, General Juan José Flores (1830-45). It established a unitary
and centralized presidential system of government, and separation of
powers, with the executive power predominating in practice. The 1830
constitution also established a unicameral congress, elected by indirect
suffrage and made up of an equal number (ten) of deputies from each of
the three districts--Quito, Azuay, and Guayaquil--and a Council of State
to assist the executive in administering the government and to
substitute for Congress during the recess.
The five constitutions framed between 1830 and 1852 had much in
common. Voting was made indirect, through electors, in both
congressional and presidential elections. The presidential term was four
years, with the exception of the 1843 constitution (the so- called
"Slavery Charter"), which provided for an eight-year term. The
1843 constitution also recognized Roman Catholicism as the state
religion. Only the constitutions of 1830 and 1851, however, provided for
a unicameral legislature; the others established a bicameral congress,
composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The 1843 constitution
also made an exception to indirect congressional elections by extending
popular suffrage to the election of senators. The 1845 constitution
declared that sovereignty resides in the people, although it extended
suffrage only to all male citizens.
The constitution of 1861, promulgated by President Gabriel García
Moreno (1859-75), eliminated the financial requirements for citizenship
and the franchise; introduced direct and secret suffrage for electing
all members of a bicameral Congress, the president and vice president of
the republic, and the provincial authorities; and established
proportional representation for Ecuador's provinces in the Chamber of
Deputies (each province elected two senators). These innovations made
the 1861 constitution the most representative in Ecuador's
constitutional evolution in the nineteenth century. It also reintroduced
the strong presidency, whose chief executive was elected by
"universal suffrage" for a four-year term. Although it
retained Roman Catholicism as the only legal religion, the 1861
constitution guaranteed free expression of thought.
Nearly all of the constitutions prohibited the immediate reelection
of the president, but this provision was often violated in spirit.
Despite a strong sentiment against long-term monopoly of the presidency,
generals Flores, García, and Eloy Alfaro (1895- 1912) managed to rule
behind the scenes between their terms of office. In 1869 García, a
conservative, intensely devout Catholic, promulgated a more
authoritarian constitution, referred to as the Garciana constitution or
Carta Negra (the Black Charter), which extended the presidential term to
six years. It introduced the religious
factor into politics by making membership in the Roman Catholic Church a
requisite for citizenship, and it also required being at least
twenty-one years of age, married, and able to read and write. The 1884
Elections Law, however, eliminated the requirement of being Catholic in
order to be a citizen.
The Liberal period from 1895 to 1925 had two constitutions, those of
1897 and 1906. The first, promulgated by General José Eloy Alfaro
Delgado, prohibited religious orders, abolished privileges of the
Catholic Church, and reduced the male voting age to eighteen (or marital
status). The second, the country's twelfth and most durable charter,
provided unprecedented protection of civil and political rights and
guarantees, including abolition of the death penalty, introduced new
individual freedoms, and prohibited arbitrary imprisonment for debts. It
also established the separation of the church and state and strengthened
the Council of State. The 1906 Elections Law
gave women the right for the first time to participate in political and
The 1929 constitution combined quasicorporate features drawn from
many different models. Described as a semiparliamentary charter, it
reorganized the Senate into a body consisting of fifteen senators
elected to represent specific interest groups. Ecuadorian judicial
scholar Hernán Salgado Pesantes notes that the 1929 constitution was
the only one that weakened presidential powers by, for example,
disallowing successive presidential reelection and introducing a Council
of Ministers and a vote of no confidence. Congress was even able to
impeach an incumbent president in 1933. The 1929 document also
introduced various social, economic, and political rights, including the
right of literate women of at least twenty-one years of age to have
citizenship and to vote, and the right of minorities to elect deputies
and provincial councillors (consejeros provinciales). The
traditional social and ethnic stratification continued, however, as did
the constitutional distinction between citizens and Ecuadorians.
Consequently, the 1929 charter, coinciding as it did with the worldwide
economic crisis, failed to improve political stability significantly.
A Constituent Assembly, dominated by the leftist Ecuadorian
Democratic Alliance, deliberated almost six months before adopting the
country's fourteenth constitution, promulgated by President Velasco on
May 3, 1945. Although Velasco had opposed the assembly's efforts to
strengthen the legislature, the new constitution imposed a number of
important checks on the president, especially regarding the executive's
use of emergency and veto powers. The 1945 constitution also provided
for a unicameral legislature, rendered the cabinet partially responsible
to Congress, replaced the Council of State with the TGC, and established
the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Superior Electoral--TSE). In
addition, the 1945 constitution smoothed over the religious issue by
stating that the nation did not recognize any official religion and that
citizens could practice any faith.
Although Velasco signed the 1945 constitution, his immediate
rejection of it prompted the adoption of another, promulgated in 1946,
that restored the bicameral legislature (consisting of a
forty-five-member Senate and a sixty-four-member Chamber of Deputies)
and the Council of State (replacing the TGC) and greatly increased the
executive's authority. Velasco's constitution also reintroduced the
office of vice president, for which no provision had been made in the
constitutions of 1869, 1906, 1929, and 1945. The constitution made
autonomous the institutions responsible for supervising the electoral
process: the TSE and the Provincial Electoral Tribunals (Tribunales
The most extensive of Ecuador's constitutions, the 1967 document,
drafted by a popularly elected constituent assembly, legitimized
political parties recognized by the TSE; made voting obligatory for
women as well as for men; and made Congress bicameral, meeting twice a
year in ordinary sessions (from March 6 to May 4 and from August 10 to
October 9). In addition, the TGC again replaced the Council of State.
The 1967 constitution, however, contained provisions that displeased
Velasco, who as of June 2, 1968, was in his fifth term as president. For
example, it restricted powers to call a state of siege. On June 22,
1970, Velasco, in an autogalpe (self- seizure of power),
assumed extraconstitutional powers and began ruling by decree. He
suspended the 1967 constitution, which he charged had destroyed
executive control, amputated the Senate's power, divested the police of
all authority, and dismembered the administrative organization.
After General Guillermo Rodríguez Lara deposed Velasco in a military
coup in February 1972, the armed forces issued a decree reinstating the
1945 document. Rodríguez suspended it in 1974, however, and cancelled
plans for holding an election. In January 1976, a military junta ousted
Rodríguez and again reinstated the 1945 constitution. In a measure
unprecedented in Ecuador's constitutional history, the junta held a
popular referendum on January 15, 1978, to decide between a reformed
version of the 1945 document and a new charter; 44 percent of the voters
cast their ballots for the latter, and 31 percent for the former.
Nullified votes totaled 23 percent.
By allowing for a considerable amount of state intervention and
providing for a large number of economic and social rights, the new
Constitution (promulgated on August 10, 1979) is much more progressive
than the reformed document, which had favored the status quo. Framed
along the lines of the 1945 and 1967 charters, the 1979 Constitution,
the country's seventeenth, contains several innovations, including
granting citizenship and suffrage to all Ecuadorians over eighteen years
of age, including illiterates; and requiring candidates in popular
elections to affiliate with a legally recognized party. It also creates
a unicameral Congress (for the fourth time in Ecuador's constitutional
history) and four Legislative Commissions which form the Plenary of
Legislative Commissions (Plenario de las Comisiones Legislativas--PCL).
In addition, it requires the selection of the president and vice
president in the same election, prohibits either from seeking a
successive term, authorizes Congress to elect a new vice president if
the incumbent resigns, and allows the president to declare a state of
national emergency and to finance the public debt without prior
legislative authorization. Although the Constitution initially extended
the presidential term to five years, an amendment later reduced it to
four. The Constitution also creates the National Development Council
(Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo-- Conade), headed by the vice president,
and strengthens the independence of the judiciary.
To help compensate for numerous deficiencies in the 1979
Constitution, amendments were approved in 1983. These reforms, which
went into effect in August 1984, give more power to the TGC; reduce from
five to four years the term of the principal officials of the state,
including the president (with the exceptions of TGC and TSE members, who
serve two years); shorten the terms of the judges of the CSJ, Fiscal
Tribunal, and Contentious Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal Contencioso
Administrativo--TCA) from six years to four; and make the president and
vice president of the republic subject to trial only for treason,
bribery, or other infractions that seriously compromise the national
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex,
religion, language, or social status. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s
Indians and blacks constituted a disproportionate share of those living
in poverty, although there was no legally sanctioned discrimination
against them. Moreover, there were still few highly placed women in the
political structure. Fewer than 15 percent of the candidates in the 1984
elections were women, and only three of the seventy-one congressional
deputies elected that year were female. Women still suffered some
discrimination under civil law and usually received lower wages than men
employed in similar positions. In 1987, however, changes in laws
concerning divorce, property distribution, and inheritance gave women
equal rights with their husbands in these areas as required by the
According to the United States Department of State, the following
individual rights were respected in the late 1980s: the freedom of
peaceful assembly and association; the freedom of religion (although the
country was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic); the freedom of movement
within the country, of foreign travel, and of emigration and
repatriation (persons from other Latin American countries readily found
asylum in Ecuador); and the freedom to exercise political rights. Worker
rights that were generally respected included the right of association,
the right to strike, and the right to organize and bargain collectively.
Although forced or compulsory labor and employment of children under the
age of eighteen were prohibited, Indians often worked for
near-starvation wages, and many children in rural areas were active in
the work force.
Ecuador - GOVERNMENTAL STRUCTURE
Under the 1979 Constitution, Ecuador is a democratic and unitary
state with a republican, presidential, elective, and representative
government. Although the presidency is mainly a political office, it and
the rest of the executive branch are responsible for the governmental
process. Congress is responsible for the legislative process. The
Supreme Court of Justice, which supervises the Superior Courts, is,
along with other judicial organs, responsible for serving justice.
Relations between the executive and legislative branches are based on
the principle of the separation of powers, although there are several
points of contact. In the 1980s, there also have been numerous points of
friction between the executive and legislative branches, particularly
during the Febres Cordero administration. As political scientist David
Corkill observed in 1985, "Politics became locked in a familiar
cycle of executive-legislative conflict, protracted political deadlock,
and military intervention to break the impasse."
The executive branch of government consists of the president, the
vice president, the ministers of state and their subordinate officials,
and Conade. The office of the president is located in the National
Palace (Palacio Nacional) in Quito, and the offices of the vice
president and ministers at various other locations in the capital. The
president serves a four-year term and may not run for reelection.
To be president, one must be Ecuadorian by birth, in full possession
of the rights of citizenship, and at least thirty-five years of age at
the time of the election. Election requires an absolute majority of the
votes cast by direct, universal, and secret ballot. A candidate may not
be a current or former president, a spouse or relative of an incumbent
president, vice president in the term immediately prior to the election,
a minister of state at the time of the election, a member of the Public
Forces (composed of the armed forces and National Police) within six
months prior to the election, a minister of any religious denomination,
a government contractor, or a legal representative of a foreign company.
The president's duties and powers include the following: to comply
with and enforce the Constitution, laws, decrees, and international
conventions; to approve, promulgate, carry out, or challenge the laws
enacted by Congress or the PCL; to maintain domestic order and national
security; to freely appoint and remove ministers, chiefs of diplomatic
missions, governors, and other public officials, as provided by law (the
president sends a list of three candidates for high-level state
positions to Congress, which selects one); to determine foreign policy
and direct international relations; to enter into treaties and other
international agreements, and to ratify treaties and agreements after
their approval by Congress; to contract loans; to serve as commander in
chief of the Public Forces; to appoint, confer promotions on, or remove
officials of the Public Forces; to mobilize or demobilize the Public
Forces and assume command of them in wartime, and to approve their
organization; to declare a state of national emergency and to assume
emergency powers as needed in times of crisis; to submit an annual
report to Congress on the general state of the government and the
republic; and to call a popular referendum on important questions.
The president may declare a state of emergency in general situations
involving imminent foreign aggression, international war, or serious
internal strife or catastrophe. A state of emergency empowers the
president to decree the anticipated collection of taxes; to invest
fiscal funds designated for other areas (with the exception of health
and social services) in the defense of the state or the solution of a
catastrophe, but not in the case of an internal conflict; to move the
seat of the government; to close or open ports; to censor the media; to
suspend observance of constitutional guarantees, with the exception of
such basic human rights as the right to life, personal integrity, and
freedom from expatriation or confinement (except under certain
conditions); and to declare a security zone in the national territory.
In order to prevent arbitrary presidential declarations, Congress or the
TGC may revoke the state of emergency at any time if the circumstances
justify such action.
The president has important legislative powers as well. The principle
of "legislative coparticipation" allows the chief executive to
participate in the formation as well as the execution and application of
laws. The president may present before Congress or the PCL any proposed
law, including constitutional amendments. Congress or the PCL must
invite the head of state or a representative to participate, without
voting rights, in the discussions of the proposed law. Within fifteen
days, Congress or the PCL must approve, amend, or reject urgent
presidential proposals on the economy. In the absence of any
congressional action, the president may promulgate any such proposal as
a decreelaw , which the Congress may overrule or amend. Any bill
approved by Congress or the PCL must be submitted to the president, who
has ten days to approve or to object partially or totally to it. The
legislature may override a presidential veto by a two-thirds majority.
The chief executive, once signing a bill into law, must promulgate it by
publishing it in the Registro Oficial del Estado (Official
Register of the State) and issue regulations within ninety days.
The president may call Congress into extraordinary session to
consider exclusively matters put before it by the head of state. In
practice, however, these sessions have not always worked to the
president's advantage. For example, although President Febres Cordero
convoked extraordinary sessions of Congress in March and April 1985, the
legislature suspended the first one after rejecting a presidential bill
to increase the monthly minimum wage by 30 percent, and the president of
Congress unilaterally, and some claimed illegally, suspended the second
session without completing its agenda. Although the Constitution does
not specifically give Congress the power to suspend an extraordinary
session called by the president, the legislative body may interpret the
charter and the laws as it sees fit.
The presidency may be declared vacant following the incumbent's
death, resignation, physical or mental incapacitation, or removal from
office by the legislature for having been absent from Quito for thirty
consecutive days or for having left the country without congressional
authorization. Under these circumstances, the Constitution provides for
subrogation or substitution of the president. The order of presidential
subrogation is the vice president, the president of Congress, and the
president of the CSJ. The presidential order of subrogation also serves
for the temporary replacement of the vice president. In the definitive
absence of the vice president, Congress may designate a successor by an
The 1979 Constitution establishes that the vice president be elected
simultaneously with the president on the same party slate by an absolute
majority, and meet the same requirements and restrictions. The vice
president also serves as president of Conade, which plans the various
policies of the state.
The ministers of state, who comprise the cabinet, discharge the
affairs of state and represent the president in matters relating to
their respective ministries. To be a minister, one must be Ecuadorian by
birth, in full possession of the rights of citizenship, and at least
thirty years of age. In 1989 the Borja cabinet had twelve ministers and
also included two secretaries of state--the secretary general of
administration and the secretary general for public information--with
ministerial rank. All ministries also had deputy ministers, who were,
with the usual exception of the deputy minister of defense, civilians.
In addition, the president supervised more than 700 autonomous agencies,
including the National Planning Board.
Conade determines the general economic and social policies of the
state; prepares development plans for presidential approval; and
determines the general economic and social policies of the state. The
eleven-member Conade consists of the vice president, four ministers of
state appointed by the president, the president of the Monetary Board,
and one representative each of Congress, the mayors (alcaldes),
and provincial prefects (prefectos provinciales), organized
labor, the Commercial Associations (Cámaras de Producción), and the
polytechnical universities and schools. In the event of a tie, the
matter is resolved by the vote of whoever is presiding over the meeting.
Once approved by the president, the policies adopted by Conade must be
implemented by the appropriate ministers and by government agencies.
Under a restructuring directive issued by Vice President Luis Parodi
in January 1990, Conade created the offices of undersecretaries of
Economic Planning and Decentralized Planning and Social Development. In
addition, seven general directorates were established: Short-Range
Planning, Medium- and Long-Range Planning, Decentralized Planning, the
Costa Social Development, Technical and Financial Cooperation, and
Administration. The changes resulted from a desire to emphasize the role
of planning as a tool of the government, thus necessitating
modernization and institutional consolidation of the council.
Although a bicameral organization of Congress had been predominant in
Ecuador's republican history, the 1979 Constitution establishes a
unicameral legislative body, the Congress. Two classes of deputies--the
nationals and the provincials--are elected. The twelve national deputies
are elected through a national vote, are at least thirty years of age at
the time of election, and serve four years; they may be reelected after
sitting out a legislative period. Provincial deputies serve two years
and may be reelected after waiting out one legislative term. They are
elected in the twenty-one provinces under a system of proportional
representation. The provincial deputies must be at least twenty- five
years of age at the time of their election and be either natives of the
province they are to represent or residents of that province for at
least three years prior to the election. National and provincial
deputies must be Ecuadorian by birth, in full possession of the rights
of citizenship, and affiliated with one of the political parties legally
recognized by the TSE.
Those prohibited from serving as members of Congress or even from
participating in the electoral process include virtually all members of
the executive and judicial branches, public employees, officials of
banks and other credit institutions, holders of active state contracts,
military personnel on active duty, ministers of any denomination and
members of religious communities, and representatives of foreign
companies. In addition, no candidate may be economically dependent on
the state or have had any connection with it at least six months prior
to the election. Ninety days prior to an election, a legally recognized
political party must register its candidates for Congress with the TSE.
Once elected, a deputy may not hold any other public post, with the
sole exception of a university teaching position. Likewise, deputies are
prohibited from exercising their profession while Congress and its
commissions are in session. While performing their legislative duties or
even carrying out acts outside of these functions, deputies are
protected by parliamentary immunity from prosecution for common law
penal infractions. They may be prosecuted only if Congress votes to lift
Congress usually meets once a year for a period of seventy working
days beginning on August 10 and ending on October 8. When Congress
convenes in an ordinary period of sessions, it elects from among its
members a president and vice president to serve one-year terms. In
addition, two secretaries are elected who are not members of the
legislature. The holders of these one-year appointments may be
Congress also must name, from among its national deputies, seven
legislators and seven substitutes (suplentes) to each of the
four Legislative Commissions. These commissions cover civil and penal
issues; labor and social issues; tax, fiscal, banking, and budgetary
issues; and economic, agrarian, industrial, and commercial issues.
Congress may also designate or form other commissions to deal with
specific issues, such as constitutional reform. When Congress recesses,
the four established commissions continue operating with certain powers,
and in some matters certain state organs may substitute for Congress. To
discuss and approve laws or other legislation, the four commissions meet
under the direction of the president of Congress and form the PCL. The PCL may approve or reject proposals of law;
codify the laws; prosecute the judges of the CSJ, the Fiscal Tribunal,
and the TCA for infractions of the law; reject treaties or international
agreements; and, when Congress is in recess, make the final decision on
the legality of laws, decrees, regulations, orders, or resolutions
suspended by the TGC for reasons of unconstitutionality.
The Constitution gives Congress important powers in legislation and
in political and judicial control. Only Congress, or in its recess the
PCL, may enact legislation or interpret the Constitution. The executive
may only work out regulations for the application of the laws, without
interpreting or altering them. Specific congressional powers include
reforming the Constitution and interpreting ambiguous provisions;
expediting, modifying, reforming, repealing, and interpreting the laws;
establishing or replacing taxes, rates, or other public revenues; and
approving or rejecting public treaties and other international
conventions entered into by the executive. High officials of the state--
including the president, the presidents of the CSJ, TSE, TGC, and Fiscal
Tribunal, as well as the comptroller general and the attorney
general--must also present their annual reports to Congress.
The legislature may also prosecute the president and vice president;
the ministers of state; the ministers of the CSJ, TCA, and Fiscal Court;
the members of the TGC and TSE; the comptroller general; the attorney
general; the fiscal general minister; and the superintendents of banks
and companies for infractions committed during the exercise of their
duties or up to one year after leaving office. The president may be
prosecuted only for serious charges, such as betrayal of the nation,
bribery, or other infractions severely affecting the national honor.
Utilizing the interpellation procedure, one or more legislators draw up
a list of questions to an official or judge who is to be prosecuted by
Congress. The secretary of Congress must deliver the list to the person
at least five days prior to the date of interpelación
(interpellation procedure), when the individual must appear before
Congress to answer the questions. If during the proceeding the person is
determined to be guilty by an absolute majority, Congress may censor the
subject and dismiss him or her from the post; the case then passes on to
the appropriate judges.
Congress also appoints a number of high-level government officials,
including the comptroller general, the attorney general, the fiscal
minister, and superintendents of banks and companies. These appointments
are made from lists submitted by the president, each containing three
proposed names. Only Congress may remove these individuals from their
four-year posts. Congress also appoints the ministers or judges of the
CSJ, the Fiscal Tribunal, and the TCA. Should any of these posts become
vacant when Congress is in recess, it remains unoccupied until the next
The political nature of judicial appointments became a matter of
considerable controversy in the 1980s. For example, in October 1984 a
dispute broke out between the legislative and executive branches
following Congress's appointment of sixteen CSJ judges opposed by Febres
Cordero. He used military and security forces to prevent the newly
elected judges from entering the Supreme Court of Justice building. The
controversy was resolved that December, however, when Congress agreed to
waive its prerogative to select all of the judges and allow Febres
Cordero to appoint eight of them.
Congress also designates the seven members who make up the TSE, as
well as their substitutes. It elects three TSE members on its own accord
and elects the remaining four from two sets of names: two members from
one set provided by the president and two members from another list sent
by the CSJ. In addition, Congress selects three of the eleven members of
the TGC and their substitutes and nominates the remaining members and
their alternates from lists of candidates submitted by the president,
the CSJ, the Electoral College, the Electoral College of Provincial
Prefects, the National Federations of Workers, and the Commercial
Congress also has a role in budgetary matters. One of its Legislative
Commissions reviews the budget submitted by the executive branch through
the Ministry of Finance and Credit. Only in the case of budgetary
discrepancies does Congress intervene. Once Congress resolves any
discrepancies, its approval is final, and the executive may not object.
If Congress wishes to repeal or modify laws that increase public
expenditures, it must seek other sources of financing, create new
substitute revenues, or increase the existing ones.
Other congressional powers include installing the president and vice
president once the TSE proclaims them to be elected, and electing the
vice president, if that post becomes vacant. Congress also handles
resignations of the president, the vice president, and certain other
officials. Congress grants or denies permission to the president and
vice president to be absent from the country, grants them general
amnesty for political crimes, and imposes fines on them for common
Congress may dismiss cabinet ministers by majority vote. During the
Febres Cordero presidency, the opposition majority in Congress dismissed
the finance and credit minister in late 1986 for alleged abuse of
tariff, exchange, and public spending laws; forced the resignation of
the energy and mines minister in August 1987 for allegedly violating
Ecuador's sovereignty in negotiating an oil trade agreement; and
impeached the government and justice minister that October for alleged
complicity in arbitrary arrests, torture, and disappearances.
To deal with important matters that cannot wait until the next
ordinary session, the legislature may convene in extraordinary session.
This session may be called by two-thirds of the legislators, the
president of Congress, or the president. It may consider only the
specific matters for which it was called. If another important issue
arises or is introduced by the president, it cannot be considered until
the assembly ends and another is called.
Ecuador - The Judiciary
The Court System
The judicial branch consists of three organs of equal status and
importance: the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ); the Fiscal Tribunal,
which recognizes and resolves controversies arising between the
revenue-collecting administration and the taxpayers and determines tax
obligations; and the Contentious Administrative Tribunal (TCA), which is
primarily responsible for recognizing and resolving controversies
arising in public administration. Located in Quito, these judicial
bodies have jurisdiction over all of the national territory. Their
judges or ministers of justice must be Ecuadorian citizens by birth, be
at least forty years of age, hold a doctorate in jurisprudence, and have
at least fifteen years of professional experience as a lawyer, judge, or
university professor in jurisprudence. The appointment of the CSJ's
sixteen justices is the constitutional prerogative of Congress.
In practice, Congress and the executive branch have frequently
manipulated the supposedly independent judiciary for political purposes.
Congress appoints the judges of the three judicial organs to serve
four-year terms. If vacancies later arise, these are filled by the
organs themselves until Congress nominates official replacements.
Occasionally, the president may intervene (on his or her own accord and
without any specific constitutional authorization to do so) in the
process of nominating CSJ justices by presenting a list of candidates,
and the Council of State (a body whose bureaucratic organization and
powers are unclear) may intervene by endorsing the candidates suggested
by the president. At the apex of the court system is the CSJ, consisting
of five chambers of three judges each, as well as the court's president.
When they meet, the members of the five chambers constitute the plenary
tribunal. The tribunal selects the court's president, who represents the
entire judicial branch for a two-year period and may not be reelected
until after five periods have elapsed.
The three judicial organs have certain powers with respect to
reforming the Constitution and initiating legislation. The CSJ may
initiate reforms of the Constitution, and all three judicial organs may
initiate proposals of law. In an arrangement similar to the
"legislative coparticipation" enjoyed by the president, the
justices of the three judicial bodies may meet with Congress or its
Legislative Commissions to intervene, without voting rights, in the
discussion of bills. The CSJ has a very secondary role in controlling
matters of constitutionality. Although any of its chambers, as well as
the Fiscal Tribunal and the TCA, may declare a law or regulation
unconstitutional, the plenary session of the CSJ must affirm such a
declaration, in which case the matter is reported to the TGC.
The CSJ supervises the superior, lower, and special courts and
prepares regulations to ensure that judicial employees function
properly. The CSJ examines the statistics of the cases submitted
annually by the superior courts, hears or resolves questions raised by
these courts, and suspends or removes lawyers who violate legal
statutes. It also removes criminal, provincial, and cantonal judges and
attorneys for misconduct while in office or for incapacitation. Finally,
it publishes the semiannual Gazeta Legal (Legal Gazette), as
well as the court's diary.
Each province has a Superior Court, whose judges are named by the
CSJ. Within its jurisdiction, each Superior Court nominates penal,
civil, labor, traffic, and tenancy judges, as well as fiscal agents,
public defenders, notaries, registers of property and merchandise, and
other judicial officials. Superior courts have first-instance
jurisdiction in criminal cases involving provincial governors, mayors,
members of electoral tribunals, customs officials, provincial judges,
and police officials. They hear appeals from lower courts in both
criminal and civil cases. They also resolve questions raised by
lower-court judges and supervise their activities, as well as those of
attorneys and notaries public. In addition, they appoint provincial and
cantonal judges and attorneys.
Lower courts included thirty-five criminal and forty-two provincial
courts in the late 1980s. They have first-instance jurisdiction in civil
cases where the amount involved exceeds 8,000 sucres. They must consult
the higher courts on the interpretation of the law. When ordered by
higher courts, lower courts must have representatives visit the jails in
the provinces to hear the complaints of inmates, correct any abuses
caused by prison personnel, and secure the release of any person
arrested or detained in an illegal manner. To be a provincial judge, a
person must be a citizen and a lawyer with three years of service.
The eighty-seven cantonal courts have jurisdiction in civil cases
where the amount involved is between 200 and 8,000 sucres. Cantonal
judges also may fine political lieutenants (tenentes políticos),
who are responsible for the administration of justice in each parish (parroquia),
for negligence of duty. Finally, special courts try cases involving
juveniles, and labor disputes.
The Fiscal Tribunal, consisting of three chambers and nine judges
named by Congress, resolves tax controversies. The TCA, which consists
of two chambers of three judges each who are named by Congress, resolves
controversies originating in the public administration and monitors the
application and fulfillment of the law by entities of the state and
The justices of the three judicial organs--CSJ, Fiscal Tribunal, and
TCA--are subject to prosecution by Congress or, in its recess, the PCL.
The Constitution prohibits the judges and fiscal officials from carrying
out leadership functions in the political parties, or intervening in
elections. They are also prohibited from serving as lawyers or holding
other public or private positions, with the exception of university
The Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees
The TGC, rather than the CSJ, interprets and monitors compliance with
the Constitution. Located in Quito, the TGC consists of eleven members
and their substitutes, who serve for a two-year period, without the
possibility of reelection. Congress appoints three TGC members who are
nonlegislators and selects eight others from lists submitted by the
president, the CSJ, the mayors and provincial prefects, the legal labor
unions, and the Commercial Associations. TGC members selected to
represent the legislative, executive, and judicial branches must not
already be government officials; they must be citizens by birth, in
possession of their rights of citizenship, over forty years of age, and
doctors of jurisprudence; and they must have fifteen years of
professional experience as lawyers, judges, or university professors in
jurisprudence. TGC members representing the workers, the Commercial
Associations, and the citizenry (such as the mayors and provincial
prefects) are required only to be citizens by birth and in possession of
their citizenship rights. The ministers of state, the comptroller
general, and the leaders of recognized political parties may participate
in TGC deliberations without voting rights.
The TGC's role has been secondary and temporary, and its
decision-making power weak. Salgado points out that the control of
constitutionality has been, in effect, entrusted to a largely political
organ, Congress, which lacks the requisite impartiality for debating the
unconstitutionality of laws, decrees, or resolutions enacted by Congress
itself. Although the 1979 Constitution failed to give the TGC
enforcement authority, the 1983 constitutional reforms partly rectified
this deficiency. Under the 1983 reforms, the TGC may demand the
dismissal of officeholders who violate TGC decisions, and the violators'
superiors are obligated to comply; request judges to initiate penal
action; or report its decision to Congress, which may act on it. The TGC
may also suspend those laws, decrees, accords, regulations, ordinances,
or resolutions that violate the Constitution. Nevertheless, it must
submit its decision to Congress or, in its recess, to the PCL, for final
resolution of the case of unconstitutionality. The PCL, for its part,
has had relatively broad powers to control constitutionality.
The TGC has several other powers as well. During the recess of
Congress, the TGC is empowered to authorize any foreign travel by the
president and to revoke a state of national emergency. The Law of
Municipal Regime allows the TGC to rule on cases involving the
disqualification of municipal councillors (concejales municipales),
vacancies, or unconstitutional ordinances that the Provincial Councils
were unable to resolve. The Law of Political Parties of 1978 and the Law
of Elections of 1987 also grant the TGC some electoral powers.
Ecuador - Public Administration
Under the 1987 Law of Elections, all citizens have the right to vote
or be elected, except active-duty members of the Public Forces and
anyone whose citizenship rights have been suspended. Electoral
registrars (padrones electorales) determine citizens'
qualifications to vote. The franchise is obligatory for those entitled
to vote, with the exception of illiterates, persons over seventy-five
years of age, those certified as sick or physically disabled,
individuals who suffered a domestic calamity on election day or from one
to eight days before, and citizens who are absent from the country or
who arrived on the day of the election.
The 1979 Constitution establishes several innovations in the system
for designating the president and vice president. Whereas previously
they were elected by a plurality, the Constitution requires that they be
elected by an absolute majority of votes. This usually requires a second
electoral round between the two leading candidates. The three organs
responsible for overseeing the electoral process, with the aid of the
Public Forces, are the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal), TPEs
(Provincial Electoral Tribunals), and the Vote Receiving Committees
(Juntas Receptoras del Voto--JRVs).
As the highest of these bodies, the TSE is responsible for appointing
and supervising TPE members, overseeing the electoral registrars,
convoking elections and the entities that form the electoral colleges,
counting electoral votes, resolving appeals of rulings made by the TPEs,
and issuing regulations governing the political parties. The TSE must
convoke elections at least 120 days in advance of the casting of
ballots. If this deadline is missed by more than forty-eight hours, the
TGC may convoke the elections or a popular referendum and replace the
TSE members with their substitutes, although in 1989 the
constitutionality of this arrangement remained an issue. The TSE must
resolve within ten days appeals raised about TPE decisions not to
register candidates, to nullify votes, to invalidate or annul the vote
counting, or to impose penalties for electoral infractions. The TSE also
resolves electoral complaints made against civil authorities.
The TPEs are formed by the TSE in each province. The seven TPE
members, who serve two years, represent the various political parties.
TPE members direct and oversee the electoral process in their own
jurisdiction and see that the orders of the TSE are carried out. The
TPEs also appoint the members of the JRVs, conduct vote counting in
their jurisdiction in a popular referendum or in elections for mayor,
and resolve complaints by citizens and political parties over electoral
The JRVs receive ballots at a public polling place on the election
days. For each election, the TPEs designate a number of JRVs in
accordance with the electoral registrars. The JRVs each have three
principal members, three substitutes, and a secretary, all of whom are
selected by their respective electoral registrar. The various political
parties must be represented in the JRVs. Parties submit suggested
candidates to the TPE at least sixty days before elections. The
principal powers and duties of the JRVs are to provide each citizen with
ballots and later a certificate of having voted; to conduct partial vote
counting immediately after the polls have closed; to determine the
number of valid, blank, or null votes; and to remit the ballots to the
Only legally recognized political parties may declare candidates and
register them. Registration must be completed ninety days before the
date of the elections. A citizen may not be a candidate in a national
and provincial election simultaneously. The president and vice president
of the republic, mayors, presidents of municipal councils, provincial
prefects, and most of the councillors, council members, and national and
provincial deputies are elected in the first electoral round every four
years. The second electoral round is held two years after the first
round. Provincial deputies, whose term lasts two years, and some
replacements for councillors and council members are elected at that
The Constitution provides for a popular consultation (consulta
popular), which the Law of Elections refers to more specifically as
a plebiscite (generally held as a vote of confidence on an action of a
government) or a referendum (generally held to approve the text of a
law). Either the executive or the legislative branch of government may
call on the electorate to resolve a divisive issue, although the former
has greater prerogatives to hold a popular consultation.
The decision adopted by a popular consultation is final. Febres
Cordero became embroiled in a constitutional row in early 1986 when he
formally called for an election-day plebiscite on whether independent
candidates should be allowed to run for elective office. The opposition,
believing that the proposed reform was designed to concentrate political
and economic power in the presidency, contended that Febres Cordero's
action violated Article 78, which allows the president to call
plebiscites on "issues of national transcendence," but not on
constitutional amendments. The opposition also claimed that Febres
Cordero violated a provision giving the president recourse to a
plebiscite only if Congress votes against a constitutional reform
proposed by the executive. Although Febres Cordero had his way and the
plebiscite on the constitutional amendment was held in June 1986, he
lost the vote by a margin of 58 to 26 percent.
Ecuador - POLITICAL DYNAMICS
The 1967 constitution was the first to introduce provisions for
political parties. The 1979 Constitution attempts to strengthen the
party-based system by giving parties state protection and financial
assistance. For a party to receive state financial aid, it must have
obtained at least 5 percent of the votes in elections for national and
provincial deputies, councillors, and council members. In these
elections, the parties are prohibited from forming alliances; each party
is obliged to run its own candidates. Alliances are allowed, however, in
elections for president and vice president, mayors, and prefects.
The Constitution apportions state financial aid to legally recognized
parties as follows: 60 percent in equal parts to each party and the
remaining 40 percent according to the votes obtained in the last
national elections. Although the parties also receive contributions from
their affiliates, they may not receive, directly or indirectly,
financial donations from individuals or groups that have contracts with
the state or from companies, institutions, or foreign states.
Article 37, which was widely debated prior to the holding of a
popular referendum in June 1986, gives legally recognized parties a type
of monopoly because only they can run candidates in an election. Whereas
the Constitution gives any citizen the right to be elected, Article 37
prohibits a citizen from running as an independent candidate and
requires candidates to be affiliated with a political party. Salgado
observed that the party affiliation requirement probably strengthens the
party system, but it does so by compromising the political right of any
citizen to run for office.
Although Ecuadorians over eighteen years of age may join a political
party, under the Law of Political Parties this right does not apply to
active-duty members of the armed forces and National Police, ministers
of any religious denomination, or anyone sentenced to jail for
defrauding the state (at least until after a period double that of the
prison sentence). The law also prohibits more than one party
affiliation. The penalty of violating this law is loss of citizenship
rights for one year.
The Constitution sets out the organizational requirements for a
political party. It must have a party doctrine and a program of
political action that are in accord with the national interests. A party
must keep count of the number of its members and be organized on a
national level; that is, its organization must extend to no fewer than
ten provinces, including two of the three most populated provinces
(which in the late 1980s were Guayas, Pichincha, and Manabí). The Law
of Political Parties also establishes that the membership of a party
must constitute no fewer than 1.5 percent of the registered voters in
the last electoral turnout.
A grouping or political movement must seek TSE recognition as a party
according to a procedure laid out in the Law of Political Parties. To
participate in elections, a party must have been legally recognized six
months before the holding of these elections. In the late 1980s, Ecuador
had sixteen legal parties.
Any changes in the higher leadership of a party or in its statutes
must be reported to the TSE within eight days. The principal leader of a
party and the members of its higher leadership body serve two-year
terms. The principal leader may be reelected only once, after a two-year
period, for another term. When a party splits and two directorates are
formed, the TSE must determine which faction is legitimate. To that end,
each faction has a thirty-day period in which to present its case. The
TSE then has fifteen days in which to decide on the case, and its
decision is final. Other party problems generally are resolved
internally and in accordance with the party's statutes and regulations.
The party's national leadership or the elements in conflict may,
however, submit their problem to the decision of the TSE.
According to the Law of Political Parties, the TSE may abolish a
party that decides to dissolve itself, incorporates or joins with
another party, does not participate in general elections in at least ten
provinces, forms paramilitary organizations, or does not respect the
required nonpolitical character of the active-duty armed forces and
National Police. As originally formulated, the Law of Political Parties
also provided that if a party failed to obtain at least 5 percent of the
votes in each of two successive elections, the TSE could dissolve it by
withdrawing its legal recognition. That provision was not in effect in
1988, however, having been declared unconstitutional because of a
technicality; whereas the Law of Political Parties spoke of a required
"electoral percentage," the Constitution refers only to an
Unless it is dissolving itself, a party being abolished by the TSE
has sixty days in which to present documentation in its own defense.
Notice of the abolishment of a party and the cancellation of its
registration are published in the Registro Oficial del Estado
and sent to the news media.
The Law of Political Parties guarantees parties the right to organize
meetings, marches, and public demonstrations. A party must submit a
written request to hold a public march or demonstration at least
forty-eight hours in advance. The authority may reject a request only if
another demonstration will be held at the same place, day, and hour, but
will approve another date and hour and must act on the request within
twenty-four hours. A rejection may be appealed to the TPE. Any march or
public demonstration must also be authorized by the police authority in
the provincial capitals, by the national commissioner (comisario
nacional) in the cantons, and by the political lieutenant in the
parishes. Parties do not require authorization to hold nonpublic
meetings, but are obligated to inform the aforementioned authorities in
advance. Counterdemonstrations are prohibited.
The Law of Political Parties also guarantees the right of parties to
propagandize their programs. If, however, political propaganda or
statements disseminated by news media impugn the honor or good name of
someone, that individual may demand that the offender publish a
retraction. If necessary, the individual may appeal to the TPE to have
this demand carried out. Under the law, all means of social
communication not owned by a party must provide access to all parties
and may not enter into exclusive political propaganda contracts. Lastly,
political proselytism in schools and colleges is prohibited, as is
coercing someone to join a party, to vote for a candidate, to
participate in marches or demonstrations, or to make financial
Ecuadorian politics in the 1980s constituted an increasingly bitter
struggle among conservative, center-left, and far-left parties and their
leaders. Political scientist Catherine M. Conaghan, commenting on the
declining standards of Ecuadorian political discourse in the late 1980s,
noted that "in the absence of strong institutions and new ideas,
Ecuadorian politics has devolved into a highly personalized and often
trivialized arena of intra-elite struggle."
Party competition in the 1980s was mainly between the PSC (Christian
Social Party) and the ID (Democratic Left). Many blamed the heightened
interparty friction on Febres Cordero, the PSC leader who won the
presidency by polling 52.2 percent in the second round of voting in May
1984. Febres Cordero narrowly defeated Borja, who polled 47.8 percent as
the ID candidate. Febres Cordero's conservative National Reconstruction
Front (Frente de Reconstrución Nacional--FRN) coalition consisted of
seven parties, including the traditional PC and PLR. The FRN held only
twenty-nine of the seventy-one seats in Congress, however, and the
opposition effectively controlled the remaining forty-two. The resulting
political infighting threatened the stability of the country's fragile
democracy on several occasions.
Febres Cordero promised an honest public administration and a revival
of market principles in managing the economy. Nevertheless, his
government suffered from a succession of political and economic crises.
Ruling more in the style of a caudillo than an elected politician,
Febres Cordero used his executive powers boldly, creating a number of
constitutional conflicts with the other two branches of government. For
example, in late 1985 he promulgated a controversial bill changing the
electoral law and postponing the legislative elections scheduled for
early 1986. The proposed reform, which was defeated in the plebiscite
held on June 1, 1986, would not only have given the executive
extraordinary economic powers, but would also have limited the right of
habeas corpus, set a four-year term for all members of Congress, and
allowed independents to be elected. Febres Cordero's authoritarian rule
and strongly pro-United States policies were blamed for his government's
major political defeat in the mid-term congressional elections by allied
center-left and Marxist parties, which captured forty-three of the
legislature's seventy-one seats.
Certain high-ranking military officials posed a challenge to Febres
Cordero in 1986. He dismissed the armed forces chief of staff, Air Force
Lieutenant General Frank Vargas Pazzos, for accusing the minister of
national defense and an army commander of corruption. Vargas
subsequently staged a week-long double revolt-- first at the Eloy Alfaro
Air Base in Manta on the Pacific Coast and then at Quito's Marshal Sucre
International Airport--and demanded the resignations of the two military
leaders. A bloody battle in March ended the second revolt and resulted
in Vargas's arrest. Although Congress granted Vargas amnesty that
October, a decision upheld by the TGC, Febres Cordero refused to honor
the decision, sparking a constitutional controversy.
During a presidential visit to the Taura Air Base outside Guayaquil
in January 1987, paratroop commandos loyal to Vargas abducted Febres
Cordero and his defense minister. They were released eleven hours later
after Febres Cordero personally granted amnesty to Vargas and signed a
written guarantee that no reprisals would be taken against either the
rebellious former general or his commandos. A few days later, however,
the army arrested the ninety- four paratroopers, who were then expelled
from the air force. A military tribunal sentenced fifty-eight of them to
prison sentences ranging from six months to sixteen years.
Rather than rallying around the president following the near
overthrow of the democratic system, the leftist-dominated Congress
called a special session to consider impeaching Febres Cordero for
allowing himself to be kidnapped and then negotiating his release by
freeing Vargas. Although the opposition was unable to obtain the
two-thirds majority needed to impeach the president, it approved a
nonbinding demand that Febres Cordero resign for "disgracing"
the national honor.
Running as both a Socialist and a populist, Vargas participated in
the first round of the 1988 presidential elections as the representative
of the People's Patriotic Union (Unión del Pueblo Patriótico--UPP). To
the surprise of many, Vargas placed fourth by garnering over 12 percent
of the vote. In that election, Vargas's UPP also allied itself with the
PSE (Ecuadorian Socialist Party), the Ecuadorian Revolutionary Popular
Alliance (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Ecuatoriana--APRE), and FADI
(Broad Left Front).
Also running as a center-left candidate was Jamil Mahuad Witt, a DP
protégé of former president Osvaldo Hurtado. Mahuad won 11.5 percent
of the vote. On the far left, Jaime Hurtado ran as the candidate of the
Maoist-oriented Democratic Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular Democrático--MPD),
with the backing of the FADI, but collected only 5 percent of the vote,
behind the CFP's Angel Duarte, with nearly 8 percent.
Another contender was PRE leader Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz, who returned
from Panama, where he had fled in 1985 after criticizing the armed
forces, to participate in the first round of the presidential elections.
Febres Cordero allowed the flamboyant, mercurial Bucaram to return in
the belief that his candidacy would help weaken the center-left and
unite the right. The 18.4 percent of the vote Bucaram garnered shocked
all the candidates and their parties, especially those on the disunited
right, whose prime contender, the PSC's Sixto Durán Ballén, placed
third with not quite 15 percent of the vote. A high voter turnout
(nearly 78 percent) throughout the country and particularly in Guayaquil
contributed to Bucaram's impressive showing. He suddenly became a major
challenger by edging out Durán and placing second to Rodrigo Borja who,
as expected, was in first place, with 24.5 percent.
Accordingly, the second round of the presidential elections in May
1988 was a contest between Borja and Bucaram. Despite their lack of
substantive policy differences--both favored economic nationalism and
import substitution--their campaigns were characterized by hard-hitting
personal attacks that, Conaghan notes, "brought the level of
political discourse to a new low." Borja won, as expected, with 1.7
million ballots, or 47.4 percent of the vote. Bucaram, with the aid of
the Lebanese community in Guayaquil, polled 40.3 percent, totaling about
1.45 million votes. (Of the approximately 3.8 million ballots cast,
425,000 were null and 45,000 blank.) This was a much better showing than
expected, especially considering the failure of his PRE to win the
support of any of the other major registered parties. Bucaram
subsequently fled the country again to avoid an arrest order issued by
the president of Guayaquil's Superior Court for alleged malfeasance when
he was mayor of Guayaquil in 1985. Nevertheless, according to Conaghan,
the electoral results legitimized Bucaram as a national leader and
assured him a future role as a presidential contender.
Although Borja lost in the five coastal provinces, he carried the
fourteen provinces of the Sierra and Oriente (eastern region), as well
as the Galápagos Islands. (Sucumbíos, the twenty-first province, was
not created until 1989.) He also made an important showing in Guayas
Province and adjacent Los Ríos Province, winning about 33 percent of
the vote. Borja's ID became the majority party by winning twenty-nine of
the seventy-one seats in Congress and entering into a coalition with the
Popular Democratic Union (Unión Democrática Popular--UDP) and DP
(Popular Democracy), with seven seats, and FADI, with two seats. FADI
was joined by the Movement for the Unity of the Left (Movimiento para la
Unidad de la Izquierda--MUI) and the Revolutionary Movement of the
Christian Left (Movimiento Revolucionario de la Izquierda
Cristiana--MRIC). Borja also had the support of the FRA (Alfarist
Radical Front), the Maoist MPD, and CFP (Concentration of Popular
Borja took office in August 1988 promising to reverse completely the
policy course of Febres Cordero. He called for a "pluralist
cabinet" and a "government of consensus," meaning a
national understanding (concertación) among workers,
employers, and the government. His cabinet included seven ID members,
four independents, and one DP member, as well as the two secretaries
general, who belonged to the ID. Borja, a former professor of
constitutional law at the Central University, made respect for legal
guarantees a central theme in the selection of his ministers. His
government energetically investigated alleged civil abuses perpetrated
by Febres Cordero's government and secured several convictions.
The Borja government also took a new direction by making moves to
appease opposition elements within military and guerrilla ranks. In
November 1988, with the approval of the CSJ and several other
institutions, including the military, Borja pardoned the air force
paratroopers who had kidnaped Febres Cordero and had become, in jail,
heroes among left-wing and populist parties. In early 1989, the Borja
government negotiated an agreement with the Eloy Alfaro Popular Armed
Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Populares Eloy Alfaro--FAP- EL), popularly known
as the Alfaro Lives, Damnit! (¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo!--AVC), a
guerrilla/terrorist group founded in 1982. Borja also pardoned a number
of imprisoned former air force members. In mid-1989 his legislative
coalition with Hurtado's Christian Democratic party ended by mutual
accord: Hurtado had opposed it from the start, and Borja no longer
needed the agreement with the Christian Democrats, having won the
support of other small parties.
Ecuador - Political Forces and Interest Groups
Disunited and poorly organized for most of its history, the labor
movement developed only slowly and had only a marginal political impact.
Precise figures on unionization in the late 1980s were practically
nonexistent, even within the unions themselves. The organized labor
movement was divided into four confederations and a number of
independent federations. At the local level, labor organizations also
took the form of artisan guilds, cooperatives, and neighborhood
associations. In addition to representing only a minority of the workers
in all sectors of employment (approximately one-fifth), the labor
movement traditionally was weakened by rivalry and government
repression. Nevertheless, it had influence disproportionate to its
numbers as a result of the concentration of labor unions in urban areas,
mainly Quito and Guayaquil, its organizational power, and the political
impact of strikes and demonstrations on governments that did not enjoy
Professional or employee associations (cámaras), composed
of middle-class, white-collar workers, constituted about 25 percent of
all labor unions. Representing the dominant economic groups in the
country, these associations exercised a predominant influence on
economic policy; their representatives frequently held cabinet posts and
other top government positions dealing with economics. The support of
the associations proved crucial to most governments.
Although union organizations began forming in Ecuador early in the
twentieth century, organized workers did not begin to acquire any
influence until the late 1930s. Key events in Ecuador's labor history
took place in 1938 with the promulgation of the Labor Code and the
founding of the first labor confederation, the Ecuadorian Federation of
Classist Organizations (Central Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones
Clasistas--Cedoc). Between 1938 and 1949, some 550 labor organizations
were formed. These included the country's second confederation, the
Confederation of Ecuadorian Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores
Ecuatorianos--CTE), which began operating in 1944. A total of 3,093
unions were established between 1950 and 1973.
Cedoc was never an effective articulator of worker interests, being
more concerned with religious causes, combating efforts to eliminate
exclusion of ecclesiastical control and influence in labor
organizations, and curtailing communist infiltration in the labor
sector. Although of Catholic origin, Cedoc rejected its Christian
Democratic leadership in 1976 and adopted a socialist orientation. The
old leaders retained the support of a few grassroots organizations and
formed a parallel organization. Approximately 80 percent of Cedoc's
membership came from the Ecuadorian Federation of Peasant Organizations
(Federación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Campesinas--Fenoc). In the
mid-1980s, Cedoc had unions in fifteen of the twenty provinces; its
estimated membership of 130,000 was largely composed of artisans, with
almost no industrial worker membership. After twelve years of political
division, the two Cedoc branches united in 1988 and formed the
Ecuadorian Confederation of Classist Organizations for Workers' Unity
(Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Clasistas para la Unidad
de los Trabajadores--CEDOCUT).
Through militant activities, such as petitions, collective conflicts,
and general strikes, the CTE--composed predominantly of industrial
workers and led by members of the communist and socialist
parties--emerged as the principal labor organization in Ecuador in the
late 1970s. Although the CTE had become the largest of the three
national confederations by the 1970s, its hegemony declined in the 1980s
as a result of the growth of rival confederations, internal conflicts
and splits, and governmental repression. In 1987 only a shadow remained
of its peasant federation, the Ecuadorian Indian Federation (Federación
Ecuatoriana de Indios--FEI). The CTE still included a number of
industrial unions and various public-sector unions, and was organizing
autonomous workers. It encompassed an estimated 55,000 members in 200
The Communist Party of Ecuador--Marxist-Leninist established a small
federation, the General Union of Ecuadorian Workers (Unión General de
Trabajadores Ecuatorianos--UGTE), in an attempt to rival the CTE. Apart
from the powerful National Union of Teachers (Unión Nacional de
Educadores--UNE), which had about 100,000 members, the UGTE had little
success in affiliating unions. Together with student unions and a few
other groups, the UGTE formed the Popular Front (Frente Popular--FP),
which in the 1980s was attempting to rival the United Workers Front
(Frente Unitario de Trabajadores-- FUT) in organizing protest action.
The Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (Organización
Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores--ORIT) tried to unify the
non-Marxist unions by founding the Ecuadorian Confederation of Free
Trade Union Organizations (Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones
Sindicales Libres--CEOSL) in 1962. CEOSL, the third-largest
confederation, membership consisted almost exclusively of urban white-
and blue-collar workers. The CEOSL included fourteen provincial and
thirteen national federations made up of a large proportion of
industrial workers, a number of members from the service sector, and a
small number of agricultural workers, peasants, and craftsmen.
FUT emerged in 1971 and eventually united the three main
confederations--Cedoc, CEOSL, and CTE--plus a number of independent
unions, including the Catholic Federation of Workers (Central Católica
de Obreros--CCO), making FUT the country's largest workers'
confederation. By the 1980s, FUT totaled an estimated 300,000 members
and emerged as the leader of a massive movement that arose spontaneously
to protest the economic crisis, and that greatly outnumbered the ranks
of unionized workers. FUT nearly toppled President Hurtado in 1982 when
he introduced austerity measures in the face of the debt crisis. In June
1988, FUT, together with the National Coordinator of Workers
(Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores--CNT), the Confederation of
Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Confederación de Nacionalidades
Indígenas del Ecuador--Conaie), and FP, staged a one-day national
strike aimed at obtaining a large increase in the minimum wage and a
freeze on the prices of basic goods. It was the seventh general labor
action against the Febres Cordero government and coincided with an
ongoing strike by the UNE for a rise in monthly wages. The impact of FUT
remained limited, however, because the federation tended to maintain its
working-class orientation, based on wage claims, and in practice gave
relatively little importance to the claims of other sectors that looked
to it for leadership.
Ecuador - Students
Although the 1979 Constitution accords Ecuadorians the right to
freedom of opinion and expression of thought, media ownership has
remained concentrated in the hands of a few large interests. In the late
1980s, all media were privately controlled, except the National Radio
(Radio Nacional), which was operated by the government's
ministerial-level National Communications Secretariat (Secretaría
Nacional de Comunicaciones--Senac), previously called the National
Secretariat for Public Information (Secretaría Nacional de Información
Pública--Sendip) under the Febres Cordero administration. The
government, however, controlled the allocation of radio and television
frequencies. Historically, most media owners endorsed the political
status quo and gave tacit support to right-wing governments and even to
dictatorships. In the 1980s, however, conservative interests were less
dominant in radio than in television and the written press.
The Febres Cordero government used the media systematically in an
effort to gain media support for its free-market economic policies, and
in the process it infringed on press freedom. For example, in late 1984
the government temporarily closed five radio stations--four in Guayaquil
and one in Quito--after they broadcast Guayaquil mayor Abdalá Bucaram's
censure of Febres Cordero. The government also used economic means of
pressure, such as suspending its substantial public-sector advertising
in the center-left daily Hoy and the monthly magazine Nueva,
as well as pressuring private banks and companies not to advertise in
these publications. As a result, the independent media initially omitted
or toned down criticism of the government. However, two prestigious
inter-American media associations criticized the Febres Cordero
government for alleged violations of press freedom. In a report released
in March 1985, the Inter-American Press Association accused the
government of intolerance toward the independent press and a lack of
objectivity in government press releases. In addition, many opposition
journalists complained that the government was using legal or
pseudo-legal devices and pretexts to reduce further the already limited
space available to the minority press. In 1987 opposition radio and
television stations continued to experience government attempts to
stifle the media. The ability of the government to pressure state and
private companies to discriminate against the independent media
diminished following the erosion of Febres Cordero's standing and
On taking office in August 1988, Borja vowed to uphold freedom of the
press and appointed various journalists to high-level governmental
posts. The Senac, composed of new members appointed by Borja, undertook
efforts to make the government accessible to the media and to promote
freedom of the press. Senac also abolished the progovernment simulcasts
initiated by the Febres Cordero administration and allowed Channel 5 in
Quito to resume broadcasting in August 1988, after being closed for four
Ecuador had ten principal television stations in the late 1980s. The
country's commercial radio stations numbered over 260, including 10
cultural and 10 religious stations. The "Voice of the Andes"
station had operated for more than fifty years as an evangelical
Christian shortwave radio service supported largely by contributions
from the United States.
Ecuador had only thirty daily newspapers in the late 1980s. The
newspapers with the largest circulations, El Comercio and El
Universo, were published in Quito and Guayaquil respectively.
Founded in the 1920s, they were closely connected with each city's small
but powerful business community in the 1980s. Quito and Guayaquil each
had four dailies. Quito's largest newspaper, El Comercio, was
conservative and had a circulation of 130,000. El Comercio also
owned an evening newspaper, #Ultimas Notícias. The Quito-based
Hoy, founded in the early 1980s, had a circulation in 1987 of
between 35,000 and 40,000. Guayaquil's El Universo was
independent and had a circulation of between 120,000 and 190,000 on
weekdays and 225,000 on Sundays. Guayaquil's second newspaper, Expreso,
published evening newspapers in both cities: Extra in Guayaquil
and La Hora in Quito. Some ten international news agencies had
bureaus in Quito.
The principal weekly periodicals that covered political and economic
affairs were Quito's La Calle, with a circulation of 20,000,
and Guayaquil's Análisis Semanal and Vistazo. Nueva,
with a circulation of between 12,000 and 14,000, was founded in the
early 1970s as an alternative magazine oriented to those sectors of the
population that were under-represented by the traditional press, such as
trade union workers, intellectuals, and Indians.
Among Ecuador's ten principal publishers, only Editorial Claridad and
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, published books on
politics. According to the United States Department of State in the late
1980s, there was no political censorship of domestic or foreign books,
films, or works of art, and no government interference with academic
Ecuador - FOREIGN RELATIONS
Ecuador and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations in
1969, but it was not until 1972, when Ecuador joined OPEC, that the
Soviets showed much interest in Ecuador. By the mid-1970s, the Soviet
Union maintained an embassy in Quito rivaling in importance that of the
Ecuador traditionally favored multilateral approaches to
international problems. It belonged to the UN, the Nonaligned Movement
(NAM), the OAS, and other regional integration groupings, such as the
Latin American Economic System (Sistema Económica
Latinoamericano--SELA), the Latin American Energy Organization, the
Latin American Integration Association, and the Andean Pact.
Ecuador--along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Peru--signed the
Andean Pact and the Cartagena Agreement in 1969, creating an Andean
Common Market. In 1978 Ecuador and seven other South American countries
signed the Amazon Pact treaty for the joint development of the Amazon
Febres Cordero, however, took exception to Ecuador's traditional
multilateralism. Impatient with regional and multilateral arrangements,
he opposed the clause in the Andean Pact that restricted foreign
investment, and sought to have it liberalized. To that end, Ecuador
threatened several times to withdraw from the Andean Pact. It did not
send a representative to the 1986 meeting of the group's foreign
ministers in Uruguay. The Febres Cordero government also kept a low
profile in the OAS, the SELA, and the Cartagena Group.
Praised as "realistic and pragmatic" by some, Febres
Cordero's foreign policy was criticized as "erratic and
incongruous" by others. Evidence supporting both these views could
be found in his government's relations with Cuba and Nicaragua and his
positions on Latin American issues. On April 16, 1985, Febres Cordero
became the first conservative Latin American president to visit Cuba
since Fidel Castro Ruz took power twenty-six years earlier. The
Ecuadorian president reportedly talked at length with Castro about ways
to ease the region's foreign debt burden and bring peace to Central
The Febres Cordero government kept its distance, however, from most
of the region's initiatives to promote Latin American solidarity. In
October 1985, Ecuador joined the so-called Lima Group of four South
American nations--Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay--supporting the
search for peace in Central America initiated by the Contadora Group
(consisting of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama, whose ministers
first met in 1983 on Contadora Island in the Gulf of Panama).
Nonetheless, Ecuador not only withdrew from the Lima Group later that
month, but also became the first Latin American nation to break
diplomatic relations with Nicaragua. The break in relations, which came
suddenly after Febres Cordero and Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega
Saavedra traded public insults, had the unintended effect of isolating
Ecuador from other Latin American countries. Some observers also viewed
it as Febres Cordero's response to the United States' request for a
blockade of international aid to Nicaragua.
In his inaugural address, Borja vowed to pursue an independent,
nonaligned foreign policy based on the principles of selfdetermination
and nonintervention. He believed that Latin American unity should take
priority over ideological differences. Accordingly, he invited both
Ortega and Castro to his inauguration ceremony on August 10. Castro
attended the event, but Febres Cordero refused to allow Ortega into the
country, except as a tourist. Consequently, Ortega delayed his arrival
in Quito until August 11, by which time Borja, in one of his first
official acts as head of state, had restored diplomatic relations with
Nicaragua. Borja also expanded the relationship that Febres Cordero had
initiated with Cuba, allowing some Cuban and Nicaraguan advisers to
assist in Ecuador's National Literacy Program. In addition, he
criticized the policy of isolating Cuba from international forums, such
as the UN and OAS.
Borja also endorsed the establishment of an OPEC common front to
defend oil prices, to fulfill the obligations that Ecuador assumed in
the modifying protocol of the Cartagena Agreement, and to reincorporate
Ecuador into the group of Latin American countries supporting the
Central American peace process. The Borja government anticipated good
relations with Venezuela, another OPEC member whose president, Carlos
Andrés Pérez, was Borja's closest associate in the region. In early
1989, however, the Group of Eight (the eight democratic Latin American
countries which belonged to the former Contadora or Lima Groups)
rejected Ecuador's bid for membership. Nevertheless, in June 1989
Colombian president Virgilio Barco Vargas invited Ecuador to replace
Panama in the Group of Eight. In September 1989, Borja stated publicly
his belief that General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama's de facto leader
as commander of the Panama Defense Forces, should step down, but added
that he opposed United States military intervention to depose him.
A protracted border dispute continued to strain relations between
Ecuador and Peru. The approximately 200,000-squarekilometer area of the
Amazon (the Marañón district), which Ecuador had claimed since the
nineteenth century, contained the city of Iquitos on the west bank of
the Amazon River and also Peru's main jungle petroleum-producing region.
Since 1960, when Ecuador's president Velasco declared invalid the Rio
Protocol, under which the area was recognized as Peru's, Ecuador had
continued to assert its right to the disputed region and to emphasize
its need for an outlet to the Atlantic via the Amazon River. A small border war with Peru broke out
on January 28, 1981, in the Condor mountain range, which runs along the
border between the Amazon Basin and Ecuador. After Peruvian forces drove
Ecuadorian troops back from the border posts, a ceasefire came into
effect on February 1. A commission composed of the military attachés of
the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, who helped negotiate
the cease-fire, was charged with supervising the border area. Most
Ecuadorians, however, supported their government's efforts to obtain a
revision of the 1942 protocol.
As a vice president of the Socialist International, Borja enjoyed
good relations with several West European countries. He was particularly
close to Portuguese President Mario Lopes Soares, who attended his
inauguration. The French-speaking Ecuadorian president was also a
long-time admirer of France's president François Mitterrand, whose wife
Danielle attended the installation ceremony on behalf of France. The
deputy prime minister of Spain also attended, as did representatives
from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), the German
Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Sweden. The Soviet Union and
China were also represented at the inauguration. The Borja government
reaffirmed Ecuador's support for the rights of the Palestinian people
and for a peaceful, just, and lasting solution to the Middle East
conflict within the framework of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and
338 and an international conference under UN auspices. Borja attended
the NAM summit in Yugoslavia in September 1989.
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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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