Monday, January 20, 2014

Ecuador Profile

article from October 5, 2011
by Julie R Butler

Situated right on the equator, Ecuador’s small size (it is South America’s fourth-smallest country) makes its diversity in climates, geography, and biology all the more impressive, with three geographical areas on the mainland – the coastal plain lining the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains, and the eastern lowlands, where upland rainforests descend into the Amazon Basin – plus the Galapagos Islands. Colombia is the northern neighbor of the Ecuador, while Peru borders it to the east and south.

A large majority of the population lives in the highlands and along the coast. The port city of Guayaquil is the largest city (population 2,286,800), followed by the capital, Quito (1,619,800), and then Cuenca (330,000).

Ecuador History

Civilizations have existed in the region since as far back as circa 8800 BCE. The distinctive Valdivia Culture and the Machalilla Culture along the coast, along with the Quitus near what is now Quito in the northern mountains and the Cañari near Cuenca in the mountainous south formed a regional confederation, trading among themselves and coming together to resist the Inca until finally conquered by them. For a short period just before the Spanish Conquest began, Quito was the capital of the Inca Empire.

Disease and labor camps decimated the indigenous population as Ecuador became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru for 300 years. The call for independence from Spain rang out on August 10, 1809. On October 9, 1820, Guayaquil became the first Ecuadorian city to claim itself independent. And on May 24, 1822, the rest of Ecuador liberated itself. Ecuador joined the Republic of Gran Colombia and, in 1830, separated into its own republic.

The 19th century saw a rapid succession of authoritarian rulers come and go, up until the Liberal Revolution of 1895, when forces based along the coast gained control for thirty years over the clergy and landowners based in the highlands, only to be deposed by a military junta that brought on more instability and the rise of populist politicians. Then came recession and more political instability, and armed conflict with Peru resulted in loss of territory. Meanwhile, foreign interests developed oil resources in the Amazon Basin and constructed the Andean Pipeline to transport the oil to Guayaquil, boosting Ecuador’s oil export capacity tremendously.

Nearly a decade of civilian and military dictatorship in the 1970s ended in the return to democracy in 1979. But in the years leading up to 2006, when current President Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado was elected, it was once again economic difficulties that continued to wreak havoc on stability and progress in Ecuador, especially when the indigenous people began to be politically active. Small gains weighted against failure to deliver on promises of land reform and social services have caused volatility to ensue and the executive office to deteriorate.

Ecuador today

So, all of this is what is behind President Correa’s recent moves to regain power for the executive branch. An economist by training, he has made impressive progress in reducing high levels of poverty and unemployment, and his declaration of Ecuador’s national debt as illegitimate, due to the fact that it was incurred by corrupt and despotic prior regimes, has to be recognized as some truly brilliant maneuvering. It worked, as he was able to reduce the price of the debt letters and continue paying on it by borrowing from China. He also oversaw a rewriting of the constitution, allowing himself to run for a second term in office, which he won in the first-round general election, the first time in three decades that a runoff election was not required. He is eligible to run for one more term.

Correa is popular for standing up to foreign petroleum companies and foreign creditors while standing up for social programs and the environment. But unfortunately, his suppression of press freedom and his judicial overhaul are troubling. Tensions between the police, the military, and Correa are also simmering. Relations with the United States are icy, and Colombia is being held at arm’s length. Meanwhile, drug-related crime is on the rise in Ecuador.

Ecuador today is somewhat popular with expats because it is a beautiful country that is diverse and culturally interesting, and of course, the cost of living is quite low. However, social tensions between the poor and the wealthy elite are cause for some concern, and the impending economic downturn does not bode well for a country whose biggest export is oil and whose greatest challenge has been volatility during economic downturns.

[Image of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Cuenca, Ecuador, via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler