new internationalist
issue 238 - December 1992

Country profile: Ecuador

Where is Ecuador? When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos islands (part of Ecuador) in 1830 to study their flora and fauna, his observations formed the basis of his theory of evolution - for half of the Galapagos plant species and almost all its reptiles are found nowhere else in the world.

Ecuador takes its name from the Equator which runs across the north of the country. The capital, Quito, is the second highest in Latin America (after Bolivia's La Paz). The architecture of the government palace, the cathedral, and the San Francisco church imbues the city with a colonial flavour.

When Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in 1532, Ecuador was part of the Inca empire. Spanish occupants remained in control until 1809 when the local junta of Quito ousted the audencia, the Spanish governmental body. But it was only in 1822 that liberator Simon Bolivar's lieutenant, General Sucre, defeated the Spanish forces at the battle of Pichincha. Following a short period as part of the Confederacion de Gran Colombia, Ecuador declared complete independence in 1830.

Throughout the nineteenth century, Ecuador's history was characterized by tension between conservatives and liberals. Quito-based conservatives dominated the Government until 1895, when liberals seized power and held it until 1944. This factionalism founded today's rivalry between Quito, in the mountainous Sierra region, and Guayaquil, in the lowland Costa. The third geographical area is the eastern Amazon region called Oriente. This sparsely populated land is home to the Jibaros and other indigenous groups.

Most of Ecuador's Indian population lives and works in the Sierra region. With about a half of the country's labour force dedicated to agriculture, Ecuador's economy relied on cocoa and coffee production in the 1940s, and bananas in the 1950s and 1960s. A modernized version of huasipungo, a system inherited from colonial times whereby Indians work virtually as slaves for the landowner, is still practised on some haciendas or large estates.

Ecuador is the second largest exporter of crude oil in South America and joins Venezuela as the only Latin members of OPEC. Oil revenues have subsidized economic diversification into sea fishing and shrimp farming.

Despite its location at the centre of the Andean region, Ecuador has so far avoided the worst effects of the drug production and armed insurgencies that afflict Colombia and Peru. Nevertheless, President Duran's administration is facing considerable difficulties created by the $11.5 billion debt and growing social unrest sparked by the economic austerity programme.

Even though these problems pose a great challenge to the civilian regime, most people agree that Ecuador's democratic form of government is here to stay.

Alfredo Forti



LEADER: President Sixto Duran Ballen

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $1,020 (US $20,910)
Monetary unit: Sucre
Main exports: Petroleum, shrimps, bananas, coffee and cocoa.
Main imports: Mineral products, chemicals, industrial equipment, automobiles, foodstuffs. Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of bananas. Agriculture employs about one-third of the population, mainly in subsistence farming. Food crops are rice, maize, legumes, potatoes, rye and barley. About half the total land is forested. Industry accounts for about a fifth of GNP; zinc, gold, silver, copper, lead, sulphur and other minerals are mined in small quantities.

PEOPLE: 10.6 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 60 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Mestizo 55 percent; Indians 25 percent; Spanish 10 percent; African 10 percent.
Languages: Spanish (official); also Quechuan and other Indian languages.
Religion: 95 percent Roman Catholic.

Sources The State of the Worlds Children 1992; The State of World Population 1992; The Americas Review 1991/92.

Last profiled in March 1982



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Poor land distribution increases poverty.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
86%. Improvements in the past five years.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Self-sufficient in energy; dependent on imported food and machinery.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Few political prisoners. Government observes due process.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Male-dominated society, worse in countryside.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
66 years (US 76 years). Improving but public health programmes deficient.

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Politics now

Conservative government.


NI star rating

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