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Formal Name
Republic of Ecuador

Local Name

Local Formal Name
República del Ecuador

Location: South America

Status: UN Country

Capital City: Quito

Main Cities: Guayaquil, Cuenca

Population: 11,566,000    Area []: 283,560

Currency: 1 sucre = 100 centavos

Languages: Spanish, Quechua

Religions: Roman Catholic

Ecuador, republic in northwestern South America, bounded by Colombia on the north, by Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean on the west. The country also includes the Galápagos Islands (Archipiélago de Colón) in the Pacific, about 965 km (about 600 mi) west of the mainland. Ecuador straddles the equator and has an area of 272,045 sq km (105,037 sq mi). Quito is the country's capital.

Land and Resources

 Ecuador is divided into four geographic regions: The Costa, or coastal plain, covers a little more than one-quarter of the area of the country; the Sierra, or central highlands, extends as a double row of high and massive mountains enclosing a narrow, inhabited central plateau; the Oriente, or eastern jungle, covering about one-half the country, consists of gentle slopes east of the Andes; and the Galápagos Islands include six larger and nine smaller islands containing many volcanic peaks, mostly extinct.

The Sierra region lies between two chains of the Andes, the Cordillera Occidental and the Cordillera Oriental, which have more than a dozen peaks higher than 4877 m (16,000 ft). Cotopaxi (5897 m/19,347 ft), one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, is located between the two mountain chains.


Although Ecuador lies on the equator, the country has a wide range of climates because of the varying elevations. The Costa is generally hot and humid, with a mean annual temperature of about 26° C (about 78° F). On the Sierra the temperatures range between about 7° C and 21° C (about 45° and 70° F), depending on the elevation. Quito, which is some 2850 m (some 9350 ft) above sea level, has an average annual temperature of 12.8° C (55° F). The Oriente is warmer and more humid than the Costa; temperatures approach 37.8° C (100° F), and annual precipitation is about 2030 mm (about 80 in).

Natural Resources

Forests, an important resource of Ecuador, cover more than 50 percent of the country. The mineral resources of the country include petroleum, gold, silver, lead, zinc, salt, copper, iron, coal, and sulfur.

Plants and Animals

Along the northern part of the Ecuador coast, and within the inner portion of the southern coast, tropical jungles abound. In some places the jungles extend up the slopes of the Andes as wet, mossy forests. Both flanks of the Cordilleras, as well as the Oriente, are densely forested up to about 3050 m (about 10,000 ft). At higher elevations, paramo grass predominates.

The animal life of Ecuador is varied. Large mammals include the bear, jaguar, and wildcat, and among the smaller mammals are the weasel, otter, and skunk. Reptiles, including the lizard, snake, and crocodile, thrive on the slopes of the Andes and along the coastal lowlands. Birds are the most varied group, and many North American birds migrate to Ecuador during the northern winter. The Galápagos Islands, with many unusual native animals, serve as a wildlife sanctuary.


Approximately 80 percent of the population of Ecuador is composed of Native Americans and mestizos (persons of mixed Native American and European ancestry); the remainder is equally divided between Europeans (chiefly of Spanish descent) and blacks. The population is about 56 percent urban and 44 percent rural.

Population Characteristics

At the 1990 census, Ecuador had a population of 9,648,189; the 1995 estimate is 11,802,000. The estimated population density is about 44 persons per sq km (about 113 per sq mi). About 47 percent of the people live on the Sierra and about 49 percent live on the Costa; the remainder of the population is scattered within the Oriente and Galápagos Islands.

Political Divisions and Principal Cities

 Ecuador is divided into 20 provinces, which are subdivided into cantons and urban and rural parishes.

Quito, the capital, is situated in the northern Andes and in 1990 had a population of 1,100,847. Guayaquil, in the southwest, with a population of 1,300,868, was the principal port and commercial center. Other cities include Cuenca (194,981), an industrial and commercial center; Machala (144,197), a commercial and farming center; and Ambato (124,166), a resort area and a commercial and transportation center.

Language and Religion

The official and most widely used language in Ecuador is Spanish. Many rural Native Americans speak Quechua, the original language of the Inca people.

Most Native Americans in Ecuador became converts to the Roman Catholic faith during the years following the conquest of Peru and Ecuador by the Spanish. Roman Catholicism became the state religion in 1863, but by 1889 a liberal movement resulted in a partial severance of church from state. A decree of 1904 placed the church under state control; properties of religious orders were confiscated, and absolute freedom of religion was introduced. Today Roman Catholicism is the faith of more than 90 percent of the population. The Native Americans of the Oriente maintain ancient religions; members of various Protestant denominations make up less than 1 percent of the population.


A campaign to reduce the high illiteracy rate in Ecuador was started in 1944, and by the early 1990s about 85 percent of the people aged 15 or more years were literate. Education in principle is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Many rural areas, however, do not have schools.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

In the late 1980s in Ecuador, about 1,850,000 pupils were enrolled annually in approximately 15,000 primary schools; some 744,400 students attended about 2200 secondary schools.

Universities and Colleges

The main institutions of higher education in Ecuador include the Central University of Ecuador (1769) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (1946), in Quito; the University of Cuenca (1868); and the University of Guayaquil (1867).


Because the inhabited regions vary greatly in their ethnic makeup, Ecuador is a country of contrasting cultural patterns. The Native Americans of the highlands, the descendants of tribes conquered by the Inca, still play traditional Native American songs on ancient-style flutes and panpipes. The Oriente is populated almost entirely by Native Americans whose ancestors escaped both Inca and Spanish rule and whose customs resemble those of Native Americans of the Amazon Basin. Along the coast, descendants of Spanish settlers and black African slaves have intermingled to produce a culture that is a combination of Spanish and African characteristics.


The National Library, founded in Quito in 1792, is one of the oldest in the country and contains about 70,000 volumes. The university libraries in Quito and Cuenca have less extensive collections. Other libraries are maintained in the larger cities.


Many museums in Ecuador preserve artifacts and records of historic interest. Several historical and archaeological museums are in Quito, and, near Cuenca, a private museum has on display an excellent collection of Inca and pre-Inca objects.


Agriculture has traditionally been the basis of the Ecuadorian economy. In 1965, however, an industrial development law was passed that brought about the establishment of factories manufacturing textiles, electric appliances, pharmaceuticals, and other products. In the 1970s substantial amounts of petroleum began to be produced and exported, with the completion of the trans-Andean pipeline providing a line between oilfields and the port of Esmeraldas. In the early 1990s the estimated annual national budget included $1.8 billion in revenues and $1.6 billion in expenditures.


The cultivated area (less than 10 percent of Ecuador) lies primarily on the Sierra and the Costa. Bananas are the chief crop; also important are coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, rice, plantains, maize, and potatoes. About 4 million metric tons of bananas were produced annually in the early 1990s.

Forestry and Fishing

Ecuador is one of the world's chief sources of balsa wood. Other forest products include mangrove bark, tagua nuts (vegetable ivory), and rubber.

The waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands constitute one of the richest tuna fisheries in the world. Shrimp are also found in abundance. The coastal waters off mainland Ecuador also are rich in fish. The annual fish catch totaled about 384,000 metric tons in the early 1990s.


Gold, silver, lead, zinc, and salt are mined in Ecuador, the last-named under government monopoly. Petroleum resources, which were first uncovered in the early 1920s and are still being discovered today, form the basis for a major industry. The deposits are the property of the country, but large, taxable concessions have been made to foreign concerns. Annual petroleum production in the early 1990s totaled about 109.4 million barrels.


Traditionally, Ecuadorian industry was confined to the manufacture of goods for local consumption. Under the industrial development law, production plants were established for the manufacture of food products, petroleum products, textiles, and chemicals. In the late 1980s about 5.7 million metric tons of cement were produced annually.


Ecuador has great potential for producing hydroelectricity, and about 80 percent of its electricity is generated in hydroelectric facilities. Almost all the rest is produced in thermal plants burning coal or petroleum products. In the early 1990s the country had an installed electricity-generating capacity of nearly 3 million kilowatts, and Ecuador's annual production of electricity was about 7.7 billion kilowatt-hours.

Currency and Banking

The basic unit of currency in Ecuador is the sucre, which is divided into 100 centavos (2146.01 sucres equal U.S.$1; 1994). The Banco Central del Ecuador (1927) is the bank of issue, and the country is served by several domestic commercial banks as well as offices of foreign banks.

Foreign Trade

The value of Ecuador's yearly exports is generally somewhat more than the cost of its imports. In the early 1990s the country's yearly exports earned about $3 billion and its imports cost about $2.5 billion. More than 60 percent of the export earnings came from sales of petroleum, cacao, coffee, and bananas. Major imports included transportation equipment, machinery, metal, chemicals, and foodstuffs. The United States is by far the leading trade partner of Ecuador; considerable commerce also is conducted with Japan, Panama, Peru, Germany, Brazil, and Chile. Ecuador, along with Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, is a founding member of the Acuerdo de Cartagena (Cartagena Agreement), also known as the Andean Group. The group works toward common policies on energy, tariff reduction, industrial and agricultural development, political cooperation, improved internal and international trade, and the creation of a common market. Ecuador is also a founding member of the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) which was replaced in 1980 by the the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA). The LAIA aims to improve the economic and social conditions in member countries by improving trade within the group, which includes most of the countries in South America. Ecuador was a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from 1973 to 1992.


The road system of Ecuador comprises about 36,200 km (about 22,500 mi) of roads, of which approximately 16 percent are paved. The Pan-American Highway runs through the country from north to south. The nationalized railroads transport freight and passengers over about 965 km (about 600 mi) of track.

Ecuador has several seaports. Guayaquil, which is connected by air and rail to the major cities, and La Libertad are the main ports. Other ports include Esmeraldas, Manta, and Puerto Bolívar. Many rivers, including the Guayas, Daule, and Vinces, have been dredged and are now navigable. International airports are located near Quito and Guayaquil.


The major cities and towns of Ecuador are connected by telephone; telegraph and cable services link the country with all parts of the world. There are about 320 commercial radio stations and about 3 million radios. Television sets in use number about 900,000. Influential daily newspapers include El Comercio and Ultimas Noticias in Quito, and El Universo in Guayaquil.


The total labor force of Ecuador numbers about 3 million people, of whom one-third are employed in agriculture and about one-fifth in manufacturing and construction. The remaining workers mainly engage in services or the professions. Skilled workers make up only a small percentage of the labor force. The country has several trade union associations; the largest is the Frente Unitario de Trabajadores, which comprises the Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Clasistas, the Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Sindicales Libres, and the Confederación de Trabajadores del Ecuador. There are also major unions representing manual laborers, intellectuals, maritime and port workers, and railway workers.


Ecuador is governed under a constitution put into effect in 1979.


The constitution of Ecuador vests executive power in a president elected by direct popular vote for a four-year term. The president, who cannot serve two successive terms, is assisted by a cabinet and appoints the governors of the provinces. The chief executive is commander in chief of the armed forces and holds extraordinary powers in time of national emergency.

Health and Welfare

Effective programs designed to check communicable diseases have been instituted in Ecuador. The country has succeeded in eliminating yellow fever and has greatly reduced the incidence of malaria and tuberculosis. Malnutrition and infant mortality, however, still pose serious problems. In 1991 an outbreak of cholera spread to Ecuador from Peru. More than 35,000 cases were diagnosed and 606 people died.

A government-sponsored social security program, in existence since 1942, provides farmers, domestic workers, artisans, and professional people with such benefits as health, accident, maternity, and unemployment insurance, as well as old-age pensions. In the early 1990s the country had about 13,000 physicians.


Legislative power in Ecuador is vested in the unicameral Chamber of Representatives. It is made up of 71 members elected to four-year terms. In addition to lawmaking, the chamber ratifies treaties and chooses judges for the country's supreme and divisional courts.

Political Parties

Ecuador has more than ten political parties. In the late 1980s the leading parties were the Democratic Left, the People's Democracy party, the Ecuadorian Socialist party, and the Christian Social party.

Local Government

Each province of Ecuador is administered by a governor, who is appointed by the country's president, and a popularly elected provincial council. Urban cantons popularly elect a municipal council, which, in turn, elects the council officers. Each rural canton and each parish is administered by an official who is appointed by the president.


The court system of Ecuador includes a supreme court of 16 judges, 10 divisional courts, and numerous lower courts. Criminal cases are heard before a "special jury," consisting of one judge and three members of the bar. Capital punishment is prohibited.


A 12-month term of conscription is compulsory for all male citizens of Ecuador. In the early 1990s the armed forces included an army, navy, and air force, totaling about 50,000 people.


Architectural remains of ancient civilizations dating back thousands of years, and probably related to the Maya civilization of Central America, have been discovered in Ecuador. Neither these civilizations nor the later Inca civilization left written records of their cultures. Inca civilization was centered in and around Cuzco and the Lake Titicaca area in Peru. The Inca dominated the Native American tribes of Ecuador and provided the major military obstacles to the early Spanish invaders.

Spanish Rule

The Spanish first landed on the coast of what is now Ecuador in 1526, led by Bartolomé Ruiz. Spanish conquistadores under Francisco Pizarro invaded the country in 1532 and two years later were in control of the area. Pizarro, acting in the name of the Spanish crown, appointed his brother Gonzalo governor of Quito on December 1, 1540. A short time later Francisco Pizarro was assassinated, and Gonzalo Pizarro led a rebellion against Spain. His independent rule lasted until April 9, 1548, when forces of the Crown defeated his army at Jaquijaguana and he was executed.

Colonial Ecuador was at first a territory directly under the rule of the viceroyalty of Peru, one of the two major administrative divisions of 16th-century Spanish America. In 1563 Quito, as Ecuador was then called, became a presidency, or a judicial district of the viceroyalty. From 1717 to 1723 the Quito presidency was under the authority of the viceroyalty of New Granada in Bogotá, but it was then returned to the authority of the viceroy of Peru until 1739, when it reverted to New Granada.

The first revolt of the colonists against Spain took place in 1809, but the republican forces, led by General Antonio José de Sucre, chief lieutenant of Simón Bolívar, did not win final victory until 1822. Ecuador became the Department of the South, part of the confederacy known as the Republic of Colombia, or Great Colombia, which also included Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia.


In 1830 Ecuador gained independence under its present name. The first president, General Juan José Flores, was a hero of the wars for independence, and represented the archconservatives in the city of Quito. In 1833 a civil war broke out between the conservatives of Quito and the liberal elements of Guayaquil. It was the first of a long series of revolutions between the two factions, which resulted in the subsequent rise of three outstanding dictators in Ecuadorian history: Flores; Gabriel García Moreno, former leader of the Conservative party; and the revolutionist and political leader Eloy Alfaro. During the second period of rule by President Alfaro (1907-1911), a new, more liberal constitution was introduced.

Ecuador followed the United States into World War II (1939-1945) against the Axis powers. At home, the end of the war coincided with a waning of liberal influence. In 1944 the liberal president Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, formerly president of the Chamber of Deputies, was forced from office and replaced by former President José María Velasco Ibarra, who had held office in 1934 and 1935 and who was supported by the conservative faction. In 1945 Ecuador became a charter member of the United Nations. A new constitution, promulgated on December 31, 1945, remained in force until 1967.

In 1947 Velasco was deposed by a military group that was almost immediately ousted by counterrevolutionaries; the latter installed Carlos Julio Arosemena Tola as provisional president. Galo Plaza Lasso, a former ambassador to the United States, was elected president in June 1948. In early 1948 Ecuador attended the ninth Inter-American Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, and became a signatory of the charter of the Organization of American States.

A long-standing border dispute with Peru, which had been revived in 1941, cropped up again in 1950. Both times the issue was submitted to arbitration. Most of the disputed area had been awarded to Peru in 1944, and no boundaries were changed following the 1950 incident. (In 1960, reviving the dispute, Ecuador unilaterally nullified the 1944 settlement.)

Political Instability

In 1952 Velasco, this time the candidate of a coalition of left- and right-wing groups, was chosen president for the third time, holding office until 1956. In the presidential elections that year, the conservative candidate Camilo Ponce Enríquez won a close victory over a liberal candidate. Velasco ran as an independent candidate in the elections of 1960. Sharply critical of the conservative economic policies of the Ponce government, he promised widespread reforms and was elected by a wide margin in June. Lacking any well-defined program, however, he did not last long; he was forced to resign in November 1961. Shortly before, he had signed the charter of the Alliance for Progress, a document providing for extensive U.S. aid to signatories over a 10-year period. Velasco's successor, Vice President Carlos Arosemena Monroy, did not enjoy a long tenure either. He was overthrown in July 1963 by a military junta, which implemented economic and social reforms in a series of decrees, including one for agrarian reform. In 1964 the junta submitted a 10-year national development plan to the Alliance for Progress commission, thus opening the way for negotiation of loans to finance development projects. It soon, however, faced mounting demands for a return to constitutional government, and after two weeks of rioting in July 1965 it installed a cabinet more acceptable to the opposition, but political unrest continued. In March 1966 violent antigovernment demonstrations that provoked harsh retaliation triggered a countrywide upheaval. The junta was then forced out.

An interim government held power until November of that year, when a newly elected constituent assembly chose Otto Arosemena Gómez to head the state. His government survived a difficult initial period of widespread opposition, and in May 1967 a new constitution was promulgated. In the first elections under the new charter, in June 1968, Velasco was once more the winner. His fifth administration, however, was no more successful than the previous ones. He assumed dictatorial powers in 1970 in order to counter dwindling support, but in February 1972 he was once again overthrown by the military. The leader of the coup, General Guillermo Rodríguez Lara, chief of the army, then assumed the presidency.

A New Prosperity

Among the first acts of the new regime was establishment of a five-year economic plan, stressing agriculture, housing, and industry. In August 1972 the first exports of petroleum were made from new fields developed and operated by U.S. companies. This made Ecuador, at the time, the second largest exporter of petroleum in Latin America, after Venezuela. Oil revenues provided Ecuador with badly needed foreign exchange and investment funds but also spurred inflation and increased the gap between rich and poor.

President Rodríguez was replaced by Admiral Alfredo Poveda Burbano in 1976; he ruled at the head of a three-man junta. In the following years inflationary pressures were somewhat alleviated. A referendum on a new constitution and subsequent presidential elections were held in 1978, and a runoff between the two top presidential candidates followed in April 1979. Later that year Jaime Roldós Aguilera was installed as president, and the new constitution took effect. An outbreak of border fighting with Peru was ended by international arbitration in March 1981. Two months later Roldós was killed in a plane crash; his brother León Roldós Aguilera then was named vice president, as former vice president Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea succeeded to the presidency. In May 1984 a conservative businessman, León Febres Cordero Rivadeneira, won the presidency in a runoff election against a left-wing opponent. The Febres Cordero government had to put down repeated military rebellions, including a January 1987 uprising in which the president was seized and beaten.

Rodrigo Borja Cevallos of the Democratic Left became president after winning a runoff election in May 1988. Succeeding him as president in August 1992 was Sixto Durán Bellén, who was born and educated in the United States. Durán's government instituted privatization measures, resulting in the breakup of Petroecuador, the state-owned oil company. Other measures included land-reform efforts requiring that unused land be sold rather than given to poor farmers, a policy that provoked massive protests. In 1994 congressional elections resulted in increased opposition to Durán's conservative policies, but in a plebiscite held the same year, voters approved most of Durán's proposed constitutional reforms. In January 1995 Ecuador became involved in several skirmishes with Peru in the border region claimed by both countries. A cease-fire was signed in March.