Advanced indigenous cultures flourished in Ecuador long before the area
was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century. In 1534, the Spanish
arrived and defeated the Inca armies, and Spanish colonists became the
new elite. The indigenous population was decimated by disease in the first
decades of Spanish rule--a time when the natives also were forced into
the "encomienda" labor system for Spanish landlords. In 1563, Quito became
the seat of a royal "audiencia" (administrative district) of Spain.
After independence forces defeated the royalist army in 1822, Ecuador
joined Simon Bolivar's Republic of Gran Colombia, only to become a separate
republic in 1830. The 19th century was marked by instability, with a rapid
succession of rulers. The conservative Gabriel Garcia Moreno unified the
country in the 1860s with the support of the Catholic Church. In the late
1800s, world demand for cocoa tied the economy to commodity exports and
led to migrations from the highlands to the agricultural frontier on the
A coastal-based liberal revolution in 1895 under Eloy Alfaro reduced
the power of the clergy and opened the way for capitalist development.
The end of the cocoa boom produced renewed political instability and a
military coup in 1925. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by populist politicians
such as five-time president Jose Velasco Ibarra. In January 1942, Ecuador
signed the Rio Protocol to end a brief war with Peru the year before. Ecuador
agreed to a border that conceded to Peru much territory Ecuador previously
had claimed in the Amazon. After World War II, a recovery in the market
for agricultural commodities and the growth of the banana industry helped
restore prosperity and political peace. From 1948-60, three presidents--beginning
with Galo Plaza--were freely elected and completed their terms.
Recession and popular unrest led to a return to populist politics and
domestic military interventions in the 1960s, while foreign companies developed
oil resources in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 1972, a nationalist military
regime seized power and used the new oil wealth and foreign borrowing to
pay for a program of industrialization, land reform, and subsidies for
urban consumers. With the oil boom fading, Ecuador returned to democracy
in 1979, but by 1982, the government faced an economic crisis, characterized
by inflation, budget deficits, a falling currency, mounting debt service,
and uncompetitive industries.
The 1984 presidential elections were narrowly won by Leon Febres-Cordero
of the Social Christian Party (PSC). During the first years of his administration,
Febres-Cordero introduced free-market economic policies, took strong stands
against drug trafficking and terrorism, and pursued close relations with
the United States. His tenure was marred by bitter wrangling with other
branches of government and his own brief kidnapping by elements of the
military. A devastating earthquake in March 1987 interrupted oil exports
and worsened the country's economic problems.
Rodrigo Borja of the Democratic Left (ID) party won the presidency in
1988. His government was committed to improving human rights protection
and carried out some reforms, notably an opening of Ecuador to foreign
trade. The Borja government concluded an accord leading to the disbanding
of the small terrorist group, "Alfaro Lives." However, continuing economic
problems undermined the popularity of the ID, and opposition parties gained
control of congress in 1990.
In 1992, Sixto Duran-Ballen won in his third run for the presidency.
His government succeeded in pushing a limited number of modernization initiatives
through Congress. Duran-Ballen's vice president, Alberto Dahik, was the
architect of the administration's economic policies, but in 1995, Dahik
fled the country to avoid prosecution on corruption charges following a
heated political battle with the opposition. A war with Peru erupted in
January-February 1995 in a small, remote region where the boundary prescribed
by the 1942 Rio Protocol was in dispute.
Abdala Bucaram, from the Guayaquil-based Ecuadorian Roldosista Party
(PRE), won the presidency in 1996 on a platform that promised populist
economic and social policies and the breaking of what Bucaram termed as
the power of the nation's oligarchy. During his short term of office, Bucaram's
administration drew criticism for corruption. Bucaram was deposed by the
Congress in February 1997 on grounds of alleged mental incompetence. In
his place, Congress named interim President Fabian Alarcon, who had been
president of Congress and head of the small Radical Alfarist Front party.
Alarcon's interim presidency was endorsed by a May 1997 popular referendum.
Congressional and first-round presidential elections were held on May
31, 1998. No presidential candidate obtained a majority, so a run-off election
between the top two candidates--Quito Mayor Jamil Mahuad of the Popular
Democracy party and Alvaro Noboa of the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (PRE)--was
held on July 12, 1998. Mahuad won by a narrow margin. He took office on
August 10, 1998. On the same day, Ecuador's new constitution came into
Mahuad concluded a well-received peace with Peru on October 26, 1998,
but increasing economic, fiscal, and financial difficulties drove his popularity
steadily lower. On January 21, 2000, during demonstrations in Quito by
indigenous groups, the military and police refused to enforce public order.
Demonstrators entered the National Assembly building and declared a three-person
"junta" in charge of the country. Field-grade military officers declared
their support for the concept. During a night of confusion and negotiations,
President Mahuad was obliged to flee the presidential palace. Vice President
Gustavo Noboa took charge; Mahuad went on national television in the morning
to endorse Noboa as his successor. Congress met in emergency session in
Guayaquil the same day, January 22, and ratified Noboa as President of
the Republic in constitutional succession to Mahuad.
By completing Mahuads term, Noboa restored some stability to Ecuador.
He implemented the dollarization that Mahuad had announced, and he obtained
congressional authorization for the construction of Ecuadors second major
oil pipeline, this one financed by a private consortium. Noboa turned over
the government on January 15, 2003, to his successor, Lucio Gutierrez,
a former army colonel who first came to the publics attention as a leader
of the January 2000 events that led to Mahuads departure from the presidency.
He campaigned against corruption. Gutierrezs party has a small fraction
of the seats in Congress. He therefore depends on the support of other
parties in Congress to pass legislation. He has attempted some economic
Ecuador History Bibliography