History of Ecuador
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 on May 13, 1830. The 19th century was marked by instability, with a rapid succession of rulers. The conservative Gabriel García 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 coast.
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 José Velasco Ibarra. In January 1942, Ecuador signed the Río 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 basin.
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 with the discovery of oil in the 1970s foreign companies started to develop oil resources in the Ecuadorean Amazon. In 1972, a nationalist military regime overthrew José Velasco Ibarra for the last time 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, under the first Ecuadorean president of the 1979 constitution, Jaime Roldós who, with his Popular Forces' Concentration (CFP) party, won a decisive victory against Sixto Durán-Ballén of the Social Christian Party (PSC). After a leadership disagreement with Averroes Bucarám, the then leader of the CFP, Roldós left the above-mentioned party to found his own along with his wife. This Roldós-founded party, called "People, Change and Democracy" (PCD), would become an unimportant third-runner in Ecuadorean politics when Abdalá Bucarám's Guayaquil-based Ecuadorean Roldosísta Party (PRE) was founded in 1982. During the year 1981, the country experienced another episode (named the Ecuador-Peru conflict of 1981, and also Paquisha, after a territory in the surrounding area) of the recurring conflicts it has had throughout its history with the republic of Peru.
By the end of the year 1981, Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado of the Popular Democracy (DP) party succeeded Roldós after Roldós's airplane crashed over the Ecuadorean section of the Amazonian jungles, instantly killing him. Due to the economic pressure of war and over-reliance in commodity (particularly oil) exporting for its economic needs, the government of Osvaldo Hurtado faced a chronic economic crisis in 1982, including inflation, budget deficits, a falling currency, mounting debt service, and uncompetitive industries.
The 1984 presidential elections were narrowly won by León Febrés-Cordero of the PSC. During the first years of his administration, Febrés-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 running in the runoff election against Abdalá Bucarám of the PRE. 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, Dammit." However, continuing economic problems undermined the popularity of the ID, and opposition parties gained control of Congress in 1990.
In 1992, Sixto Durán-Ballén won in his third run for the presidency. His tough macroeconomic adjustment measures were unpopular, but he succeeded in pushing a limited number of modernization initiatives through Congress. Duran-Ballén's vice president, Alberto Dahík, was the architect of the administration's economic policies, but in 1995, Dahík fled the country to avoid prosecution on corruption charges following a heated political battle with the opposition. A war with Peru (named the Cenepa War, after a river located in the area) erupted in January-February 1995 in a small, remote region where the boundary prescribed by the 1942 Río Protocol was in dispute.
Abdalá Bucarám, from the PRE, won the presidency in 1996 on a platform that promised populist economic and social reforms and the breaking of what Bucarám referred to as the power of the nation's oligarchy. During his short term of office, Bucarám'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 Alarcón, who had been President of Congress and head of the small Radical Alfarist Front (FRA) party. Alarcón's interim presidency was endorsed by a May 1997 popular referendum. During Alarcón's presidency, a new constitution was drafted. The 1979 constitution would be replaced by this new constitution without coming into effect on June 5, 1998.
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 Witt of the DP and Social Christian Álvaro Noboa--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 effect.
Mahuad concluded a well-received peace with Peru on October 26, 1998, but increasing economic, fiscal, and financial difficulties drove his popularity steadily lower. However, the coup de grace for Mahuad's administration was Mahuad's decision to make the indigenous currency, the sucre (named after a Venezuelan hero of the revolutionary war against Spain), obsolete and replace it with the U.S. dollar (a policy called dollarization). This caused massive unrest as the lower classes struggled to convert their now useless sucres to U.S. dollars and lost wealth, while the upper classes (whose members already had their wealth invested in U.S. dollars) gained wealth in turn.
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, in a move that resembled the coups d'etat endemic to Ecuadorean history, 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 failed negotiations President Mahuad was forced to flee the presidential palace for his own safety. Vice President Gustavo Noboa took charge by vice-presidential decree; Mahuad went on national television in the morning to endorse Noboa as his successor. The military triumvirate that was effectively running the country also endorsed Noboa. The Ecuadorean Congress then met in an emergency session in Guayaquil on the same day, January 22, and ratified Noboa as President of the Republic in constitutional succession to Mahuad.
The dollarization policy is still in effect under the leadership of Noboa. Although Ecuador is beginning to improve economically, the government of Noboa is coming under heavy fire for the continuation of the dollarization policy, its disregard for social problems and other important issues in Ecuadorean politics.
- See also : Ecuador