Ecuador -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Ecuador
Languages: Spanish (official), others
Official Currency: US dollar
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, others
Population: 13,927,650. The population of Ecuador in 2008 was 13,927,650,
giving it an overall population density of 53.8 persons per sq km (139.4 per sq mi).
The population consists of mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 65%, Amerindian 25%,
Spanish and others 7%, black 3%. Nearly 30% of the population lives in the largest city –
Guayaquil (2,100,000) and in the capital Quito (1,800,000).
Land Area: 276,840 sq km
Ecuador consists of three main geographic regions: coastal plain (costa),
inter-Andean central highlands (sierra), and flat to rolling eastern jungle (oriente),
plus an insular region in the Pacific Ocean.
Land Divisions: 24 provinces, each with its own administrative capital
Ecuador -- History --
The coastal region and the high Andean basins of what is now Ecuador were inhabited by Indian tribes when the first Europeans reached the area's Pacific coast in 1526. The Inca Empire extended over the highland region to an area near to Quito. The first Spanish settlement in Ecuador was established in 1534 at Quito on the site of an important Inca town of the same name. Another settlement was established four years later near the mouth of the river Guayas on the site of Guayaquil. Expeditions initaited by Francisco Pizarro, who discovered and conquered Peru, founded the settlements and extended Spanish rule over the highland basins and coastal lowlands. Ecuador was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1740, when it was transferred to the Viceroyalty of New Granada (together with Colombia and Venezuela). With hardly any gold or silver, Ecuador did not attract many Europeans settlers during the Spanish colonial period, which lasted until 1822.
The first uprising against Spanish rule took place in 1809, but only in 1822 did Ecuador gain independence as part of the Federation of Gran Colombia, from which it withdrew in 1830. A long period of strife and instability followed, caused mainly by struggles between conservative and liberal elements, clerical and anticlerical movements, and large landowners and owners of small farms or platations. The country was run by dictators, and the army played an important role in internal politics. During the first century of its independence, Ecuador had changed its constitution 13 times and only few of its presidents had managed to serve a full four-year term.
The economic development associated with the cocoa boom at the end of the nineteenth and the first querter of the twentieth century helped to improve and stabilize the country's administration, despite the frequent turnover in rulers -18 presidents between 1897 and 1934- and 25 presidents between 1934 and 1988.
Ecuador -- Economy --
Ecuador economy is based on agriculture, fishing, and mining. The explotation and exporting of oil have played a dominant role in the country's economy since the early 1970s. Over the last century, economic development depended on the exports of first cocoa and the bananas, of which Ecuador was the world's largest exporter for several decades. Agricultural exports came mainly from the coastal lowlands.
The GNP per capita was $ 3,097 in 2006. It has grown in recent years at an average annual rate of nearly 2 percent. The inflation rate was 3.4% in 2007.
Ecuador is predominantly an agricultural country, despite the fact that oil has become its main source of revenue and industry has expanded substantially. Agriculture employs 32 percent of the workforce. The area under cultivation is 6.4 million acres, nearly 9 percent of the country's area. Permanent pasture covers 17 percent of the total area and forests nearly 43 percent.
In the highlands subsistence agriculture and the production of staples for the urban areas are predominant (corn, wheat, barley, potatoes, pulses, and various vegetables). In the coastal lowlands tropical crops are grown to export. Since the late 1940s, bananas have been the main commercial crop of this region. The large-scale production of cocoa for export began in the 1870s. Production of coffee for export began in 1920s.
Ecuador's forests produced 8.7 million cubic meters of timber in 2006. Livestock, raised mainly in the highland region, included 3.8 million cattle, 2.1 million sheep and 4.2 million pigs in 2006.
Fishing has expanded rapidly since the mid 1960s when the annual catch was about 50,000 tons. It was over one million tons in 2006.
Oil and natural gas are the main mineral resources. Large-scale oil production began in 1972 from fields in the northwstern corner of the eastern lowlands (Lago Agrio). The oil is carried through a pipline that crosses the Andes to the Pacific port of Esmeraldas, where a refinery operates. Production rose from 191,000 tons in 1970 to 9 million tons in 1996, and to 15.8 million tons in 2006(an average of 309,000 barrels per day).
Production of natural gas totaled 608 million cubic meters in 2006. Small quantities of gold, silver, copper and zinc are produced. The country is known to have deposits of uranium, iron ore, lead, and coal.
Until the 1950s Ecuador had few industries, and these were engaged mainly in processing agricultural products and the manufacture of textiles, leather products, an some consumer goods. The manufacture of traw hat was the main export industry.
Industry has been developing since the late 1950s and espacially since the mid-1970s. In addition to much wider activities in processing agricultural, marine, and forest products, there are modern textile, chemical, petrochemical, electronic, steel, shipbuilding, and building-material industries. Guayaquil and its environments is the main industrial center, with Quito next in importance. Nearly three-quarters of Ecuador's industry is concentrated in this conurbations.
The industrial branch employs 13 percent of the workforce. Energy plants running on fossil fuels produced 81 percent of the country's electric power in 2007.
The country's main trading partners are the United States (54% of exports and 33% of imports), Japan (2.5 and 12 percent), and Germany (2 and 10 percent).
Ecuador -- Culture --
The public education system is free at the point of delivery, and attendance is mandatory from ages five to 14. Provision of public schools falls far below the levels needed, and class sizes are often very large, and families of limited means often find it necessary to pay for education. However, the Ministry of Education reports that only 76 percent of children finish six years of schooling. In rural areas, only 10 percent of the children go on to high school. Ministry statistics give the mean number of years completed as 6.7.
Ecuador has 61 universities, many of which offer graduate degrees, although only 87 percent of the faculty in public universities possess graduate degrees. About 300 higher institutes offer two to three years of post-secondary vocational or technical training.
Culture is one of Ecuador's most outstanding assets. It has been -and still is- a melting pot of cultural influences; of the old and the new; of the indigenous, Spanish, European and modern world cultures. Every town, and in fact every corner of the Country, is a jewel of folklore, art and tradition. Many museums maintain fine collections of pre-Columbian, Colonial, Republican and modern art, but the permanent interaction of cultures can be seen everywhere on the street.
Ecuador's pre-Columbian peoples excelled in pottery, painting, sculpture, and gold and silver work. The Spaniards trained indigenous artists to produce colonial religious art, which can be seen in many churches and museums. The Quito School of the 17th and 18th centuries was extremely rich in content and in quantity, combining these two influences. Painting and sculpture were both represented by a large number of artists, with a few achieving international fame. In the 19th century, the Colonial style Quito School was replaced by formalism after independence, which favored subjects such as heroes of the revolution and members of high society.
Ecuador's colonial religious architecture is predominantly baroque, and in this style the main edifices (churches and convents) are unequaled in the World. On the other hand, domestic architecture tends to be simple and elegant, comprising whitewashed verandah houses built around a central courtyard.
Traditional Andean music has a distinctive haunting quality based on an unusual pentatonic scale. Wind and percussion instruments, including bamboo panpipes and flutes, are staples of the sound.
Spanish is the main language, although most highland Indians are bilingual, with Quechua being their preferred language and Spanish their second tongue. Several small lowland groups speak their own languages. English is understood in the most hotels, the best shops, and in airline offices and travel agencies, but it's of little use elsewhere.
Ecuadorian food consists mainly of soup and stews, corn and potato pancakes ("llapingachos"), rice, eggs and vegetables. Seafood is particularly good, even in the highlands. Local specialties include cebiche, a raw seafood cocktail, caldo de patas, a soup made from cattle hooves; cuy, whole roasted guinea pig; and lechón, suckling pig. International cuisine, particularly French and Italian styles, are most common both in restaurants and in home cooking.
Local crafts include fine examples of basketry, leather work, woodcarving, weaving, ceramics and jewelry. Although shops in the larger cities carry all that merchandize, there is nothing comparable to shopping for crafts where they are made, in the small villages and in the country markets.
The predominant religion is Roman Catholic, but there is a scattering of other Christian faiths. Indigenous Ecuadorians, while outwardly Catholic, tend to blend Catholicism with their traditional beliefs. As a result, many of the country's festivals are oriented to the liturgical calendar and are celebrated with a combination of great pageantry and elements of traditional Indian fiestas. Rural areas in particular lend a real party atmosphere to their celebrations. All Soul's Day on 2 November is especially colorful, when flower-laying ceremonies brighten the country's cemeteries and the ambiance is more celebratory than somber. The pre-Easter Carnival features water fights and fruit and flower festivals. Corpus Christi is a movable feast in June and combines with traditional harvest fiestas in many highland towns.
Other holidays of historical interest are Independence Day on 10 August, Simón Bolívar's Birthday on 24 July and Columbus Day on 12 October. The larger cities' founding and independence days virtually bring them to a partying standstill. Some of the main ones are found in Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, though most towns and villages also have their special days. Shops, offices and services, except for shopping malls, are closed during holidays and festivals.
Ecuador -- Political system, law and government --
The 1998 constitution provides for 4-year terms of office for the president, vice president, and members of Congress, although none of the last three democratically-elected presidents finished their terms. Presidents may be re-elected after an intervening term; legislators may be re-elected immediately. The executive branch currently includes 28 ministries, (including coordinating ministries with inter-governmental responsibility) Provincial leaders (called prefects) and councilors, like mayors, city councilors, and rural parish boards, are directly elected. Congress meets throughout the year except for recesses in July and December. Congress is divided into 20 seven-member subject committees. Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the Congress for life; members of the Constitutional Court serve four years.
Ecuador's political parties have historically been small, loose organizations that depend more on populist, often charismatic, leaders to retain support than on programs or ideology. Frequent internal splits have produced great factionalism. No party has won the presidency more than once through elections since the return to civilian government in 1979. Although Ecuador's political elite is highly factionalized along regional, ideological, and personal lines, desire for consensus on major issues often leads to compromise. Opposition forces in Congress are loosely organized, but historically they often unite to block the administration's initiatives.
Beginning with the 1996 election, the indigenous population abandoned its traditional policy of shunning the official political system and participated actively. The indigenous population established itself as a force in Ecuadorian politics, and participated in the Gutierrez administration before joining the opposition. In the 2006 elections, the indigenous movement won six seats in Congress (down from 11 in 2002).
Constitutional changes enacted by a specially elected National Constitutional Assembly in 1998 took effect on August 10, 1998. The new constitution strengthened the executive branch by eliminating mid-term congressional elections and by circumscribing Congress' power to remove cabinet ministers. Party discipline varies, and many congressional deputies switch allegiance during each Congress. On April 15, 2007, 82% of voters approved a referendum to convene a constituent assembly, a centerpiece of President Correa's political reform agenda. The constituent assembly met starting on November 29, 2007, with the intention of drafting a new constitution. This will be Ecuador's seventh such assembly in the past 90 years, and, if successful, will produce Ecuador's 20th constitution since independence.
The president of Ecuador is Rafael Correra. There are over a dozen existing political parties. The suffrage is obligatory for literate citizens 18-65 years of age and optional for the other eligible voters.