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A country on the north-west coast of South America.


Ecuador is bounded by Colombia on the north-east and Peru on the east and south. The Andes run north to south through the middle of the country and between the peaks are high but fertile valleys where the climate is temperate.


The oil industry, nationalized since 1988, produces the country's chief export, but otherwise the economy is primarily agricultural with bananas (of which Ecuador is the world's leading exporter), coffee, and, increasingly, fish the other exports of importance. Oil revenues have been invested to develop some manufacturing industry. Ecuador was a member of OPEC until 1992. There are plentiful supplies of natural gas and hydroelectric power to meet domestic energy requirements, and also mineral deposits of lignite, gold, and silver.


By c.500 ad independent kingdoms had developed with two cultural regions – a coastal one, adapted to the open sea, and one adapted to the interior environment. The Incas conquered the central valley in the 15th century, and their communications network included a road from Cuzco to Quito, which they set up as their regional capital. The Spaniard Pizarro united the region to his Peruvian conquests in 1535 and installed his brother, Gonzalo, as governor. Internal dissensions led to a take-over by the Spanish crown and the establishment of Quito as an Audiencia (a high court with a political role) under the viceroy of Peru.

With the victory at Pichincha (1822) by Antonio Sucre Ecuador gained independence, joining Gran Colombia. When this broke up (1830) it became a separate republic, whose politics reflected the tension between the conservative landowners of the interior and the more liberal, business community of the coastal plain. This led to an almost total breakdown in government (1845–60). Garcia Moreno ruthlessly re-established order as President (1860–75) and, on his assassination, there was a period of stable government under anti-clerical liberal governments. After World War I increasing poverty of the masses led to political turbulence. Although US military bases in World War II brought some economic gain, a disastrous war with Peru (1941) forced Ecuador to abandon claims on the Upper Amazon. Between 1944 and 1972 the caudillo José Maria Velasco Ibarra alternated with the military as ruler, being elected President five times. The discovery of oil in the 1970s might have brought new prosperity, but in fact the mass of the population remained poor and illiterate, with the great haciendas surviving intact. Democratic government was restored in 1979 with the election of the social democrat Jaimé Roldos Aquilera as President (1979–81). He had promised reform but died in a mysterious air-crash. His successor, Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea (1981–84), was accused of embezzlement, and President Febres Cordero (1984–88) faced military intervention, a major crisis of external indebtedness, trade union unrest, and a decline in the oil price. The Democratic Left Party under Rodrigo Borja Cevallos came to power in 1988. It took over management of the oil companies, but still faced grave economic problems, with over a third of its 1992 budget allocated to debt servicing. Following elections in 1992 a coalition government was formed under President Sixto Durán Ballén. He introduced several free-market economic reforms and cut public spending, provoking popular unrest, which has continued to be a problem, and was replaced in 1996 by Abdala Bucaram (known as ‘El Loco’, the madman). In 1995 a recurrent border dispute with Peru flared up again, but was settled after several days of fighting. In 1997 Bucaram was ousted on grounds of insanity and Jamil Mahuad was elected President in 1998. An economic crisis in 2000 led to a military coup, which installed Vice President Gustavo Noboa as President. However, in 2002 the coup leader, Lucio Gutiérrez, was elected President. He was dismissed by Congress in 2005 and replaced by Alfredo Palacio.


Subjects: World History.

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