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History of Ecuador

This is the history of Ecuador. See also the history of South America and the history of present-day nations and states.

Pre-Columbian era

Numerous indigenous cultures thrived in Ecuador for thousands of years before it was conquered by Inca. The Valdivia culture in the Pacific coast region is the earliest known Ecuadorian culture. Ancient Valdivian artifacts from as early as 3500 B.C have been found along the coast north of the Guayas Province in the modern city of Santa Elena.

Several other cultures, including the Quitus,caras and the Canaris, emerged in other parts of Ecuador after the Valdivians. There are other major archaeological sites in the coastal provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas and in the middle Andean highland provinces of Tungurahua and Chimborazo. With the archaeological evidence uncovered to date, we know that Ecuador was inhabited for at least 4,500 years before the Inca arrived; however, many believe that the area was populated even earlier, possibly as far back as 10,000 B.C.

Great tracts of Ecuador, including almost all of the Oriente (Amazon rainforest), remain unknown to archaeologists, a fact that adds credence to the possibility the country was populated before 3500 B.C. There has been increased attention to the Amazon region recently but the forest is so remote and dense that it takes years for research teams to survey even a small area. This is confirmed by the recent discovery of the Mayo-Chinchipe Cultural Complex in the Zamora-Chinchipe Province

Stone Age

Edward Whymper sought Stone Age objects while in Ecuador during 1880. Most of the items he collected from those brought to him were stone; he thought that most metal artifacts had been smelted in search of any gold they contained.

Stars in stone

By far the most common object was a stone star with a hole through the middle. They were found everywhere between Ibarra and Riobamba. The majority have six rays (and none have more), proceeding symmetrically from the center, and the whole are fashioned alike upon each side. A certain number have only five rays, and occasional examples are irregular in shape. All are pierced by a hole, which has been drilled from the two sides, and the size of this varies considerably. In dimensions they range from three to five inches in diameter and from three-quarters of an inch to two inches in thickness. Their weight is from five to twenty ounces. The larger part are made from basaltic rock and gabbro. Objects of this class were also cast in metal but these are now rarely found in Ecuador.

Whilst they possess the general points of similarity that have been mentioned, scarcely any two are identical in form. Some are flat and thin, others are thick, or rise in the center upon each side into a shape like the hub of a wheel.

In a U.S. Naval expedition report, figures are given of two stars in bronze , one having a sixth ray prolonged into a hatchet, which suggests that it must have been a war-club or battle-axe. In Squire's book on Peru, there is a figure of a six-rayed object in bronze, said to have been one of several, which are designated by the author (apparently following some earlier writer) casse-tetes, and he says that among the fractured skulls that were found "the larger part seemed to have been broken by blows from some such weapons." Mons. Wiener, in his book on Peru and Bolivia gives a figure of a star which was found at Ancon (near Lima) showing a stick inserted in the central hole; and another figure of a somewhat similar from in bronze, also handled. Like Squier, he calls them casse-tetes. Finally, the Doctors Reiss and Stubel remark, in their magnificent work upon the Peruvian antiquities obtained at Ancon, that "the few stone objects found here show but slight traces of workmanship, an exception being a stone weapon of the morning star type the six-rayed stone star, here found once only, is elsewhere in Peruvian graves by no means rare."

Though all these writers appear to regard these objects as a kind of battle-axe (and are probably correct so far as those having a ray prolonged into a hatchet are concerned), there are several considerations which suggest these objects were habitually used as weapons. The larger of the stars (which are as heavy as a pound and a quarter) no doubt might be used effectively; but the smaller ones, weighing only a few ounces, would not be very formidable; and taking them as a whole they are less adapted either for offensive or defensive purposes than most of the other stone implements. To this may be added that many are uninjured, and do not seem to have been put to any use whatever. Francisco Campana (a half-Indian who joined the latter part of Whymper's journey) had assisted in the examination of graves in Peru, and said these stars in stone were found there placed upon the breasts of corpses; and it seems likely that they were to the Children of the Sun symbols of the luminary that they worshipped.


A large number of stone objects were found which were undoubtedly implements.

Five types are shown in the illustration with a white background. In the top row, series A-E, the whole of the edges are rounded, except the bottom ones. In the next line (F-J) all are of a chisel type. The tops and sides of these are sometimes flat or angular, and sometimes rounded; and the lower, or cutting edges, are sharp. The examples in the next series (K-O) bear some resemblance to a bill-hook; the top edges are flat; and they are all pierced with holes drilled from the two sides. The specimens in the next row have similar holesotherwise they approximate to the chisel type; while the type represented in the bottom series U-Y differs from all the others in having projecting shoulders, and (occasionally) in having a groove along the length of the top edge, apparently to facilitate handling.

All these five types were found in numbers, in many localities, and have evidently been amongst the most common and generally used implements during the Equatorial Stone Age. In minor respects they exhibit considerable variety, and there are large differences in their size, thickness, and weight. The type P-T was the most numerous. The greater part have holes drilled from each side (with the holes having less in diameter in the middle than on their surfaces), though in some the aperture is as broad internally as externally. The positions of the holes vary, some being central, although most of them are nearest to the top. The lower edge is always the sharpest; and, while many would not have cut butter, there are a few sharp enough to cut wood. Their weight ranges from 3 to 29 ounces, and like the stars in stone they have been fashioned from a diversity of rocks.

A large number of implements in stone were obtained, from which selections are given in the illustration with a black background. Those marked E, J, K, L, N-T are unique, and the other forms are more or less rare. The central one, marked M, was the only object for which Equadorian natives could assign a use, and it was pronounced to be a corn-pounder. This one weighs five and a quarter pounds, and another of eleven pounds was obtained. Several examples of form I were found, which is considered by Mr. Thomas Ewbank to be a "hollowing-hammer for metal" by making a handle with a pliable wood rod. It is possible those marked A, B, and C were used for the same purpose. The objects D, F, G, and H are more puzzling. The two latter somewhat resemble the two others represented here, but differ from them in not having the circular cavities in the sides. The objects of this type are highly wrought, and fashioned out of hard stone. It seems not unlikely that they were used for sharpening tools, and that the examples G, H are unused specimens. They have also been found by M. Wiener in Peru.

Amongst the distinctly ornamental objects in stone there are imitations of Maize-heads. These were particularly mentioned in Juan & Ulloa's work, in the mid 18th century. Spanish writers say:

"The maize has ever been the delight of the Indians; for, besides being their food, their favourite liquor chicha was made of it; the Indian artists therefore used to shew their skill in making ears of it in a kind of very hard stone; and so perfect was the resemblance that they could hardly be distinguished by the eye from nature; especially as the colour was imitated to the greatest perfection; some represented the yellow maize, some the white The most surprizing circumstance of the whole is, the manner of their working, which, when we consider their want of instruments and the wretched form of those they had, appears an inexplicable mystery: for either they worked with copper tools, a metal little able to resist the hardness of stones, or, to give the nice polish conspicuous on their works, other stones must have been used as tools."

Squier gives in his book on Peru a bad representation of one of these stone maize-heads and says that they were specially mentioned "by Padre Arriaga in his rare book on the Extirpation of Idolatry in Peru under the name zaramama," and were household gods of the ancient inhabitants.

Age of objects

That the principal part of these objects and implements in stone are of considerable or of great age is apparent from the fact that they are scarcely mentioned at the time of the Pizarros. Garcilasso de la Vega says that the Indians

"knew not the invention of putting a handle of Wood to their Hammers, but worked with certain Instruments they had made of Copper, mixed with a sort of fine Brass. Neither did they know how to make Files or Graving-tools, or Bellows for Melting down Metals But above all, their Carpenters seemed to be worst provided with Tools; for though ours use many Instruments made of Iron, those of Peru had no other than a Hatchet, and a Pick-axe made of Copper; they neither had Saw, nor Augre, nor Planer, nor any other Tool for the Carpenter's work, so that they could not make Arches or Portals for doors; onely they hewed and cut their Timber, and whitened it, and then it was prepared for their Building: And for making their Hatchets and Pick-axes, and some few Rakes, they made use of the Silversmiths, for as yet they had not attained to the Art of Working in Iron. Nor did they know how to make Nails, or use them, but tied all their timber with Cords of Hemp. Nor were their Hewers of Stone more artificial, for in cutting and shaping their Stones, they had no other Tool, than one made with some sharp Flints and Pebbles, with which they rather wore out the Stone by continual rubbing, than cutting."

From this passage it appears that at the time of the Pizarros the Indians used tools of metal for most purposes. The concluding sentence evidently refers solely to fashioning stones for building. Older writers in general do not indicate that they had a congnizance of a Stone Age.

Ecuador under Incan rule

The history of Ecuador is better known from the point of the Inca expansion than during the Pre-Columbian era. In AD 1463, the Inca warrior Pachacuti and his son Tupac Yupanqui began the incorpation of Ecuador into Inca rule. They began by defeating the people of the Sierra including the Quitus trip (the people for whom modern day Quito is named). They continued by heading southwest to the coast eventually sujagating the Ecuadorians living near the Gulf of Guayaquil and the Island of Puna to Inca Rule.

By the end of 15th century, despite fierce resistance by several Ecuadorian native tribes, Huayna Capac, Tupac Yupanqui's son with a Canari princess (the people from modern day Cuenca), was able to conquer the remaining tribes and by 1500 all of Ecuador was incorporated into the Incan Empire.

Huayna Capac grew up in Ecuador and loved the land. He named Quito the second Inca capital. A road was built to connect the two capitals of Quito and Cusco. Cities and temples were built throughout the country. He married a Quitu princess and remained in the country until his death. When he died unexpectedly before naming an heir it caused turmoil throughout the empire.

Two of his sons sought the throne. Huascar, born of Huaya Capac's sister in Cusco, was the legitimate heir. Atahualpa, born in Cusco according to the Peruvian historiography and in Quito according to the Ecuadorian, was the usurper. The brothers battled for 6 years killing many men and weakening the empire. Finally in 1532 near Chimborazo, Atahualpa with aid of two of his father's generals defeated his brother. Huascar was captured and put in prison. Atahualpa became emperor of a severely weaked empire only to face the Spanish conquistodors arrival in 1532.

During the period of Inca control, the Ecuadorian tribesmen adopted agricultural practices and the social organization of their Inca rulers, but maintained their traditional religious beliefs and many customs.

Arrival of the Spanish

The Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro set out on his third expedition during the final months of 1531 from Panama. The expedition would end in the defeat of the Inca Empire and the Spanish colonization and conquest of Ecuador. He began the campaign with less than two hundred men while his partner, Diego de Almagro, remained in Panama to gather more troops. After landing, Pizarro was forced to spend several months on the Ecuadorian coast and in northern Peru building a base of operations and collecting jewels and gold to finance reinforcements.

When Pizarro's expedition finally arrived in the recently founded Inca capital of Cajamarca, the new Inca king, Atahualpa, was resting at nearby thermal baths after prevailing in a bitter civil war with his brother, Huascar. Atahualpa reluctantly returned to Cajamarca with thousands of his best troops to greet Pizarro. However, upon arrival, instead of Pizarro he found a friar, Vicente de Valverde, waiting for him. Promptly after Atahualpa refused to submit to the Catholicism and the Spanish king, Spanish soldiers and mercenaries in hiding slaughtered thousands of the Inca defenders and took Atahualpa prisoner. Within a year of his capture, Atahualpa was executed.

Colonial Ecuador

According to Spanish law, Ecuador and the rest of Spain's colonies were the personal property of the Spanish king. Thus, every law and deed in the colonies was carried out in the name of the king. In Spain, on the king's behalf, the Council of the Indies conceived all the laws that regulated life in the colonies and the House of Trade governed all trade and commerce between Spain and the colonies. In the colonies, the viceroyalty, audiencias and municipal councils administered law and trade.

Ecuador was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru ruled from Lima from 1544 until 1717, when it joined the newly created Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada ruled from Bogota. In 1563, however, Quito became a Royal Audience of Spain, the Royal Audience of Quito or Quito Audiencia, thus permitting it to deal directly with Madrid on certain matters instead of going through the Viceroyalty in Lima. The name Quito Audencia is misleading because it gives one the idea that the territory under the jurisdiction of Quito was comparable to the limits of the city of Quito today. In truth, the territory of the Quito Audencia greatly exceeded that of present-day Ecuador, encompassing the north of present-day Peru, the city of Cali in the south of present-day Colombia, and much of the Amazon River Basin east of present-day Ecuador. Quito also served as the most important municipal council within the area comprising modern-day Ecuador and as such was responsible for, among other things, the maintenance of public order.

Independence and Seeds of Revolution

At the same time that the Spanish colonial economy began to fail, messages of the Enlightenment being wrought in Europe penetrated Quito's cultural isolation and began to be disseminated throughout the country on the backs of missionaries. Enlightenment ideals embodied notions of nationalism and individualism and the concepts of equality and freedom. The failing economy and flagging administrative authority of the Audiencia de Quito, combined with the introduction of Enlightenment ideals, set the stage for Ecuador's independence.

Civil disturbances plagued the Audiencia de Quito, particularly in the mountainous area, from the mid-eighteenth century until the end of the colonial era. However, it was not until the criollos (persons of pure Spanish descent born in the New World) entered the revolutionary picture that independence really began to take form. The criollos resented the privileges afforded to the peninsulares (persons from Spain) and, as a result, sought independence from the crown.

The struggle for independence in the Audiencia de Quito was part of a movement throughout Spanish America led by the criollos. The criollos' resentment of the privileges enjoyed by the peninsulares was the fuel of revolution against colonial rule. The spark was Napoleon's invasion of Spain, after which he deposed King Ferdinand VII and, in July 1808, placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne.

Shortly afterward, Spanish citizens, unhappy at the usurpation of the throne by the French, began organizing local juntas loyal to Ferdinand. A group of Quito's leading citizens followed suit, and on August 10, 1809, after nearly 300 years of Spanish colonization, they set up a Junta and seized power from the local representatives of Joseph Bonaparte in the name of Ferdinand. Thus, this early revolt against colonial rule (one of the first in Spanish America) was, paradoxically, an expression of loyalty to the Spanish king.

Historians debate whether this was a true attempt at obtaining independence from Spain. Be that as it may, the members of the Junta found little support, either in other cities of the Audiencia de Quito, or even among the lower classes in Quito, and were soon arrested by colonial troops sent from Lima.

It quickly became apparent that Quito's Creole rebels lacked the anticipated popular support for their cause. As loyalist troops approached Quito, therefore, they peacefully turned power back to the crown authorities. Despite assurances against reprisals, the returning Spanish authorities (Bonaparte's men) proved to be merciless with the rebels and, in the process of ferreting out participants in the Quito revolt, jailed and abused many innocent citizens. Their actions, in turn, bred popular resentment among Quitenos. After several days of street fighting in August 1810, Quitenos won an agreement to be governed by a junta to be dominated by Creoles, although with the president of the Audiencia de Quito acting as its figurehead leader.

In spite of widespread opposition within the rest of the Audience de Quito, the junta called for a congress in December 1811 in which it declared the entire area of the Audience independent. Two months later, the junta approved a constitution for the state of Quito that provided for democratic governing institutions but also granted recognition to the authority of Ferdinand, should he return to the Spanish throne. Shortly thereafter, the junta elected to launch a military offensive against the Spanish, but the poorly trained and badly equipped troops were no match for those of the viceroy of Peru, which finally crushed the Quiteno rebellion in December 1812.

The second chapter in Ecuador's struggle for emancipation from Spanish colonial rule began in Guayaquil, where independence was proclaimed in October 1820 by a local patriotic junta under the leadership of the poet Jose Joaquin de Olmedo. By this time, the forces of independence had grown continental in scope and were organized into two principal armies, one under the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Palacios in the north and the other under the Argentine Jose de San Martin in the south. Unlike the hapless Quito junta, the Guayaquil patriots were able to appeal to foreign allies, Argentina and Venezuela, each of whom soon responded by sending sizable contingents to Ecuador. Antonio Jose de Sucre Alcala, the brilliant young lieutenant of Bolivar who arrived in Guayaquil in May 1821, was to become the key figure in the ensuing military struggle against the royalist forces.

After a number of initial successes, Sucre's army was defeated at Ambato in the central Sierra and he appealed for assistance from San Martin, whose army was by now in Peru. With the arrival from the south of 1,400 fresh soldiers under the command of Andres de Santa Cruz Calahumana, the fortunes of the patriotic army were again reversed.

A string of victories culminated in the decisive Battle of Pichincha, on the slopes of the volcano of that name on the western outskirts of Quito, on May 24, 1822. A few hours after the victory by the patriots, the last president of the Audience of Quito signed a formal capitulation of his forces before Marshal Sucre. The provinces of the former Audience of Quito joined Simon Bolivar's Republic of Gran Colombia. The province of Guayaquil, which had attained independence on October 9, 1820, remained adamant to the prospect of relinquishing its status of Free Province, and had to be annexed manu militari by Bolivar in July 1822.

Ecuador under Gran Colombia

Between 1822 and 1830, Ecuador was formally part of the Gran Colombia. For most of these years, warfare dominated the affairs of Ecuador. First, the country found itself on the front lines of Bolivar's war to liberate Peru from Spanish rule between 1822 and 1825; afterward, in 1828 and 1829, Ecuador was in the middle of an armed struggle between Peru and the Gran Colombia over the location of their common border. After a campaign that included the near destruction of Guayaquil, the forces of Gran Colombia, under the leadership of Sucre and Venezuelan General Juan Jose Flores, proved victorious. The Treaty of 1829 fixed the border on the line that has divided the Quito audiencia and the Viceroyalty of Peru before independence.

The population of Ecuador was divided during these years among three segments: those favoring the status quo, those supporting union with Peru, and those advocating autonomous independence for the former audiencia. The latter group was to prevail following Venezuela's withdrawal from the confederation during an 1830 constitutional congress that had been called in Bogota in a futile effort to combat growing separatist tendencies throughout Gran Colombia. In May of that year, a group of Quito notables met to dissolve the union with Gran Colombia, and in August, a constituent assembly drew up a constitution for the State of Ecuador, so named for its geographic proximity to the equator, and placed General Flores in charge of political and military affairs. He remained the dominant political figure during Ecuador's first fifteen years of independence.

Liberal Revolution in Ecuador

Gabriel Garcia Moreno, president of Ecuador 1859-1865 and 1869-1875, governed conservatively. In 1865 Jeronimo Carrion succeded Moreno as President; in 1867 he resigned and Javier Espinosa was elected, but in 1868 people talked openly of a Liberal Revolution and the Conservative party renominated Moreno on January 16, 1869. The president resigned the same day. Moreno was assassinated on August 6, 1875. He was succeeded by Antonio Borrero, who recalled General Ignacio de Veintemilla from exile. The general convinced the president that another revolution was expected, was given the troops from Quito, and the general then installed himself as president. Veintemilla was frequently termed the head of the irreligious party, from his want of harmony with the Church. Veintemilla defeated a revolution in Quito in 1877, but he was ultimately ejected after six or eight months of revolution in July 1883. Caamano was elected president and he served until his term expired in 1888. Antonio Flores then became president.

Moreno arguably gave the Roman Catholic Church more power in Ecuador during the nineteenth century than it had in any other country in the world. This would all change with the rise of Eloy Alfaro and his Radical Liberal Party (PLR) in 1895. Alfaro was the antithesis of Moreno, and their differences were further accentuated by their historical juxtaposition.

The Roman Catholic Church and its conservative allies did not give up their power gracefully. Ecuador suffered a bloody civil war in which Catholic Church regularly urged its faithful masses to rise in rebellion against the Liberals. Ironically, a prolonged war was avoided largely because of the efforts of Catholic Archbishop Federico Gonzalez Suarez, who urged the Church stay out of politics.

Religious paintings adorned all public buildings during Moreno's rule, but were largely replaced with secular art after Alfaro took power. Ecuador's political situation remained tumultuous even after the defeat of the conservatives, as a result of political infighting within the PLR. Most remember Alfaro as the central figure in the Ecuadorian Liberal Revolution, though, in reality, he grudgingly shared control of the PLR with General Leonidas Plaza Gutierrez and the two vied for the party's leadership until Alfaro's death at the hands of a Plaza-instigated mob.

After Alfaro's murder, Plaza served a second presidential term, however, by this point the coastal agricultural and banking interests, popularly known as la Argolla ("the Ring"), controlled the PLR more than Plaza did. And though la Argolla publicly advocated the Liberal cause, in practice it did little more than use the PLR and the Government to line its own pockets. La Argolla's abuse of power combined with the decline in world demand for Ecuadorian products pitched the country into a severe economic depression. Ecuador's worsening economic situation and the popular unrest it manifested set the stage for a bloodless coup d'etat in July 1925 that officially marked the end of Liberal rule.

After the Liberal Revolution and thirty years of Liberal rule, the Catholic Church lost much of its hold on Ecuador. For example, Roman Catholicism was no longer the constitutionally mandated state religion, education was secularized, and civil marriage and divorce were legalized. In addition to tethering the Catholic Church, the era of Liberal rule sparked the development of Ecuador's infrastructure and economy. Alfaro and subsequent Liberal administrations completed a number of important public projects such as the Quito-Guayaquil Rail.

After World War II

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 Lasso - 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 Jose Maria 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 Roldos Aguilera who, with his Popular Forces' Concentration (CFP) party, won a decisive victory against Sixto Duran Ballen of the Social Christian Party (PSC). After a leadership disagreement with Assad Bucaram, the then leader of the CFP, Roldos left the above-mentioned party to found his own along with his wife. This Roldos-founded party, called "People, Change and Democracy" (PCD), would become an unimportant third-runner in Ecuadorean politics when Abdala Bucaram Ortiz's Guayaquil-based Ecuadorean Roldosista Party (PRE) was founded in 1982. In January 1981, the country went through yet another episode in its long-standing border dispute with Peru (see History of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian territorial dispute, during the so-called Paquisha Incident, which saw Peruvian troops expelling Ecuadorian soldiers from three outposts located in the disputed and undemarcated zone.

By the end of the year 1981, Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea, member of the Popular Democracy Party, (DP) succeeded Roldos after the President died in a plane crash. 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 Leon Febres Cordero Rivadeneira, of the Social Christian Party (PSC). During the first years of his administration, Febres-Cordero introduced free-market economic policies, took a strong stand 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 Cevallos of the Democratic Left (ID) party won the presidency in 1988, running in the runoff election against Abdala Bucaram 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 Vive, Carajo!" named after Eloy Alfaro. However, continuing economic problems undermined the popularity of the ID, and opposition parties gained control of Congress in 1990.

Modernization and Economic Crisis

In 1992, Sixto Duran Ballen won 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 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. The Duran-Ballen Administration can be credited with beginning the negotiations that would end in a final settlement of the territorial dispute.

In 1996, Abdala Bucaram, from the populist Ecuadorian Roldosista Party, won the presidency on a platform that promised populist economic and social reforms. Almost from the start, Bucaram's administration languished amidst widespread allegations of corruption. Empowered by the president's unpopularity with organized labor, business, and professional organizations alike, Congress unseated Bucaram in February 1997 on grounds of mental incompetence. The Congress replaced Bucaram with Interim President Fabian Alarcon.

In May 1997, following the demonstrations that led to the ousting of Bucaram and appointment of Alarcon, the people of Ecuador called for a National Assembly to reform the Constitution and the country's political structure. After a little more than a year, the National Assembly produced a new Constitution.

Fall of Mahuad and Dollarization

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 DP and Social Christian Alvaro Noboa Ponton - 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 local currency, the sucre (named after Antonio Jose de Sucre), 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. Under Mahuad's recession-plagued term, the economy shrank significantly and inflation reached levels of up to 60 percent.

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.

Although Ecuador began to improve economically in the following months, the government of Noboa came under heavy fire for the continuation of the dollarization policy, its disregard for social problems and other important issues in Ecuadorean politics.

Retired Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, a member of the military junta that overthrew Mahuad, was elected president in 2002 and assumed the presidency on January 15, 2003. Gutierrez's Patriotic Society Party had a small fraction of the seats in Congress and therefore depended on the support of other parties in Congress to pass legislation.

In December 2004, Gutierrez unconstitutionally dissolved and appointed new judges to the Supreme Court. This move was generally seen as a kickback to deposed ex-President Abdala Bucaram, whose political party had sided with Gutierrez and helped derail attempts to impeach him in late 2004. The new Supreme Court dropped charges of corruption pending against the exiled Bucaram, who soon returned to the politically unstable country. The corruption evident in these maneuvers finally led Quito's middle classes to seek the ousting of Gutierrez in early 2005. In April 2005, the Ecuadorian Armed Forces declared that it "withdrew its support" for the President. After weeks of public protests, Gutierrez was overthrown in April. Vice President Alfredo Palacio assumed the Presidency and vowed to complete the term of office and hold elections in 2006.

See also


Ecuadorian War of Independence

History of the Ecuadorian-Peruvian territorial dispute

Cenepa War

History of South America

List of heads of state of Ecuador

External links

U.S. State Department Background Note: Ecuador

Archaeology of Ecuador

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