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The History of Ecuador

Joel Walsh (www.joelwalsh.com) has written for numerous web sites, in addition to the Let's Go: Mexico travel guidebook, and translations for a Venezuelan human rights NGO. At university, he studied Spanish literature and the history of Spanish-speaking countries, spending his final semester at the University of Havana.

General overview on the history of Ecuador

Ecuador’s location amid high mountains on the edge of the Pacific Ocean makes for a unique backdrop, and has attracted most of the international tourists who go there.

Of course, the other big draw is the world-famous Galapagos Islands. Uninhabited for centuries, the islands became famous when Charles Darwin extensively analyzed their unique species of birds in Origin of the Species. Though never inhabited by humans outside the scientific or tourism communities, the islands belong to Ecuador since they lie directly off its border in the Pacific Ocean.

The country ends up impressing visitors not only with its high-altitude landscape, but the quiet reserve of its people—not a quality commonly found in the Americas. The culture of Ecuador has been shaped by its unique indigenous ancestors, who intermarried with the Europeans and their descendents to produce a country that is 40% of primarily indigenous ancestry and 40% mestizo. The only other country on the South American landmass to have quite this strong an indigenous presence is Peru.

The history of Ecuador before the Spaniards

While people lived in Ecuador for thousands of years, we do not know anything about the history of Ecuador until around the year AD 1000, since the first Ecuadorians left architectural ruins but no writing.

Sometime early in the second millennium AD, a kingdom arose in Quito, the present-day capital (the only other pre-European cities still active in the Americas are Cuzco, Peru, and Mexico City, formerly the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán). Beginning around AD 1300, the Duchicela rulers provided political stability to this kingdom.

But Quito, along with the rest of present-day Ecuador, was soon swallowed up by the mighty Inca Empire around 1450. The locals fought hard against the invaders, but the Incas won out.

Spanish Colonial Period

Spaniards first explored the region in 1526. Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire in 1532, quickly moving down from the capital in present-day Peru. Quito resisted subjugation for two years, before giving up. The Inca general Ruminahui destroyed Quito rather than let the Spaniards take it.

The Spaniards refunded Quito in 1534. Today there is only one Inca site left in Ecuador, Ingapirca, north of Cuenca.

Initially, Ecuador was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, along with the rest of Spanish South America. In 1739, Ecuador became part of the new Viceroyalty of New Granada, headquartered in Bogotá.

Unlike in much of Spanish-controlled America, Ecuador’s indigenous population never rebelled, despite their horrible living conditions. Ecuador was mostly made up of giant estates raising cattle and bananas, all running on the forced labor of indigenous people.

Independence

A liberation made by the symbolic figure of the time: Simon Bolivar

As almost everywhere else in Spanish-controlled America, resistance to Spanish control mounted towards the end of the 1700s, and especially after Spain’s sudden decline following Napoleon’s invasion in the first decades of the 1800s.

The history of Ecuador changed dramatically in 1822 thanks to the famous Simon Bolivar who liberated the country, along with the rest of Spanish-controlled South America. Bolivar christened the liberated New Granada, Gran Colombia.

In 1830, after long dissension among ruling elites within Gran Colombia, the country was broken up into the present-day states of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

The post-independence history of Ecuador was roughly the same as in the other former Spanish colonies in South America

Two main political parties emerged, conservatives, who backed church power and the traditional landed oligarchy, and liberals who wanted to modernize the country. In Ecuador, the conservatives tended to find their power base in Quito, while the liberals looked to Guayaquil. The two sides clashed violently on numerous occasions.

Political instability one of the characteristcs of the history of Ecuador, carried into the twentieth century, during which Ecuador was more often under military rule than under civilian rule. For the most part, however, the instability was not as violent as it was elsewhere.

In 1941, Peru invaded Ecuador and made off with much of its territory in the Amazon. The border between the two was not completely settled until the 1990s.

Ecuador’s Difficult Turn of the Millennium

In the 1990s, as Ecuador’s currency, the sucre, became rapidly inflated, the country’s lame duck president declared that the US dollar would replace the sucre. This process of “dollarization” was attempted to greater and less degrees in a number of other countries, including El Salvador, Cuba, and Argentina, but Ecuador remains the only country to completely and permanently abandon its own currency for a completely foreign one virtually overnight.

Dollarization was extremely unpopular, but succeeding administrations have not reversed it. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also demanded economic “reforms,” that, like most IMF “reforms,” have drastically reduced the standard of living of most people and have incited a great deal of political instability among the population.


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History of Ecuador
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