Ecuador, officially the Republic of Ecuador (Spanish: República del Ecuador, literally meaning “Republic of Ecuador”; Quechua: Ikwadur Ripuwlika), is a representative democratic republic in northwestern South America, bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the east and south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ecuador also includes the Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 kilometres west of the mainland.
What is now Ecuador was home to various Indian groups that were gradually incorporated into the Inca Empire in the 15th century. The territory was colonised by Spain in the 16th century and gained independence in 1820 as part of Gran Colombia, from which it emerged as its own sovereign state in 1830. The legacy of these two empires is reflected in the ethnic diversity of Ecuador’s population, most of whose 15.2 million inhabitants are mestizo, followed by significant minorities of European, Amerindian and African origin.
Spanish is the official language and is spoken by the majority of the population, though 13 indigenous languages are also recognised, including Quichua and Shuar. The capital is Quito, while the largest city is Guayaquil. Given the country’s rich cultural heritage, the historic centre of Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Cuenca, the third largest city, was also declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, as it is an outstanding example of a planned colonial city in the Spanish interior of the Americas.
Ecuador has a developing economy that is heavily dependent on raw materials, namely oil and agricultural products. The country is classified as a middle-income country. Ecuador is a presidential democratic republic. The new constitution of 2008 is the first in the world to recognise legally enforceable nature or ecosystem rights. Ecuador is also known for its ecological wealth and is home to many endemic plants and animals, such as those of the Galapagos Islands. It is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world.
Ecuador has a total area of 283,520 km2 (109,468 sq mi), including the Galapagos Islands. Of this territory, 283,520 km2 (109,468 sq mi) is land and 6,720 km2 (2,595 sq mi) is water. Ecuador is larger than Uruguay, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana in South America.
Ecuador is located between latitudes 2°N and 5°S, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, and has a coastline of 2,337 km (1,770 mi). Its land borders extend for 2,010 km (1,250 mi), with Colombia to the north for 590 km (367 mi) and Peru to the east and south for 1,420 km (882 mi). It is the westernmost country on the equator.
The country has four main geographical regions:
- La Costa, or “the coast”: The coastal region consists of the provinces west of the Andes – Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Ríos, Manabí, El Oro, Santa Elena. It is the most fertile and productive land in the country and is home to the large banana plantations for export of the Dole and Chiquita companies. This region also produces most of Ecuador’s rice crop. The actual coastal provinces have an active fishery. The largest coastal city is Guayaquil.
- The Sierra, or “highlands”: The Sierra consists of the Andean and inter-Andean provinces of the highlands – Azuay, Cañar, Carchi, Chimborazo, Imbabura, Loja, Pichincha and Tungurahua. This land contains most of Ecuador’s volcanoes and all its snow-capped peaks. Agriculture is concentrated on the traditional cultivation of potatoes, corn and quinua, and the population is predominantly Kichua Amerindian. The largest city in Sierro is Quito.
- La Amazonía, also known as El Oriente, or “the East”: The Oriente consists of the Amazon jungle provinces of Morona Santiago, Napo, Orellana, Pastaza, Sucumbíos and Zamora-Chinchipe. This region is mainly made up of the vast Amazonian national parks and the untouchable Indian zones, which are large areas of land reserved for the Amazonian Indian tribes to continue their traditional way of life. It is also the region with the largest oil reserves in Ecuador, and parts of the upper Amazon have been exploited by oil companies. The population is mainly mixed Shuar, Huaorani and Kichua Indians, although there are many tribes in the deep jungle with little contact. The largest city in the Oriente is probably Lago Agrio, in Sucumbíos, although Macas, in Morona, is not far from Santiago.
- The Región Insular is the region encompassing the Galapagos Islands, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland in the Pacific Ocean.
The capital of Ecuador is Quito, located in the province of Pichincha, in the Sierra region. The largest city is Guayaquil, in the province of Guayas. Cotopaxi, located south of Quito, is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. The summit of Chimborazo (6,268 m above sea level) is considered to be the furthest point on the earth’s surface from the centre of the earth, due to the approximately ellipsoidal shape of the planet.
Ecuador’s population is ethnically diverse, with a 2011 estimate of 15,007,343 inhabitants. The largest ethnic group (as of 2010) is the Mestizos, the descendants of Spanish settlers who intermarried with Amerindian peoples, accounting for approximately 71% of the population. White Ecuadorians (white Latin Americans) represent 6.1% of the Ecuadorian population and are present throughout the country, especially in urban areas. While during the colonial period the white population of Ecuador was mainly composed of descendants of Spain, the current white population is the result of a mixture of European immigrants, mainly from Spain, and people from Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland who settled in Ecuador at the beginning of the 20th century. Ecuador also has people of Middle Eastern origin who have also joined the white minority. These are economically well-off immigrants of Lebanese and Palestinian origin, who are either Christian or Muslim (Islam in Ecuador). In addition, there is a small European Jewish population (Ecuadorian Jews) residing mainly in Quito and, to a lesser extent, in Guayaquil. 7% of the current population are Indians. The mainly rural Montubio population of Ecuador’s coastal provinces, which could be classified as Pardo, represents 7.4% of the population. Afro-Ecuadorians constitute a minority population (7%) in Ecuador, which includes mulattos and zambos. They live mainly in the province of Esmeraldas and, to a lesser extent, in the predominantly mestizo provinces on the Ecuadorian coast – Guayas and Manabi. In the high Andes, where the population is predominantly mestizo, white and Amerindian, the African presence is almost non-existent, with the exception of a small community in the province of Imbabura, the Chota Valley.
According to the Ecuadorian National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, 91.95% of the country’s population has a religion, 7.94% are atheists and 0.11% are agnostics. Of those who have a religion, 80.44% are Latin Rite Roman Catholics, 11.30% are Evangelical Protestants, 1.29% are Jehovah’s Witnesses and 6.97% are others (mainly Jews, Buddhists and Latter Day Saints).
In rural Ecuador, the Indian faith and Catholicism are sometimes syncretised. Most of the annual festivals and parades are based on religious celebrations, many of which involve a mixture of rites and icons.
There are small numbers of Eastern Orthodox Christians, Amerindian religions, Muslims (see Islam in Ecuador), Buddhists and Baha’is. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to its own figures, represents about 1.4% of the population, or 211,165 members (end 2012). According to its own data, there were 77,323 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country in 2012.
The first Jews arrived in Ecuador in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first Jews arrived in Ecuador in the 16th century. Most of them are Sephardic Anusim (Crypto-Jews) and many still speak the Judeo-Spanish language (Ladino). Today, the Jewish community of Ecuador (Comunidad Judía del Ecuador) is based in Quito and has about 200 members. However, this number is decreasing as young people leave the country for the USA or Israel. The community has a Jewish centre with a synagogue, a country club and a cemetery. It supports the Albert Einstein School, where courses in Jewish history, religion and Hebrew are offered. There are very small communities in Cuenca. The “Comunidad de Culto Israelita” unites the Jews of Guayaquil. This community operates independently from the “Jewish Community of Ecuador” and has only 30 members.
The Ecuadorian Constitution recognises the “pluri-nationality” of those who wish to exercise their belonging to their original ethnic group. Thus, in addition to Criollos, Mestizos and Afro-Ecuadorians, some people belong to indigenous peoples who live scattered in a few places on the coast, in Quechua-Andean villages and in the Amazon jungle.
According to a 2015 genealogical DNA test, the average Ecuadorian is 52.96% Amerindian, 41.77% European and 5.26% sub-Saharan African overall.
The majority of Ecuadorians live in the central provinces, in the Andean mountains or along the Pacific coast. The rainforest region east of the mountains (El Oriente) is sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population. The birth rate is 2:1 for every death. Marriages are generally from the age of 14 with parental consent. About 12.4% of the population is married between the ages of 15 and 19. The divorce rate is moderate.
Immigration and emigration
A small East Asian-Latino community, estimated at 2,500 people, is composed mainly of people of Japanese and Chinese origin whose ancestors arrived in the late 19th century.
In the early years of the Second World War, Ecuador still allowed a number of immigrants, and when several South American countries refused to accept 165 Jewish refugees from Germany on the ship Königstein in 1939, Ecuador granted them permission to enter the country.
In recent years, Ecuador has become increasingly popular with North American expatriates. They are attracted by the authentic cultural experience and the beautiful natural environment. Ecuador’s favourable residency conditions make the transition easier for those who choose to settle permanently.
Another advantage that attracts many expats to Ecuador is the low cost of living. With everything from gas to groceries costing much less than in North America, it is a popular choice for those looking to make the most of their retirement budget.
Even real estate in Ecuador is much cheaper than in the tropics. However, as more and more North Americans discover Ecuador’s potential, property prices are beginning to rise from where they were a decade ago, especially in areas popular with expats and tourists.
Ecuador has a developing economy that is heavily dependent on raw materials, namely oil and agricultural products. The country is classified as a middle-income country. Ecuador’s economy is the eighth largest in Latin America and grew by an average of 4.6% between 2000 and 2006. From 2007 to 2012, Ecuador’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 4.3%, above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which was 3.5%, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Ecuador has maintained relatively higher growth during the crisis. In January 2009, the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE) set the growth forecast for 2010 at 6.88%. In 2011, the country’s GDP grew by 8%, placing it third in Latin America, behind Argentina (2nd) and Panama (1st). Between 1999 and 2007, GDP doubled, reaching $65,490 million, according to the ECB. Inflation was about 1.14% in January 2008, the highest rate in the last year, according to the government. The monthly unemployment rate remained at around 6% and 8% from December 2007 to September 2008; however, it rose to around 9% in October and fell back to 8% in November 2008. The average annual unemployment rate for 2009 in Ecuador was 8.5% as the global economic crisis continued to affect Latin American economies. From then on, the unemployment rate began a downward trend: 7.6% in 2010, 6% in 2011 and 4.8% in 2012.
The rate of extreme poverty decreased considerably between 1999 and 2010. In 2001, it was estimated at 40% of the population, while in 2011 this figure had fallen to 17.4% of the total population. This is partly due to emigration and the economic stability achieved after the introduction of the US dollar as the official currency. However, from 2008 onwards, with the poor economic performance of the nations where most Ecuadorian emigrants work, poverty reduction has been achieved through social spending, particularly on education and health.
Oil accounts for 40% of exports and helps maintain a positive trade balance. Since the late 1960s, oil exploitation has increased production and proven reserves are estimated at 6.51 billion barrels (in 2011).
The overall trade balance for August 2012 shows a surplus of almost $390 million for the first six months of 2012, a huge figure compared to that of 2007, which was only $5.7 million; the surplus had increased by about $425 million compared to 2006. The oil trade balance was positive in 2008 at $3,295 million, while the non-oil trade balance was negative at $2,842 million. The trade balance with the United States, Chile, the European Union, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and Mexico is positive. The trade balance with Argentina, Colombia and Asia is negative.
In the agricultural sector, Ecuador is a major exporter of bananas (first in the world in terms of production and exports), flowers and the seventh largest producer of cocoa. Production of shrimp, sugar cane, rice, cotton, corn, palm trees and coffee is also important. The country’s main resources include large amounts of timber throughout the country, such as eucalyptus and mangroves. Pines and cedars are planted in the La Sierra region and walnut, rosemary and balsa wood in the Guayas River basin. Industry is mainly concentrated in Guayaquil, the largest industrial centre, and in Quito, where industry has developed rapidly in recent years. This city is also the largest business centre in the country. Industrial production is mainly for the domestic market. However, exports of industrially manufactured or processed products are limited. These include canned goods, spirits, jewellery, furniture, etc. Tourism revenues have increased in recent years as the government seeks to showcase Ecuador’s diverse climate and biodiversity.
Ecuador has negotiated bilateral treaties with other countries and is also a member of the Andean Community and an associate member of Mercosur. The country is also a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) and other multilateral organisations. In April 2007, Ecuador repaid its debt to the IMF, ending an era of IMF interventionism in the country. Ecuador’s public finance system consists of the Central Bank of Ecuador (BCE), the National Development Bank (BNF), the State Bank, the National Finance Corporation, the Ecuadorian Housing Bank (BEV) and the Ecuadorian Credit and Scholarship Institution.
Between 2006 and 2009, the government increased social spending on welfare and education from 2.6% to 5.2% of GDP. From 2007, as the economy was overwhelmed by the economic crisis, the government subjected Ecuador to a series of economic policy reforms that helped move the Ecuadorian economy towards financial stability and sustainable, substantial and targeted social policies. These policies included expansionary fiscal policy, access to housing finance, stimulus packages and limits on the amount of cash reserves banks could hold abroad. The Ecuadorian government made huge investments in education and infrastructure throughout the country, which improved the lives of the poor.
In 2000, Ecuador switched from sugar to the US dollar after a banking crisis.
On 12 December 2008, President Correa announced that Ecuador would not pay $30.6 million in interest to lenders on a $510 million loan, claiming it was illegitimate. He also claimed that the $3.8 billion foreign debt negotiated by previous governments was illegitimate because it had been approved without an executive decree. At the time of the announcement, the country had $5.65 billion in cash reserves. worlddiplomacy.org notes, “With Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa winning a third term in 2013, this should bring more stability and a good growth rate to the Ecuadorian economy.”
Ecuador, which is part of Mercosur, signed a free trade agreement with Lebanon on 18 December 2014.