Various peoples had settled in the area of the future Ecuador before the arrival of the Incas. Some probably sailed on rafts from Central America to Ecuador, some came to Ecuador by way of the tributaries of the Amazon, some came from the north of South America, and some came up from the south of South America over the Andes or by sailing on rafts. They developed different languages as they emerged as unique ethnic groups.
Although their languages are not related, these groups have developed similar cultures, each located in different environments. The coastal peoples developed a fishing and hunter-gatherer culture, the peoples of the Andean highlands developed a sedentary agricultural lifestyle and the peoples of the Amazon basin developed a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture.
Over time, these groups began to interact and mix, so that groups of families from the same area became a community or tribe, with a similar language and culture. Many civilisations appeared in Ecuador, such as the Valdivia culture and the Machalilla culture on the coast, the Quitus culture (near present-day Quito) and the Cañari culture (near present-day Cuenca). Each civilisation developed its own architecture, pottery and religious interests.
In the highlands of the Andes, where life was more sedentary, groups of tribes cooperated and formed villages; thus, the first nations were formed on the basis of agricultural resources and animal domestication. Eventually, through wars and the matrimonial alliances of their leaders, a group of nations formed confederations. One region came together under a confederation called Shyris, which engaged in organised trade and barter between the different regions. Their political and military power came under the control of the Duchicela lineage.
The time of the Incas
When the Incas arrived, they found that these confederations were so developed that it took two generations of rulers – Topa Inca Yupanqui and Huayna Capac – to integrate them into the Inca Empire. The indigenous confederates who caused them the most problems were deported to remote areas of Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina. Similarly, a number of loyal Inca subjects from Peru and Bolivia were taken to Ecuador to prevent rebellion. Thus, by 1463, the highland region of Ecuador was part of the Inca Empire and shared the same language.
In contrast, the Incas found the environment and the indigenous population more hostile as they advanced into the coastal region of Ecuador and into the eastern Amazon jungle of Ecuador. Moreover, when the Incas attempted to subdue them, these natives retreated inland and resorted to guerrilla tactics. As a result, Inca expansion in the Amazon basin and on the Pacific coast of Ecuador was hindered. The indigenous people of the Amazon jungle and the Ecuadorian coast remained relatively autonomous until the arrival in force of Spanish soldiers and missionaries. The Amazons and Cayapas of the Ecuadorian coast were the only groups to resist Inca and Spanish domination and retain their language and culture into the 21st century.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Inca Empire was in the grip of a civil war. The untimely death of the heir Ninan Cuchi and Emperor Huayna Capac from a European disease that spread to Ecuador created a power vacuum between two factions. The northern faction, led by Atahualpa, claims that Huayna Capac gave an oral decree before his death on how the empire should be divided. He left the territories of present-day Ecuador and northern Peru to his favourite son Atahualpa, who was to rule from Quito, and gave the rest to Huáscar, who was to rule from Cuzco. He wished his heart to be buried in Quito, his favourite city, and the rest of his body with his ancestors in Cuzco.
Huáscar did not recognise his father’s will because he did not follow the Inca tradition of appointing an Inca through the priests. Huáscar ordered Atahualpa to attend his father’s funeral in Cuzco and to pay homage to him as the new Inca ruler. Atahualpa, along with many of his father’s veterans, chose to ignore Huáscar, and a civil war ensued. A series of bloody battles ensued until Huáscar was finally captured. Atahualpa marched south to Cuzco and massacred the royal family allied with his brother.
A small group of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro landed at Tumbez and crossed the Andes to Cajamarca, where the new Inca Atahualpa was to hold a council with them. The priest Valverde tried to convince Atahualpa that he should join the Catholic Church and declare himself a vassal of Spain. This enraged Atahualpa so much that he threw the Bible on the floor. At this point, the enraged Spaniards, under the command of Valverde, attacked and massacred the Inca’s unarmed companions and captured Atahualpa. Pizarro promised to free Atahualpa if he fulfilled his promise to fill a gold coin. But after a mock trial, the Spaniards executed Atahualpa by strangulation.
The new infectious diseases endemic to Europeans caused a high mortality rate among the Amerindian population during the first decades of Spanish rule, as they were not immune. At the same time, the indigenous people were forced to work for the Spaniards under the encomienda. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a Real Audiencia (administrative district) of Spain and part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and later the Viceroyalty of New Granada.
After almost 300 years of Spanish rule, Quito was still a small city of 10,000 inhabitants. On 10 August 1809, the city‘s criollos demanded independence from Spain (the first among the peoples of Latin America). They were led by Juan Pío Montúfar, Quiroga, Salinas and Bishop Cuero y Caicedo. Quito’s nickname, “Luz de América” (“Light of the Americas”), was based on its leading role in the attempt to obtain an independent local government. Although the new government did not last more than two months, it had a significant effect and inspired the independence movement in the rest of Spanish America.
On 9 October 1820, Guayaquil became the first city in Ecuador to gain independence from Spain. The people were very happy with this independence and celebrated what is now Ecuador’s Independence Day, officially on 24 May 1822. The rest of Ecuador gained its independence after Antonio José de Sucre defeated the Spanish royalists at the Battle of Pichincha, near Quito. After the battle, Ecuador joined Simón Bolívar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, which also included present-day Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. In 1830, Ecuador separated from Gran Colombia and became an independent republic.
The nineteenth century was a period of instability for Ecuador, with a rapid succession of leaders. Ecuador’s first president was the Venezuelan Juan José Flores, who was eventually deposed, followed by several authoritarian rulers, such as Vicente Rocafuerte, José Joaquín de Olmedo, José María Urbina, Diego Noboa, Pedro José de Arteta, Manuel de Ascásubi, and Flores’ own son, Antonio Flores Jijón, among others. The conservative Gabriel Garcia Moreno unified the country in the 1860s with the support of the Roman Catholic Church. In the late 19th century, the global demand for cocoa linked the economy to commodity exports and led to migration from the highlands to the agricultural frontier on the coast.
Ecuador abolished slavery and freed its black slaves in 1851.
Military governments (1972-79)
In 1972, a “revolutionary and nationalist” military junta overthrew the government of Velasco Ibarra. The coup was led by General Guillermo Rodríguez and executed by Navy Commander Jorge Queirolo G. The new president exiled José María Velasco to Argentina. He remained in power until 1976, when he was deposed by another military government. This military junta was led by Admiral Alfredo Poveda, who was appointed President of the Supreme Council. The Supreme Council included two other members: General Guillermo Durán Arcentales and General Luis Leoro Franco. Civil society increasingly called for democratic elections. Colonel Richelieu Levoyer, a government minister, proposed and implemented a plan to return to the constitutional system through universal suffrage. This plan allowed the newly democratically elected president to assume the functions of the executive.
Return to democracy
On 29 April 1979, elections were held under a new constitution. Jaime Roldós Aguilera was elected president and received more than one million votes, the highest number of votes in Ecuador’s history. He took office on 10 August, becoming the first constitutionally elected president after nearly a decade of civil and military dictatorship. In 1980 he founded the Partido Pueblo, Cambio y Democracia (People’s Party, Change and Democracy) after withdrawing from the Concentración de Fuerzas Populares (Concentration of Popular Forces), and governed until 24 May 1981, when he died with his wife and Defence Minister Marco Subia Martinez when his air force plane crashed in heavy rain near the Peruvian border. Many believe he was assassinated by the CIA, given the multiple death threats against him because of his reformist agenda, the death of two key witnesses in car accidents before they could testify in the investigation, and the sometimes conflicting accounts of the incident.
He was immediately succeeded by Vice-President Osvaldo Hurtado, followed in 1984 by León Febres Cordero of the Social Christian Party. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, of the Democratic Left Party (Izquierda Democrática, or ID), won the presidency in 1988, running in a run-off against Abdalá Bucaram (Jaime Roldos’ brother-in-law and founder of the Ecuadorian Roldosist Party). His government pushed for better protection of human rights and implemented some reforms, including opening Ecuador to foreign trade. The Borja government reached an agreement that led to the dissolution of the small terrorist group “¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo! (“Alfaro Lives, Dammit!”), named after Eloy Alfaro. Persistent economic problems, however, undermined the popularity of the DI, and opposition parties took control of Congress in 1999.
The emergence of the Indian population as an active electorate has contributed to the country’s democratic volatility in recent years. The population is motivated by the government’s failure to deliver on its promises of land reform, unemployment reduction and social service provision, as well as by the historical exploitation of the land-owning elite. Their movement, together with the ongoing destabilisation efforts of the elite and leftist movements, has led to a deterioration of executive power. The population and other branches of government give very little political capital to the president, as shown by the recent impeachment of President Lucio Gutiérrez by Congress in April 2005. He was replaced by Vice-President Alfredo Palacio, who remained in office until the 2006 presidential elections, in which Rafael Correa won the presidency.
In December 2008, President Correa declared Ecuador’s public debt illegitimate, arguing that it was an odious debt incurred by corrupt and despotic predecessor regimes. He announced that the country would default on more than $3 billion worth of bonds; he then promised to fight the creditors in international courts and succeeded in bringing down the price of outstanding bonds by more than 60%. He brought Ecuador into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in June 2009. To date, the Correa government has succeeded in reducing the high levels of poverty and unemployment in Ecuador.