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Essay/Term paper: Ecuador and democracy

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History Essays

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Ecuador and Democracy

Briefly, democracy is a matter of degree and quality. Confusion often
arises in discussion about democracy. This stems from the different premises
people have in mind when they use the term. In my opinion, most people fail to
specify their underlying premises, and we often incorporate into our sense of
democracy disparate factors that may or may not relate to it. To avoid such
confusion, we must identify the key ideas central to democracy and clarify
precisely how the term will be used. The best way to study democracy is to
learn the other countries, so in this time I choose one of Latin American
countries, Ecuador for well-understanding of the process of democracy.
Ecuador is graphically one of the world's most varied countries despite
its small size, which at 283520 sq. km is about the size of either New Zealand
or Nevada State. Ecuador staddles the equator on the Pacific coast of South
America and is bordered by only two countries, Colombia to the north and Peru to
the south and east.
The estimated population of Ecuador in 1991 was 10,800,00. This is
approximately 10 times the number of Indian estimated to have been living in the
area at the time of the Spanish conquest. The population density of about 38
people per sq. km is the highest of any South American nation.
Like other Latin American countries, the major religion is Roman
Catholicism. Some of the older cities have splendid 16th and 17th-century
Catholic churches. Although churches of other faiths can found, they form only
a very small minority. The Indians, while outwardly Roman Catholic, tend to
blend Catholicism with their traditional beliefs. In Ecuador, Spanish is the
main language. Most Indians are bilingual, with Quechua being their preferred
language and Spanish their second tongue.
Ecuador, that is the smallest of the Andean countries, is a republic
with a democratic government headed by a president. The first constitution was
written in 1830, but has had several changes since then, the most recent in 1978.
Democratically elected governments have regularly been toppled by coups, often
led by the military. Since 1979, however, all governments have been freely
elected. All literate citizens over 18 have the vote and the president must
receive over 50% of the vote to be elected. With at least 13 different
political parties, 50% of the vote is rarely achieved, in which case there is a
second round between the top two contenders. A president governs for a maximum
of five years and cannot be reelected.
The recent elections were in 1988, with 10 candidates running for
president. In the first round, held in January, Rodrigo Borja and Abdala
Bucaram achieved 24.1% and 17.6% of the votes. In the August runoff, Borja of
the Izquierda Democratica (Democratic Left) received a 52% majority and was
The president is also the head of the armed forces and appoints his own
cabinet ministers. There are 12 ministries forming the executive branch of the
government. The legislative branch of government consists of a single Chamber
of Representatives (congress) which has 69 members. The congress appoints the
justices of the Supreme Court. There are 21 provinces, each with a governor
appointed by the president and democratically elected prefects. The provinces
are sub-divided into smaller political units called cantones; each canton has a
democratically elected alcalde (mayor).
Most histories of Ecuador begin with the expansion of the Incas from
Peru in the 1400s, although archaeological evidence indicates the presence of
people in Ecuador for many thousands of years before then. The history of pre-
Inca Ecuador is lost in a tangle of time and legend. Generally speaking, the
main populations lived either on the coast or in the highland.
At the time of the Inca expansion the Duchicela descendants still
dominated the north, and the south was in the hands of the Canari people. The
Canari defended themselves against the Inca invaders, and it was some years
before the Inca, TupacYupanqui, was able to subdue them and turn his attention
to the north. During he fathered a son, Huayana Capac, by a Canari princess.
The subjugation of the north took many years and Huayana Capac grew up in
Ecuador. He succeeded his father to the Inca throne and spent years traveling
all over his empire, from Bolivia to Ecuador, constantly putting down uprisings
from all sides.
The year 1526 is a major one in Ecuadorian history. The Inca Huayna
Capac died and left his empire, not to one son as was traditional, but to two,
thus dividing the Inca Empire for the first time. In the same year, on 21
September, the first Spaniards landed near Esmeraldas in northern Ecuador. They
were led south by the pilot, Bartolome Ruiz de Andrade, on an exploratory
mission for Francisco Pizarro, who himself remained further north. Pizarro was
not to arrive as conqueror for several years.
Meanwhile, the rivalry of Huayna Capac's two sons grew. The Inca of
Cuzco, Huascar, went to war against the Ecuadorian Inca, Atahualpa. After
several years of fighting, Atahualpa defeated Huascar near Ambato in central
Ecuador and was thus the ruler of the weakened and still divided Inca Empire
when Pizarro arrived in 1532 with plans to conquer the Incas.
Pizarro's advance was rapid and dramatic. His horse-riding, amour-
wearing and cannon firing conquistadors were believed to be godlike and,
although few in number, spread terror among the Indians. In late 1532, a summit
meeting was arranged between Pizarro and Atahualpa. Although Atahuaipa was
prepared to negotiate with the Spaniards, Pizarro had other ideas. When the
Inca arrived at the pre-arranged meeting place on 16 November, he was ambushed
by the conquistadors who massacred most of his armed guards and captured
Atahualpa. Atahualpa was hold for ransom, and incalculable quantities of gold,
silver and other valuables poured in to Cajamarca. When the ransom was paid the
Inca, instead of being sentenced to death. His crimes were incest, polygamy,
worship of false gods, and crimes against the king. He was executed on 29
August 1533, and the Inca Empire was at an end.
From 1535 onwards, the colonial era proceeded with the usual intrigues
amongest the Spanish but with no major uprisings by the Ecuadorian Indians.
Lima, Peru was the seat of the political administration of Ecuador during the
first centuries of colonial rule. Ecuador was the first known as a
"gobernacion" (province) but in 1563 became the "Audiencia de Quito," amore
important political division. In 1739, the "audiencia" was transferred from the
viceroyalty of Peru, of which it was a part, to the viceroyalty of Colombia
(then known as Nueva Grenada).
Ecuador remained a peaceful colony during these centuries, and
agriculture and the art flourished. Various new agriculture products, such as
cattle and bananas, which still remain important in Ecuador today, were
introduced from Europe. There was prolific construction of churches and
monasteries which were decorated with unique carvings and paintings resulting
from the blend of Spanish and Indian art influences.
Life was comfortable for the ruling colonialists, but the Indians and
later "mestizo", were treated under their rule. A system of forced labour was
not only tolerated but encouraged, and it is no surprise that by the 18th
century there were several uprisings of the Indians against the Spanish ruling
The first serious attempt to liberate Ecuador from Spanish rule was by a
partisan group led by Juan Pio Montufar on 10 August 1809. The group managed to
take Quito and install a government, but this lasted just 24 days before troops
of the King of Spain were able to regain control.
Independence was finally achieved by Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan
liberator who marched southward from Caracas, feed Colombia in 1819, and
supported the people of Guayaquil when they claimed independence on 9 October
1820. It took almost two years before Ecuador was entirely liberated from
Spanish rule. The decisive battle was fought on 24 May 1882 when Field Marshal
Sucre, one of Bolivar's best generals, defeated the royalists at the Battle of
Pichincha and took Quito.
Bolivar's idealistic dream was to form a united South America, so he
began by amalgamating Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador into the independent
nation of Gran Colombia. This lasted only eight years and Ecuador became fully
independent in 1830. In the same year a treaty was signed with Peru, drawing up
a boundary between the two nations. This is the boundary that is marked on all
Ecuadorian maps. In 1942, after a war between the two countries, the border was
redrawn in Rio de Janeiro and it is this border that is found on non-Ecuadorian
maps. However, it is not officially acknowledged by Ecuadorian authorities.
Independent Ecuador's internal history has been a typically Latin
America turmoil of political and open warfare between liberals and conservatives.
Quito emerged as the main centre for the church-backed conservatives and
Guayaquil has traditionally been considered liberal and socialist. This rivalry
continues on a social level today. Qiitenos have nicknamed Guayaquilenos as
"monos" (monkeys) and the lively coastal people think of the highland
inhabitants as very staid and dull.
The rivalry between the groups frequently escalated to extreme violence:
conservative President Gracie Moron was shot and killed in 1875 and liberal
President Eloy Alfaro was killed and burned by a mob in Quito in 1912. The
military began to take control and the 20th century has seen more periods of
military rule than of civilian.
Ecuador's most recent period of democracy began in 1979 when President
Jaime Roldos Aguilera was elected. He was killed in an aeroplane crash in 1981
and his term of office was completed by his vice president, Osvaldo Hurtado
In 1984, the conservative, Leon Febres Cordero, was reelected to the
presidency. Following the democrat, Rodrigo Borja, became president and the
government leant to the left. The next elections are due in 1992. These are
not easy to follow, because there are at least 13 political parties in Ecuador.
There are also a number of communist, socialist, and revolutionary political
movements which are not officially recognized. These do have a certain amount
of political power which they exercise by forming alliances with one of the
official parties.
In conclusion, despite intense and bloody rivalry between liberals,
conservatives and the military during the earlier part of this century, Ecuador
has remained peaceful in recent years and is one of the safest countries in
South America at present. Everybody thinks that democracy is the most advanced
government form all over the world. However, we all should remember that it is
from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that our world is shaped.


Hurtado, O. Political Power in Ecuador (Westview, 1985).

Linke, L. Ecuador: Country of Contrasts (Oxford, 1964).

Luzuriaga, C. Income Distribution and Poverty in Rural Ecuador (Arizona State
Univ. Press, 1983).

Redclift, M.R. Agrarian Reform and Peasant Organization in Coastal Ecuador
(London Univ. Press, 1978).

Schodt, D.W. Ecuador (Westview, 1986).

Whitten, N.E., ed. Cultural Transformations and Ethnicity in Modern Ecuador
(Univ. of Ill. Press, 1981).


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