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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Ecuador is a small country located on the western side of South America on the Pacific Ocean. As its name suggests, the country is situated on the equator. It in one of only two South American countries that don’t border Brazil, the other being Chile. Its capital, Quito, is the least altered and best preserved of any city in Latin America and is a World Heritage Site. Ecuador is one of 18 megadiverse countries as named by the United Nations. Its constitution was renewed in 2008 and includes legally enforceable nature or ecosystem rights, the first in the world to do so. There are many other interesting facts about Ecuador.

Geography and climate

The country has several diverse geographic regions. The low lying coastal area has most of the plantation crops and the nation’s largest city, Guayaquil. Many mangroves have been destroyed by shrimp farming. Behind this coastal plain is the highlands region, featuring the Andes Mountains with their snow covered peaks year round, even on the equator. To the east is the thinly populated Amazon rainforest area occupying nearly half the country. You can drive through the temperate coastal area, the cold highlands, and the hot and humid rainforest all in one day. The Galapagos Islands, 620 miles off the coast, have the world’s largest tortoises. This is where Charles Darwin started developing his theory of natural selection. Ecuador’s Chimborazo, an inactive volcano, is the farthest point from the earth’s center due to the planet’s ovoidal shape.

History

Evidence of human occupation in Ecuador dates back 5,500 years. Various distinct civilizations arose and could be quite hostile towards one another and outsiders. At the battle of Yahuarcocha (meaning Blood Lake), thousands were butchered and thrown into the lake. The region came under the Inca Empire in 1463, and a civil war was raging at the time the Spaniards arrived in 1531. After the Ecuadorian War of Independence in 1820-1822, the territory became part of Gran Colombia before separating in 1830. Ecuador’s history has been marked by many periods of instability. War broke out between Ecuador and Peru in 1941, each country blaming the other for invading its territory. Tensions between the two countries continued, finally escalating into all out war in 1995. A peace agreement was signed in 1998.

People

About 57 per cent of Ecuador’s 13.6 million people are Mestizo or of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent. A further 24 per cent are Amerindian, 16 per cent are white, and 3 per cent are black. A major population shift from the highlands to the coastal areas occurred in the late nineteenth century when world demand for cocoa and other commodities rose. More recently, both immigration and emigration between Ecuador and many countries around the world have been high. More than 600,000 Colombians live in Ecuador, mostly illegally, escaping conflict in their own country. Many festivals and parades combine indigenous beliefs with Catholicism. About 38 per cent of the population live in poverty.

Culture

Panama hats originated in Ecuador in the nineteenth century. Like many other South American products, the hats were taken to Panama before being shipped around the world, and came to be known by their place of international sale. Ecuador’s food is diverse, varying between the regions. A national alcoholic beverage is ‘aguardiente,’ a spirit made from sugar cane. Another favorite is drinkable yoghurt which comes in many different fruit flavors. The most popular sport is soccer. When international matches above 2,500 meters were banned in 2007, there was uproar as Quito and a number of other South American venues are above this altitude, but the ruling stood. The country is well known for its art, especially the Escuela Quitena style which can be seen in old churches in Quito.

Economy

Ecuador’s economy depends largely on agricultural and mining exports. Oil accounts for a third of government revenue and 40 per cent of export earnings. The country is the world’s largest banana exporter. An economic crisis emerged in the late 1990s due to falling oil prices, deterioration in the world economy, and El Nino damage. The situation was exacerbated by Ecuador’s expansionary economic policy of large fiscal deficits and low interest rates. Higher oil prices in the early 2000s assisted recovery, although debt remained high. In December 2008, President Correa, who holds an economics degree, decided not to make an interest payment on the nation’s global bonds, declaring it ‘illegitimate.’

Government and politics

Ecuador has been a republic since 1830 and was led by a series of authoritarian rulers. Populist politicians emerged in the 1930s and 1940s. Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra was president five times but was ousted by the army each time, except his fourth term from 1952 to 1956. He never gave up, once stating, “Give me a balcony and I will become president.” The army finally removed him altogether in 1972 and he was exiled to Argentina. Ecuador returned to democracy in 1979 but volatility remained. The political voice of the indigenous people emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, while both elite and leftist groups have continued to try and destabilize the government.

Transport and communication

The country has 27,000 miles of roads, with only 15 per cent paved. National highways connect the major cities, although quality can vary, especially in the mountainous areas. Intercity buses are extensive and popular. Ecuador has 600 miles of rail, but neglect and El Nino events have taken their toll. By 2008, only 10 per cent of the lines were still operational, basically the tourist trains. The country has 418 airports, ranking it nineteenth in the world. Ecuador has 75 mobile phones per 100 persons.

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