Alphabetical Country Selector
Taking its name from its position on the equator, Ecuador, lies on the west coast of South America. The country’s recent political history has been tumultuous, eight people have held the office of President between 1997 and 2007, four of whom were forced out of office. The country has been criticised for its failure to address past human rights abuses, particularly in response to those highlighted by the Truth Commission in 2010.
Ecuador, which means “equator” in Spanish, is bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the east and south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The capital city is Quito.
Ecuador's territory encapsulates mountains, coastline, volcanoes and rainforest as well as the Galápagos islands in the Pacific - some 1,000 kilometres off the mainland. The variety of species endemic to the islands is credited with inspiring Charles Darwin's “On the Origin of the Species”.
Population and Language
The population of Ecuador is 14,865,000 and is an amalgam of ethnic groups. Spanish is the official language although a number of other languages are spoken among the country's indigenous population, chiefly Quechua.
History and Politics
Ecuador's political history has been tumultuous in recent decades. It is a Presidential Republic and has had a run of presidents ejected from office by coups. The current President, Rafael Correa, who has been in power since 2007, runs a left-leaning, nationalist government which he describes as “socialism for the 21st century” which he claims will benefit the poor. In 2008, Correa launched a referendum to rewrite the constitution which was approved by an overwhelming majority. The new constitution includes some progressive provisions, for instance, it stipulates 16 as the minimum voting age and is the first national constitution to grant rights to nature. However, some say the main purpose of the revisions - which extend the possiblity of a president serving one four year term to two - was to consolidate the president's power.
The indigenous population is a major force in Ecuadorian politics. The main vehicle for their political participation is the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which was created in 1986. CONAIE aims include: to strengthen indigenous identity; press for indigenous land rights, intercultural and bilingual education; challenge government policies that threaten the indigenous population, as well as US involvement in the country.
Ecuador's economy is heavily dependent on exports such as petroleum, fish, timber and gold, bananas, coffee, sugar and palm oil. A major banking crisis shook the country in 1999, following a number of external shocks including plunging global oil prices, the El Nino phenomenon in 1997 and international emerging markets instability. The economy contracted by more than six per cent, inflation rocketed and the country defaulted on its external debts. The national currency, the sucre, was also severely devalued. In 2000, the government introduced a number of structural reforms, which included replacing the sucre with the dollar, which gradually stabilised the economy, but have also provoked social unrest, especially among the indigenous poor.
The current government allocates a greater portion of its budget to social spending, has tightened its control and demands that foreign companies relinquish more of their profits to the State. On a related note, a national court recently ordered oil company Chevron to pay more than $9 billion in damages for polluting Ecuador's rainforest and causing illness among its inhabitants in one of the largest environmental pay-outs ever made. Both sides are appealing the ruling.
Ecuador is a member of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, or ALBA), an organisation promoting social, political and economic integration of Latin American and Caribbean States. It was created in opposition to free market policies and is instead based on social welfare and mutual economic aid, and proposes to launch its own regional currency shortly.
Media and Civil Society
The country's media is characterised by private operators critical of the government. Indeed, the constitution provides for free speech, but nevertheless, self-censorship is a common feature of media reporting. Access to information is further hindered by high internet costs; only around 12 per cent of the population has internet access.
Furthermore, in July 2011, the High Court sentenced three directors and one journalist at one of the country's leading newspapers, "El Universo" to three years in prison for defamation of the country's president, to the consternation of freedom of expression advocates. Full story.
CIVICUS' Civil Society Index country report for Ecuador gives a mixed view, stating that "The relationship between civil society and the government has historically been affected by hostility and suspicion. There are signs of government authorities becoming more positive towards CSOs, although there remains a tendency to control civil society." It further comments on the representation of civil society organisations, saying that while historically excluded groups such as women and indigenous groups are achieving greater participation, this is primarily through the creation of separate, “single-issue” organisations rather than within civil society more generally which it warns could also lead to isolation.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
See Persistent Violations.
- CIVICUS Civil Society Index country report: Ecuador, p.3
- Ibid, p. 9
- Constitución del Ecuador 2008
- Hauser Global Law School Program, Globalex, "The Basic Structure of the EcuadorianLegal System and Legal Research"
- CIVICUS Civil Society Index country report: Ecuador
- BBC Country Profile: Ecuador
- Economy Watch: Ecuador
- The Independent "Chevron's dirty fight in Ecuador", 16 February 2011
- Internet World Stats