Ecuador - Introduction
The country has an area of 109,483 square miles and a population of 14.8 million. Although Ecuadorians were heavily concentrated in the mountainous central highland region a few decades ago, today's population is divided about equally between that area and the coastal lowlands. Migration toward cities--particularly larger cities--in all regions has increased the urban population to over 60% of the total.
The tropical forest region (or Amazon region) to the east of the mountains remains sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population. Due to an economic crisis in the late 1990s, more than 600,000 Ecuadorians emigrated to the U.S. and Europe from 2000 to 2001. According to the 2000 U.S. census there were 323,000 persons who claimed Ecuadorian ancestry. Including undocumented migrants, it is unofficially estimated that there are approximately one million to two million Ecuadorians currently residing in the U.S.
Ecuador does not have a tradition of guerrilla activity, nor of violence as a result of demonstrations or political instability. Crime is a serious concern, especially in the larger cities. Student, labor union, and indigenous protests against government policies are a regular feature of political life in Ecuador. While disruptive, especially to transportation, violence is usually limited and localized. Protesters often block city streets and rural highways, and public transportation tends to be disrupted during these incidents. Protestors also occasionally burn tires, throw Molotov cocktails, engage in destruction of property, and detonate small improvised explosive devices during demonstrations, but fatalities as a result of protests have been rare. Pamphlet bombs are sometimes used to disseminate political literature.
Popular protests in 1997, 2000, and 2005 contributed to the removal of three elected presidents before the end of their terms. Some communities have successfully used protests and strikes to obtain promises of increased government spending on social benefits and infrastructure. Some indigenous communities opposed to development have protested to block access by petroleum and mining companies. In September 2009, one individual was killed near the city of Macas during protests by indigenous communities demonstrating against the government’s proposed mining and water laws. It is against the law for foreigners to engage in political activity that starts or promotes civil wars or international conflicts.
The political violence present in neighboring Colombia has a spillover effect in northern Ecuador. Security on the northern border with Colombia, where the majority of Ecuador's oil deposits are located, is particularly tenuous. The area is used as a transshipment point for precursor chemicals used in illegal drug production as well as arms and supplies for Colombian insurgent groups and narco-traffickers. Businesses in the area continue to report being extorted for protection money. Kidnappings have occurred and foreigners have been targeted.
The U.S. Embassy in Quito advises against travel to the northern border of Ecuador – to include the provinces of Sucumbios, Orellana, and Carchi and parts of Esmeraldas Province. The Ecuadorian military and government agencies are increasing efforts to promote development and provide security in this area. Kidnappings are more often economically rather than politically motivated. Since 1998, at least 11 U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in Ecuador. In October 2000, kidnappers seized several foreign oil workers in Eastern Ecuador. After murdering one of their American hostages in January 2001, they released the other victims upon receipt of a ransom payment. In October 2009, an American citizen was kidnapped in the northern city of Tulcan and held for ransom. After 21 days, the victim was rescued after an intensive investigation involving Ecuadorian, Colombian, and U.S. law enforcement.
Violent crime has significantly increased over the last few years, with American citizens being victims of crimes, to include, but not limited to, homicides, armed assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, and home invasions. In September 2009, President Correa put into effect a state of emergency for the cities of Quito, Guayaquil, and Manta due to the high incidents of crime within those cities. The state of emergency lasted until January 2010 and allowed for the Ecuadorian Armed Forces to collaborate with the Ecuadorian National Police in anti-crime initiatives.
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