UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Ecuadorian Boundary Disputes

Due to a repeated loss of territory to neighboring countries, Ecuador is now 40 percent of its original size. When Ecuador declared its independence in 1830, it claimed an area of some 706,000 km2. Annexation of the Galapagos in 1832 added another 8,000 km2. Modern Ecuador has a total area of about 280,000 square kilometers, which includes the Galápagos Islands.

The question of where Peruvian territory ends and Ecuadorian territory begins is rooted in the colonial era. As Spain's South American empire began to break apart, little effort was made to clarify or specify official territorial boundaries. Although the doctrine that the boundaries of the emancipated nations of Spanish America should ordinarily coincide with the boundaries of the corresponding colonial administrative divisions or subdivisions was not embodied in any general treaty among the new nations, yet its general acceptance as a guiding principle by LatinAmerican publicists caused it to be designated as the uti possidetis of 1810. Advocated by some statesmen partly as a defense against possible claims of territory in America by European powers upon the ground that some of it was res nullius, that doctrine became the theoretical basis for the territorial delimitation of the Spanish-American states. However, as that doctrine rested not upon actual surveys of the metes and bounds of those colonial areas, but upon the laws and orders of a government seated in Madrid, it led during the national history of Latin America to a large number of acrimonious boundary disputes.

The boundary disputes between Ecuador and Peru and Peru and Colombia have on more than one occasion almost brought the various republics into war. Soldiers or settlers of one or the other disputants in remote outposts of those little travelled solitudes of contention have from time to time trespassed or committed some outrage or sought to establish authority. From such incidents to a patriotic commotion in Quito, Bogata, or Lima was a rapid step. Nothing was more easily inflamed than the Latin American spirit, whenever the "sovereign rights " of its claimed territory are alleged to be "outraged."

Nowhere was the boundary line of a patria more sharply and artificially set up. The disputed territories in some cases were almost uninhabited except by scattered tribes of Indians, and were partly composed of almost impenetrable forests and malarious swamps, separated by hundreds of miles from any civilized center. Under such conditions the bitterness of contention and difficulty of settlement seemed a matter for surprise, viewed dispassionately.

Some of this disputed territory intervenes between Ecuador and Brazil, and the Ecuadorian maps show Ecuador extending to the Brazilian frontier. The Peruvian maps in some cases show Peru covering almost all the territory of the Amazon watershed in Ecuador, with a north and south line running but a short distance to the east of Quito and Riobamba, which on the map appears a fantastic claim. The commonest map is that which gives Ecuador a boundary with Colombia upon the River Napo, and it is of extreme importance to Ecuador to have access to this large, navigable river, giving communication with the main Amazon system, the Maranon. If this territory were disallowed to Ecuador, the republic would be confined to a comparatively small area, covering only the Andean strip and the Pacific littoral. The possession of the Napo, whilst of vital importance to Ecuador, is not of such importance to Peru, which possesses several large affluents navigable to the Amazon, especially those which flow from the south into the Maranon.

Ecuador was, in point of size, the smallest of the South American republics with the exception of Uruguay. For many years its area could not be regarded as fully determined, for the boundary with its southern neighbour was in dispute. The maps of the country are very defective. Those issued by Peru claim a large part of the territory which Ecuador regards as her own, whilst the Ecuadorian maps extend their limits into the region which Peru claims, and in which the latter country has established certain outposts and occupation. If Ecuador were in possession of all the territory claimed thereby, and which it believes it should enjoy, the total area of the republic would be approximately 714,860 square kilometres (or 275,936 square miles, of which 2,888 square miles represent the Galapagos Islands). With the claims of Peru, Ecuador would be left with only 74,050 square miles of territory. As to the claims of Colombia, any calculation including the area claimed by that republic is almost impossible: calculation made by Villavicencio gave Ecuador 16,000 square leagues (and the Galapagos Islands 800 square leagues), which has been passed on to all the modern geographies and the school books of the country.

By the early 20th Century probably the most serious of the outstanding boundary disputes—barring the triangular dispute of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru — was that between Peru and Ecuador. The victory of Peru in her contention to prove title to territory which royal orders of the early nineteenth century aimed to transfer from the presidency of Quito to the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical and military authorities located in the viceroyalty of Peru would deprive Ecuador of a triangular-shaped area between the rivers Coca and Napo — an area which had been claimed by Ecuador since 1830, and which had long been considered as forming an integral part of Ecuadorian territory. The loss of all the territory claimed by Peru would reduce Ecuador to a strip of land including only the mountainous plateau and the Pacific coastal plain.

The question of boundary between Ecuador and Peru was made the subject of a treaty by the two countries in 1887, in which it was agreed to submit the matter to the arbitration of the King of Spain. Extensive preparation of documents, limits, and claims was made by both parties. But the King's decision was very greatly delayed, and a number of years passed with growing friction between the two arbitrating nations.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list