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Ecuador - History

Advanced indigenous cultures flourished in Ecuador long before the area was conquered by the Inca Empire in the 15th century. The Central highlands of the Andes was the seat of the Inca empire. It stretched from the south of Colombia to the north of Chile, over an area of more than four thousand square kilometers, across a land known as Tahuantinsuyo. The Incas were thus made up of a vast population of dozens of different ethnic groups with their own languages, customs and economies based on cultivation of the land. In Ecuador, these people spread out along the Andes, occupying some coastal regions and exercising a significant influence on Quito.

In 1532 the downfall of Tahuantinsuyo began with the imprisonment of Atahualpa. Heavy fighting took place between the Europeans and the Incas, who resisted the conquest. The indigenous population was decimated by disease in the first decades of Spanish rule--a time when the natives also were forced into the "encomienda" labor system for Spanish landlords. For the Spanish, America represented a land full of riches, taken in the name of the Crown. Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro were the main protagonist of the time and conquered the native people in a bloody manner. The Europeans used a variety of strategies, among which was indoctrination and the use of rival Indian chiefs.

The Real Audiencia de Quito was established in 1563, as an administrative area dependent on the Spanish Crown. It covered the area to the north as far as Pasto, Popayán, Cali, Buenaventura and Buga, currently in Colombia, and to Piura, in Peru, to the south. Its first President was the Spaniard Hernando de Santillán. From its beginning until the XVIII century, the Audiencia de Quito was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was then under orders of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada, which had its seat in Santa Fe, until, after the latter was suspended, it again became a dependency of the Viceroyalty of Peru. However, later, King Felipe V decided to return it to la Nueva Granada, after this Viceroyalty was reestablished. Judicially and socially,la Audiencia de Quito had to follow the Viceroyalty of which it was part.

Lack of confidence was part of colonial life due to the ambiguous situation in which the Audiencia de Quito existed. The Marquis of Selva Alegre (1753) centralized the state and established a monopoly on alcohol and tobacco. For this reason the famous Rebellion of the Estancos took place , to which other native uprisings were added. Administrative reorganizations were made which allowed greater income for the state. At the end of the XVIII century Luis Francisco Héctor, Baron of Carondelet, occupied the Presidency. He gained more power for Quito such as control of the Superintendancy of the Real Hacienda and the creation of a Capitanía General.

Social decadence sped up in the second half of the XVIII century. Historians attribute various factors to the fall of the colonial system, one of them, the end of production of silver in Potosi. Textile making decreased significantly. The power of the private elite was also limited by reforms which were introduced. Independence came about between the end of the XVIII century and the early decades of the XIX century. This was caused by a number of factors, external and internal, one of them being the influence of the French Revolution in the region.

After Independence, the three most important cities, Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, were incorporated into Gran Colombia in 1822, at different times. Bolívar assumed the Presidency of this new nation made up, in addition, of Venezuela and Nueva Granada. With the aim of administrative organization the territory was divided into the departments of Venezuela, Cundinamarca and Quito. But the integration of these peoples aroused resistance and problems due to personal interests and ambitions throughout the process, which contributed to its disintegration.

After the collapse of Gran Colombia, the Republic of Ecuador was created in 1830. Since them political conflict characterized life in the Republic. The new State was unable to integrate the different regions. The mountain region and the coast developed in different ways. Also, autonomous local bodies formed which entered into conflict with the state and which, in addition, administered their own resources. Neither was there a unified currency, which seriously affected the existence of a central power.

Unlike the other two fragments of the old republic of Colombia, the political parties in Ecuador were not Federalists and Unitarians, but Conservatives and Democrats. According to law the inhabitants of Ecuador are all equally free, and neither titles, nobility, nor honorary distinctions are recognized. Slavery was finally abolished in 1854. But it did not follow that the lot of the aborigines was greatly improved thereby. They were always employed in the bearing of heavy burdens and left alone in their misery and ignorance. They were forcibly enrolled to serve as private soldiers, because the whites refused to serve the army except as officers.

"By a just retribution this tyranny has been disastrous for the oppressors themselves," says Charton; "the Spaniards, by trying to keep to themselves the privilege of working the riches of the country, have decimated the aboriginal races and kept foreigners away. . . . Industry and agriculture are in want of hands, colonial enterprises, which might give such strength and greatness to the country, cannot be developed or even established, and territories of wonderful fertility lie completely uncultivated." From the date when it was formed into an independent republic Ecuador was almost continually disturbed by civil wars and wars with the neighboring states.

The 19th century was marked by instability, with a rapid succession of rulers. The conservative Gabriel Garcia Moreno unified the country in the 1860s with the support of the Catholic Church. In the late 1800s, world demand for cocoa tied the economy to commodity exports and led to migrations from the highlands to the agricultural frontier on the coast.

A coastal-based liberal revolution in 1895 under President Eloy Alfaro reduced the power of the clergy and opened the way for capitalist development. The end of the cocoa boom produced renewed political instability and a military coup in 1925. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by populist politicians, such as five-time President Jose Velasco Ibarra.

In January 1942, Ecuador signed the Rio Protocol to end a brief war with Peru the year before. Ecuador agreed to a border that conceded to Peru much of the territory Ecuador had previously claimed in the Amazon region. After World War II, a recovery in the market for agricultural commodities and the growth of the banana industry helped restore prosperity and political peace. From 1948-60, three presidents--beginning with Galo Plaza--were freely elected and completed their terms. Political turbulence returned in the 1960s, followed by a period of military dictatorship between 1972 and 1979. The 1980s and beginning of the 1990s saw a return to democracy, but instability returned by the middle of the decade.



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