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Ecuador - Policy

The Ecuadorian armed forces (Fuerzas Armadas--FF.AA.), have been sufficient to deal with the nation's limited external and domestic security concerns. The only outside hostilities Ecuador has experienced have been with Peru in 1941 and 1981, when the two nations engaged in brief encounters over disputed claims in the Amazon River Basin. On both occasions, the Ecuadorian army proved little match for the larger and better equipped Peruvian forces. Only the distant prospect of some renewed confrontation with Peru remained the primary justification for the purchase of modern military armaments. In the late 1980s, organized domestic terrorism was not the challenge in Ecuador that it was in neighboring Peru and Colombia. The security of the northern frontier area against drug traffickers and insurgent groups originating in Colombia was, however, a continuing problem.

The president of the republic functioned as commander in chief of the armed forces. The National Security Council (NSC) and the Joint Command, the chief of which was the senior military officer, advised the president on defense issues. A ranking military officer, either active or retired, customarily held the position of minister of national defense. The army was the dominant branch of the military. The navy, with two submarines and a number of missile-armed surface vessels, was capable of protecting territorial waters and communications with the Galápagos Islands. Analysts regarded the air force's three squadrons of modern fighter planes as effective in both air defense and ground support roles.

The military employed a conscription system requiring young men to serve for one year at the age of nineteen. Those able to meet stringent requirements could remain as career personnel. Officers entered by way of one of the three military academies. Advancement was based on merit, coupled with successful performance in service schools at various levels.

In the early years of Ecuadorian independence, individual military leaders frequently dominated the political system. The political involvement of the military institution, however, was a phenomenon of the twentieth century. Although the armed forces assumed power only three times--in 1925, 1963, and 1972--those were extended periods and the military's influence and interests loomed continuously over the political scene. In 1979, following seven years of reformist military rule that was only partially successful in bringing about economic modernization, the armed forces oversaw the enactment of a new constitution and voluntarily returned to the barracks. During the 1970s, however, the armed forces had nearly doubled in size, and defense spending rose accordingly. Acquiring its own business enterprises and profiting from the oil bonanza, the military assembled a considerable inventory of modern weapons, including armored vehicles, combat aircraft, and naval units. The country's mounting economic crisis and the sharp drop in oil revenues in the 1980s, on the other hand, brought an abrupt halt to the equipment modernization efforts.

Although not in sympathy with most of the civilian governments of the 1980s, the armed forces refrained from intervention. Indeed, the other service chiefs considered the revolt by the air force commander in 1986 as damaging to internal discipline and order and did not support him. In spite of the blow to the prestige and unity of the armed forces caused by this episode and the subsequent brief kidnapping of the president by air force commandos, cooperative civil-military relations remained an important ingredient in Ecuadorian political life.

The predominant military concern, as late as the 1980s, was Ecuador's refusal to accept the boundary settlement of 1942 as final. The southern deployment of many Ecuadorian army and air force combat units reflected the nation's preoccupation with the possibility of future tensions in the disputed area, although the units were not in forward positions. Peru's armed forces were far stronger than those of Ecuador, but analysts regarded the likelihood of an unprovoked Peruvian attack as remote. From a Peruvian perspective, there was no unsettled border problem. Peru regarded the Rio Protocol as fixing the boundary permanently and subsequent confrontations and clashes in the area as simply Ecuadorian efforts to reopen the issue.

As the 1941 conflict had demonstrated, Ecuador was in a vulnerable position in the event of a serious conflict with Peru. Its coastal areas in the south were exposed to penetration, and the port of Guayaquil could be subjected to both land attack and blockade from the sea. In addition, observers noted that Ecuador had been unwilling to risk the commitment of its modern fighter aircraft during the 1981 hostilities, presumably out of fear that Ecuador's air force would suffer a crippling blow at the hands of the stronger Peruvian air power.

In October 1998, Ecuador and Peru reached a peace agreement to settle their border differences, which had festered since the signing of the 1942 Rio Protocol. This long-running border dispute occasionally erupted into armed hostility along the undemarcated sections, with the last conflict occurring in 1995. The U.S. Government, as one of the four guarantor nations (the others were Argentina, Brazil and Chile), played an important role in bringing the conflict to an end. The peace agreement brokered by the four guarantors in February 1995 led to the cessation of hostilities and a Military Observers Mission to Ecuador-Peru (MOMEP) which monitored the zone. In addition to helping broker the peace accord, the U.S. has been active in demining the former area of conflict and supporting welfare and economic projects in the border area.

Ecuador initially did not believe it necessary to take special military precautions against Colombia, its neighbor to the north, except to limit the infiltration of terrorists and narcotics traffickers. Like the northeastern border with Peru, the border area with Colombia consisted of heavily canopied jungle that greatly limited surveillance by ground patrols or air reconnaissance. The jungle was inhabited only sparsely by Indian tribes. Ecuador and Colombia had cordial official relations and no outstanding disputes. The Colombian armed forces, although somewhat larger than those of Ecuador, were not geared for offensive operations. Moreover, Colombia was preoccupied with serious internal security problems, notably narcotics trafficking and guerrilla insurgencies. Although one of these guerrilla organizations--the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril--M-19)--had helped train an Ecuadorian underground group, terrorism imported from Colombia remained primarily a police rather than a military problem.

The ongoing conflict in Colombia and security along the 450-mile-long northern border are important issues in Ecuador's foreign relations with Colombia. The instability of border areas and frequent encroachments of Colombian guerillas into Ecuadorian territory has led the Ecuadorian army to deploy more troops to the region. Although Ecuadorian officials have stated that Colombian guerrilla activity will not be tolerated on the Ecuadorian side of the border, guerrilla bands have been known to intimidate the local population, demanding extortion payments and practicing vigilante justice. The Correa administration is pursuing a policy known as Plan Ecuador to develop the northern border region and protect citizens from the drug threat. A Colombian military incursion into Ecuador in March 2008 caused the Government of Ecuador to break diplomatic relations. In October 2009, Ecuador and Colombia agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations at the chargé d'affaires level.

As a nation facing the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador had important maritime resources to protect, as well as protecting the security of the Galápagos Islands, 1,000 kilometers distant from the mainland. The navy therefore patrolled the 200-mile zone claimed as territorial waters, both off the coast of the mainland and around the Galápagos Islands.

Under the 2008 Constitution, "Article 158.-the armed forces and the national police are institutions of protection of rights, freedoms and guarantees of citizens. The armed forces have as its fundamental mission the defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity. The internal protection and the maintenance of public order are functions deprivation of the status and responsibility of the national police. The servants and servants of the armed forces and the national police are they will be under the foundations of democracy and rights human, and respect the dignity and rights of persons without discrimination any and with attachment unrestricted to the system legal.

"Article 159.-the armed forces and the national police will be obedient and not deliberative, and perform its mission strictly subject to the civil power and to the Constitution. The authorities of the armed forces and the national police will be responsible for orders that impart. Obedience to orders superiors shall not relieve liability to those who run them. Article 160.-aspiring people to career military and police will not be discriminated against for their income. ...".

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Page last modified: 01-08-2016 17:47:29 ZULU