The Republic of Ecuador (República del Ecuador, which literally translates as “Republic of the Equator”), is a representative democratic republic in northwestern South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of the mainland. Spanish is the official language and is spoken by a majority of the population, though 13 Amerindian languages are also recognized, including Quichua and Shuar. The capital city is Quito, while the largest city is Guayaquil. In reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage, the historical center of Quito was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Cuenca, the third-largest city, was also declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 as an outstanding example of a planned, inland Spanish-style colonial city in the Americas.
Various peoples had settled in the area of the future Ecuador before the arrival of the Incas. Some likely sailed to Ecuador by rafts from Central America, others came to Ecuador via the Amazon tributaries, others descended from northern South America, and others ascended from the southern part of South America through the Andes or by sailing on rafts. They developed different languages while emerging as unique ethnic groups.
Even though their languages were unrelated, these groups developed similar groups of cultures, each based in different environments. The people of the coast developed a fishing, hunting, and gathering culture; the people of the highland Andes developed a sedentary agricultural way of life; and the people of the Amazon basin developed a nomadic hunting-and-gathering mode of existence.
Over time. these groups began to interact and intermingle with each other so that groups of families in one area became one community or tribe, with a similar language and culture. Many civilizations arose in Ecuador, such as the Valdivia Culture and Machalilla Culture on the coast, the Quitus (near present-day Quito), and the Cañari (near present-day Cuenca). Each civilization developed its own distinctive architecture, pottery, and religious interests.
In the highland Andes mountains, where life was more sedentary, groups of tribes cooperated and formed villages; thus the first nations based on agricultural resources and the domestication of animals formed. Eventually, through wars and marriage alliances of their leaders, a group of nations formed confederations. One region consolidated under a confederation called the Shyris, which exercised organized trading and bartering between the different regions. Its political and military power came under the rule of the Duchicela blood-line.
When the Incas arrived, they found that these confederations were so developed that it took the Incas two generations of rulers — Topa Inca Yupanqui and Huayna Capac — to absorb them into the Inca Empire. The native confederations that gave them the most problems were deported to distant areas of Peru, Bolivia, and north Argentina. Similarly, a number of loyal Inca subjects from Peru and Bolivia were brought to Ecuador to prevent rebellion. Thus, the region of highland Ecuador became part of the Inca Empire in 1463 sharing the same language.
In contrast, when the Incas made incursions into coastal Ecuador and the eastern Amazon jungles of Ecuador, they found both the environment and indigenous people more hostile. Moreover, when the Incas tried to subdue them, these indigenous people withdrew to the interior and resorted to guerrilla tactics. As a result, Inca expansion into the Amazon basin and the Pacific coast of Ecuador was hampered. The indigenous people of the Amazon jungle and coastal Ecuador remained relatively autonomous until the Spanish soldiers and missionaries arrived in force. The Amazonian people and the Cayapas of Coastal Ecuador were the only groups to resist Inca and Spanish domination, maintaining their language and culture well into the twenty-first century.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Inca Empire was involved in a civil war. The untimely death of both the heir Ninan Cuchi and the Emperor Huayna Capac, from a European disease that spread into Ecuador, created a power vacuum between two factions. The northern faction headed by Atahualpa claims that Huayna Capac gave a verbal decree before his death about how the empire should be divided. He gave the territories pertaining to present-day Ecuador and northern Peru to his favorite son Atahualpa, who was to rule from Quito; and he gave the rest to Huáscar, who was to rule from Cuzco. He willed that his heart be buried in Quito, his favorite city, and the rest of his body be buried with his ancestors in Cuzco.
Huáscar did not recognize his father’s will, since it did not follow Inca traditions of naming an Inca through the priests. Huáscar ordered Atahualpa to attend their father’s burial in Cuzco and pay homage to him as the new Inca ruler. Atahualpa, with a large number of his father’s veteran soldiers, decided to ignore Huáscar, and a civil war ensued. A number of bloody battles took place until finally Huáscar was captured. Atahualpa marched south to Cuzco and massacred the royal family associated with his brother.
A small band of Spaniards headed by Francisco Pizarro landed in Tumbez and marched over the Andes Mountains until they reached Cajamarca, where the new Inca Atahualpa was to hold an interview with them. Valverde, the priest, tried to convince Atahualpa that he should join the Catholic Church and declare himself a vassal of Spain. This infuriated Atahualpa so much that he threw the Bible to the ground. At this point the enraged Spaniards, with orders from Valverde, attacked and massacred unarmed escorts of the Inca and captured Atahualpa. Pizarro promised to release Atahualpa if he made good his promise of filling a room full of gold. But, after a mock trial, the Spaniards executed Atahualpa by strangulation.
New infectious diseases, endemic to the Europeans, caused high fatalities among the Amerindian population during the first decades of Spanish rule, as they had no immunity. At the same time, the natives were forced into the encomienda labor system for the Spanish. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a real audiencia (administrative district) of Spain and part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and later the Viceroyalty of New Granada.
After nearly 300 years of Spanish rule, Quito was still a small city numbering 10,000 inhabitants. On August 10, 1809, the city’s criollos called for independence from Spain (first among the peoples of Latin America). They were led by Juan Pío Montúfar, Quiroga, Salinas, and Bishop Cuero y Caicedo. Quito’s nickname, “Luz de América” (“Light of America”), is based on its leading role in trying to secure an independent, local government. Although the new government lasted no more than two months, it had important repercussions and was an inspiration for the independence movement of the rest of Spanish America.
On October 9, 1820, Guayaquil became the first city in Ecuador to gain its independence from Spain. The people were very happy about the independence and celebrated, which is now Ecuador’s independence day, officially on May 24, 1822. The rest of Ecuador gained its independence after Antonio José de Sucre defeated the Spanish Royalist forces at the Battle of Pichincha, near Quito. Following the battle, Ecuador joined Simón Bolívar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, also including modern-day Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. In 1830, Ecuador separated from Gran Colombia and became an independent republic.
The nineteenth century was marked by instability for Ecuador with a rapid succession of rulers. The first president of Ecuador was the Venezuelan-born Juan José Flores, who was ultimately deposed, followed by several authoritarian leaders, such as Vicente Rocafuerte; José Joaquín de Olmedo; José María Urbina; Diego Noboa; Pedro José de Arteta; Manuel de Ascásubi; and Flores’s own son, Antonio Flores Jijón, among others. The conservative Gabriel Garcia Moreno unified the country in the 1860s with the support of the Roman Catholic Church. In the late nineteenth century, world demand for cocoa tied the economy to commodity exports and led to migrations from the highlands to the agricultural frontier on the coast.
Ecuador abolished slavery and freed its black slaves in 1851.
The Liberal Revolution of 1895 under Eloy Alfaro reduced the power of the clergy and the conservative land owners. This liberal wing retained power until the military “Julian Revolution” of 1925. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by instability and emergence of populist politicians, such as five-time President José María Velasco Ibarra.
In 1972, a “revolutionary and nationalist” military junta overthrew the government of Velasco Ibarra. The coup d’état was led by General Guillermo Rodríguez and executed by navy commander Jorge Queirolo G. The new president exiled José María Velasco to Argentina. He remained in power until 1976, when he was removed by another military government. That military junta was led by Admiral Alfredo Poveda, who was declared chairman of the Supreme Council. The Supreme Council included two other members:General Guillermo Durán Arcentales and General Luis Leoro Franco. The civil society more and more insistently called for democratic elections. Colonel Richelieu Levoyer, Government Minister, proposed and implemented a Plan to return to the constitutional system through universal elections. This plan enabled the new democratically elected president to assume the duties of the executive office.
Elections were held on April 29, 1979, under a new constitution. Jaime Roldós Aguilera was elected president, garnering over one million votes, the most in Ecuadorian history. He took office on August 10, as the first constitutionally elected president after nearly a decade of civilian and military dictatorships. In 1980, he founded the Partido Pueblo, Cambio y Democracia (People, Change, and Democracy Party) after withdrawing from the Concentración de Fuerzas Populares (Popular Forces Concentration) and governed until May 24, 1981, when he died along with his wife and the minister of defense, Marco Subia Martinez, when his Air Force plane crashed in heavy rain near the Peruvian border. Many people believe that he was assassinated by the CIA given the multiple death threats leveled against him because of his reformist agenda, deaths in automobile crashes of two key witnesses before they could testify during the investigation, and the sometimes contradictory accounts of the incident.
Roldos was immediately succeeded by Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado, who was followed in 1984 by León Febres Cordero from the Social Christian Party. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos of the Democratic Left (Izquierda Democrática, or ID) party won the presidency in 1988, running in the runoff election against Abdalá Bucaram (brother in law of Jaime Roldos and founder of the Ecuadorian Roldosist Party). His government was committed to improving human rights protection and carried out some reforms, notably an opening of Ecuador to foreign trade. The Borja government concluded an accord leading to the disbanding of the small terrorist group, “¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo!” (“Alfaro Lives, Dammit!”), named after Eloy Alfaro. However, continuing economic problems undermined the popularity of the ID, and opposition parties gained control of Congress in 1999.
The emergence of the Amerindian population as an active constituency has added to the democratic volatility of the country in recent years. The population has been motivated by government failures to deliver on promises of land reform, lower unemployment and provision of social services, and historical exploitation by the land-holding elite. Their movement, along with the continuing destabilizing efforts by both the elite and leftist movements, has led to a deterioration of the executive office. The populace and the other branches of government give the president very little political capital, as illustrated by the most recent removal of President Lucio Gutiérrez from office by Congress in April 2005. Vice President Alfredo Palacio took his place and remained in office until the presidential election of 2006, in which Rafael Correa gained the presidency.
In December 2008, president Correa declared Ecuador’s national debt illegitimate, based on the argument that it was odious debt contracted by corrupt and despotic prior regimes. He announced that the country would default on over $3 billion worth of bonds; he then pledged to fight creditors in international courts and succeeded in reducing the price of outstanding bonds by more than 60%. He brought Ecuador into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in June 2009. To date, Correa’s administration has succeeded in reducing the high levels of poverty and unemployment in Ecuador.
Postal handstamps were used in Ecuador from 1779, including the ‘beaded oval’ type (1819- 30). A British post office at Guayaquil handled external mail from 1849 to 1880, with handstamps from 1849. The first Ecuadorean stamps were released on January 1, 1865., with stamps of Great Britain used at Guayaquil (obliterator C41) starting from January 26, 1865 until 1874. Stamps of France were used at Guayaquil April 25, 1872, to March 4, 1874, in connection with Pacific Ligne F. The Galapagos Islands began issuing its own stamps from July 15, 1957; these are also found used on the mainland.
One of the earliest stamp sets I recall purchasing as a fledgling philatelist some forty years ago was a beautifully-engraved set of 14 stamps (seven general issue and seven air mail) released by Ecuador in early 1938 to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. The air mail stamps (Scott #C57-63) were issued first — on February 9, 1928 — with the others (Scott #366-372) appearing on February 22. The latter feature the allegory of “Liberty” holding the flag of Ecuador while the air mail stamps feature an American bald eagle bearing both the flags of the United States of America and Ecuador, accompanied by a portrait of George Washington to the upper left and the Ecuadorean coat of arms to the upper right. Each of the frames was in a different color for each denomination while the centers were in brilliant full multicolor. These were engraved and lithographed by the American Bank Note Company, perforated 12. They remain some of my favorite pre-World War II stamps.
I previously wrote about the United States Constitution on September 17, 2016, observed annually as Constitution Day as this was the date that the final document, engrossed by Jacob Shallus was presented at the Constitutional Convention’s final session. Several of the delegates were disappointed in the result, a makeshift series of unfortunate compromises. Some delegates left before the ceremony, and three others refused to sign. Of the thirty-nine signers, Benjamin Franklin summed up, addressing the Convention: “There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them.” He would accept the Constitution, “because I expect no better and because I am not sure that it is not the best”.
Each state legislature was to call elections for a “Federal Convention” to ratify the new Constitution. They expanded the franchise beyond the Constitutional requirement to more nearly embrace “the people”. Eleven ratified in 1787 or 1788, and all thirteen had done so by 1790. The Congress of the Confederation certified eleven states to begin the new government, and called the states to hold elections to begin operation. It then dissolved itself on March 4, 1789, the day the first session of the Congress of the United States began. George Washington was inaugurated as President two months later.
The Continental Congress — which still functioned at irregular intervals — passed a resolution on September 13, 1788, to put the new Constitution into operation with eleven states. North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified by May 1790.
Since the Constitution came into force in 1789, it has been amended twenty-seven times to meet the changing needs of a nation now profoundly different from the eighteenth-century world in which its creators lived. In general, the first ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, offer specific protections of individual liberty and justice and place restrictions on the powers of government. The majority of the seventeen later amendments expand individual civil rights protections. Others address issues related to federal authority or modify government processes and procedures. Amendments to the United States Constitution, unlike ones made to many constitutions worldwide, are appended to the end of the document. All four pages of the original U.S. Constitution are written on parchment.
According to the United States Senate: “The Constitution’s first three words — We the People — affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. For over two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers wisely separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments.”
The first constitution of its kind, adopted by the people’s representatives for an expansive nation, it is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of constitutional law, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations.