Ecuador

ECUADOR HISTORY

ecuador ceramic click on the image to enlarge
Little is known about pre-Inca Ecuador. Primitive tools have been found and dated to around 9000 BC. Ceramics and signs of early agriculture in the form of earth works have also been discovered in the coastal plains and dated to around 3500 BC. Apart from these sporadic findings little else is known about the early inhabitants. In the 11th century two separate cultures dominated Ecuador. The Cara people lived along the coast and the Quitu people inhabited the mountain regions. These two cultures eventually merged to form the Shyri nation.

huayna capac click on the image to enlarge
Ecuador became part of the Inca Empire during the 15th Century.  The Inca emperor Huayna Capac had a son, Atahualpa, from a Shyri princess, who was born in Quito. Atahualpa couldn’t inherit the crown because Huayna Capac had another son Huascar, who was born in Cusco, which was the capital of the Inca Empire. When the emperor died in 1526 the Inca Empire was divided into two, with Atahualpa inheriting the north with its capital in Quito, and Huascar the south with its capital in Cusco. It wasn’t too long before civil war broke out between the two empires with Atahualpa wanting to defeat his half-brother and reign over the entire Inca Empire.

Francisco Pizarro click on the image to enlarge
In 1526, Francisco Pizarro left Panama for the second time to explore the east coast of South America. Due to favourable weather conditions and plentiful supplies, the voyage made it to the area now known as Ecuador. During the voyage they captured some natives on a Balsa raft that contained among other items textiles, ceramics, and pieces of gold and silver. This discovery became the focus of the voyage and hinted at the riches that lay further south. The Spaniards soon returned to Panama with the discovery in order to request reinforcements and fresh supplies, with the intention of returning to the region to exploit what was obviously a powerful and wealthy civilization.

atahualpa click on the image to enlarge
In 1531, after years of fighting and civil war, the Spanish returned once again under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro. The Spaniards soon established themselves in a fort in Cajamarca, which is situated in Peru. During the battle for Cajamarca the Spaniards captured Atahualpa and held him for ransom. In an attempt to secure Atahualpa’s release enough gold and silver to fill a small house were offered to the Spanish. During the time of his capture Atahualpa arranged for the murder of his half-brother Huascar who was at Cuscchipiélago de Colón, the area now known as the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles (965 kilometres) west of the mainland. Despite being surrounded and outnumbered by the Incan forces, the Spaniards killed Atahualpa and managed to escape the fort by firing all of their cannons and weapons. This stunned the Incan forces long enough for the Spaniards to flee the fort in order to regroup and ultimately win the battle.  

monastery san francisco click on the image to enlarge
During the early years of the Spanish occupation the indigenous population was decimated by disease and through frequent battles with the Spanish invaders. In 1563 Quito was declared a seat of the royal ‘audiencia’ (administration district) of Spain and part of the Vice-Royalty of Peru, with its capital in Lima. Life in Ecuador during the next two hundred and fifty years was relatively peaceful with agriculture and art thriving. The Spaniards introduced a range of agricultural products including cattle, bananas, and built many churches and monasteries that were decorated with a combination of indigenous and Spanish influences.

Juan Pio Montufar click on the image to enlarge
In 1809 a group of independence fighters led by Juan Pio Montufar seized control of Quito and formed a government. About a month later Spanish Royalist forces regained control, killing or jailing the freedom fighters. Not long after, Simon Boliviar, the Venezuelan liberator, began his march south in the hope of uniting South America under the name of Gran Columbia. His forces freed Columbia and then supported the people of Guayaquil when they claimed independence from the Spanish in 1820. It took another two years for Ecuador to finally overcome the Spaniards. A decisive battle was fought in Quito in 1822 that saw Ecuador join Simon Bolivar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, effectively ending almost three hundred years of Spanish colonization. In 1830 Ecuador became a separate republic and signed a treaty with Peru that outlined the border between the two countries.

Gabriel Garcia Moreno click on the image to enlarge
The nineteenth century was characterised by a high turnover of leaders and governments which lead to instability and restricted growth. Gabriel Garcia Moreno, a conservative leader who had the support of the powerful Roman Catholic Church, unified the country in the 1860’s. World demand for cocoa in the late nineteenth century resulted in large numbers of people from the highlands migrating to the fertile coastal plains. This shift in population distribution ultimately resulted in Eloy Alfaro ascending to the presidency in 1895, reducing the power of the Roman Catholic Church and the conservative land owners in the highlands that were the churches power base. This less conservative government retained power, under several leaders until the military seized power in 1925.  Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra dominated the political scene during the 1930’s and 1940’s winning five elections.

Machala click on the image to enlarge
In July 1941 war broke out with Peru over a long running dispute over land in the Amazon basin. Ecuador and Peru both claimed that the other started the war by invading or setting up a military presence in the disputed territory. On July 23rd 1941 the Peruvian forces crossed the Zarumilla River and took control of the Ecuadorian province of El Oro and parts of Loja. These territories amounted to almost 6% of Ecuador. Peru demanded that the Ecuadorian government relinquish their claims over the disputed territory. The Peruvian Navy also blocked access to the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city which resulted in major supplies to the Ecuadorian army being cut. 

After about a month of war, and under pressure from the US and several South American countries, peace was brokered and formalized in the Protocol of Rio de Janeiro, that was signed by both countries on January 29th, 1942. Peru was awarded control of the disputed territories. Ecuador never recognized the new borders and as a result fighting on the disputed border erupted on numerous occasions. The most serious were two other wars between the countries in 1995 and 1998. Fighting was generally contained within the border regions between the two countries and neither of the ‘wars’ were declared. In 1999 another peace agreement was reached, which has resulted in an increased confidence and stability in both countries. Peru retained most of the disputed land. As a result of the increased stability, foreign investment in both countries has increased. In the last two wars, The Paquisha Incident and The Cenepa War, Ecuador was able to hold off the Peruvian forces with the assistance from Chile.

oil ecuador click on the image to enlarge
In 1972 the military once again overthrew the government. In the same year a pipeline called the Andean pipeline was completed that brought oil from the east of the country to its western ports, making Ecuador the second largest exporter of oil in South America, behind Venezuela. The military remained in power until 1979 when presidential elections were resumed. Jaime Roldos Aguilera was elected and governed until he was tragically killed in a plane crash less than a year later. Due to the economic mismanagement by the military regime, Ecuador faced an economic crisis in the early 1980’s, due to spiraling debt, budget deficits, a falling currency and continued government instability. The economy has made a come back in recent years with the surge in the price of oil, increased foreign investment and a growing tourism industry.
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