Incan and Colonial History

Ecuador has been inhabited since pre-Inca times—at least 13,000 years. Various family and tribal groups formed distinct regional cultures, languages and subsistence practices, and created federations that the Inca empire eventually incorporated. Francisco Pizzaro and other Spanish colonizers introduced smallpox, triggering an epidemic and a power vacuum within the Incan empire. Spanish colonizers killed the remaining Incan ruler, Atahualpa, in the 1530s. By 1563, Quito was established as a seat of Spanish government.


In 1809, Ecuador attempted to free itself from Spanish rule. Criollos, or South American-born descendants of Spaniards, called for independence. Their autonomous local government lasted only two months, but is credited with inspiring the independence movement in South America.

Antonio José de Sucre, a close friend of Simón Bolívar, won the decisive 1822 battle for Ecuador’s independence. The nation briefly joined Bolívar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, but left in 1830 to form an independent republic. Ecuador was led by both elected and authoritarian rulers throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century.

Modern History

In 1979, Ecuador held elections under a new constitution, ushering in a brief progressive period between 1988–1999. In 2006, Rafael Correa was elected president and is credited with reducing poverty and unemployment in Ecuador. However, during his presidency, the U.S. State Department listed various human rights abuses taking place in Ecuador. In 2017, current president Lenin Moreno was elected. He recently weathered protests against his government’s proposal to repeal a fuel subsidy and initiate other austerity measures.

Ecuador is a developing nation with what is considered a medium size economy, but has considerable petroleum reserves located within its Amazonian region. Multi-national oil companies have moved through Indigenous lands in an attempt to access the oil, and have been accused of numerous human rights violations including dumping toxic materials, which have polluted ground water. Recently, the Waorani people won a legal victory against an oil auction on their territory.


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