Ecuador, officially the Republic of Ecuador (Spanish: República del Ecuador, short form Ecuador, IPA [re'puβlika ðel ekwa'ðoɾ]) is a representative democratic republic in South America, bounded by Colombia on the north, by Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean on the west. The country also includes the Galápagos Islands (Archipiélago de Colón) in the Pacific, about 965 kilometers (600 miles) west of the mainland. Ecuador is the Spanish word for equator. Ecuador straddles the equator and has an area of 256,370 square kilometers (98,985 mi²). Its capital city is Quito, however its largest city is Guayaquil.
Indigenous people flourished in Ecuador long before the area was mostly conquered by the Inca empire in the fifteenth century. Through a succession of wars and marriages with the different nations that inhabited the Interandean valley, the region became part of the Inca Empire. Atahualpa, one of the sons of the Inca emperor Huayna Capac, was born in Quito. However, he could not receive the crown of the Empire since the emperor had another son, Huascar, born in Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire. Therefore, upon Huayna Capac's death, the empire was divided in two: Atahualpa received the north, with his capital in Quito, and Huascar received the south with its capital in Cusco. In 1531, the Spanish conquistadors, under Francisco Pizarro, arrived in an Inca empire torn by civil war. Atahualpa wanted to defeat Huascar and reign over a re-unified Incan empire.
The Spanish, however, had conquest intentions and established themselves in a fort in Cajamarca, captured Atahualpa during the Battle of Cajamarca and held him for ransom. A room was filled with gold to secure his release. During his capture, Atahualpa arranged for the murder of his half-brother Huascar in Cusco. The stage was set for the Spaniards to take over the Inca empire. Despite being surrounded and vastly outnumbered, the Spanish executed Atahualpa. To escape the confines of the fort, the Spaniards fired all their cannons and broke through the lines of the bewildered Incans. In subsequent years the Spanish colonists became the new elite centering their power in the Vice-Royalties of Peru and Nueva Granada.
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. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a royal "audiencia" (administrative district) of Spain and part of the Vice-Royalty of Peru with its capital in Lima.
After nearly three hundred years of Spanish colonization, Quito was a city of around ten thousand inhabitants, and it was there, in the Battle of Pichincha in 1822 that Ecuador joined Simón Bolívar's Republic of Gran Colombia, only to become a separate republic in 1830.
The nineteenth 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 Roman Catholic Church. In the late 19th 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.
A coastal-based liberal revolution in 1895 under Eloy Alfaro reduced the power of the clergy and the conservative land-owners of the highlands, and this liberal wing retained power until the military "Julian Revolution" of 1925. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by instability and populist politicians, such as five-time President José María Velasco Ibarra.
Control over territory in the Amazon led to a long-lasting dispute between Ecuador and Peru. In 1941, in midst of fast-growing tensions between the two countries, war broke out. Peru claimed that Ecuador's military presence in Peruvian-claimed territory was an invasion while Ecuador, on the other hand, claimed Peru invaded Ecuador. In July 1941, troops were mobilized. Peru had an army of 11,681 troops, facing a poorly supplied and badly armed Ecuadorian force of 5,300 soldiers, of which a little over 1,300 were deployed in the southern provinces of the country. Hostilities broke on July 5, 1941, when Peruvian forces crossed the Zarumilla river on several spots, testing the strength and disposition of the Ecuadorian border troops. Finally, on July 23, 1941, the Peruvians launched a major invasion, crossing the Zarumilla river in force and advancing into the Ecuadorian province of El Oro. Over the course of the war Peru gained control over all the disputed territory and occupied the Ecuadorian province of El Oro and some parts of the province of Loja (some 6% of the country), demanding that the Ecuadorian government give up their territorial claims. The Peruvian Navy blocked the port of Guayaquil, cutting supplies to the Ecuadorian troops. After a few weeks of war and under pressure by the U.S and several Latin American nations, all fighting came to a stop. Ecuador and Peru came to an accord formalised in the Rio Protocol, signed on January 29, 1942, in favor of hemispheric unity against the Axis Powers in World War II. As a result of its victory, Peru was awarded the disputed territory. Two more wars, and a Peace Agreement reached in 1989, would follow to finally end the dispute. (See Paquisha Incident and Cenepa War.)
Recession and popular unrest led to a return to populist politics and domestic military interventions in the 1960s, while foreign companies developed oil resources in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 1972, the construction of the Andean pipeline, which brought oil from the east to the coast was completed, making Ecuador South America's second largest oil exporter. That same year a "revolutionary and nationalist" military junta overthrew the government, remaining in power until 1979, when elections were held under a new Constitution. Jaime Roldós Aguilera was elected President, and he governed until May 24, 1981, when he died in a plane crash. By 1982, the government of Osvaldo Hurtado faced an economic crisis, characterized by high inflation, budget deficits, a falling currency, mounting debt service, and uncompetitive industries, leading to chronic government instability.
Many years of mismanagement, starting with the mishandling of the country's debt during the 1970s military regime, had left the country essentially ungovernable. By the mid 1990s, the government of Ecuador has been characterized by a weak executive branch that struggles to appease the ruling classes, represented in the legislative and judiciary. The last three democratically elected presidents have failed to finish their terms during the period 1996-2006.
The emergence of the indigenous population as an active constituency has added to the democratic volatility of the country in recent years. The population have been motivated by government failures to deliver on promises of land reform, lower unemployment and provision of social services, and by historical exploitation by the land-holding elite.
Their movement, along with the continuing destabilizing efforts by both the Elite and Leftist movements, have led to a deterioration of the executive office. The public and the other branches of government give the president very little political capital to work with, as happened when in April 2005 Ecuador's Congress ousted President Lucio Gutiérrez. The Vice-President, Alfredo Palacio, took his place and remained in office until the presidential election of 2006, which did not produce a conclusive winner until a runoff election on 26 November elected Rafael Correa over Alvaro Noboa. His margin of victory (57 % of valid votes) was the highest in the democratic period inaugurated in 1979, after Jaime Roldós (1979) and Sixto Durán Ballén (1992). 
Ecuador has three main geographic regions, plus an insular region in the Pacific Ocean:
Ecuador's capital is Quito, and is located in the province of Pichincha in the Sierra region. Its largest city is Guayaquil, located in the province of Guayas in the Coast. Cotopaxi, which is located just south of Quito, in the neighbouring province of that same name, is one of the world's highest active volcanoes. Mount Chimborazo (6,310 meters) is considered by some to be the most distant point from the center of the Earth, given the ovoidal shape of the Earth, which is widest at the equator.
Ecuador is divided into twenty-two provinces, each with its own administrative capital:
Ecuador has substantial petroleum resources and rich agricultural areas. Because the country exports primary products such as oil, bananas, flowers and shrimp, fluctuations in world market prices can have a substantial domestic impact. Industry is largely oriented to servicing the domestic market, and some exports to the Andean Common market. Deteriorating economic performance in 1997-98 culminated in a severe economic and financial crisis in 1999. The crisis was precipitated by a number of external shocks, including the El Niño weather phenomenon in 1997, a sharp drop in global oil prices in 1997-98, and international emerging market instability in 1997-98. These factors highlighted the Government of Ecuador's unsustainable economic policy mix of large fiscal deficits and expansionary money policy and resulted in an 7.3% contraction of GDP, annual year-on-year inflation of 52.2% and a 65% devaluation of the national currency in 1999, which helped precipitate a default on external loans later that year.
On January 9, 2000, the administration of President Jamil Mahuad announced its intention to adopt the U.S. dollar as the official currency of Ecuador to address the ongoing economic crisis. The formal adoption of the dollar as currency on September 10, 2000, as opposed to pegging the local currency to it, theoretically meant that the benefits of seigniorage would accrue to the U.S. economy. Subsequent protest related to the economic and financial crises led to the removal of Mahuad from office and the elevation of Vice President Gustavo Noboa to the presidency.
However, the Noboa government confirmed its commitment to dollarize as the centerpiece of its economic recovery strategy. The government also entered into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), culminating in the negotiation of a twelve-month stand-by arrangement with the Fund. Additional policy initiatives include efforts to reduce the government's fiscal deficit, implement structural reforms to strengthen the banking system and regain access to private capital markets.
Buoyed by high oil prices, the Ecuadorian economy experienced a modest recovery in 2000, with GDP rising 1.9%. However, 70% of the population was estimated to live below the poverty line that year, more than double the rate in 1995.
The annual inflation rate in 2000 had remained high at 96.1%, one of the highest in all Latin America. But under dollarization, it plummeted until it became one of the lowest rates in the entire region. It is worth remembering that the monthly inflation rate in February 2001 (2.9%) had been the same as the annual inflation rate for 2006, only five years later.
Ecuador's population is ethnically diverse. The largest ethnic group is comprised of Mestizos, the mixed descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous Amerindians, who constitute just over 65% of the population. Amerindians are second in numbers and account for approximately a quarter of the current population, around 25%. Whites are mainly criollos, the unmixed descendants of early Spanish colonists, as well as immigrants from other European and Latin American countries, and account for some 15%. The small Afro-Ecuadorian minority — including Mulattos and zambos, and largely based in Esmeraldas and Imbabura provinces — and immigrants from around the world constitute the remainder (including some Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrants). Many foreign nationals have set up residence in Ecuador. There are sizeable expatriate Ecuadorian communities in the United States, Spain, Italy and Canada. (it is estimated that 700.000 people emigrated from Ecuador following the 1999 economic crisis, and in total the expatriate Ecuadorian population is approximately 2.5 million).
The tropical forest region to the east of the mountains remains sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population.
Although the constitution demands that 30% of gross revenue be dedicated to education, the government’s stated goal is to dedicate 11% of the budget. It is estimated that gross domestic product (GDP) spending for education will reach 4% in 2003. UNICEF places adult literacy at 90%, but notes that this rate has been stagnant for more than ten years. UNESCO reports that only 87% of the primary school teachers and 72% of high school teachers have received training. The public education system is tuition-free, and attendance is mandatory from ages five to fourteen. However, the Ministry of Education reports that only 66% of youngsters finish six years of schooling. In rural areas, only 10% of the youngsters go on to high school. Ministry statistics give the mean number of years completed as 6.7. Ecuador has sixty-one universities, many of which now offer graduate degrees, although only 18% of the faculty in public universities possess graduate degrees. 300 Higher Institutes offer two to three years of post-secondary vocational or technical training. The Higher Education Reform Act transferred oversight of these poorly regulated institutes from the Ministry of Education to the CONESUP.
Approximately 90 % of Ecuadorians are Roman Catholic. Much of the population is practicing and attends Mass regularly. In the rural parts of Ecuador, indigenous beliefs and Christianity are sometimes syncretized. There are also a growing number of Protestant denominations.
There is a small Muslim minority numbering in the low thousands. The Jewish community numbers just over one thousand and is mostly of German and Italian origin.
There are also Sephardic Jews (Judeo-Spanish Jews). Few of them still practice Judaism at different levels, while the majority are today Christians whose ancestors were converted to Catholicism.
Ecuador's mainstream culture is defined by Ecuador's mestizo majority and, like their ancestry, is a mixture of European and Amerindian influences infused with African elements inherited from slave ancestors. Ecuador's indigenous communities are integrated into that mainstream culture to varying degrees, but some may also practice their own autochthonous cultures, particularly the more remote indigenous communities of the Amazon basin. African-Ecuadoreans, much less integrated into the mainstream majority, are victims of high-unemployment and racism.
The most popular sport in Ecuador, as in most South American countries, is futbol (soccer). Some of its best known professional teams include Barcelona S.C. and C.S. Emelec, from Guayaquil, Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito and El Nacional (the Ecuadorian Armed Forces team) from Quito, Olmedo from Riobamba, and Deportivo Cuenca, from Cuenca. The matches of the Ecuadorian national football team are the most watched sports events in the country. Ecuador qualified for the final rounds of both the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups. Ecuador beat Poland and Costa Rica to finish 2nd to Germany in Group A in the 2006 World Cup and qualify for the second round for the first time in their history, where they lost 1-0 to England. Futsal is particularly popular for mass participation.
There is considerable interest in tennis in the middle and upper classes in the Ecuadorian society, and several Ecuadorian professional players have attained considerable international fame, including Francisco Segura, Andrés Gómez and, in the 1990s, Nicolas Lapentti. Basketball also has a high profile, while Ecuador's specialities include Ecuavolley, a 3-person variation of volleyball. Bullfighting is practiced at a professional level only in Quito, during the annual festivities which commemorate the Spanish foundation of the city, although bloodless variations of this sport, called rodeos montubios are practiced in many rural areas during local festivities.
Olympic sports are also popular especially since Ecuador obtained its first Olympic gold medal in Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games, through Jefferson Pérez, on the 20km walk. There is flourishing activity in non-traditional sports such as mountainbiking, motorbiking, surfing, paintball (Ecuadorian sides are among the top six ranked in the continent ) and mountain climbing among others.
The food in Ecuador is very diverse, varying with altitude as do the agricultural conditions. Pork, chicken, meat or “cuy” (guinea pig) are popular in the mountain regions served with an immense variety of cereals, potatoes or rice. A street food in mountain regions of Ecuador is potatoes served with roasted pig (hornado). Fanesca is also a dish that has been made famous in Ecuador, it is a soup made during the time of Lent and is made with 12 types of bean (i.e. green beans, lima beans, lupini beans, fava beans, etc.) and milk and is usually served with codfish.
There is a great variety of fresh fruit available, particularly at lower altitudes. Seafood is popular at the coast, particularly with prawns. Shrimp and lobster are very popular and are very fresh in Ecuador. Plantain and peanut based dishes and foods are the basis of most coastal meals, which in general are served in two courses: a "caldo", or soup, which may be "aguado" (a thin soup, usually with meat), or "caldo de leche", a cream vegetable soup. The second course might typically include rice, some meat or fish in a "menestra" (stew), and salad or vegetables. Patacones are popular sidedishes with most coastal meals.
Some of the typical dishes in the coastal region are: ceviche, pan de almidón, corviche, guatita, encebollado and empanadas; in the mountain region: hornado, fritada, humitas, tamales, llapingachos, lomo saltado, churrasco, etc.
In the rainforest, a dietary staple is the yuca, a root (elsewhere called cassava). The starchy root is peeled and boiled, fried, or used in a variety of other dishes. Many fruits are also available in this region.
There are many outstanding contemporary Ecuadorian writers, including the novelist Jorge Enrique Adoum, the poet Jorge Carrera Andrade, the essayist Benjamín Carrión, the poet Fanny Carrión de Fierro, the novelist Enrique Gil Gilbert, the novelist Jorge Icaza (author of the novel "Huasipungo", translated to many languages), the short story author Pablo Palacio, the novelist Alicia Yanez Cossio. The father of Ecuadorian literature is perhaps Juan Leon Mera, who in the late 19th century penned his famous novel Cumandá.
Some of the most reknowned painters of the indigenist movement also are from Ecuador, including Oswaldo Guayasamín and Eduardo Kingman.
In addition to film, there are numerous books and novels based on Ecuador, including the science fiction novel by Rod Glenn, The King of America, and the science fiction novel "Galápagos", by Kurt Vonnegut.
Ecuador has a network of national highways maintained by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Comunicaciones (Ministry of Public Works and Communication) government agency . The Pan-American Highway connects the northern and southern portions of the country as well as connecting Ecuador with Colombia to the north and Peru to the south. The quality of roads, even on trunk routes, is highly variable.