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The tribes in the northern highlands of Ecuador formed the Kingdom of Quito around 1000. It was absorbed, by conquest and marriage, into the Inca Empire. Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro conquered the land in 1532, and through the 17th century a Spanish colony thrived by exploitation of the Indians. The first revolt against Spain occurred in 1809. In 1819, Ecuador joined Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama in a confederacy known as Greater Colombia.
When Greater Colombia collapsed in 1830, Ecuador became independent. Revolts and dictatorships followed; it had 48 presidents during the first 131 years of the republic. Conservatives ruled until the revolution of 1895 ushered in nearly a half century of Radical Liberal rule, during which the church was disestablished and freedom of worship, speech, and press was introduced. Although it was under military rule in the 1970s, the country did not experience the violence and repression characteristic of other Latin American military regimes. Its last 30 years of democracy, however, have been largely ineffectual because of a weak executive branch and a strong, fractious Congress.
Peru invaded Ecuador in 1941 and seized a large tract of Ecuadoran territory in the disputed Amazon region. In 1981 and 1995 war broke out again. In May 1999, Ecuador and Peru signed a treaty ending the nearly 60-year border dispute.
In 1998, Ecuador experienced one of its worst economic crises. El Niño caused $3 billion in damage; the price of its principal export, oil, plunged; and its inflation rate, 43%, was the highest in Latin America. In 1999, the government was near bankruptcy, the currency lost 40% of its value against the dollar, and the poverty rate soared to 70%, doubling in five years. The president's economic austerity plan was protested with massive strikes in March 1999.
President Jamil Mahuad was overthrown in Jan. 2000, in the first military coup in Latin America in a decade. The junta gave power to the vice president, Gustavo Noboa. Faced with the worst economic crisis in Ecuador's history, Noboa restructured Ecuador's foreign debt, adopted the U.S. dollar as the national currency, and continued privatization of state-owned industries, generating enormous opposition. In Feb. 2001, the government cut fuel prices after violent protests by Indians, who are among Ecuador's most disadvantaged people. Within two years, Ecuador's economy had rebounded from the brink of collapse. The economy grew by 5.4% for 2001, the highest rate in Latin America. Inflation was 22%, down from 91% in 2000, and the budget was balanced. But chronic corruption among senior government officials, as well as among the courts and the judiciary, has continued.
Lucio Gutiérrez, a leftist colonel best known for orchestrating the 2000 coup against President Jamil Mahuad, was elected to the presidency in 2003 on an anticorruption platform. He became Ecuador's sixth president in seven years. His attempts to introduce austere fiscal reforms, however, quickly alienated his political base, and numerous national strikes took place over 2003. In April 2005, Gutiérrez was ousted by the Ecuadoran Congress, after replacing much of the supreme court with his allies. Polls at the time indicated that just 5% of the people supported him. His estranged deputy, Alfredo Palacio, took over as president. In 2006, huge nationwide protests took place involving a potential free-trade agreement with the U.S. In Nov. 2006 presidential run-off elections, Rafael Correa, a left-wing economist, won with 56.7% of the vote, defeating conservative businessman Alvaro Noboa. Correa took office in Jan. 2007.
Correa immediately set out to boost economic growth and root out corruption in the country's political system. In an April referendum, voters overwhelmingly approved his call to rewrite the Constitution. He hoped the new Constitution would weaken Congress, which has been called inept and corrupt. Correa's critics accused him of trying to consolidate power, similar to recent moves by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.