Country profile: Ecuador

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Country profile: Ecuador

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Mary Haro in her shop in San Luis. The town is growing quickly because of a hydroelectric project – supported with money from China – near it. © Ivan Kashinsky/Panos Pictures

After the terrible earthquake in Ecuador on 16 April, the lines at the supermarket checkouts were very long. All Ecuadorians came together to buy food, drinking water and other basic things they needed. It was Ecuador’s worst natural disaster in 70 years. 1,000 people died, more than 10,000 lost their homes, and there was more than $3 billion of damage.

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When the earthquake came, Ecuador was entering a recession. The price of oil in the world is low and the government has already had to cut public spending, especially in investment projects. The economy does not look good, but President Rafael Correa is still the country’s most popular politician.

He is very popular, especially with poor people because, since he became president in 2006, the poverty rate is about half what it was before (from 45 to 25 per cent), and there is a lot less inequality. Rich people now pay more tax there is more help with housing, money for the poor and twice as much money for investment in public education. There are many new roads, and better universities and public transport.

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A TV crew shows the effects of the earthquake in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil Locowiki under a CC Licence

Correa has also brought some political stability. Between 1996 and 2007 Ecuador had eight presidents and two very bad political and economic crises. When Correa's presidency ends in 2017, he will have been president for 10 years, longer than any president since Eloy Alfaro, who left office in 1911.

Recently, the government has had problems relating to social movements. Some indigenous groups, some smaller leftist parties, environmental groups, and some of the union movement have criticized the President because he didn’t do what he promised and is too authoritarian. They say he needs to stop depending on oil and must include social movements in the development of his policies. The most important of these groups is the indigenous movement. This represents about10 per cent of the population.

The country is very dependent on oil. About half of Ecuador’s money from exports comes from oil. If the price of oil is good, this can be a quarter of the country’s budget. Even through the 2008 global economic crisis, Ecuador had an average annual GDP growth of more than four per cent between 2000 and 2012. But, because Ecuador started using the US dollar after the economic recession of 2000, there are economic problems.

Ecuador welcomes foreigners but some people say it is conservative and closed. Abortion, for example, is almost always illegal. And there are class problems. But the indigenous idea of buen vivir (good living) in the 2008 constitution has been important in the international discussion about how to reach a non-consumerist, ecological society.

Ecuador has very interesting, varied landscape: the Amazon, beautiful beaches, mountain forests, the Galapagos Islands and amazing volcanoes, and many different population groups.

Greg Wilpert

Country profile: Ecuador Fact File

Leader President Rafael Correa Delgado.

Economy GNI per person $6,090 (Peru $6,360, United States $55,230). Ecuador refused to pay its sovereign debt in 2008 and has ended some investment agreements eg. one with the US. Correa is now doing business with China: in December 2013 he agreed a deal with Beijing of $9.9 billion for oil and supporting the economy. Ecuador is too dependent on oil, especially now that international oil prices are so low.

Main exports Petroleum, bananas, cut flowers, shrimps, cacao, coffee, wood, fish.

Money US dollar (since 2000).

People 15.9 million. 1.5% growth per year. People per square kilometre 64 (UK 267).

Health Infant mortality 18 per 1,000 (Peru 13, US 6). Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 440 (US 1 in 1,800). HIV 0.3%.

Environment Ecuador has more biodiversity in one square kilometre than any other country in the world. It is also the only country where the constitution gives rights to nature. In 2007 the Correa government protected an important part of the Amazon from oil development with the Yasuní- ITT project. But the project was not a success, and oil exploration began in the Yasuní national park in 2016.

Language Spanish is the official language, and Quechua is the indigenous language with most speakers. Quechua, and Shuar, are ‘official languages of intercultural relations’.

Religion Catholic 74.0%, Evangelical Protestant 10.4%, Jehovah’s Witness 1.2%, other or atheist 14.4%.

Human development index 0.711, 98th of 188 countries (Peru 0.737, US 0.914).

Country profile: Ecuador in detail

Income distribution Inequality and poverty have gone down a lot in the past 10 years. But the country still needs to improve.

Freedom Everyone is allowed freedom of expression, and freedom to meet. But, if you criticize government officials, you can be charged, like in many other countries around the world.

Position of women The position of women has been improving since the 1990s. But abortion is still illegal. Literacy 94.5%, Literacy is high (94%), but it is a lot lower in the indigenous population.

Life expectancy 76 years (Peru 75, US 79).

Sexual minorities In 2016 Ecuador gave legal status to civil unions for samesex couples. It is illegal to discriminate against people of different sexual orientation. The LGBT movement is active and organizes Gay Pride marches around the country every year.

NI Assessment (Politics) The election of Correa in 2006 was an important turning point for Ecuador. The politics is far more stable, corruption and crime are far lower, state institutions are more efficient, and there is a lot of political participation. He is very important in the regional Latin American opposition to neoliberalism – the HQ of the Union of South American Nations is in Quito. But the President often criticizes people who criticize him, from the left and from the right.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/columns/country/2016/06/01/ecuador-country-profile/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).