Ecuador, located in Western South America between Colombia and Peru, is approximately the size of Colorado. Ecuador's population is ethnically mixed. The largest ethnic groups are indigenous and mestizo (mixed Indian-Caucasian). Although Ecuadorans were heavily concentrated in the mountainous central highland region a few decades ago, today's population is divided about equally between that area and the coastal lowlands. Migration toward cities--particularly larger cities--in all regions has increased the urban population to about 55%. The tropical forest region to the east of the mountains remains sparsely populated and contains only about 3% of the population.
Advanced indigenous cultures flourished in Ecuador long before the area was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century. In 1534, the Spanish arrived and defeated the Inca armies, and Spanish colonists became the new elite. The indigenous population was decimated by disease in the first decades of Spanish rule--a time when the natives were also forced into the "encomienda" labor system for Spanish landlords. In 1563, Quito became the seat of a royal "audiencia" (administrative district) of Spain.
Today, Ecuador is a major world producer of bananas and shrimp. Cocoa, coffee, and tuna are also exported. Non-traditional agricultural products, such as flowers and winter vegetables, are becoming more important. Industry accounts for 41% of GDP, and is becoming increasingly oriented to the export market. Ecuador's merchandise exports for 1997 were $5.3 billion and its imports $4.6 billion. Lower trade barriers in the region, including free-trade agreements with Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia are helping manufacturers become more export oriented. Ecuador has reduced most tariffs to 5-20% and in January 1995, instituted a common external tariff with Colombia and Venezuela.
CIA World Factbook; U.S. Dept. of State Background Notes, 08/1999