Ecuador Table of Contents

For most of Ecuador's history, the majority of the population lived in the Sierra. Most of the Sierra population was clustered in the more habitable hoyas. For example, the capital city, Quito, is located in a hoya at the foot of Mount Pichincha.

From 1950 to 1974, however, large numbers of land-poor Sierra peasants migrated to the Costa; as a result, the Costa grew substantially faster than the nation as a whole. By the mid-1970s, population figures for the Sierra and the Costa were roughly similar. The Costa expanded only at roughly the national average during the 1974-82 intercensal period. Nonetheless, by 1982 the Costa had become the most populated region in the country.

Migration (coupled with the high birth rate) transformed the country in the twentieth century. Costeņos from the central region often migrated to Guayaquil and its hinterland following declines in export crop production. Serranos (residents of the Sierra) were often first "pulled" by the expanding coastal economy and then "pushed" by population pressure, agrarian reform, and modernization. The cacao-producing areas of Guayas and El Oro provinces--strategically located for those escaping the 1960s drought in Loja Province--became the most common destinations for serranos.

The cacao boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also had initiated a limited pattern of immigration to the Costa. Immigrants from Europe and Latin America generally arrived with capital to exploit the lucrative Costa commercial opportunities. Significant numbers of Lebanese, referred to locally as turcos or arabes, also moved to Guayaquil and gained considerable influence in coastal commerce and local politics. The Lebanese retained their ethnic identity and married within their own community, and both their distinctiveness and their level of prosperity set them apart and made them the target of prejudice.

Two distinct migration waves to the Oriente occurred in the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, some serranos trekked to the Oriente to pan gold and stayed to settle on the east slopes of the Andes. These migrants acquired land from the indigenous population and set up small, largely subsistence-oriented farming communities. Beginning in the 1950s, large numbers of serranos arrived in search of available land; most simply went to the Oriente province most accessible to their place of origin. Between 1950 and 1982, the Oriente experienced a more than fivefold population increase. The growth rate averaged approximately 5.6 percent annually, nearly double that of the nation as a whole. By the mid-1970s, migrants constituted nearly half the region's residents.

Beginning in the 1950s, large numbers of Ecuadorians also migrated from the countryside to the cities--a trend apparent in both the Costa and the Sierra. This migration changed life not only in the nation's two largest cities, Guayaquil and Quito, but also in intermediate-sized cities.

Both Guayaquil and Quito reflected their different histories, their distinctive regional settings, and their roles in contemporary national politics and economic development. Guayaquil was founded as a commercial link to Spain. The city's contemporary configuration began to take form with the beginning of cacao production in the eighteenth century. Always tied to international markets, Guayaquil's development reflected the perturbations of whatever export crop was currently profitable. From the colonial era onward, Quito developed principally as an administrative center. As the capital city, Quito represented the epitome of the serrano elite's Hispanic values.

From 1950 to 1982, the population of Guayaquil and Quito expanded at rates substantially above the national average. Guayaquil's rate of growth was highest in the 1950s--a response to the rise in banana cultivation on the coast. Ecuador's oil boom of the 1970s generated rapid population growth in Quito during that decade, a trend that continued into the early 1980s. By 1982 Guayaquil's population stood at approximately 1.2 million residents and Quito's at roughly 870,000. Together, they represented 60 percent of the urban population.

Both cities faced a number of common problems resulting from the tremendous influx of migrants. The numbers of the poor employed in marginal sectors and occupations increased to the point that they defeated the ability of Guayaquil and Quito governments to provide basic services and employment. Each city had a central core that was ringed with densely populated tenement slums. Much of the population of these slums consisted of relatively recent migrants.

Another phenomenon affecting Guayaquil and Quito was the emergence of large squatter settlements on previously unoccupied marginal lands. The establishment of suburbio (the collective name for squatter settlements) in the marshy areas southwest of Guayaquil proper began in the 1960s; by the early 1980s, suburbio had pushed into the Guayas River estuary and encompassed half of the metropolitan population. Although the older sections of suburbio had reasonably well-provisioned water lines, sewage disposal, and streets, newer communities lacked basic services. Those who had settled in the estuary system faced the added problem of persuading municipal authorities to provide landfill and to deal with periodic flooding. Quito municipal authorities tried to prevent the spread of squatter settlements up the mountainsides to the west of the city by strictly limiting the provision of water above certain altitudes. In addition, the government squelched numerous attempts by squatters to take over private or public lands. Despite these actions, however, settlements expanded throughout the 1970s and represented between 10 and 15 percent of Quito's population by the mid-1980s.

In contrast to much of Latin America, Ecuador's intermediatesized cities experienced very high rates of growth after 1950. This was especially the case in the Costa, where the annual growth rate of intermediate-sized cities dwarfed even that of Guayaquil. Expansion of second-tier cities in the Costa resulted in part from export growth. In the 1950s and early 1960s, for example, the spread of banana cultivation and the increasing need for port facilities spurred the growth of cities like Santo Domingo, Quevedo, Esmeraldas, and Marchala. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Santo Domingo continued to grow as African palm plantations spread throughout its hinterland. Other coastal cities expanded in response to shrimp raising, fishing (and related industries), or tourism.

In general, mid-sized cities in the Sierra were less dynamic than their Costa counterparts. From the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, only Cuenca--Ecuador's third largest city--achieved growth rates roughly comparable to that of Quito. Agrarian reform and the reduction of the resident labor force on haciendas fostered expansion primarily of intermediate-sized cities in the Sierra. When employment opportunities existed, mid-sized cities drew migrants because they were closer to home, less disruptive to ties with the countryside, and less threatening than Guayaquil or Quito.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress