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 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.
After independence forces defeated the royalist army in 1822, Ecuador joined Simon Bolivar's Republic of Gran Colombia, only to become a separate republic in 1830. The 19th 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 Catholic Church. In the late 1800s, 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 opened the way for capitalist development. The end of the cocoa boom produced renewed political instability and a military coup in 1925. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by populist politicians such as five-time president Jose Velasco Ibarra. In January 1942, Ecuador signed the Rio Protocol to end a brief war with Peru the year before. Ecuador agreed to a border that conceded to Peru much territory Ecuador previously had claimed in the Amazon. After World War II, a recovery in the market for agricultural commodities and the growth of the banana industry helped restore prosperity and political peace. From 1948-60, three presidents--beginning with Galo Plaza--were freely elected and completed their terms.
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, a nationalist military regime seized power and used the new oil wealth and foreign borrowing to pay for a program of industrialization, land reform, and subsidies for urban consumers. With the oil boom fading, Ecuador returned to democracy in 1979, but by 1982, the government faced an economic crisis, characterized by inflation, budget deficits, a falling currency, mounting debt service, and uncompetitive industries.
The 1984 presidential elections were narrowly won by Leon Febres-Cordero of the Social Christian Party (PSC). During the first years of his administration, Febres-Cordero introduced free-market economic policies, took strong stands against drug trafficking and terrorism, and pursued close relations with the United States. His tenure was marred by bitter wrangling with other branches of government and his own brief kidnapping by elements of the military. A devastating earthquake in March 1987 interrupted oil exports and worsened the country's economic problems.
Rodrigo Borja of the Democratic Left (ID) party won the presidency in 1988. His government was committed to improving human rights protection and carried out some reforms, notably an opening of Ecuador to foreign trade. The Borja government concluded an accord leading to the disbanding of the small terrorist group, "Alfaro Lives." However, continuing economic problems undermined the popularity of the ID, and opposition parties gained control of congress in 1990.
In 1992, Sixto Duran-Ballen won in his third run for the presidency. His government succeeded in pushing a limited number of modernization initiatives through Congress. Duran-Ballen's vice president, Alberto Dahik, was the architect of the administration's economic policies, but in 1995, Dahik fled the country to avoid prosecution on corruption charges following a heated political battle with the opposition. A war with Peru erupted in January-February 1995 in a small, remote region where the boundary prescribed by the 1942 Rio Protocol was in dispute.
Abdala Bucaram, from the Guayaquil-based Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (PRE), won the presidency in 1996 on a platform that promised populist economic and social policies and the breaking of what Bucaram termed as the power of the nation's oligarchy. During his short term of office, Bucaram's administration drew criticism for corruption. Bucaram was deposed by the Congress in February 1997 on grounds of alleged mental incompetence. In his place, Congress named interim President Fabian Alarcon, who had been president of Congress and head of the small Radical Alfarist Front party. Alarcon's interim presidency was endorsed by a May 1997 popular referendum.
Congressional and first-round presidential elections were held on May 31, 1998. No presidential candidate obtained a majority, so a run-off election between the top two candidates--Quito Mayor Jamil Mahuad of the Popular Democracy party and Alvaro Noboa of the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (PRE)--was held on July 12, 1998. Mahuad won by a narrow margin. He took office on August 10, 1998. On the same day, Ecuador's new constitution came into effect.
Mahuad concluded a well-received peace with Peru on October 26, 1998, but increasing economic, fiscal, and financial difficulties drove his popularity steadily lower. On January 21, 2000, during demonstrations in Quito by indigenous groups, the military and police refused to enforce public order. Demonstrators entered the National Assembly building and declared a three-person "junta" in charge of the country. Field-grade military officers declared their support for the concept. During a night of confusion and negotiations, President Mahuad was obliged to flee the presidential palace. Vice President Gustavo Noboa took charge; Mahuad went on national television in the morning to endorse Noboa as his successor. Congress met in emergency session in Guayaquil the same day, January 22, and ratified Noboa as President of the Republic in constitutional succession to Mahuad.
Noboa is not a member of a political party and has depended on several parties in Congress to pass legislation. He has faced the task of sustaining political support for reform in the face of social tension as the Government attempted to restore economic growth. Noboa's term ends January 15, 2003. His successor should be elected in elections scheduled for October and November 2002.
Today, Ecuador is a constitutional republic with a 123-member unicameral legislature that was chosen in free elections in May 1998. In January 2000, following an attempted coup by protesters, indigenous dissidents, and members of the military, Vice President Gustavo Noboa assumed the presidency and restored order. The National Congress is composed of five major parties and seven smaller parties, spanning the spectrum from center-right to extreme left. The judiciary is constitutionally independent, but in practice is inefficient and susceptible to outside pressure.
The country's population is estimated at 12,900,000. The economy is in the second year of recovery from a severe economic recession. The economy is based on private enterprise, although there continues to be significant government involvement in key sectors such as petroleum, utilities, and aviation. The principal exports are oil, bananas, shrimp, and cut flowers, which, together with emigrant remittances and tourism, are the country's leading sources of foreign income. Most citizens are employed in the urban informal sector or as rural agricultural workers; rural poverty is extensive and underemployment is high. There is severe maldistribution of income. According to a study conducted in July 2001, approximately 71 percent of the citizens live in poverty and of those, 30 percent are indigent, with an almost total lack of resources. An estimated 91 percent of the poorest households go without some basic food staple, and more than half forego needed medical care. Most of the population has a low standard of living, as evidenced by a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $1,353. Inflation for the year was approximately 22 percent.
The Ecuadorian economy is based on petroleum production and exports of bananas, shrimp, and other primary agricultural products. In 2001, oil accounted for about 27% of public sector revenue and 40% of export earnings. Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of bananas ($846 million in 2001) and a major exporter of shrimp ($280 million in 2001). Exports of nontraditional products such as flowers ($229 million in 2001) and canned tuna ($268 million in 2001) have grown in recent years. Industry is largely oriented to servicing the domestic 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 Nino 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. 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. Subsequent protest led to the removal of Mahuad from office and the elevation of Vice President Gustavo Noboa to the presidency. The Noboa government confirmed its commitment to dollarize as the centerpiece of its economic recovery strategy, successfully completing the transition from sucres to dollars in 2001. Following the completion of a one-year stand-by program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December 2001, Ecuador is currently negotiating with the IMF to obtain a new stand-by agreement. Buoyed by higher oil prices, the Ecuadorian economy experienced a modest recovery in 2000-01, with GDP rising 2.3% in 2000 and 5.4% in 2001. Inflation fell from an annual rate of 96.1% in 2000 to an annual rate of 22.4% in 2001, and continues to fall in 2002. Monthly inflation for the January to May 2002 period was 6.2%. Despite recent gains, 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, more than double the rate of 5 years ago. The completion of the second Transandean Oil Pipeline (OCP in Spanish) in 2003 will enable Ecuador to expand oil exports. The project will bring in an estimated 56,000 new jobs and over $1.5 billion in investment. Once it becomes operational in the second half of 2003, it is expected to generate as much as $730 million in annual royalties.
In spite of the volatile nature of Ecuadorian politics during the 1980s, the country did not encounter major disruptions of internal security and successfully contained localized episodes of public disorder, such as riots and demonstrations. Since 1985, strikes and demonstrations to protest economic austerity measures and increases in living costs had been frequent. The Febres Cordero administration regularly declared such activities to be illegal and broke up street demonstrations with tear gas and arrests. Although police actions proved effective, critics often accused the police of excesses in dispersing public marches and rallies. In January 1986, several hundred Quito students clashed with police during a three-day period of demonstrations. This outbreak, in which 100 students were jailed, coincided with Febres Cordero's visit to the United States and was in part a protest against United States policies toward Ecuador.
As of late 1989, no subversive or terrorist group posed a serious threat to domestic order. A small leftist group, Alfaro Lives, Damnit! (¡Alfaro Vive, Carajo!--AVC), periodically carried out acts of terrorism and insurgency. Even though the AVC had a low potential for subversive action and numbered only 200 to 300 activists, Ecuador was determined to avoid a situation like that in the neighboring nations of Peru and Colombia, where large, well-organized, and violent guerrilla organizations presented a grave challenge to the authority of the state. An intensive police campaign in the 1986-87 period resulted in the death or capture of most of the AVC leadership. The AVC had come to national attention in 1983 when it broke into a museum in Guayaquil and stole state swords used by the Ecuadorian national hero, José Eloy Alfaro Delgado. The AVC claimed to be non-Marxist and adopted a vague program to combat social injustice. Analysts believed that AVC members were primarily university-educated middle- or upper-class youths without close links to other domestic political movements. Some of its leaders, however, reportedly had ties with Cuba and Nicaragua. In addition, police found evidence of Libyan involvement in the training of some AVC members. AVC activists also traveled to Colombia for training and participation in M-19 military operations. Between mid-1986 and mid-1987, the AVC kidnapped two journalists, killed four policemen in a rescue operation to free one of its members being treated in a hospital, robbed five banks and a factory, and took over several radio stations, forcing them to broadcast AVC manifestos. In August 1986, the AVC also kidnapped a prominent Guayaquil businessman; both the prisoner and his kidnappers died during a massive police assault. After this incident, police infiltration, raids, and arrests dealt heavy blows to the AVC. By the beginning of 1987, sixty-one of its members were in prison and many others had been killed, including most of the leadership. Disorganized and essentially leaderless, the AVC had carried out few terrorist actions since mid-1987. The remnants of the organization entered into an agreement with the government in April 1989 to lay down their arms, renounce violence, and integrate themselves within the democratic system.
A small splinter group of the AVC, Guerrillas for a Free Homeland (Montoneros Patria Libre--MPL), which made its appearance in 1986, did not take part in the negotiations with the government and vowed to continue its armed resistance. Estimated to have a membership of only 100, the MPL was suspected of a series of bank robberies to amass funds for its operations. The Ecuadorian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Ecuatoriano-- PCE) grew out of the Socialist Party, which had been formed in 1926. The PCE gradually gained in importance; in 1944 the PCE won fifteen out of eighty-five seats in the National Assembly and had one of its members appointed minister of education. In 1946 the government outlawed the PCE and jailed many of its members. The PCE was legalized during the 1948-52 term of President Galo Plaza Lasso, but was banned again when the military junta held power in 1963-66. Thereafter, the PCE was a legally constituted political party, although it had only an estimated 500 members in 1988. The PCE participated in congressional and presidential elections as part of the coalition of the Broad Left Front (Frente Amplio de la Izquierda), which gained thirteen seats in Congress in 1986. The PCE also controlled the Confederation of Ecuadorian Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores Ecuatorianos--CTE), which comprised about 20 percent of organized workers. A pro-Chinese faction, the Communist Party of Ecuador, MarxistLeninist (Partido Comunista del Ecuador, Marxista-Leninista--PCEML ), broke away from the PCE in 1963. With a membership estimated at only 100, the PCE-ML nevertheless published its own newspaper and contested elections as part of the Democratic Popular Movement (Movimiento Popular Democrático--MPD), a coalition that won four seats in the 1986 congressional election. Both the PCE and PCE-ML were legally recognized as of 1989 but had little political impact and were not regarded as constituting an internal security risk.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
The overall crime rate in Ecuador is low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Ecuador. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Ecuador will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1999 was 25.92 per 100,000 population for Ecuador, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.51 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1999 was 6.2 for Ecuador, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 32.05 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1999 was 95.85 for Ecuador, 4.08 for Japan, and 144.92 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1999 was 35.59 for Ecuador, 23.78 for Japan, and 323.62 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1999 was 164.52 for Ecuador, 233.60 for Japan, and 728.42 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1999 was 138.32 for Ecuador, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2475.27 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1999 was 52.87 for Ecuador, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 414.17 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 519.27 for Ecuador, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA. Only in the rate of murder does Ecuador exceed industrialized countries.
TRENDS IN CRIME
Between 1996 and 1999, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder increased from 22.64 to 25.92, an increase of 14.5%. The rate for rape decreased from 9.17 to 6.2, a decrease of 32.4%. The rate of robbery increased from 67.47 to 95.85, an increase of 42.1%. The rate for aggravated assault decreased from 38.5 to 35.59 per 100,000, a decrease of 7.6%. The rate for burglary increased from 84.96 to 164.52, an increase of 93.6%. The rate of larceny decreased from 145.95 to 138.32, a decrease of 5.2%. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 42.18 to 52.87, an increase of 25.3%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 410.86 to 519.27, an increase of 26.4%.
While the civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, the military enjoys substantial autonomy, which is reinforced by revenues generated from civil aviation, shipping, and other commercial sectors. The military's right to receive royalties from oil exports expired at the end of the year 2001. The National Police are responsible for domestic law enforcement; maintenance of internal order falls under the civilian Ministry of Government and Police. In February 2001, President Noboa declared a 2-week national state of emergency due to protests by indigenous people; this gave him the authority to use troops to monitor and react to public protests. Throughout the year, the military has continued to supplement the police on an ad hoc basis. Some police and members of the military have continued to commit human rights abuses. Primary responsibility for the preservation of public order has rested with the National Police functioning under the supervision of the minister of government and justice. According to Article 136 of the Constitution, the police are an auxiliary body of the armed forces and have the mission of guaranteeing internal order and individual and collective security.
The congress established by the constitution of 1830 decreed that the separate municipal councils would create their own police departments and would have appropriate regulations for law enforcement. For the first thirty years after independence, the police systems were either under the control of the separate municipalities or dominated by the army. The police developed slowly under a system of provincial organizations until the formation of the first national police organization in 1937. In 1951 the name was changed from the National Civil Guard to the National Civil Police and in 1979 to the National Police. In 1988 the National Police had about 18,000 members grouped in a highly centralized structure organized along military lines. A clear line of demarcation existed between officers and troops with little or no opportunity for troops to advance to officer rank. The National Police was headed by a commanding general of the police who reported directly to the minister of government and justice. The organization consisted of a number of support directorates, as well as technical operations directorates. The country was divided into four police districts, with headquarters in Quito, Riobamba, Cuenca, and Guayaquil, each with five commands corresponding to provincial boundaries. The Galápagos Islands were included in the Guayaquil district. The National Police also had three instructional facilities: the Troop Training School, which offered basic instruction for enlisted ranks; the Officer Training School, a three-year academy for high school graduates; and the Police Officers' Higher Training School, which provided advanced courses.
Several specialized and local police services supplemented the operations of the National Police. The National Directorate for Control of Illegal Narcotics reported directly to the minister of government and justice. The Customs Police, with fewer than 2,000 officers under the Ministry of Finance and Credit, countered smuggling at ports and airports, supervised the storage of goods in customs, and checked baggage of individuals entering and leaving the country. Both Quito and Guayaquil had metropolitan police forces of several hundred members with a number of low-level functions, such as enforcing local ordinances, controlling public vendors, assuring the removal of trash, and maintaining order in public places. Most other cities also had some type of local police, generally poorly organized and led, whose contribution to law enforcement and prevention of crime was minimal.
Although Ecuadorian police authorities had no tradition of massive or systematic human rights violations, public attention focused on police conduct during the latter part of the 1980s. Evidence was presented of torture and abuse of prisoners in the hands of the police and, in some cases, the military. A number of official and private organizations--including the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees (Tribunal de Garantías Constitucionales-- TGC), the Special Commission on Human Rights of the Ecuadorian National Congress, and the Ecumenical Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos--CEDHU)--recorded and investigated human rights complaints.
According to CEDHU, the police frequently subjected detainees suspected of political infractions to violence in efforts to extract confessions and information. Common-crime suspects also suffered torture or maltreatment, especially in rural areas. CEDHU reported sixty-nine cases of torture and eighty-nine cases of brutality in 1987 and a further twenty cases of torture during the first half of 1988. CEDHU believed that police abuse was more widespread than these statistics indicated since many cases went unreported. In 1985 and 1986, five persons arrested by the police or the military disappeared and were believed to have died in custody. No disappearances had been recorded since 1986. According to CEDHU, forty persons in 1986 and thirty-four in 1987 died while in police custody. Many of these, including several of the ten AVC leaders killed by the police, were believed to have been victims of extrajudicial executions.
The United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987 noted that, although mistreatment of detainees was not officially sanctioned, the government of Febres Cordero made no clear statement condemning the use of excessive force, nor were penal actions taken against police or military personnel believed to have taken part in deaths, disappearances, or torture. Upon taking office in August 1988, the Borja administration stated its unequivocal opposition to official use of abusive measures. The Department of State reported that, although some police abuse--including torture--occurred after Borja's inauguration, human rights groups hoped that over time the new president's promises of respect for human rights would have an impact on police behavior.
The TGC, an autonomous body, is empowered under the 1979 Constitution to investigate breaches of constitutional or human rights. Although the TGC had little real power to enforce its rulings, it focused public attention on human rights issues by hearing complaints of human rights activists and calling upon government officials to respond to questions.
Charges against members of the police were reviewed by special police courts under a three-tiered system consisting of tribunals, district courts, and the National Court of Police Justice. Although the courts were ostensibly independent, some observers called into question their impartiality, especially inasmuch as most police judges were active or retired police officers. According to a survey by two human rights groups, Americas Watch and the Andean Commission of Jurists, the number of cases involving wrongful homicide and torture was inexplicably small in relation to the number of complaints against the police in the 1984-86 period. Apparently none of the trials had resulted in convictions; all were either still pending or had been dismissed.
According to the 2001 U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report, abuses by the police have continued. There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated killings; however, there have continued to be credible reports that police, security forces, and semiofficial entities such as neighborhood brigades committed extrajudicial killings. (Neighborhood brigades or "juntas" are civic defense groups organized by the National Police to provide an anticrime presence in neighborhoods. Their members are not authorized to carry firearms, but often do.) Through September 2001 the Ecumenical Committee for Human Rights (CEDHU) reported 25 extrajudicial killings. In some instances, there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion as to what occurred; however, the killings sometimes exhibited a suspicious pattern, especially with respect to a number of unidentified bodies found along the highway around the perimeter of Guayaquil. There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, there were at least two disappearances attributed to the police.
The law prohibits torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment; however, the police have continued to torture and abuse suspects and prisoners, usually with impunity.
The CEDHU published detailed reports on suspects who reported being tortured by specific police officers. By August 2001, it had registered 9 cases of torture, involving 10 victims, and 62 complaints of "physical aggression" toward 808 persons by police or security forces. In most cases, the police appeared to have abused such persons during investigations of ordinary street crime. The victims reported that the police beat them, burned them with cigarettes, applied electric shocks, or threatened them psychologically. In 2000 the authorities registered 33 complaints of some form of torture by security forces, and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) received at least 135 reports of incidents involving physical mistreatment.
Security forces also used excessive force during demonstrations. In late January and early February 2001, there were significant and widespread indigenous protests. Police used tear gas and other methods to quell protesters. On January 30, more than 24 protesters were injured in a confrontation with police in Quito; on January 24, soldiers clearing a roadblock on the Pan American Highway fired shots that wounded at least two protesters. Between January 29 and February 7, as many as nine persons died in clashes between indigenous-led protesters and security forces. On July 26, in Quito, police blocked some 3,000 public health strikers who were attempting to make their way to the Presidential Palace. In the ensuing disturbance, Special Operations Group troops fired tear gas canisters that wounded four medical workers. At nearby Isidro Ayora maternity clinic, 36 babies were affected by the tear gas; two of the infants allegedly died as a result.
Police corruption is also a problem throughout the country. In June 2001, Guayas Police Commander Colonel Marco Cuvero stated that 83 police officers had been fired over the previous 9 months for infractions related to human rights violations or corruption. In December prosecutors alleged that former Guayas Police Chief and Intelligence Director General Abraham Correa had close ties to drug trafficker Carlos Hong.
The Constitution and the Penal Code provide that no person may be deprived of liberty without a written order from a governmental authority; however, the authorities often violate these legal protections in practice, and arbitrary arrest and detention remain problems. The law requires the authorities to issue specific written arrest orders within 24 hours of detention--even in cases in which a suspect is caught committing a crime--and the authorities must charge the suspect with a specific criminal offense within 48 hours of arrest. All detained persons may challenge the legality of their detention by petition within 48 hours of their arrest, but in practice few such petitions are brought forward. The senior elected official (usually the mayor) of the locality in which the suspect is held reviews any such petitions. Regardless of the legality of a detention, a prisoner may be released only by court order. In some cases, detainees who are unaware of this, or who do not have the funds to hire a lawyer, may remain in prison for an extended period of time before being released. Bail generally is not available, and the law prohibits it in cases of narcotics and major offenses (i.e., offenses that "affect or put at risk" the public, punishable by 3 to 35 years imprisonment).
Human rights organizations have continued to report occasional cases of incommunicado detention, although the law prohibits this practice. Even when the police obtain a written arrest order, those charged with determining the validity of detention often allowed frivolous charges to be brought, either because they were overworked or because the accuser bribed them. The system frequently was used as a means of harassment in civil cases in which one party sought to have the other arrested on criminal charges. Preventive detention up to and including trial is legal if a judge determines that it is necessary and if evidence that a crime has been committed is presented. The new Criminal Procedures Code limits immediate detention to 48 hours for suspicion of committing a crime and establishes preventive detention of 6 months for minor offenses and 12 months for major offenses once trial has begun.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary is susceptible to outside pressure and corruption. Despite continuing efforts to depoliticize and modernize the court system, the judiciary continues to operate slowly and inconsistently. Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly as a result of political pressure, or in some cases, the payment of bribes. A survey during the year by the Latin American Corporation for Development revealed that 54 percent of judges believed that other judges were corrupt. There are lengthy delays before most cases come to trial.
The judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court, superior circuit courts, other courts and tribunals that hear cases in accordance with the Constitution and other laws, and the Judicial Council, which is charged with administering the court system and disciplining judges. There also are military and police tribunals that have the same status as circuit courts, while criminal, provincial, and cantonal (county) courts serve as courts of first instance.
The regular court system tries most nonmilitary defendants, although some indigenous groups try members independently for violations of tribal rules. The law permits police or military courts to try police officers and military defendants in closed sessions, in accordance with the respective military and police court martial manuals. Only the Supreme Court may try cases involving flag-rank officers. The police court does not announce verdicts or punishments, reinforcing the strong impression that the police are immune from prosecution. The 1998 Constitution placed both police and military justice under the control of the Supreme Court. However, the three systems have not yet been integrated, although weak efforts are underway to do so.
The Supreme Court that took office in 1997 publicly recognized the shortcomings of the judicial system and pledged to improve the quality and training of judges. In 1998 the Supreme Court supervised the selection by open competition of all appellate judges. Between January and October, the Judicial Council that took office in 1998 delivered 556 sanctions, penalties, fines, or warnings to various judges. There are over 55,000 laws and regulations in force. Many of these are conflicting, and judges have been known to pick and choose from archaic legislation in an arbitrary or capricious manner. The resulting lack of clear rules contributes to what widely is referred to as "juridical uncertainty."
The failures of the justice system contributed to a growing number of cases in which communities took the law into their own hands. There continued to be reports of lynchings and burnings of suspected criminals by citizens and quasi-official groups. These occurred particularly in indigenous communities and poor neighborhoods of major cities, where there is little police presence.
The law provides for due process rights for criminal defendants, but the authorities, including the Chief Prosecutor's office, often did not observe these rights in practice. By law, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and defendants have the right to a public trial, defense attorneys, and appeal. They may present evidence, refuse to testify against themselves, and confront and cross-examine witnesses. Although a public defender system exists, in practice there are almost no attorneys available to defend the large number of impoverished suspects.
Trial is supposed to begin within 15 to 60 days of the initial arrest; however, in practice initiation of the trial phase can take years. One half of all incarcerated persons have not been tried and sentenced. Accused narcotics traffickers and suspects in major crimes cannot obtain bail or be released on their own recognizance.
In 1999 Congress passed a new Criminal Procedures Code. Then-President Jamil Mahuad proposed changes in December 1999, which Congress accepted in January 2000. The new Code went into effect in July, and fundamentally changed the criminal justice system from an inquisitorial system to an accusatorial system. Under the new system, the Chief Prosecutor's office is to investigate and prosecute crimes, while the role of judges is to become neutral arbiters presiding over oral trials. Previously, judges and their staffs investigated crimes with the help of the police while the public prosecutors ("fiscales") monitored the judges' progress. Under the new system, prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding which cases can proceed. The judiciary now hears criminal cases in oral trials, compared with the previous slow, predominantly written inquisitorial system. The National Police continue to work as investigators, but now are under the direction of the prosecutors. There are no juries in the justice system. The new code is intended to strengthen the justice system by improving due process and enhancing the rights of the accused through measures such as habeas corpus and limits on preventive detention. However, despite the abrupt change in roles, functioning, and procedures of the criminal justice system, the Government has not yet organized a central coordinating body to plan and direct training for the components of the criminal justice system, and adequate resources, both in supplies and training, were not available for the newly expanded role of the Prosecutor’s office.
The National Directorate of Social Rehabilitation, a component of the Ministry of Government and Justice, continued to operate the country's penal system in 1989. The García Moreno Prison in Quito and the Coastal Prison in Guayaquil were Ecuador's largest criminal detention facilities. Quito and the capitals of all Costa and Sierra provinces also had municipal jails.
Although the laws called for rehabilitation of prisoners, few facilities had space, staffing, and equipment for education or training programs. One exception, the women's prison in Quito, provided both academic and vocational courses. Some private factories held prison work contracts. All prisoners were expected to work and were paid a minimum wage. One-third of the wages went to the prisoner upon release; one-third to pay expenses while in prison; and one-third to the court to take care of expenses incidental to the trial. During the 1980s, two halfway houses were opened in Quito from which prisoners traveled to jobs and were allowed to visit their homes.
Most prisons were greatly overcrowded, the result of budgetary restrictions and the low priority given prison construction and staffing. As of July 1986, Ecuador had 6,450 prisoners in a system whose total capacity was 2,600. The García Moreno Prison, which was built in 1875 to house 300 and subsequently remodeled to hold 640, held 1,800 prisoners who were forced to share twenty toilets. As of 1988, a new prison was scheduled to open in Quito, which would help relieve existing pressures.
According to the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988, "prison conditions are so squalid and brutal that in themselves they represent cruel treatment." Guards reportedly beat prisoners for disciplinary reasons. Notoriously underpaid, guards reportedly could easily be bribed by prisoners who wanted to avoid punishment, to receive improved living conditions, to secure visits, and to obtain drugs.
According to a report by the Special Commission on Human Rights, unhygienic conditions in the prisons were conducive to skin, lung, gastrointestinal, and venereal infections. Prisons had few medical supplies and only sporadic visits by doctors. Again, the Quito women's prison was an exception to this general pattern.
The Department of State reported that guards at the Coastal Prison often mistreated detainees charged with terrorism or subversion. The Americas Watch and Andean Commission of Jurists group confirmed these observations, documenting various forms of guard brutality and the withholding of privileges, such as exercise, sunlight, visits, and recreation. This discrimination reportedly ended in 1987.
Today, conditions in prisons and detention centers generally are poor. Prisons in the tropical coastal areas tend to be worse than those in the temperate highlands. In 1999 the National Directorate for Social Rehabilitation (DNRS) published a report that indicated that there were a total of 8,520 inmates incarcerated in facilities originally designed to hold 5,964 prisoners. For example, the Tomas Larrea prison in Portoviejo was built in 1930 to hold 150 inmates, but in 2000 its population exceeded 300. It has never been repaired or expanded and has many tunnels, which contributed to some of the 30 successful escapes since 1970. Overcrowding also is a chronic problem elsewhere. The 1999 DNRS report stated that traumatic injuries, reportedly inflicted by fellow inmates, caused 65 percent of those deaths. It attributed the others to illness and drug use. The prison authorities routinely investigate deaths in custody. During the year, a number of prisons experienced serious outbreaks of disease, including meningitis. In September Congress increased the penalties for serious offenses in an attempt to curb rising crime. For example, the maximum penalty for rape in which death occurred was increased to 35 years. Prison officials fear the measures may exacerbate overcrowding. Pretrial detainees are not held separately from convicted prisoners. There are no separate facilities for repeat offenders or dangerous criminals, nor are there effective rehabilitation programs. New prisons have not been constructed due to the lack of financial resources. However, during the year, the amount allocated for prison rations increased from 40 cents to 70 cents per inmate per day. In 1998 a total of 26 inmates died in prison.
The Constitution requires that prisoners charged with lesser offenses (those carrying a maximum sentence of 5 years or less) and who have been detained for more than 1 year without a trial obtain their freedom immediately. In January 2000, the DNRS reported that 553 inmates had been released since the constitutional provision entered into force in 1999. In August 2000, a law went into effect that resulted in the release or in the reduction of sentences (by 1 to 2 years) of 2,947 prison inmates for humanitarian reasons by the end of 2001.
On September 3, 2001, prison guards and workers began a 6-week strike for higher wages and a danger bonus. Prisoners supported the guards’ demands. The DNRS made some concessions to the Federation of Penitentiary Guides, but the bonus issue remained unresolved when the Government ordered the guards back to work.
At year’s end 2001, women constituted 9 percent of the total prison population. Women are held separately from men, and conditions are notably better in the women's prison in Quito than in other facilities. There also are separate facilities for juveniles. Children in these facilities often face abuse. For example, at the Imbabura Rehabilitation Unit for Minor Offenders, adolescents routinely are beaten, shocked with stun guns, and subsist on rations worth about 55 cents per day.
The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors. The National Police Directorate Specializing in Children (DINAPEN) exists as a monitoring group for preventing abuse in prisons.
Although the law prohibits violence against women, including within marriage, abuses are widespread. The Law Against Violence Affecting Women and Children criminalized spousal abuse, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; created family courts; and reformed the Penal Code to give courts the power to remove an abusive spouse from the home. The law also gives legal support to the government's Women’s Bureau in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Between June 2000 and June 2001, the Women’s Bureau reported 6,868 cases of sexual, psychological, or physical mistreatment of women. In 1999 a Guayaquil NGO reported that one out of three women suffered from some form of domestic violence. Women may file complaints against a rapist or an abusive spouse or companion only if they produce a witness. Some communities have established their own centers for counseling and legal support of abused women. The Government addresses such problems through its Women's Bureau; however, although the Bureau can accept complaints about abuse of women, it has no authority to act on the complaints but refers cases to the prosecutor’s office. As of November, the Women’s Bureau had a network of 37 outreach offices in 16 provinces.
Many rapes are not reported due to the victims' reluctance to confront the perpetrators. The Women’s Bureau reported 810 cases of rape from January to June. The penalty for rape is a jail sentence of up to 25 years. In cases of statutory rape involving "amorous" sex with a minor, if the rapist marries the victim the charges against him, or anyone else who took part in the rape, cannot be pursued unless the marriage subsequently is annulled. In September Congress increased the penalties for serious offenses in an attempt to curb rising crime. For example, the penalty for rape where death occurred was increased from 16 to 35 years.
Adult prostitution is legal.
There is no societal pattern of abuse against children.
There are reports of prostitution by girls and boys under 18 years of age in urban areas, and there have been reports of cases in which children were forced into prostitution.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
A misdemeanor law specifically addresses trafficking in persons, and other laws could be used to prosecute traffickers; however, there were reports of trafficking.
In May 2001, the authorities in Uruguay discovered a small child-labor ring. Traffickers had promised seven Ecuadorian youths and one young adult, as well as a Colombian, a better life: however, once in Uruguay the traffickers forced them to carry heavy packages under difficult conditions for 80 hours a week. In addition to being provided with an inadequate diet, the youths were denied proper medical care and one girl had to have her finger amputated. The Uruguayan police charged the ringleaders with violating the child protection and labor laws, and the children were placed in temporary shelters. There also were reports that children have been trafficked to Venezuela and Spain for forced labor, and that Ecuadorians are trafficked to Guatemala and the United Kingdom.
There also were many reports of persons, including non-Ecuadorians, being smuggled illegally from the country to the United States through Central America in which trafficking sometimes was suspected. In the early part of the year, trafficking was suspected in a case involving Ecuadorian children begging on the street in Uruguay who were being exploited by a ring of adult criminals.
A misdemeanor law specifically prohibits trafficking and provides for penalties from 6 months to 3 years in prison, as well as fines. The Migration Law and the Penal Code provide for the imposition of sanctions on suppliers of false documents for purposes of travel or work. Other laws dealing with kidnaping, labor, occupational safety, and slavery apply to and provide sanctions for trafficking in persons. In June 2000, Congress amended the Criminal Code to strengthen sentences for furnishing or utilizing false documents and for alien smuggling. Alien smugglers or traffickers can receive sentences from 3 to 6 years' imprisonment; the penalties range from 6 to 9 years if victims are injured, and a penalty of up to 12 years may be imposed if a death occurs. The law specifically exempts smuggling victims from prosecution. During the year 2001 no penalties were applied.
Cultivation of, and trafficking in, drugs was less of a problem in Ecuador than in neighboring countries. Coca cultivation, which began in 1984, had been essentially eliminated by late 1987 as a result of vigorous government action. With the assistance of the United States, which lent two helicopters, the Ecuadorian police detected and uprooted plantings of the crop, grown mostly along the border with Colombia. The police also interdicted shipments of cocaine and other coca products across Ecuador's territory to markets and processing centers elsewhere and suppressed cocaine refining laboratories within its borders.
In early 1989, however, drug traffickers reportedly moved into the country from Colombia and Bolivia because of Ecuador's easier access to the United States market. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration estimated that thirty to fifty tons a year of Colombian cocaine were being shipped through Ecuador destined for the United States, Europe, and Asia. Cocaine had been found in container shipments of Ecuadorian frozen orange concentrate and chocolates and in air deliveries of fresh flowers. Analysts also believed that the Colombian Medellín Cartel had purchased Ecuadorian companies. Few big drug seizures had been made because of the limited resources of local authorities, although coca laboratories continued to be raided and destroyed.
In October 1988, assailants assumed to have been drug dealers murdered a superior court judge in Quito who had been working on a number of drug trafficking cases. Other judges had received death threats. Despite the fact that Ecuador has bank secrecy laws, United States officials believed that the weakness of the sucre limited Ecuador's potential to become a major money-laundering center.
In an effort to assist Ecuadorian drug-control efforts, the United States supplied a number of powerboats for patrolling rivers in the north and islands near the port of Guayaquil and supplied training by the United States Navy. It also furnished sniffer dogs to detect drugs in export shipments and baggage. In FY 1990 President George Bush requested from Congress US$1.4 million in drug-control assistance for Ecuador.
Internet research assisted by Kathy Cabanilla