Ecuador (which means "equator" in Spanish) is located on the equator on the west coast of South America, between Colombia to the north and Peru to the south. It's not a very big country, with a land area about the same as the state of Nevada. Despite its small size, the country has a very wide range of landforms and ecosystems. The Sierra region runs down the middle of the country and consists of two parallel mountain ranges of the Andes, including several active volcanoes and the capital city of Quito. To the east, the Oriente consists of the tropical rainforest and cloudforest of the Amazon basin. To the west of the Sierras is the Costa, where the land descends to the coastal plain along the Pacific and the port city of Guayaquil. Due to its wide range of ecosystems, Ecuador's flora and fauna is extremely varied, making it one of the most species-rich countries in the world.
The earliest human history of the region goes back more than 10,000 years, but the most notable period occurred in the 14th and 15th centuries A.D. when the Inca Empire expanded from Peru and conquered the various native tribes of Ecuador. Though short-lived, the empire had a profound influence on the entire region and its people and culture. While suffering from internal divisions, the Inca Empire was attacked and conquered by the Spanish fortune-seeker Pizarro and his men. By the 1530's, the entire region was under complete domination by the conquistadors.
From the mid 1500's to the early 1800's, Ecuador remained under Spanish colonial rule, mainly as an agricultural province. In the early 1800's, political strife in Europe allowed for several attempts at independence in Ecuador, as well as in other Spanish colonies in South America. With the efforts of freedom fighters Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, Ecuador became independent from Spain in 1822.
The history of the Ecuadorian Republic is filled with numerous periods of strife and instablility, with power struggles between the conservatives in Quito, the liberals in Guayaquil, and the military. The government changed hands numerous times, sometimes after violent upheavals including assassinations. Recent history has been no less tumultuous, though over time progress has been made with land and economic reforms and other programs for improvement.
The current population is about 13 million people, mostly mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry) and Indian; the population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. The economy depends largely on agriculture and exporting raw materials, with a little manufacturing. A major oil discovery in the mid 1960's has led to a new source of export revenue. The major exports are oil, bananas, shrimp, cut flowers, and fish; the largest trading partner is the U.S.
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