Expatriates will find Ecuador, with its variety of cultural, historic, and geographical features, an interesting place to work and explore. There is also a diversity among the people of Ecuador that adds to the interest and challenge of living in the country.
Ecuador is a constitutional republic. The president is elected every four years. Voting is mandatory for all citizens between 18 and 65 years of age. Legislative power is vested in the 82-member unicameral National Congress. Seventy members are elected by district and serve for two years; 12 members are elected at large and serve for four years. While many political parties hold some power in government, the two largest are the right-wing Institutional Renewal Party of National Action, and the left-wing nationalist January 21 Patriotic Society Party.
After many years of military regimes, a democratic government was restored in 1979. However, Ecuador has suffered from political instability, which has been marked in the past decade.
In 2005, former Vice-President Alfredo Palacio succeeded Lucio Gutierrez, who was ousted by the National Congress amid widespread demonstrations. In 2006, he was succeeded by Rafael Correa, a former Minister of Economy and Finance.
Tensions over increased state ownership of the oil industry, along with opposition to mining projects, led to a period of discord. In September 2010, tensions between the President and police caused Ecuador to declare a state of emergency. Correa would go on to win a third term as president in 2013.
Ecuador's ecomony is heavily reliant on the production and export of oil. Oil production increased in 2003 when a second pipeline (the Trans-Andean Oil Pipeline or OCP, in Spanish) came online. Agriculture and fishing are also important, providing something of a buffer against fluctuating oil prices. Major agricultural earners are bananas, cocoa, coffee, flowers, shrimp, and tuna fish.
Reform programs to modernize the economy have been endorsed by most of Ecuador's political parties. Progress has been slow because of political infighting, high inflation, and opposition from the labor unions. The union members fear that privatization and the opening up of the economy to foreign investment will cause loss of jobs and other privileges. Other factors hampering economic progress have included the periodic flare-up of an ongoing border dispute between Ecuador and Peru, fluctuations in world oil prices, and the devastation caused by El Nino weather systems.
The situation with Peru was improved with the signing of a peace treaty in October 1998 to end the decades of border clashes. The agreement gave Ecuador navigation rights on Peruvian rivers and two sites in Peru where it may operate port services. This gives Ecuador access to the Atlantic Ocean, providing an impetus to foreign investment.
The dollarization of the currency in 2000 contributed to economic stabilization, but in 2008 the global recession and the country's debt default brought economic growth to a standstill. The year 2011 saw a nice rebound to 7.8 percent growth, followed by a fall to four percent growth for 2012.