Ecuador and the United States: Useful Strangers

Ecuador and the United States: Useful Strangers

Ecuador and the United States: Useful Strangers

Ecuador and the United States: Useful Strangers


This history of relations between Ecuador and the United States is a revealing case study of how a small, determined country has exploited its marginal status when dealing with a global superpower. Ranging from Ecuador's struggle for independence in the 1820s and 1830s to the present day, the book examines the misunderstandings, tensions, and--from the U.S. perspective--often unintended consequences that have sometimes arisen in relations between the two countries.

Such interactions included U.S. efforts in Ecuador to stem yellow fever, build railroads, and institute economic reforms. Many of the two countries' exchanges in the twentieth century stemmed from the global disruptions of World War II and the cold war. More recently, Ecuadorian and U.S. interests have been in contest over fishing rights, foreign development of Ecuadorian oil resources, and Ecuador's emergence as a transit country in the drug trade.

Ronn Pineo looks at these and other issues within the context of how the United States, usually preoccupied with other concerns, has often disregarded Ecuador's internal race, class, and geographical divisions when the two countries meet on the global stage. On the whole, argues Pineo, the two countries have operated effectively as "useful strangers" throughout their mutual history. Ecuador has never been merely a passive recipient of U.S. policy or actions, and factions within Ecuador, especially regional ones, have long seen the United States as a potential ally in domestic political disputes. The United States has influenced Ecuador, but often only in ways Ecuadorians themselves want. This book is about the dynamics of power in the relations between a very large if distracted nation when dealing with a very small but determined nation, an investigation that reveals a great deal about both.


To some, the story of Ecuadorian-U.S. relations might appear to be a tale that does not need to be told. The United States has long regarded Ecuador as one of the least important Latin American nations, although Ecuador is larger than many people may suppose. While it is geographically small (about 100,000 square miles, or about the size of the state of Oregon), Ecuador has a surprisingly large population; at nearly thirteen million, Ecuador today has a population larger than each of the nations of Central America and the Caribbean, and Ecuador is nearly as populous as Chile.

Nonetheless, it has been the Caribbean states, so near the United States, that have been defined traditionally as falling within the U.S. sphere of influence. Mexico, neighbor and leading trade partner, has been of utmost importance to the United States. Big nations like Brazil and Argentina loomed large. Those countries that served as cold war staging zones—El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala—sometimes found themselves at the center of events. And the present-day war on illegal drugs has made Peru, Bolivia, and especially Colombia key U.S. concerns. But Ecuador has historically met none of these conditions. From the U.S. perspective Ecuador has been a distant, small nation, one never really at the center of foreign policy concerns. Moreover, given the great disparities in the size and power of the two nations, it might seem safe to assume that in all exchanges the United States must always have had its way, that studying the relationship between Ecuador and the United States could be of little benefit. The goal of this book is to show the mistake of such thinking.

If it is true enough that the United States has rarely focused its attention on Ecuador, from the Ecuadorian perspective the United States has nearly always mattered, and mattered a great deal. Moreover, it would be unwise to assume that, in relations between the two nations, the United States always has bested Ecuador. Ironically, because the United . . .

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