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A (brief) guide to all of the Constitutions of Ecuador

Published on December 27, 2021

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Since its creation as a republic, the country has had 20 constitutions. This is a brief summary of all of them.

One-hundred-ninety-one (191) years ago (counted from 2021) the first Ecuadorian constitution was approved. Currently the one from 2008 is in force, which was drawn up in Montecristi, a small canton in the coastal province of Manabí, where Eloy Alfaro, one of the national heroes, was born. This guide offers a brief account of the 20 constitutions of Ecuador.

Constitution of 1830

The 1830 Constitution was approved after Gran Colombia was dissolved and Ecuador was constituted as an autonomous republic. A constituent congress was convened to draft the founding charter of the current Ecuadorian state, which was convened and met in Riobamba. It was made up of a group of notable Quiteños of the time, the Creoles (those of Spanish parentage who were born in South America), the military and the religious.

In addition, that Constituent Assembly appointed Juan José Flores as president, and José Joaquín de Olmedo as vice president. The first constitution of Ecuador was promulgated on September 23rd of the same year.

This first Magna Carta had 75 articles. It said that the duties of Ecuadorians were to obey the laws and authorities, serve and defend the country, and be moderate and hospitable.

To enjoy citizenship rights, Ecuadorians had to be married, over 22 years of age, have a property or properties valued at 300 pesos or more, or practice a useful profession or industry. It also required knowing how to read and write as a condition for citizenship.

Furthermore, the 1830 constitution said that God was the author and legislator of society. The Catholic religion was the state religion, priests were part of the state structure; they were considered “guardians and natural parents of the natives,” whom in a clear portrait of the prejudices of the time, it called an “innocent, abject and miserable class.”

Constitution of 1835

In 1835 an Assembly was installed to dictate the second constitution. It was made in the government of Vicente Rocafuerte. The Ecuadorian State was in constant war: the Chihuahuas War —an armed uprising against Juan José Flores—, the Battle of Miñarica, which was a confrontation between the Flores troops and the Free Quiteño Society, which proclaimed Vicente Rocafuerte as chief supreme.

The constitutional judge Ramiro Ávila Santamaría (and today a constitutional judge), in his article Evolution of fundamental rights in Ecuadorian constitutionalism, said that in this constitution God was still considered the creator and supreme legislator of the universe. In addition, it contemplated the suspension of citizenship of a person for being lazy, drunk, in debt, physically and mentally inept. “Duties were above rights,” wrote Ávila Santamaría.

Constitution of 1843

This constitution was known as the Slavery Charter, because of the dictatorial powers it granted.

It was drawn up in the second presidential term of Juan José Flores. In this constitution, the presidential term was eight years. Congress would meet every four years and there would be a Permanent Commission of five senators who would serve 12 years. The deputies lasted eight years and could be reelected indefinitely —that is, the legislature of Ecuador was bicameral. This constitution granted the power to establish duties and taxes.

It further established that citizens had the right to freedom to write, print and publish thoughts and opinions without censorship, equality before the law. They were prohibited from creating titles of nobles, distinction or hereditary jobs, the principle of legality of penalties, freedom of movement and detention only in flagrante delicto was established, among others, guaranteeing aspects that constituted a novelty for the country – although they were the reflection of a rights movement in Latin America.

Constitution of 1845

This constitution was born in the middle of the Marcist revolution. In March 1845, a provisional government and notables were appointed in Guayaquil. They were privileged people, like local aristocrats, military and religious, who tried to seize power.

There was a confrontation between the dominant elites, with the help of popular groups and, from abroad, the influence of Juan José Flores. In this constitution powers were diminished to the Executive. The Constituent Assembly appointed Vicente Ramón Roca as president. In this constitution, “the people are named as sovereign,” writes the constitutionalist Ávila Santamaría, in the article on the history of constitutions.

Constitution of 1850

This constitution was drawn up after the coup d’état of José María Urbina, who proclaimed himself the country’s civil and military head. However, the constituent named Diego Noboa as president.

In this constitution God was reappointed as the legislator of the universe. As in the previous constitution, the Catholic religion was reappointed, the people disappear as sovereign.

This constitution guaranteed freedom of work and industry, the separation between civil and military authority, and the abolition of the death penalty for political crimes.

Constitution of 1852

That time, the Constituent Assembly appointed José María Urbina as president.

This constitution prohibited the anticipated collection of tributes to the natives, payments that the indigenous people made to the bosses of the fiefdoms where they lived and worked.

In this constitution the abolition of slavery was enshrined. It was the “most important legal milestone of this time,” says Ramiro Ávila Santamaría. This constitution reappoints God as the author and supreme legislator of the universe and established as one of the duties of Ecuadorians, to respect religion.

Constitution of 1861

The Assembly that wrote this constitution, named Gabriel García Moreno as president of Ecuador. In this Magna Carta God is not named but the Catholic religion is maintained as official.

To be a citizen, the requirement to have property was eliminated. In addition, the age necessary to be able to access citizenship changed to 21 years. The geographical division from colonial departments to provinces was also changed, which remains until today.

Constitution of 1869

This constitution was known as the Black Letter. In it, the invocation of God as legislator was maintained, the Catholic religion continued to be the official one of the republic.

The president was García Moreno. It was necessary to be a Catholic to be considered a citizen.

The new right that appears is that of assembly: Ecuadorians had the right to associate without arms, respecting religion, morals and public order.

The President of the Republic would be in power for six years, with indefinite re-election power, the senators would last in office for nine years and the deputies for six years.

There was disagreement with the application of this constitution, which ended on August 6, 1875, with the murder of García Moreno.

Constitution of 1878

Ignacio de Veintimilla was appointed president by the Assembly.

The requirements to be a citizen enshrined in this new constitution were to be 21 years old, be married and know how to read and write. This constitution eliminated the death penalty for all crimes, except patricide (murdering the father).

In addition, it recognized the right to primary, compulsory and free education, the freedom to found private educational establishments. It established the prohibition of torture, that is, no one can be “tormented with a bar, shackles or any other kind of torture.” The right to defense is recognized.

Constitution of 1883

In March 1882, Ignacio de Veintimilla proclaimed himself dictator. Veintimilla was proclaimed Supreme Head of the Nation by the Quito Council, the civil employees and the national guards. At that time, three governments were created, one in Guayaquil led by Veintimilla, another in Quito led by a pentavirate (five people in command), and another in Esmeraldas led by Eloy Alfaro, the last two united to fight against the dictatorship.

The three governments summon a Constituent Assembly and appoint José María Plácido Caamaño as president. This is where progressivism begins, a period where there was tolerance and respect for freedom of expression.

This constitution specifies that to be a citizen you must be male.

Constitution of 1897

Before this constitution, coastal peasants fought for land and lobbied for Eloy Alfaro to be appointed supreme head of the state. Ramiro Ávila Santamaría says that in this constitution there are no advances, only freedoms for the bourgeois (social class with high economic power) were added. Eloy Alfaro was in exile in Panama since 1864, due to a statement he made about the then president García Moreno. In 1883, he was appointed supreme chief of Manabí and Esmeraldas and organized an army against the dictatorship of Ignacio de Veintimilla. After several battles, in 1896, the Constituent Assembly elected him as head of state, the same assembly drafted the new constitution.

This constitution ordered that to be a citizen it was required to be 18 years old and to know how to read and write. Free education and the right of parents to choose the education of their children were declared.

Constitution of 1906

In this constitution the state-church union was broken. Eloy Alfaro was appointed president by the Constituent Assembly. Here the Catholic religion disappears as the state religion.

Two types of guarantees are recognized in this constitution. National guarantees such as secular, free, and compulsory education and individual and political guarantees on traditional rights such as freedom to work. This constitution established the imprescriptibility (inviolable) of crimes against the Constitution, the president could not violate the guarantees established by the constitution such as the independence of the judges, curtail the elections or dissolve the parliament.

Eloy Alfaro was losing support, there was repression, and wars that culminated in Alfaro’s death.

In 1910, the political situation was stressed by the border conflict with Peru, there were clashes between the radical liberalism of Alfaro and the oligarchic liberalism of Leonidas Plaza Gutierrez. In 1911, Emilio Estrada was named president, who allied himself with supporters of Plaza Gutierrez. In January 1912, a group of Protestants arrived at the Quito jail and took Eloy and Medardo Alfaro, Luciano Coral, Ulpiano Páez and Manuel Serrano. Alfaro and his companions were in jail to prevent them from organizing and returning to assume power. The mob murdered them then dragged them until they burned them in the El Ejido park in Quito.

Constitution of 1929

Before this constitution, Isidro Ayora was provisional president appointed by the military, and later formally appointed as president by the Constituent Assembly.

In this constitution, women are recognized as citizens, who, like men, must be 21 years old, and know how to read and write. The 1929 constitution guarantees the right of habeas corpus, a recourse to request freedom when it has been arbitrarily or illegally taken away. It allowed the free exercise of the professions, usury is prohibited, work and freedom are protected, the State protects the worker and peasant.  This constitution was the first to guarantee the right to vote for women. Matilde Hidalgo de Prócel was the first woman in Ecuador to exercise her right to vote. However, the constitutions of 1897 and 1906 no longer established that only men could exercise this right, says the article Female suffrage in Ecuador by Mercedes Prieto and Ana María Goetschel.

Constitution of 1938

It is considered the lost constitution because it was in force between December 1938 and February 1, 1939. After the closing of the Constituent Assembly, a commission was in charge of reviewing the text of the constitution. At that moment a repression began against the workers’ and student organizations. There were also strikes and protests by textile workers. On January 15 and 16, 1939, the elections for Senators and Deputies were held, that congress declared the 1906 constitution in force and annulled that of 1938.

This constitution was drawn up by members of the right, center, left, in equal parts, the Constituent Assembly was installed on August 10, 1938, and ended on December 13th of the same year. It was a very progressive document, fundamental rights are once again recognized, such as freedom of conscience, press. In this constitution, 18 years of age and knowing how to read and write were established to be a citizen. It is established that there will be 25 representatives in the Senate, says the article The Lost Constitution: An Approach to the Constitutional Project of 1938 and its repeal. 

Constitution of 1945

This constitution was short-lived because José María Velasco Ibarra believed that it was a project of the extreme left.

Velasco Ibarra proclaimed himself dictator. This constitution was issued on behalf of the people, the 18-year requirement to be a citizen was maintained.

The Court of Constitutional Guarantees was created (today the Constitutional Court). The obligation to invest at least 20% of the budget in education was established.

This constitution establishes that a person could not go to jail for debts and gave the mayor of the city the power to resolve habeas corpus, among other rights.

Constitution of 1946

Velasco Ibarra called a new constituent assembly made up of right-wing conservatives. This constitution guarantees the right to provide “disabled people with means of subsistence, provided they lack them, while they are unable to obtain them through their work.” At that time, there was still no talk of people living with disabilities but disabled or retarded.

The 1946 constitution recognized that work is a social duty and must be protected. The worker must have a compulsory employment contract, they must have the right to a minimum remuneration sufficient to cover their needs. This constitution establishes that the working day will be eight hours a day and that there are annual vacations. Here it was also established that workers had the right to strike, their participation in company profits and could not be fired without justification.

 1967 Constitution

In 1966 the Constituent Assembly met, and the constitution was issued in May 1967; that Assembly appointed Otto Arosemena as president. In 1968, José María Velasco Ibarra won the elections for the fifth time, in 1970 he declared himself dictator.

This constitution guaranteed free access to culture and social and economic improvement, and participation in politics. The 1967 constitution says that someone will not be discriminated against because of their race, sex, affiliation, language, religion, public opinion, economic or social position. The 1967 constitution guaranteed freedom of opinion, expression of thought by any means of communication, respecting the law, morals and the honor of the people. It also established the freedom of religious belief, worship, individual or collective. In addition, this year’s constitution guaranteed copyright for literary, artistic or scientific creations.

Constitution of 1979

There was a popular consultation to choose a constitution project, the project considered progressive won. The State ensures the validity of the fundamental rights of man and promotes economic, social and cultural progress. The requirement of knowing how to read and write to be a citizen is removed. The right to health, environmental sanitation, the organization and promotion of popular sectors are guaranteed, the right to universal vote is highlighted.

In 1979 Ecuador returned to democracy because the country had been under dictatorships for almost 10 years. During the dictatorship between 1973 and 1979 there were deportations, confinements, torture, arbitrary arrests, selective and massive killings. To begin the transition to democracy, three commissions were formed, one to create the law on elections and political parties, another to carry out reforms to the 1945 Constitution, and the third to draft the new constitution. Then a plebiscite was called to approve the new constitution. There were two politicians that aspired to the presidency: Sixto Durán Ballén of the right and Jaime Roldós of the center-left tendency.

In that year Jaime Roldós was elected as president and Osvaldo Hurtado as vice president, who ended that presidential term after the death of Roldós in a plane crash.

1998 Constitution

This constitution was issued after the removal of President Abdalá Bucaram. In the country there were strong clashes between social movements and business sectors that accused Bucaram of corruption.

In 1998, this constitution was issued in which there were advances in rights, according to the constitutionalist Ramiro Ávila Santamaría. The rights of indigenous people, children, women, and people with disabilities were recognized.

This constitution allowed the private sector to exploit in reserved areas of the state with national interest. Ecuador declared itself a “social state of law,” (The Ecuadorian State is committed to achieving better living conditions for people, aimed at justice, freedom, solidarity and equity). It also established that the Quichua, Shuar and the other ancestral languages ​​are in official use for indigenous peoples.

Constitution of 2008

In that year, Rafael Correa was president of Ecuador, a young economist with leftist ideas who would govern Ecuador until 2017 amidst the bonanza of raw materials and criticism for his authoritarianism.

The Constituent Assembly was installed in Montecristi in honor of Eloy Alfaro, former president of Ecuador, who was born there. Writing a new constitution was a proposal of the electoral campaign of Rafael Correa. When he won, Rafael Correa called a Constituent Assembly. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) – today separated into the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) – had to process the request. Correa sent the TSE a statute that contained the method of electing the constituent assembly members and the process in which the Constituent Assembly should function. The process was constitutional, but many deputies wanted to prevent that consultation from being convened, they wanted to make only a constitutional reform, for that reason they dismissed the president of the TCE and prosecuted four of its members. In March 2007, the TSE removed 57 deputies and suspended their political rights for a year, claiming that it was the highest electoral authority. The TSE applied the rule “that in electoral time, no authority outside the electoral bodies can interfere in the electoral development.” In the end the Constituent Assembly was formed, and the new constitution was written. The draft Constitution was submitted to a popular consultation supported by more than 60% of the voters.

In this constitution, Ecuador was declared a plurinational, intercultural and diverse state. In addition, it determined that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination and recognizes their rights.

This constitution is very guaranteeing, indigenous justice is established, respect for the Pachamama, that is, the recognition of nature as a subject of rights. It promotes sumak kawsay or good living, which promotes horizontal relationships, here the right to water, food, healthy environment, communication and information, culture and science, education, habitat and housing, health, work and social security is guaranteed.

When it was approved, President Correa said it would last 300 years but to date there are already three reforms to the constitution – including the elimination of the prohibition of indefinite reelection and the restoration of this prohibition after a 2018 popular consultation held in the government of Lenín Moreno, who was Correa’s partner and later became his enemy.

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