Beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century, students took to the streets on a number of occasions in defense of public freedoms, university autonomy and reform, separation of church and state, and opposition to dictatorship. Following the establishment in 1944 of the Federation of University Students of Ecuador (Federación de Estudiantes Universitarios del Ecuador-- FEUE), the student movement, spurred by campus representatives of the political parties, became increasingly politicized and one of the most influential pressure groups in the country, playing a role in every nonconstitutional change of government. Both the FEUE and the Federation of High School Students of Ecuador (Federación de Estudiantes Secundarios del Ecuador--FESE) contributed significantly to the downfall in 1966 of the military junta, which had abolished university autonomy and student-faculty government. Student federations were organized at Catholic universities in 1966 and at the polytechnic schools in 1969. In the early 1970, the FEUE represented some 40,000 student at five public and two Catholic universities, one non-Catholic private university, and the polytechnic schools.
During the late 1960s, the student movement, heavily influenced by the Cuban Revolution, had assumed a militantly anti-oligarchy, anti-military, and anti-imperialist orientation. Student radicalism prompted the military government to intervene brutally in the Central University in 1966 and to close it in 1970. In the late 1970s, the student movement, seriously weakened as a result of endemic factionalism and the increasing isolation of the FEUE leadership, faced invincible shortcomings. With few exceptions, the political action of the university federations in the 1970s had gone no farther than press statements, graffiti, revolutionary pamphlets, street demonstrations, meetings, strikes, and work stoppages. Consequently, the groups had lost their traditional political prestige and the support of important segments of the student population.
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