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According to the Constitution, all Ecuadorians are subject to a military service obligation. In practice, conscription applied only to males, who were liable for call-up at age nineteen for one year of service. Only a small number of women had been recruited as specialists in the enlisted grades; some received commissions in a few categories, such as doctors and dentists. As of 1988, there were approximately 1,834,000 males in the eighteen to forty-nine age bracket, about 80,000 of whom reached the age of eligibility each year. Analysts considered this figure ample for service needs even though approximately 50 percent could not meet minimum physical or educational standards.

There was little active opposition to the conscription system. Those undergoing military service enjoyed a measure of respect. In a country with chronic underemployment, many poorer youths improved their educational, housing, health-care, and dietary situations by joining the armed forces. Ambitious young men with few opportunities in the civilian labor market might be successful candidates for further service and training, thereby learning valuable skills and finding an avenue for upward mobility. Selective service boards in provincial capitals chose conscripts and liberally granted exemptions for family reasons, such as being the only son or the breadwinner. Students in good academic standing received deferments.

Since the 1960s, the army had assigned many conscripts with peasant backgrounds to the Army Agrarian Military Conscription (Conscripción Agraria Militar del Ejército--CAME). The CAME program sought to enable youths from rural areas--often with a minimum education--to meet their service obligation by working in army-operated dairy, livestock-raising, vegetable- or fruitfarming , and shrimp enterprises. The conscripts received a limited amount of military training and were exposed to modern farming practices that might benefit them when they returned to civilian life. The military used CAME products directly or sold them commercially.

Virtually all officers graduated from one of the three military academies. In an analysis of the social origins of the officer corps based on cadets entering the military academies between 1960 and 1966, political scientist John Samuel Fitch determined that more than 60 percent came from the middle segment of the middle classes (see Middle Class , ch. 2). Fitch assumed each cadet's class background from his father's occupation; this group had fathers who were mainly civil servants, military officers, teachers, and merchants. Those of working-class or lower middle-class origins, whose fathers were artisans, military NCOs, or workers, constituted approximately 20 percent. Approximately 17 percent had fathers who were members of the property-owning upper class or professionals from the upper middle class. Fitch's research confirmed a definite trend toward democratization of the officer corps. In 1928 and 1929, for example, more than 44 percent of entering cadets came from the upper and upper middle classes, whereas some 55 percent were from the middle class and none from the lower classes. The number of sons of military officers remained constant at about 20 percent of the entering cadets, although a growing number of sons of NCOs had qualified for the service academies since 1956.

Fitch's study found a striking pattern of recruitment to the officer corps from the interior highlands, which had persisted in spite of the shift of population toward the coastal provinces (see Migration and Urbanization , ch. 2). In 1963, when the total population of the Sierra and Oriente barely exceeded that of the Costa, merely 7 percent of the entering classes came from the Costa. Guayas Province, with over 20 percent of the nation's population, supplied less than 1 percent of the new cadets.

Strict regulations determined promotion of officers, taking into account such factors as seniority; attendance and performance at service schools, both in Ecuador and abroad; assignments held; and demonstrated administrative effectiveness. At the highest levels, boards of admirals and generals of the three services screened officers for promotion, subject to the approval of the president, the minister of national defense, and the chief of the Joint Command. The president appointed the commanding officer of each service. During the 1980s, attempts by President Febres Cordero to circumvent the established procedure for promotion caused serious tensions in his relations with the military.

Observers considered basic salaries for officers adequate by comparison with civilian government employees. In 1988 a major general received a base salary of about US$600 a month. Benefits and allowances added at least 50 percent to this salary. In addition to the excellent medical care and post exchange and commissary privileges available to all military personnel, a general officer had the use of a car and driver, gasoline, a cook, and other allowances. Per diem allowances for travel abroad were extremely generous. A high-ranking officer attending frequent meetings or courses in other countries could supplement his salary with savings from this source.

Corruption within the military reportedly was fairly widespread. In the case of senior officers, this often took the form of "commissions" on arms purchases. Lower-ranking officers had fewer opportunities to benefit by improper means but might be guilty of such minor abuses as the unauthorized use of official equipment for personal purposes.

Most officers were subject to retirement after twenty years of service unless they reached the rank of general. Time spent in attendance at a military academy was included in calculating retirement benefits. In addition to receiving a relatively high percentage of their base pay, retired career personnel also received severance pay that was often used to begin business careers.

Data as of 1989

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Ecuador Table of Contents