The president-elect of Ecuador declared here yesterday that his Andean nation, long under military rule, is doing much more than merely "returning" to democracy - something he said never existed there as more than a formality.

"We are setting out toward a ture democracy," said Jaime Roldos, who is to take office August 10 after a landslide electoral victory in April. At 38, he will be Latin America's youngest leader.

In a luncheon speech at the National Press Club after meeting with President Carter yesterday morning, Roldos praised the U.S. administration's defense of human rights and support for democratic process as important assets in the Ecuador's threeyear effort to revive the constitutional rule that ended in a coup in 1970.

But Roldos made clear that the basic problems of his country -- massive illiteracy, poverty and nonparticipation of Ecuador' Indian majority -- will not be solved by the vote alone.

Alluding to Ecuador's earnings in recent years as a modest exporter of oil, Roldos said, "We have progressed in terms of economic indicators . . . I would have to say, however, that only a few of us have progressed."

At another point he quoted the 19th century explorer von Humboldt's description of Ecuador's situation of having ample resources and trouble reaping them, as "a beggar sitting on a sack of gold." Roldos expressed determination to distribute the gold more widely than in the past.

Asked about the prospects of democratic revival not only in Ecuador but in Bolivia and neighboring Peru, Roldos responded:

"I don't know if we are seeing the end of the dictatorships. They may be just stepping out to get a breath of air. It very much depends on what we do" in poer. He said Ecuadorans are better at electing leaders than helping them rule.

Roldos expressed astonishmend at visisting the White House "in the midst of a Cabinet crisis."

"For us in Latin America, that is our daily bread," he said. Roldos and his wife, Martha, said the Arters confirmed their intention to have Rosalynn attend Roldos' inauguration next month.

The president-elect declared his intention to resume relations with Cuba, and he announced acceptance of an invitation from the provisional junta in Nicaragua to visit Managua this weekend.

"I wish to express to the Nicaraguan people my solidarity with their struggle and the firm hope that the blood spilled will not have been spilled in vain," he said.

Roldos is credited with persuading the military government in Ecuador to break ties with Anastasio Somoza at an early date, and he said yesterday he has been informed of Ecuador's immediate intention to recognize Nicaraguan's provisional junta.