The son of Victor Arias Cox and Etelvina Chavez de Arias, Ermel was born in Quito, Ecuador, on December 16, 1933.
Ermel had to leave school after tenth grade to help support his family. To complete his secondary education, he attended the Abraham Lincoln Night School in Quito and worked during the day at the Department of Defense, where he learned to type and do clerical work.
Education was always very important to Ermel. After graduating from high school, he attended the National Military Academy of Ecuador for four years and graduated in 1955 as Second Lieutenant. Ermel was stationed in the Amazonian jungle for several years to protect the border with Peru and then taught at the Military Academy. He was a member of the Ecuadorean Cavalry, where he excelled in Equestrian Competitions. The highlight of his career was being selected to represent Ecuador at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Ermel retired as Major in 1968.