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ECUADOR
Gutiérrez takes the reins
11/28/2002
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The diversity of interests within the governing coalition will make the new president’s task more difficult.

"I won the first round of elections and now I’m first in the second round. I ask God to help me win the third round, which is to govern well," former Army colonel Lucio Gutiérrez said after being elected president with 54.4 percent of the vote on Nov. 24. Gutiérrez’s words seemed to indicate that he shared the concern of most of the country’s political sectors about what will happen after he takes office on Jan. 15.

"Ecuadorans have placed their trust in the historic process spearheaded by the country’s indigenous people," indigenous Deputy Nina Pacari said of Gutiérrez’s victory. The president-elect heads the Patriotic Society, a coalition of indigenous and leftist movements (LP, Nov. 4, 2002).

Even the congresswoman, however, expressed concern about what will happen now that the indigenous groups’ candidate has won the presidency. "It’s an enormous responsibility, in which diversity of thought is going to be an indispensable condition for governance," she said.

Gutiérrez grew up in the Amazon town of Tena, in one of the poorest areas in Ecuador, where he received 96 percent of the vote. The product of a middle-class family, he has been linked with the more progressive sectors of the Army.

"Being from a poorer area makes him more aware of and gives him greater solidarity with the poor sectors," said Miguel Lluco, general coordinator of the Pachakutik Pluricultural Movement, which backed Gutiérrez in the runoff.

Like Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (LP, Dec. 17, 1998) and Brazilian President-elect Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (LP, Nov. 4, 2002), Gutiérrez galvanized the desire for change among his country’s most marginalized people. During his campaign, he denounced those responsible for corruption, especially the fugitive bankers whose actions resulted in a financial crisis that began in 1999 and cost small account holders 75 percent of their savings (LP, March 13, 2000). The events led then-President Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000) to announce that Ecuador would swap its national currency, the sucre, for the US dollar (LP, Jan. 24, 2000).

"Dollarization is a painful legacy and we will have to strengthen it, but bringing the corrupt bankers back from Miami only takes political will, and I have that," Gutiérrez said.

During his campaign, he promised to significantly increase spending on public education, provide health care coverage for all Ecuadorans, create jobs, and stimulate and protect national production. The latter promise, however, is threatened by the imminent approval of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) (LP, Aug. 26, 2002).

"Going into the FTAA as we are would be suicide," Gutiérrez said during his campaign. He proposed strengthening the Andean Community, seeking an alliance with the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and establishing a bloc with Brazil and Venezuela, which have opposed the FTAA, to level the playing field for negotiations with the United States.

Gutiérrez also promised to drop tariffs on raw materials, initiate tariff reforms to protect national industry and eliminate the balance of trade deficit, which amounted to about US$700 million last year.

After the first round of elections on Oct. 20, when Gutiérrez placed first but did not capture the required 50 percent of the vote, the leftist candidate began to talk with multilateral financial agencies and the business sector. This worried his main ally, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), leading him to repeat his pledge to increase social spending and strengthen local governments. The Patriotic Society agreed to allocate 15 percent of the national budget to public works to be administered locally, decentralizing the government’s financial management.

The new government will reflect the country’s diversity. Gutiérrez’s advisers include former military officers who were dismissed after taking part in protests that overthrew Mahuad on Jan. 21, 2000 (LP, Feb. 7, 2000), as well as businesspeople, bankers and indigenous leaders. That very diversity, however, will make the new president’s task difficult.

"We must formulate economic and social policy based on the needs of all sectors," Gutiérrez said. "Seeking to satisfy the needs of a single group is a mistake. Things move ahead not when power is shared, but when responsibilities are shared." The new president pledged to appoint "the best men and women in Ecuador, based on their experience, not on power quotas."

Gutiérrez will face obstacles, however, especially in Congress, which will be led by the far-right Social Christian Party (PSC) and the Democratic Left, a social democrat party that joined with the PSC during the recent elections. The two parties have not spoken with Gutiérrez, despite his overtures.

Most of the 100 national legislators are cool toward Gutiérrez, who can count on 13 deputies in the Pachakutik-Patriotic Society alliance. Six others, from such groups as the Popular Democratic Movement (MPD) and Socialist Party, are also likely to support the new president, who may be forced to seek alliances with the Democratic Left or the Ecuadoran Roldosista Party (PRE), which has made amnesty for its leader, former President Abdalá Bucaram (1996-97), a condition for its support. Bucaram fled to Panama after being forced to step down in February 1997 (LP, Feb. 13, 1997).

Gutiérrez’s base of support is clearly regional. In the highlands, he received three times the number of votes cast for his opponent, multimillionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa of the Alvaro Noboa Independent Renewal Party (PRIAN). In small, mainly indigenous provinces like Imbabura, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo and Cañar, as well as in the Amazon, Gutiérrez received 75 percent of the vote. Noboa beat Gutiérrez two-to-one in the more populous coastal provinces.

While Gutiérrez’s victory is significant for Ecuador’s indigenous groups, it is only one step toward the indigenous movement’s vision of social change (LP, Oct. 21, 2002). "This is a transitional moment in which we must create the conditions necessary to achieve structural change," Pacari said.

"The government has a plan that includes short-term elements, which Gutiérrez can implement, but our plan goes beyond that," Lluco added. "It reflects the aspirations of the indigenous people, blacks, mestizos and poor urban classes, as well as the business sector, and will take 10 to 20 years to implement."

Gutiérrez will take office amid hope and doubt, but with one certainty: he represents a new brand of politics, far from the interests of the political establishment. "The election results show that we are in tune with people who have tolerated for more than 20 years an alleged democracy that has only brought more poverty," said Elsa Ximena Bohórquez, Gutiérrez’s wife, who is also a new member of Congress.


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