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8/26/2003
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President Gutiérrez makes an alliance with the Social Christian Party and hopes for backing from the armed forces.

In true military style, Ecuador’s President Lucio Gutiérrez has redefined his government’s direction after breaking with his principal allies, the Pachakutik indigenous movement. He is now seeking new alliances with the same traditional, right-wing parties he criticized during his presidential campaign (LP, Aug. 13, 2003).

From the first days of the Gutiérrez government, it was possible to foresee his break with Ecuador’s indigenous movement, the principal social force in the country, and also with the Popular Democratic Movement, Ecuador’s leading leftist party, alliances that brought him to power. The government’s complete acceptance in its first weeks of the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) created a rift with Pachakutik, the political arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), that could not be resolved through negotiations (LP, Feb. 12, 2003).

"He never listened to us," was Nina Pacari’s brief comment upon leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, summing up the nature of political relationships within the governing alliance.

Gutiérrez’s political overtures to the ultra-right Social Christian Party (PSC) first became apparent in his series of interviews with its principal spokespeople that began in late February. This led to a private conversation between the president and the PSC party head, former President León Febres Cordero (1984-1988).

To justify these conversations, Patricio Acosta, secretary of public administration and government "strong man," emphasized that "the president called on all political organizations to seek the common good, and the PSC, being one of those organizations, was not excluded."

During the July 25 commemoration of Guayaquil’s founding, the "coincidental" agreements with the political right compelled the Gutiérrez administration to throw its support behind a policy promoted by Guayaquil Mayor Jaime Nebot to turn the social security program over to municipal governments. This move will add significant political and economic resources to Nebot’s party because the PSC will gain control of at least 40 percent of social security funds.

Although PSC leader Pascual del Cioppo denied the existence of any "long-term" political agreement, the Gutiérrez administration announced the creation in the National Congress of the "Mobile Majority," which includes the PSC. The "Mobile Majority" will help the president reach legislative agreements with various political parties, depending on the timing and subjects of congressional debates, easing the way for agreements on such matters as government appointments and budget allocations.

"The ‘Mobile Majority’ is the buying and selling of votes," said Ricardo Ulcuango, an indigenous deputy from Pichincha.

Ecuadorian society has not looked kindly on the end of the alliance between the government and the indigenous movement. According to a poll by Confidential Report, 56 percent of the people say the government has lost popular support with its shift in policy. Another polling company, Market, reported that the Ecuadorian president’s popularity has fallen to 27 percent.

Without the political support of grassroots organizations, Gutiérrez must rely more on the armed forces. But discontent and fragmentation within the military became evident after the president cashiered the military high command in an attempt to replace them with officers loyal to him. This tactic floundered when his proposed amnesty for military officials who participated in the Jan. 21, 2002, uprising (LP, March 11, 2002) was rejected. Not only did he fail in his attempts to promote his allies within the military to the highest command posts, but he was also unable to fill several other positions with high-ranking officers.

The president has tried to convince the public that the rupture was not with indigenous communities or grassroots sectors, but rather with the "golden ponchos," a term he uses to refer to leaders of the indigenous movement. To convince his people of this, he has organized presidential visits to indigenous communities, delivering milk, rice, pickaxes and spades, drawing on support from a small organization called the Defense Front for Indigenous, Peasant and Black Peoples of Ecuador.

Gutiérrez has divided the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE). Rafael Pandam, vice president of the organization, has publicly given his support to Gutiérrez. Pandam was appointed to run the short-lived Ethnic-Cultural Ministry, created by the government of former President Abdalá Bucaram (1996-97) to undermine the power of the CONAIE. When Bucaram was thrown out of office, Pandam was accused of trafficking of children and imprisoned.

The future of the government depends on Gutiérrez’s negotiating abilities as well as his making good on promises to fight corruption. He has taken a first step toward this by naming Wilma Salgado, a political ally of Pachakutik, as head of the Agency for the Guarantee of Deposits, which is supposed to collect debts from bankers who precipitated the financial crisis in 2000 (LP, March 13, 2000).

Gutiérrez’s anti-corruption rhetoric is his ace in the hole to maintain popularity. Nevertheless, Probity, an organization that monitors corruption in Latin American countries, has ranked him with former Ecuadorian presidents Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000), Bucaram and Gustavo Noboa (2000-03) as just one more corrupt Latin American head of state whose government is plagued with nepotism.

 

 


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