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Gutierrez on the tighttrope?
6/17/2004
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Calls for removal of president

"When will Lucio Gutiérrez fall?" is the question of the day among Ecuadorans, who are amazed by the infighting among various state bodies and the scarce popularity of the government, whose approval according to a poll by Cedatos stood at 5 percent.

Between May 29-30, the legislative blocks of the different political parties had apparently reached an accord on the removal of Gutiérrez for "incapacity to govern," an accusation difficult to prove that has in reality turned into a political tool.

Arguments for the dissmisal

Even though "incapacity to govern" is the argument for dismissal, for the political blocks the main reason for the request for his ouster is based on the various acts of corruption of which his closest collaborators, and even the president himself, are accused, such as the external financing of the presidential campaign, possible links to drug trafficking and large bribes paid to gain access to public contracts.

The deputy of the Democratic Left, Carlos González, publicly requested the dismissal of Gutiérrez, a position that has been supported by various social movements, including the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

Leonidas Iza, president of CONAIE, and Pedro de la Cruz, president of the National Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN), coincided once again in calling on their grass-roots organizations to an indigenous uprising from June 7 with the goal of forcing the ouster of Gutiérrez.

Both the CONAIE and FENOCIN have joined in asking for the resignation of Gutiérrez because he betrayed the political platform that brought him to power  and gave in to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This has resulted in a considerable reduction in social investment, the permanent delay in the payment of salaries of public servants in the health and education sectors and his commitment to militarizing the Andean region by backing Plan Colombia.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC) decided that the acts of corruption of which Gutiérrez and his inner circle are accused are too evident to maintain him as an ally  without losing votes, since there are municipal and provincial elections foreseen in October.

The resignations mount up

Added to the planned indigenous mobilizations and requests for presidential dismissal were the resignations of ministers Patricio Acosta, of Social Welfare, on May 27 and Mauricio Pozo of Economy on June 1, with which the government lost two of its pillars in the cabinet. The resignations brought to 26 the number of ministerial changes that have occurred in 16 months of government, beginning with the rupture of the alliance with the indigenous movement last June due to the application of a neo-liberal economic adjustment program .

The resignation of Acosta came after the United States took away his vista for alleged accusations of corruption. The embassy did not indicate the charges against the then minister.

Political analyst Mauricio Gándara said that even though "the United States is not obliged to provide the lists of corrupt officials it possesses, it would be a courtesy of a government that has given its unconditional support to the country. It would be a great help against the corruption in which Gutierrez is supposedly fighting."

In replacement of Acosta, Gutiérrez named former president of CONAIE Antonio Vargas as the new minister of Social Welfare, an appointment that was supported by regional organizations like the Federation of Evangelical Indigenous of Ecuador (FEINE) ), the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONFENAIE) and the Confederation of Nationalities and Peoples of the Ecuadoran Coast (CONAICE).

"We defend institutionalism," said Marco Murillo, president of the FEINE, on backing Vargas’ appointment and rejecting the uprising called by the CONAIE. The FEINE has distanced itself from the proposals of the indigenous movement and has sought alliances with the central government, which has made it possible for various of its supporters to obtain public posts and municipal and provincial governments.

The resignation of Pozo — strongman of economic policy — was due to the pressures of indigenous groups and leftist parties that, through National Congress, were preparing a political trial for his total commitment to the neo-liberal model and payment of US$16 billion foreign debt. At the same time, he was rejected by the Social Christian bench for not belonging to its party. He was replaced by Mauricio Yépez, a technocrat linked to the sectors of the Ecuadorean right, in a bid to get closer once again to the PSC. The new Minister of Economy has announced that he will continue with the neo-liberal policy promoted by his predecessor, mainly the negotiation of a free trade agreement with the United States.

Yépez’ announcement to continue the free-market policies further upset the indigenous movement. Nevertheless and despite announcing a progressive uprising throughout the whole country, the indigenous movement could not mobilize its grass-roots following on the first two days of the planned protest.

Still in control of the situation

Despite the weaknesses of his government, Gutiérrez still demonstrates that he controls the political scene.

"He is a military strategist and his principal political function is that of arming strategies to confront the social forces among themselves and override them," said analyst Guadalupe Fierro.

Part of this strategy was the appointment of Vargas, who is quite discredited among indigenous groups. Gutiérrez’ goal is to deepen the divisions among the indigenous movement and gain the support of organizations that have differences with the CONAIE, like the FEINE, CONFENAIE and CONAICE.

Gutiérrez feels secure in his post because he counts on the protection of the United States. US ambassador Kristie Kenney visited the presidential palace on June 6 to express her government’s support for Gutiérrez’ administration.


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