Ecuador joins movement for change in Latin America
by Bob Briton Coming just three weeks after the election of left-leaning Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva as President of Brazil is the news that the anti-corruption campaigner, Lucio Gutierrez, has been elected President of Ecuador. The new President shares some life experiences with Venezuela's head of state, Hugo Chavez, as well. Gutierrez is a former military man, a retired army colonel who led a coup in 2000 that toppled the corrupt government of President Jamil Mahuad. Troops under his command supported the successful Indian uprising that took place against a backdrop of the worst economic crisis in Ecuador in decades. Unfortunately for Gutierrez, his efforts earned him a stretch in jail and unfortunately for Ecuador, the presidency fell into the hands of Alvaro Noboa. Noboa is Ecuador's richest man, who heads a banana and shipping empire that includes 110 companies and who loves to hobnob with the US's rich and powerful. His government oversaw the imposition of the harshest neo-liberal measures on Ecuadorian society. The state run Electricity Sector Modernisation Council undervalued the 51 percent of stock available in 17 electric companies and moved ahead with their privatisation despite protests from the country's many disadvantaged social sectors. Earlier this year, the government again ignored calls from these quarters to reverse the anti-people thrust of their latest legislation, which included moves to increase fuel prices. Movements such as the Ecuador Confederation of Indian Nationalities responded by rejecting a government invitation to discuss national problems and alternative solutions. The administration had lost all credibility among the majority of the population now living in poverty. The election of Gutierrez with 54.3 per cent of the vote comes as no surprise. It is hardly surprising, either, that the new President-elect is guarded in what he says about his plans for Ecuador. US dominance of the region is such that Gutierrez, like Brazilian President da Silva, is at pains to reassure investors in the country and to discourage a strike by capital. Gutierrez has attended meetings on Wall Street to express his respect for property rights and has dropped plans to abandon the US dollar — which currently serves as the national currency. "My Government is going to be one of national unity. It will include honest businessmen, honest bankers and social movements", he told the media. The new President is faced with the task of improving living standards of the people in an economy saddled with debt. Ecuador defaulted on its foreign debt in 1999. His election gives is indicative of a shift in the balance of forces in Latin America. With the support of his own people, the defeat of the April coup against Chavez, the election of Lula as President in Brazil and the strengthening of the region's anti-privatisation forces (notably in Bolivia), President Gutierrez has some historical forces to draw on.