The Guardian December 4, 2002


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.

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