Ecudor favorite courts U.S., but backers seek real change

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Nov 22 14:21:31 MST 2002


The Ecuador election seems likely to hand the presidency to the leader of a
2000 coup that was strongly backed by working class and peasant forces,
especially in the massive and oppressed indigenous population.  The coup
collapsed under U.S. pressure, backed by the Organization of American
states.

As the election approaches, Otto Reich,  Washington's current minister of
colonies for Latin
America, Otto Reich, has openly characterized democratically-elected
Venezuelan president Hugo
Chavez as an opponent of "democracy."  Reich's denunciation of Chavez was
couched as backhanded praise for Brazil's
President-elect Luis Inacio da Silva of the Workers Party.  The
characterization of Chavez is a warning both to Gutierrez and to Lula.

The election may affect  the ability of the OAS to up the pressure it is
exerting for
concessions from Chavez. Washington wants the pressure increased  to counter
the weakening of the opposition organized by Venezuelan and U.S.
capitalists.  The rightists recently lost control of the Caracas police, who
had backed the April coup and carried out brutal attacks on demonstrators
supporting the Chavez government.
Fred Feldman

'Rebel Colonel,' Ecuador Favorite, Adopts Capitalist Look
By JUAN FORERO

QUITO, Ecuador, Nov. 21 - Speeding to campaign events across this Andean
capital, Lucio Gutiérrez sounds every bit the button-down capitalist who by
nearly every measure appears poised to win the presidency in an election
this Sunday.

Forget that just three years ago he was a rebellious army colonel who led a
revolt that toppled this country's president, drawing comparisons with
another former coup plotter, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez. Or that,
like Mr. Chávez, he burst onto the political stage by railing against market
reforms and the corruption of traditional parties.

Mr. Gutiérrez, in an interview, was having none of it. He promised to create
jobs with economic reforms and foreign investment, pay Ecuador's debt,
negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund, and allow the
American military to continue using its air base here.
"I am a pragmatic individual, more than dogmatic," said Mr. Gutiérrez, 45.
"We have to break free from ideological limitations."

To critics, the shift in tone as the election draws closer is intended to
soothe jittery foreign governments and investors. They say that if he wins
this Sunday, as predicted by the polls, it would mean that voters in
Ecuador - like those in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru - had embraced a
regionwide shift to the left, lured by the promises of a crowd-pleasing
populist and dissatisfied by the failure of market reforms.
"Gutiérrez is intelligent, and he says what people want to hear, but they
don't know if he means it," said Ramiro Crespo, a financial analyst with
Analytica investment house in Quito. "There is a doubt that he is a real
convert."

Seeking support from powerful indigenous groups and left-wing parties, Mr.
Gutiérrez has in the past said that Ecuador should reconsider paying its
foreign debt and using the dollar, which replaced the sucre as the country's
currency in 2000.

The 22-page blueprint for his January 21 Patriotic Movement - named for the
date in 2000 when he led junior army officers in ousting President Jamil
Mahuad - calls for the rejection of "neoliberal globalization or any form of
external intervention of international groups or foreign powers."
Though any comparison to Mr. Chávez clearly makes Mr. Gutiérrez and his
aides uneasy, he has in the past praised the former Venezuelan paratrooper,
once saying that he "has shown me the way."

Even now, critics like to point out, Mr. Gutiérrez, who was briefly jailed
after his coup, has some of the trappings of a strongman. He campaigns in a
military-style safari suit that critics say is uncomfortably like the dress
favored by Mr. Chávez. He is supported by parties like the Popular
Democratic Movement, a Marxist group known for its extremism, and his
campaign workers include several former military officers.

Álvaro Noboa, Mr. Gutiérrez's adversary and a populist in his own right, has
cast Mr. Gutiérrez as a wild-eyed Communist in television advertisements. He
says that Ecuador could become "another Venezuela," and he warns that his
opponent "will become a dictator and give you bullets, bullets and bullets."
But the message has apparently failed to strike a chord with Ecuadoreans
tired of traditional parties and corruption - Mr. Gutiérrez's two biggest
targets. The latest Cedatos-Gallup poll shows Mr. Gutiérrez with 45 percent
of the vote, to 30 percent for Mr. Noboa, a two-time presidential candidate
whose banana farms have seen bitter strikes and the presence of child
workers. Mr. Gutiérrez argued that he had never changed his positions.

Rather, he said, he has worked on being as encompassing as possible as he
faces the clear possibility of leading this country of 12 million people.
"I am standing in the political center of my country because I want to unite
all the Ecuadoreans," he said. "In Ecuador, the process will be done in
unity and harmony, looking for consensus."

After taking 20 percent of the vote in a first round of voting last month -
Mr. Gutiérrez and Mr. Noboa took the most votes among a field of 11
candidates - Mr. Gutiérrez sought to calm investors and analysts who saw him
as the second coming of Mr. Chávez.

He promptly replaced his olive green uniform for a business suit and visited
Miami, Washington and New York, meeting with I.M.F. officials, financial
analysts and academics.

"I do not define myself ideologically, and I am not a populist, but rather
popular," he said in a speech at the Harvard Club in New York.
Financial analysts say that the trip was a stroke of genius. The markets did
not panic, as they did in Brazil when Luiz Inácio da Silva, a former leftist
firebrand, soared in polls earlier this year before he won the presidency.
Analysts cast the calm reaction, in part, to the fact that Ecuador already
has a strong currency, the dollar. But also, political observers here see
Mr. Gutiérrez as much more moderate than the radical image presented by Mr.
Noboa.

"I think Gutiérrez is not a person of the left," said Simón Pachano, a Quito
political scientist. Mr. Gutiérrez is, instead, more of an alternative to
the traditional, corrupt parties that have long hamstrung Ecuador, Mr.
Pachano said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Gutiérrez, the son of a river boatman who is married and
has two daughters, does raise questions about the feasibility of unhampered
trade and other American-backed reforms here. .
He says entering the Free Trade Area of the Americas - the hemispherewide
trade pact the Bush administration has been pushing - would be "suicidal" in
the short term because Ecuador could not readily compete with bigger
neighbors. He also favors offering concessions to foreigners to operate
state industries, like hydroelectric companies, rather than privatizing
them.

Mr. Gutiérrez asserts that his candidacy is the "hope of the poor, the
marginalized, the excluded." Among those he has convinced is Juan Daquilma,
24, a student selling a Marxist paper at Mr. Gutiérrez's final rally here on
Wednesday. "He is our patriot, our rebel colonel," he said.






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