Miami Herald's take on challenges facing Gutierrez

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Wed Nov 27 12:30:24 MST 2002

Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Nov. 26, 2002

For Ecuador's new president, winning was the easy part
frobles at

QUITO - For Ecuador's new president, the hard part comes
now: figuring out how to govern a politically fragmented
nation without the powerful support the job requires.

President-elect Lucio Gutiérrez won the presidency Sunday
with the support of Ecuador's indigenous Indians and
far-left social movements. The trouble is, neither has a
majority in Congress, and now Gutiérrez is faced with the
prospect of making deals with the very parties that oppose

Gutiérrez's challenge illustrates how his lack of political
experience and cronies -- the very thing that swept him into
power -- is now the obstacle experts say he must overcome.
The stakes for a weak leader with difficulty pushing forward
an agenda are huge: Ecuador's last two elected presidents
were tossed out before their terms were up.

''Winning the first round was very difficult, much more
difficult than winning the second,'' Gutiérrez said Sunday
night. ``Now comes the really, really hard part -- the third
round. If I don't have the support of 12 million
Ecuadoreans, I will never win that.''

Gutiérrez, who handily beat banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa,
takes office Jan. 15.

Gutiérrez, 45, is a former army colonel who has never before
held public office. He was catapulted from obscurity to the
political limelight in January 2000 when he and a group of
junior army officers joined forces with 5,000 indigenous
Indian protesters who forced the ouster of then-president
Jamil Mahuad.

Ousted from the military for his role in the coup, Gutiérrez
later formed his own political party. He defined himself as
an anti-establishment, anti-corruption crusader, an image
that worked in his favor as more and more Latin Americans
are turning their backs on traditional party machines.
Endorsed by communist and socialist parties, he gathered
support from indigenous Indian groups that appreciated
Gutiérrez's leadership in Mahuad's ouster and looked forward
to the political clout his presidency could offer them.

But while those radical groups helped Gutiérrez win, they
don't run Ecuador. The nation has 17 different political
parties, and his allies account for just 38 of the 100 seats
in Congress.

''His challenge is tremendous,'' said Quito's University of
San Francisco political science professor Fernando
Bustamante. ``He needs to combine the social movements, the
Indians, get support from the business sector and make
agreements with the international financial community. He
has to do that when the people behind him don't actually
have real power.

''It's not impossible,'' Bustamante added. ``But it's

Even before the votes were all counted Sunday, Gutiérrez was
talking unity. Keenly aware that he needs the help of the
opposition forces gearing to fight him, he promised to make
political appointments from various camps, not just those
that campaigned for him.

''We're not going to divide up power -- we're going to
divide up responsibility,'' he said. ``I am not going to
make unilateral decisions. I have plans, but plans that need

But analysts say Gutiérrez's own allies will become his
biggest headache. The Pachakutik, the political arm of the
indigenous community, has serious terms the president-elect
will be unlikely to meet.

They don't like use of the U.S. dollar here. They don't
appreciate the presence of an American military base. In a
nation that deeply depends on both, they shun private oil
exploration and international lenders such as the
International Monetary Fund.

Gutiérrez has already been criticized for flip-flopping on
issues important to the parties that backed him. Once he won
the election's October first round, Gutiérrez wavered on
dollarization and other important themes.

Fighting off campaign attacks that portrayed him as a
leftist carbon copy of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Gutiérrez
traveled to Washington to try to ease the jittery financial
community about his possible win.

''Gutiérrez took a turn toward realism,'' said political
analyst Simon Pachano. ``And because of that, now his
biggest problems are going to come from his own

Experts say the consequences could be disastrous. Not only
could Ecuador spiral into deep economic crisis, Gutiérrez
faces real risk of being toppled, as were his two

''He's not going to be able to meet these demands. You have
a president in a very tight spot,'' said Walter Spurrier,
editor of Weekly Analysis, an economic newsletter. ``It's
not a pretty picture.''


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