Monday, April 25, 2005

What is Wrong with Ecuador? The Third President Overtrown in the Last Decade

Ecuador is a small Andean country that has vast natural and humanitarian wealth and optimal possibilities for the agrarian, touristy and industrial development. It has four different climatic regions, the pacific coast, the Andean cordillera, the marvelous Galapagos Islands, and the Amazonian rain forest. Ecuador is biggest producer and exporter of bananas in the world, it also exports petroleum, it owns more maritime territory than any other Latin American country –thanks to the Galapagos archipelago, and all its land is cultivatable area. Ecuador is a small, beautiful, multicultural, touristy country where there is a diversity of races and lifestyles subsisting together. Nevertheless, it is the country with the most profound democratic instability of South America, it has a high index of infantile famine, and it possesses a high mortality maternal rate. All these is possible due to the fact that Ecuador has been, for years, the victim of his own democratic system and its representatives that are part of a corrupt oligarchy that has stolen much of its income.

In April 20, 2005, the government of a former aide-de-camp and an ex coup participant, Lucio Gutierrez collapsed. This was not the first time in Ecuadorian unpredictable and unsteady democratic history that a president was overthrown from power. Quite the contrary, it was the third time in one single decade. It is necessary for the Ecuadorian citizens at this time, when things seem to be relatively stable, to see the events from a different perspective, from an analytic standpoint and scrutinize the things that have gone wrong since the formation of the nation. It is my goal with this paper to encourage and help the examination of what went wrong with the last president.

When Gutierrez first came to the public eye, he was a colonel that instigated a military rebellion against the corrupted regime of former Ecuadorian president Jamil Mahuad. Gutierrez disobeyed Mahuad’s orders of repressing the enormous protest organized by Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and social organizations against his policies. Moreover, with their help and the aid of other subversive colonels, he wanted to take power with a civil-military junta. The American embassy quickly took part in the event, obstructed Gutierrez’s ambitions, and jailed him. The, then, Vice president, Gustavo Noboa, took power. With good intentions or not, this is the way Gutierrez first became known by the Ecuadorian inhabitants.

Once Gutierrez was given amnesty, he entered the political life, with the support of the CONAIE, its politician party, Pachakutik (PK), Popular Democratic Movement party (MPD) , and other leftist movements, the same ones that were together years before. In the democratic elections of late 2002, he was elected the 81st President of the Ecuadorian Republic in 168 years, almost twice the number of presidents, comparing to the US that has had 42 presidents in 216 years. It is said that at the time of campaign, Gutierrez received money contributions of guerrillas groups from Colombia and Mexico, a big error and scandal that he was never able to deny.

Gutierrez government initially was integrated by leftist intellectuals, leaders of the CONAIE –the most important native Ecuadorian organization, and former military people that were with him during the coup d'etat of Mahuad. Once in power, Gutierrez became aware with the economic reality of the country and its precarious social situation for what he was forced to find in the US, his strongest ally.

In effect, Gutierrez faced a very difficult economical situation and a total relation of dependency from the US. Ecuador, at time of Mahuad’s government had adopted the American dollar as its national currency, and had given part of the territory to construct an American military base in Manta. The US pressed Gutierrez as it did to Mahuad and Noboa to incorporate Ecuador to the Plan Colombia, and fight guerrillas in the neighboring country. The Americanized economy prevented economic and financial sovereignty of his government and the pressure of the developed countries the forced the government of Gutierrez to preordain 50% of the national budget to the payments of the international debt.

In these conditions, Gutierrez decides not to face the risks of an anti-imperialist attitude and aligns his regime to the US, and to the Ecuadorian right political parties, the ones that Gutierrez months before had opposed. Gutierrez new alliances angered the left Ecuadorian parties that are pushed out of the bureaucracy. This was also a big error and a political backward because it turned left, the indigenous movements, and social sectors to the opposition.

Gutierrez manages to keep a relatively economic stability -there were not increases of taxes as in previous regimes. However, this was only possible for the high income that represented the elevated prices of petroleum, the funds sent by emigrants from other countries, and financial investments. Gutierrez cannot be attributed to have had efficient economic policies because in Americanized economy much of the financial system depends on the US, and the people in Ecuador still lived in extreme poverty. 60% % of the population lives with less than two dollars per day and the gap between the rich and the poor grew during his government even more.

Months after, proclaiming that the economic stability was outcome of the action of his regime, Gutierrez tries to recapture his image as a populist politician. He decided face the oligarchic right, initiating an aggressive policy of collections of taxes that in a country like Ecuador are evaded frequently. The campaign focuses in big industrialists that included brothers of the former nation’s Commander in Chief and extreme right leader Leon Febres-Cordero, of the Christian Social Party (PSC). Gutierrez also he declares that he would create a commission of the truth to reveal the crimes of Febres-Cordero government -hundreds of young people were assassinated, tortured and disappeared in its "democratic" government.

Without the social support of the left and social movements, Gutierrez recomposed a popular alliance against the right with a coalition with the Populism. However, in order to get the support of the major populist of Ecuador –PRE, Gutierrez clandestinely had a meeting with the populist leader former President and justice fugitive Abdala Bucaram who was exiled in Panama. Bucaram is consider, even by members of his family, the biggest corrupt in Ecuadorian politics and is accused of taking big bags of money from Ecuadorian Monetary reserve the day he was overthrown. In this gathering Gutierrez agreed to bring Bucaram back home and free him of any charges. After all his mistakes, this was probably his biggest stupidity.

Gutierrez obtained with this alliance a temporary majority in parliament which immediately started to be directed by the PRE. On December 8, 2004, the legislative majority abolished the Ecuadorian Supreme Court, an action approved by Gutierrez. From that date on the people started to organize themselves, holding assemblies and taking to the streets in massive numbers. The citizenry considered these actions an abuse of the power by Gutierrez and many people and journalists started to call him dictator.

A new Supreme Court of Justice was designated by the same legislative majority and after the elected president of the Court renounced a judge affiliated to the PRE assumed the presidency. As corrupted as it sounds, Guillermo Castro a close friend of fugitive Bucaram, annulled the penal processes of him and other former president and a vice-president that were also exiled.

Gutierrez maintained his confrontation with the right; however, he also kept a close relation with the North American government ad supported the Andean Free Trade agreement with the US. Due to this politic of openness towards the demand of Americans, the US became the power that kept Gutierrez in power despite the disapproval of the people.

The first major protests began two days after Bucaram returned to Ecuador, between the 4th and 6th of April. The party with the biggest support in the Ecuadorian coast -PSC, and the party with the biggest support in Quito –Democratic Left (ID), initiated the protests against the dictatorial policies of Gutierrez. They planned actions against the Supreme Court and put pressure towards Gutierrez. These movements did not have a big support from the people because Ecuadorians were tired of all the political system that has stolen many years of progress from the nation.

It was the middle-class and bourgeois of Quito the ones that began to organize themselves with better and without any political support. Different than the protests that overthrew former Presidents Bucaram, and Mahuad, this protest started taking place at night and lasted until dawn. The dictator called them “los forajidos” (the outsiders), and the group of protesters received that named well because they proclaimed that they were outsiders and rebels to his government. “La Rebelión de los Forajidos” (the rebellion of the outsiders) was established.

Many groups, this time more heterogeneous, took the streets of Quito the nights of Thursday 14 and Friday 15 of April. Between 10.000 and 15.000 people protested against the government and the Court Supreme. They protested in a soothing way, yet they were repealed by the police and military forces with tear gases and guns.

The same night, Friday 15, Gutierrez appears in national television decreeing the dissolution of the Supreme Court and declaring Quito in state of emergency. This last decree gave more power to public forces to repress the people. In spite of the threats, protesters stayed in the capital challenging the state of emergency and the public forces. Gutierrez annulled the decree only 19 hours after he arranged it.

On Sunday 17, Congress tried to stop the crisis by accepting the destitution of the Supreme Court, but leaving Gutierrez in power and they did not make a pronouncement about the penal processes of Bucaram and his return to Ecuador. In the streets the shout of "Gutierrez out" began to be listened followed by an “Everybody out” referring to all the politicians. These forced the members of Congress to arrange the destitution of Gutierrez. The night of April 19, the mobilizations multiplied, reaching more than 40.000 demonstrators in the capital. They faced the police and military forces leaving tens of people hurt and a journalist dead, all this only worsen the crisis.

The day of Wednesday 20 was decisive; the conspiracy grew, in the legislative branch as well as in the military. The extreme right –PSC, and the social democracy –ID, along with Pachakutic created a new majority in Congress. The President of congress, a Populist, tried to stop the new majority from initiating a political suit against Gutierrez and suspended the legislative reunions.

The debilitated government armed its own striking power to face the protesters, finding for the first time an answer. The protesters, especially students, started throwing stones the result were two deaths and hundreds of wounded. In the afternoon the Armed Forces retired the support to Gutierrez. The new majority left Congress and establishes a parallel Parliament in a private institution. There, 60, of the 100 Members of Parliament, listening to the protesters who requested "everybody out", were forced to play the last card, dismissing the president of Congress, dismissing Gutierrez, and giving the power to Vice president Alfredo Palacio by resolution.

Palacio assumed power, hours later, boasting his non partisanship status. He promised to govern for the people, with a demagogic speech, calmed the emotional state of the people momentarily. However the future of his government is uncertain as the people are tired of all kinds of politics and want “everybody out” of power.

Ecuador is a rich country in natural and human resources. It is the number one exporter of bananas in the world, it is huge in shrimp, big in flowers, and it also exports cocoa, and coffee. Ecuador is the second largest oil exporter in South America. It has mines of gold and silver, wide fertile lands, many natural water springs and woods with huge high value timber volumes that houses large diversity of flora and fauna. Ecuadorian population is diverse, there are a least five or six races living together, and all of them are kind and very friendly. However, the majority of Ecuadorians are desperately poor because of corrupt governments.

In order to start a true revolution against injustice, corruption, and ignorance, Ecuadorians must begin facilitating their children a good education which is a basic right of any human. Ecuadorians should provide to their children an education focused in raising good men and women, captivated by the honesty, responsibility, freedom, justice, loyalty, solidarity, kindness, love, and peace. This is the only solution that someday will allow Ecuadorian people to recognize the good politicians from the ones that have guided the state to its misery. I ask Ecuadorians to recognize our errors and do not make the same mistake again.