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Indigenous movement breaks ties with Gutiérrez.

Ecuadoran President Lucio Gutiérrez completed six months in office facing a breakdown in relations with his main ally, the indigenous Pachakutik movement (LP, June 28, 2003).

Gutiérrez "betrayed the mandate given to him by the Ecuadoran people in the last elections, which included defense of national sovereignty and natural resources, and the just reactivation of the country’s productivity," stated the Confederation of Ecuadoran Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE).

The president had already lost on July 6 the support of the Popular Democratic Movement (MPD), Ecuador’s dominant leftist party.

The MPD and CONAIE both criticized the Gutiérrez administration for implementing economic measures that responded to the interests of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and not the interests of the country (LP, Feb. 12, 2003). It also accused the administration of forming an alliance with the Social Christian Party (PSC), the country’s major rightist party, and of persecuting union leaders to further its commitment to privatize state enterprises.

MPD legislator Luis Villacís said Gutiérrez "failed to promote social investment and respect for national sovereignty, or to fight corruption."

The break in the alliance came on Aug. 6 when representatives from the Pachakutik movement voted against a law pushed by the executive branch, which they said would lead to an erosion of workers’ rights.

The split leaves the indigenous movement and the MPD in the opposition ranks and the president with only six representatives — all from his Patriotic Society Party (PSP) — in the 100-member Congress. Some support could come from the PSC, the largest parliamentary bloc, which has only 25 representatives.

The decision taken by Pachakutik and CONAIE, which together represent 30 percent of Ecuador’s 12.5 million inhabitants, means all of their members will leave the government, including Foreign Minister Nina Pacari and Agriculture Minister Lucas Macas.

The split was accelerated by Gutiérrez’s July 21 firing of Education and Culture Minister Rosa María Torres, a Pachakutik member, because, according to presidential press secretary Marcelo Cevallos, she ignored the president’s ban on public criticism. Torres had told the Guayaquil daily El Universo that if Pachakutik decided to withdraw from the coalition government, all its ministers would leave too, "regardless of how enthusiastic" they were about their work. "The president can’t ask us to leave one by one, and he knows it," added Torres. "We constitute a bloc. It was a commitment made when we accepted the posts."

At the beginning of July, Gutiérrez had warned Pachakutik to stop openly criticizing the government. "I have been very clear with them," said Gutiérrez in an televised interview. "They remain in the alliance, and I want that, but under my rules." Gutiérrez said he told Pachakutik leaders that public criticism of the government was unacceptable and that any complaints were to be made behind closed doors.

Sources in the Education Ministry said that an underlying reason for the minister’s removal was her refusal to approve more international agreements that would add to the foreign debt without benefiting the educational system. The sources said Torres did not approve several agreements she considered contrary to the ministry’s interests, despite pressure from Gutiérrez’s advisers to authorize the projects. Torres said she was complying with administration guidelines to curb Ecuador’s foreign debt.

The firing of Torres came as the national teachers’ union (UNE) threatened to resume protests because of the government’s failure to pay wage increases negotiated in June to end the teachers’ strike. Both the union and Pachakutik were outraged at the firing of Torres. "As a legislative deputy of the Pachakutik movement, I condemn this authoritarian attitude of the president," said Ricardo Ulcuango. The head of the Pachakutik bloc in Congress, Antonio Posso, criticized what he called Gutiérrez’s "military authoritarianism."

CONAIE president Leonidas Iza said Torres was restoring good education policies and acting with transparency, honesty, professionalism and public participation. Iza called the president’s decision an affront to the dignity of the indigenous peoples’ movement, that dangerously polarized the country’s political arena and reflected an authoritarian and arrogant attitude.

Gutiérrez increased his authoritarian image on July 30, when he sent a memo to all ministries forbidding government officials from criticizing dollarization, which was adopted in 2000 and which he says will not be reversed (LP, Dec. 4, 2000). The memo also said that all information published by the ministries must contain Gutiérrez’s picture and a statement that the information is part of the administration’s program.

Meanwhile, Torres said that the way in which she was forced to resign only confirms Gutiérrez’s "authoritarian tendency, his zero tolerance for criticism and his inability to listen to diverse points of view."



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