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Gutiérrez entrenched in power
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
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First year negative, although with Washington’s support.

President Lucio Gutiérrez marks a year in office in midst of a grave crisis caused by his implementation of policies contrary to those proposed in the electoral campaign and the constant changes in administrative decisions and key government officials, which has generated distrust in financial sectors and a dramatic fall in his popularity.

Gutiérrez began his presidency Jan. 15, 2003 with 57 percent approval which he maintained despite the adoption of tough economic measures a week after assuming office, calling them necessary to overcome a US$2 billion fiscal deficit left by the outgoing government of Gustavo Noboa (2001-2003) (LP, Jan. 29, 2003).

The sacrifice of the poorest sectors was not compensated with transparent actions by the new president. On the contrary, Gutiérrez made a show of incurring in unprecedented nepotism, as well as militarizing the state apparatus.

The majority of new officials were chosen from close family circles and from military officers who had been loyal to the colonel on Jan. 21, 2000, when he led a popular insurrection against the government of President Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000) (NA, Feb. 7 and May 29, 2000), who promoted a policy that favored the country’s banks and implemented a monetary system which imposed the dollar as Ecuador’s new currency (LP, Jan. 24, 2000).

Gutiérrez’s rise to power with the support of the indigenous movement and sectors of the left had created high expectations in Latin America political circles.

Nevertheless, once in the presidency, Gutiérrez fell into a series of contradictions. His first statements aligned him totally with the political and military policy proposed by the United States, he supported the implementation of Plan Colombia (LP, April 10, 2000), militarized the frontier with Colombia, and offered installations in Ecuadoran territory so Colombia authorities could administer territories in which they could not remain, especially in the Putumayo region.

On the economic front, Gutiérrez opted to follow the recipe of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and distanced himself from his indigenous allies, including the nationalist military officers who made up the Jan. 21 Movement. He also sought the support of the rightist Social Christian Party and several officials of previous pro-market regimes in a bid to expand oil exploration, freeze salaries and confront popular protests (LP, Aug. 13 and 27, 2003).

Although the macroeconomic indicators are acceptable — such as having finished the year with an inflation rate of 6 percent, an increase in exports, especially oil, and a 63 percent reduction in the balance of payments deficit according to the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) — it cannot be denied that economic growth continues to slow, since last year it reached only 2 percent.

To continue on the economic course of IMF, Gutiérrez thought nothing of repressing the sectors opposed to his policies, he militarized the community of Sarayaku in the Amazon to guarantee oil prospecting on the part of the Argentine-owned General Fuel Company (CGC) (LP, March 26, 2003). At the same time he imposed, with military vigilance, the construction of Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) — that crosses fragile Andean and Amazonian ecosystems (LP, March 25, 2002) — and failed to fulfill accords reached with teachers, health workers and farmers, which led to a series of strikes such as that of the teachers, which ended in late December after seven weeks in which public schools were closed.

Gutiérrez has also been unable to stop the corruption nor have any of the fugitive bankers been brought to justice as he promised in the electoral campaign. On the contrary, he has faced various cases of alleged corruption involving close collaborators.

But the most serious scandal broke when it was revealed that his electoral campaign may have been financed by presumed drug trafficker César Fernández, captured Oct. 23 during a police operation known as “Anniversary.” Fernández is reported to have been a close collaborator in Gutiérrez’s electoral campaign in Manabí, province in which he was governor during the government of former President Sixto Durán Ballén (1992-96).

This scandal provided the opportunity for several political sectors to make calls for the resignation of Gutiérrez, which were rejected. However, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is not willing to let him govern and announced protests beginning Jan. 14 with the aim of bringing down his regime.

The CONAIE and the Assembly of Indigenous and Social Movements, meeting Dec. 22 in Quito, passed resolutions to carry out protests to bring about the ouster of Gutiérrez, who they called a “traitor, for not being coherent with the principles and programs that allowed him to win at the ballot box and for having submitted himself once more to the Popular Christian Party and the dictates of the IMF which has further entrenched the neo-liberal model, corruption and poverty of 80 percent of Ecuadorans.”

Although Gutiérrez only has an approval rating of 15 percent, according to the pollster Market, he has the full backing of the United States, which makes him feel secure in power despite the threat of CONAIE.

In the short term, Gutiérrez has announced expanding oil concessions, he will begin privatization of energy and telecommunications sector, militarize the indigenous communities that oppose his development projects and cooperate with the US in its so-called war against terrorism.

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