Ecuador: Another Government Unravels

Lucio Gutierrez
President Lucio Gutiérrez (L) with Colombian President Uribe near Medellín, Colombia, on June 27, 2003 (Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP-Getty Images).

The surprisingly swift disintegration of President Lucio Gutiérrez’s governing coalition has left yet another Ecuadorean government faced with the unhappy prospect of a rebellious Congress, a skeptical business community, and deepening disaffection among the indigenous electorate whose support carried the president to power in January. A succession of reshuffles in the Gutiérrez administration Cabinet this summer culminated in the president’s abrupt decision on Aug. 6 to evict the indigenous-based party Pachakutik from the ruling coalition after the majority of its legislators voted to kill the president’s proposal to overhaul the civil service.

Columnist Thalía Flores y Flores observed in Diario Hoy (Aug. 7) that the loose-knit alliance of former military officers, indigenous movements, and leftist groups foundered because some elements of the coalition failed to grasp “the gravity of the task” of governing the nation. “With the arrival of the indigenous and the colonels to power, we had closed the political and ideological circle...,” producing a government representing “the last hope...of those mistreated in the past,” Flores wrote. Seven months into the Gutiérrez presidency, she added, “The country has lost its last hope of taking a historic change in direction.”

Flores y Flores noted that a significant factor in the alliance’s breakup was Gutiérrez’s decision to move forward with the signing of a $250-million credit agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which committed the government to fiscal constraints and implementation of reforms in public utilities, banking, taxes, and the civil service. Recalling the administration’s recent diplomatic initiatives to cooperate with the United States in the war on drug trafficking and terrorism, the columnist said, “I suspect that the rupture of the [governing] alliance was produced in Washington.”

Cristóbal Peñafiel and Vicente Ordóñez reported in El Universo (Aug. 7) that acrimony between the former coalition partners boded ill for Ecuador’s stability. On the one hand, Communications Secretary Marcelo Cevallos told El Universo, “It is lamentable that the Pachakutik movement has lost the historic opportunity to...demonstrate that groups that were politically marginalized...are capable of governing.” On the other, Pablo Iturralde of the Social Movements Coordinating Group warned, “The weakness of the regime is going to push Lucio Gutiérrez toward...a policy of persecution of the sectors that are inclined to resist the government’s decisions.”

Ecuador’s recent history of indigenous uprisings and forced presidential resignations provides a sobering reminder that the government cannot survive another repetition of the cycle of popular disaffection and official repression, Clemente Sánchez Murillo asserted in La Hora (Aug. 5). “The immense majority of the aspirations of the people still remains unfulfilled,” Sánchez Murillo wrote. “There is no room...for proponents of coups, which people are tired of, given their disastrous consequences in Ecuadorean society.”