Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ecuador tonight

Well, yet again an army decides who stays and who goes in Latin America. As soon as it was known that the Ecuador army was not supporting him, it seems that the Ecuador Congress ditched president Gutierrez, and put in office, under surveillance, the vice president. But is that the real story?

I am a little reluctant to discuss Ecuador. It is perhaps the country that I follow the least in South America. Not because of lack of interest, but its chronic instability makes following Ecuador a full time job. And as a blogger on Venezuela I have my hands quite full already. However, I will still try to discuss some of the interesting points in Ecuador as they do sound like a distant echo of Venezuela.

Ecuador has had a troubled recent history. The last three presidents did not make it through their terms, not even half of their term I think. Mahuad was overthrown by an alliance of military and native groups that balked away from outright dictatorship at the last minute. Mahuad was still ousted, but Gutierrez, one of the soldiers, got a Chavez like fame which brought him, with some difficulty, to the presidency a couple of years later. Apparently, Ecuadorians are more weary of soldiers than Venezuelans and gave the nod to Gutierrez after a difficult second round ballot.

But Gutierrez was not going to resemble too much Chavez. Actually, his economic performance has been much more predictable and Ecuador kept growing. Perhaps the previous dollarization of the economy did protect its people from adventure. But still, Gutierrez seems to have been more concerned with his own career, aware of his political limitations, without a clear popular support as soon some of the native groups withdrew support. On the foreign scene, Gutierrez maintained a studied neutrality towards Venezuela and avoided any comparison to Chavez. In other words, Gutierrez seems to have been interested more in ruling and the welfare of his people than to engage in a Chavez like grandstanding.

But Gutierrez seems not to have overcome his military rigidness and soon enough he was embroiled in the political conflict now characteristic of his cantankerous nation. Like the Venezuelan conflict it even included threats of constituent assemblies, changes in the high court, threats, political and economic, etc... But unlike Venezuela, it seems that all the parties had a higher sense of democracy than chavismo. The pressure that Gutierrez endured were nothing compared to the ones that Chavez endured, simply because he was probably not as charismatic and messianic as Chavez, and because he could not gain time at all cost until he could buy back his electorate (though I doubt he had that financial option).

But his undoing seems to have been the High Court manipulations which resulted in the surprise return from exile of ex-prez Bucaram, the joker of the Americas. That apparently was too much for the congress already embroiled in a bitter battle for the future of the high court. Now Gutierrez is asking for political asylum in the Brazilian embassy. It is strange that a ruler who from outside seems to have managed his country better than expected is ousted in such an unceremonious way. While the disaster we have in Venezuela keeps strengthening his power with money and repression.

Tonight many people must be thoughtful in Venezuela. Definitely, only constant street pressure will offer us some hope of change. Even some chavista groups understand that as a violent chavista mob was harassing Caracas mayor Bernal yesterday, complaining of electoral fraud in the recent internal election of Chavez party. Imagine that!

But one thing seems certain, as in April 11 2002, the Venezuelan Army, for better or for worse, will be the one who decides who stays and who goes. We are quite far from true democracy, in Ecuador or in Venezuela...

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