Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ecuador: Washington frets over 'Bolivarian' candidate

The small oil-rich Andean country of Ecuador goes to the polls on October 15 to elect a new president. Normally, the US isn't too worried about who wins the presidential sash, as they usually end up dancing to Washington's tune. But this time things might be different.
Like most of its neighbours, Ecuador has experienced chronic levels of corruption and nepotism. But over the last decade, rather than tolerating this, the country has "lost" three presidents to popular uprisings. The Ecuadorian people have lost patience with politicians who spout rhetoric and "non-core" promises — so they chase them out of the country. 

The most recent in this line of ignominious hucksters was Lucio Gutierrez, who played a small role in the overthrow of President Jamil Mahuad in 2000. Sensing popular support for the progressive policies of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a fiery critic of Washington, he styled himself as the Ecuadorian equivalent, got elected in 2002 — and then implemented US-friendly policies. 

In April 2005 this self-styled "dicto-crat" fled via helicopter from the roof of the presidential palace and protesters chased him down the airstrip. Simultaneously, the Congress "fired" him, only to find itself besieged by the same protesters chanting "they all must go". 

In such an unstable country, then, it may come as a surprise that a leading presidential candidate is not only campaigning to "re-found" the country via a referendum and constituent assembly — like Venezuela has done and now Bolivia is doing — but is arguing that it should be made easier to remove the president.