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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 14:21 GMT
Lucio Gutierrez: Ecuador's populist leader
Lucio Gutierrez
Lucio Gutierrez face a hard road ahead of him
The victory of former coup leader Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador's presidential election brings to power in South America another populist leader with left-wing sympathies.

His victory follows closely on that of the Brazilian Workers' Party leader, Lula, and seems reminiscent of the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

I am not a communist - I am a profoundly Christian man who respects private property and human rights.

Lucio Gutierrez

Each of these men won democratic elections on programmes based on calls for change, for new strands of economic thinking and an end to corruption.

But the BBC's Latin America correspondent, Tom Gibb, warns against taking Lucio Gutierrez at first sight to be identical to either Lula or Hugo Chavez.

The new man in power in Ecuador is a former army colonel who chose to side with poor, indigenous Ecuadorians protesting against the policies of a government they believed was out of touch with the poor.

His decision involved him in a coup against the government and led to his imprisonment for six months and his expulsion from the army.

Mr Gutierrez then took to civilian politics and defeated banana billionaire Alvaro Noboa in the second round of voting for the presidency on 24 November.

Soup not suppression

Lucio Gutierrez first came to national prominence in January 2000 when his troops were ordered to break up demonstrations in the capital Quito by tens of thousands of Ecuadorians of Indian descent.

They were protesting at the government's corruption and economic policies, which they said had left them in poverty.

Ecuadorian Indians
Gutierrez won over Indians with promises of help

Rather than expelling them, Colonel Gutierrez set up mobile army kitchens to feed the protesters and allowed them to take over the country's congress building.

He then joined Indian leader Antonio Vargas and a judge, Carlos Solorzano, in announcing a government of "national salvation" to run the country, though he did not agree to become part of the new government.

The new government did not last long and the commanders of the armed forces returned the old government to power but with a new man as president in place of his discredited predecessor.

Lucio Gutierrez and some of his middle-ranking supporters in the army were then arrested and imprisoned for six months.

He was also kicked out of the army

On his release, he turned to politics and ran for election on a platform of anti-corruption and social reform.

'Not another Chavez'

Many observers believed him to be too controversial and left-wing to stand a chance of winning the election.

His main opponent, Alvaro Noboa, accused him of being a populist radical like the former army officer Hugo Chavez, who was elected president of Venezuela.

Mr Chavez too had taken part in a coup against an elected government he accused of corruption before being voted into office.

Alvaro Noboa
Noboa said Gutierrez was just like Hugo Chavez

Like Hugo Chavez, Lucio Gutierrez wore his army fatigues during his election campaign, but now says he has hung them up for good.

But he denies being exactly like the Venezuelan president.

"I admire courage in people, President Chavez risked his military career, risked his life to challenge a government he considered corrupt.

"Lucio Gutierrez did the same thing in Ecuador, but that's where the comparison ends," he told the Associated Press agency.

He says he is not part of a leftist, anti-globalist trend in South America.

"I am not a communist. I am a profoundly Christian man who respects private property and human rights," he said during his campaign.

He has also gone out of his way to reassure United States business interests and international financial institutions that he will retain the dollar as the country's currency and meet its debt obligations.

Hard time ahead

In the first round of voting last month, Mr Gutierrez surprised everyone by taking the lead, thanks to a massive vote for change which eliminated all the candidates from the established political parties, leaving just him and Mr Noboa.

President-elect Lucio Gutierrez
Gutierrez says he is hanging up his uniform for good

Whatever his exact policies turn out to be like, Mr Gutierrez has a tough time ahead.

BBC correspondents in the region have noted that no president in Ecuador has survived a full term in office in recent years and that despite his popularity, the new president has little experience of politics.

He has pledged to form a government of national unity including, "honest businessmen, honest bankers and social movement".

But in a country beset by huge debt problems, a poverty level around 60% and an unstable and unpredictable political system, the odds seem to be stacked heavily against him.

See also:

25 Nov 02 | Americas
04 Oct 02 | Business
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17 Jul 02 | Americas
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