ECUADOR'S SUCCESSION CRISIS
FEBRUARY 6, 1997
The U.S. has praised Ecuador's military for the "constructive role it played in bringing about a settlement of the country's recent political crisis." On Sunday, military leaders helped work out an agreement that made Vice President, Rosalia Arteaga, the interim president. The action came shortly after the nation's congress ousted the elected leader, Abdala Bucaram, on the grounds of mental incompetence. Elizabeth Farnsworth presides over an analysis.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ecuador's presidential succession crisis is next. First, some background.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
Ecuador's U.S. Embassy
A compilation of links to information on Ecuador's culture, government and history.
Ecuador burst into the world's headlines last week when its president, Abdala Bucaram, was declared mentally incompetent by the nation's congress and, thus, unfit to rule. He had been elected by an overwhelming majority less than a year ago. He campaigned as a populist defender of the poor, and at first won voters with his flamboyance, including performing as a singer and comedian.
But inheriting an economy reeling from recession and high international debt payments, he embraced an austerity plan which raised the price of gas, electricity, and other government services, while keeping down wages.
The result was a massive 48-hour strike last week. Citing Bucaram's increasingly irrational behavior and disagreeing with his economic policies, congress voted him out of office on Thursday. The vice president claimed the mantle of successor, but so did the head of congress. Protests in the streets continued. Newspapers speculated the crisis would be resolved as in the past by the military. But Ecuador's generals decided to engineer a solution, rather than stage a military coup.
On Saturday night, they hammered out an agreement with the rival successors and congressional leaders. The vice president, Rosalia Arteaga, was named temporary president until congress elects a head of state to serve until August 1998, when new elections will be held. Now there is some uncertainty about whether those elections can be held without controversial constitutional revisions which could take some time. The situation in Kito remains somewhat unstable, but for now, the military seems determined to stay in the background and to continue its mediating role.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more on this story we turn now to Jorge Uquillas, an Ecuadoran and a sociologist for the World Bank in Washington. Thank you for being with us. Ecuador has had 18 years of uninterrupted elected governments, and however this is finally resolved, there is an interruption here. There is a president who has been deposed by congress, causing a constitutional crisis. What happened?
JORGE UQUILLAS, Sociologist: Well, Ecuadoran people had apprehensions about Bucaram, but I think they decided to give him a chance. They were against continuing some of the policies of the previous governments, particularly they had been suffering the consequences of a structural adjustment, you know, even on economic policies.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Very tough economic policies that led to caps on wages and more expensive social services.
JORGE UQUILLAS: Unemployment, higher costs of services, but in any case, at the elections people voted for Bucaram hoping for a change, again, now that there were some risks in electing him. The problem is that there have been no visible improvement in the standard of living of Ecuadorans, and people have become disappointed by several things, not only by the economic measures but also by some non-acceptable rules of conduct, the behavior of the president, also by the procedures that the government has been using for the implementation of the economic plan.
I think even though they are in a position--there are some people who have accepted the possibility of this--implementing this plan, but some of the procedures, the corruption around it are really questionable.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was the evidence for his mental incompetency? Was he just--it's hard to tell from, of course, looking at television pictures if he's just very flamboyant, loves to sing, or if he's actually mentally unstable. What's the evidence?
JORGE UQUILLAS: Well, it's not the--you know, the formal diagnosis of a crazy person, even though he likes to be called El Loco. I think the main question is--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He likes to be called--
JORGE UQUILLAS: Loco--the crazy man.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: --he calls himself El Loco, the crazy man.
JORGE UQUILLAS: Yes. I think the main problem is that he has not provided the leadership that the country expected, and so he requires certain, of course, mental ability to be leader of a country, and he hasn't shown to have that capacity because he's been basically not taken advantage of the opportunity that the Ecuadoran people gave him.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you encouraged by the role of the military in this? Has it surprised you that the military has played this mediating role?
JORGE UQUILLAS: No. I think the trends in Latin America for democratic governments to succeed democratic governments and for elections to replace leaders I think the--the armed forces of Ecuador have accepted it and are playing the game. I think there--they are very concerned with the situation in Ecuador, and there is always the possibility of a rule by the military. But I think they are still looking for options so that the civilians and the politicians provide the solutions for the actual crisis.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that the current situation where the vice president who is currently ruling is saying that there have to be some kinds of constitutional reforms before congress can complete its part of this deal, do you think this could cause a lot more instability, or do you expect this to just sort of work its way out in the days that come?
JORGE UQUILLAS: I think there's going to be instability still because obviously Ecuadorans voted for a team, Bucaram and the vice president, and right now we have the vice president in charge. But what the congress is suggesting is a change of the whole team and appointing the president of congress as president of the country. That's unacceptable for many people, and it seems to me that it's obvious to many people in Ecuador that the vice president should replace the president, and not necessarily the president of the congress. But still, that's something to be resolved by the lawyers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And whoever ends up as president will have this difficult economic situation --- where is it true? -- I read that half of the federal budget goes to paying the foreign debt, and that was the reason why Bucaram, in spite of his promises not to, was embracing this very strict economic policy, is that right?
JORGE UQUILLAS: I would think that the model, the economic model is going to be continued because alternatives that have been tried in the past haven't worked. As you know, Latin America experimented with imports and industrialization --and we didn't go very far. Now, many countries are experimenting with this new model of development. And my suspicion would be that some of the elements of the model would be maintained but probably they would try to a lot some social policies to alleviate the consequences of these models of development.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In other words, in other countries in Latin America, there are some people that are questioning this, what's called sometimes "neo-liberal," or an IMF-imposed economic plan. You're saying that there will be some changes, you think, in Ecuador, some modifying of it?
JORGE UQUILLAS: I think the experience in any countries in Latin America shows that there have to be some changes, and the later attention paid to the social consequences of this model, but usually high unemployment, cost of services tend to go high, and people react, especially when they don't see solutions at hand. And in many countries, the social investment funds and higher investment in education have tended to alleviate this impact of the model, but in Ecuador, people perceived that the measures taken by the government were not sufficient.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Uquillas, thanks very much for being with us.
JORGE UQUILLAS: Thank You.