Ecuador: New President Takes Office

Lucio Gutierrez, who led a coup three years ago, calls for a debt restructuring plan
The center-leftist former Army Colonel swore in on Wednesday at the Palace of Government in Quito, country's Capital City. The new Head of State warned about the fragile financial situation of Ecuador. "Our country cannot keep on paying rates of 40% to multilateral credit organisms,’ said Gutierrez.

During the official statement, President Gutierrez explained that the foreign debt was a political and social problem. Therefore, creditors should understand that Ecuador's people have basic needs his Government has to face. In a fully dollarized economy, almost 70% of the population live under the poverty line.

On the other hand, Gutierrez issued a warning to the country's "corrupt oligarchy". He said his aim was to change Ecuador forever and he would offer his life to do it. "Lucio Gutierrez will not govern neither for the left nor for the right. He will govern for Ecuadorians unhindered by the ideologies of the past," he said to loud applause.

Many Latin American Presidents were present at the ceremony. Among them, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chile's Ricardo Lagos, Venezuelas's Hugo Chavez, who said Gutierrez was his "comrade and brother in arms" and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe. This last one shook the world when asked Washington for a military intervention "like the one in Iraq" to his country.

Some sources present in Quito reported that Lula started a round of talks with his Latin American equals to find a solution to Venezuela's long running conflict. His proposal is part of a diplomatic offensive launched to encourage OAS mediation talks nicknamed "Friends of Venezuela".

Gutierrez, frequently referred to in the streets simply as "the Colonel," thrust himself into the national spotlight three years ago when he led a group of disgruntled junior army officers and 5,000 Indian protesters in an uprising that drove the highly unpopular Jamil Mahuad from power. Such action took place in the midst of the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

He won an election runoff in November, on a campaign pledge to put an end to deeply rooted corruption. One international study ranks Ecuador as the second-most corrupt country in Latin America and the eighth most corrupt in the world.

Gutierrez faces enormous challenges. Country's financial situation is very delicate and the high levels of poverty threat social stability. As Ecuador's local currency is the US dollar, nation's economy is subordinated to foreign investors, very reluctant to invest in developing countries, nowadays. Its internal prices are very high and therefore Ecuador cannot compete with neighbor's industry.

This scenario may turn the economy into a recessive process with a consecutive aggravation of the social situation. By the time being the new President enjoys great support from the lower classes; however, if the crisis continues nobody can assure for how long.

Photo (El Comercio - Ecuador-): President Lucio Gutierrez (right) and Vice President lfredo Palacio during the sworn in ceremony.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

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