New Priorities for U.S.-Ecuadoran
The Heritage Foundation
author wishes to thank intern Raymundo Morales for his contribution to this
On February 11, Ecuadoran President Lucio Gutierrez will visit with
President George W. Bush in Washington. While the newly installed Ecuadoran
leader will likely ask his counterpart to support continued multilateral loans
and development aid to his nation, President Bush should use the opportunity to
cement U.S.-Ecuadoran security ties, to encourage deeper democratic and market
reforms to enhance Ecuadoran stability, and say no to excessive dependence on
Gutierrez leads a country with a history of power struggles between contentious
interest groups and on-again/off-again democracy.
Ecuador has had 17 constitutions since
independence and a divided oligarchy controls most of the commodity-based
economy. In the last seven years, Ecuador has had six presidents—two of whom,
Abdala Bucarám and Jamil Mahuad, lasted a year or less before their ouster. In
January 2000, it was army colonel Lucio Gutierrez who led indigenous protesters
in marches that forced out Mahuad, considered ineffective in fighting corruption
and who proposed dollarizing an economy plagued by runaway inflation. His vice-president
and successor, Gustavo Noboa, dollarized it anyway.
Now in Carondelet Palace himself, Gutierrez will face an assembly
representing the highland elites, coastal landowners, and Ecuador’s indigenous
population. Just 17 percent of the 100-seat unicameral body is loyal to his
Patriotic Society Party coalition. Although democratic and market-based reforms
are ongoing, elites have resisted opening the economy to competitive enterprise.
Instead, social spending, subsidies, and price controls were meant to help
Ecuador’s 50 percent poor compensate for restricted access. Over-reliance on
commodity exports such as petroleum and bananas has limited growth to pay back
loans that support such programs.
civil war in Venezuela, drug trafficking, and terrorist groups operating in
Colombia and in the confluence of the Argentine, Brazilian, and Paraguayan
borders threaten trade and impact neighbors with refugees.
Narcoterrorists such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) still
operate in 70 percent of Colombia’s territory and have infested Ecuador’s
northern Sucumbíos department. Peru also faces a resurgence of drug trafficking
and terrorism. Two weeks after Gutierrez was inaugurated, a group called the
Peoples Revolutionary Militia took responsibility for a bomb that exploded at an
American Airlines office in Quito.
novice, Gutierrez was elected with 54 percent of the vote in a runoff election
on November 24, 2002.
Although he once led a coup and counts radical Indians as his base of support,
Gutierrez said he wants to be president of all Ecuadorans, and promises to fight
poverty and corruption while preserving dollarization and allowing continued use
of Ecuador’s Manta air base for the U.S.-backed Andean counternarcotics effort.
the domestic front, he supports decentralizing the Ecuadoran state, devolving
authority over local affairs to local jurisdictions. He would like legislative
bodies to more effectively represent their constituents. And he has proposed
creating a fourth branch of government to audit public spending and the banking
sector. Regarding foreign affairs he shuns taking part in any “triangle” or
“axis” involving Cuba’s Fidel Castro or Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo
Chávez. Yet, he said he would help Colombia solve its narcoterrorism threat by
opening Ecuador’s borders and pursuing peace with its Marxist guerrillas.
“Guerrillas are human beings too,” he said in Washington last November.
these ideas are clearly impractical.
In October, Ecuadoran voters approved a measure to eliminate 23 at-large
congressional seats, reducing the national assembly to 100 members. Gutierrez
would like to chop that number to 60. Without changes to make assembly members
stand for actual districts, another reduction would decrease representation, not
enhance it. A fourth branch of government to audit accounts unnecessarily
duplicates functions normally carried out by the legislative and judicial
branches. And easing border controls with Colombia would invite more border
incursions by violent guerrillas in Ecuador’s poorly patrolled northern
provinces. Ecuador’s 35,000 police and small, 600-member counternarcotics unit
would be quickly overwhelmed.
States needs stable allies in troubled South America.
inexperience and concerns over his past, Lucio Gutierrez appears to understand
that Ecuador’s future depends on accountable governance and open markets. That
should be enough of a start for President Bush to forge friendly working
realtions with him. But for collaboration to be fruitful, President Bush should:
support for U.S.-aided regional counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts
by its securing borders and helping Colombia pressure its narcoterrorists into
laying down arms. Appeasing such groups will only prolong the violence and
invalidate the $22 million President Bush has requested in FY 2003 security
assistance for Ecuador in his Andean Regional Initiative.
Washington should tailor existing U.S. assistance to leverage changes allowing
legislators to stand for districts within their departments and
municipalities. Such aid should also support tax reforms allowing localities
to collect revenue to fund programs administered under their own authority.
Urge less dependency on
such as recently announced $200 million standby loan being negotiated with the
International Monetary Fund, in favor of measures that promote diversified
exports, small and medium-sized business creation, ongoing judicial reforms,
and stronger protection of private property.
Enlist Ecuador’s backing
for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Through the FTAA, Ecuador would gain greater access to developed
markets and foreign investment, helping to further stabilize its economy.
Ecuador may only have 12 million citizens and do $3.4 billion worth of trade
with the United States, but it is an important supplier of petroleum (100,000
barrels per day) and has worked hard to keep itself relatively free of the kind
of coca production, trafficking, and money laundering that has plagued its
northern neighbor. Despite a past that suggests military rigidity, President
Gutierrez appears open to ideas, has selected several experienced cabinet
members, and generally favors a democratic, pro-market agenda. President Bush
should encourage his counterpart to help defeat the twin scourges of drug
trafficking and terrorism in the Andean region, and offer support for
strengthening Ecuador’s democracy and market economy—a work still in progress.
1. Stephen Johnson is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The
Revista INTER-FORUM is affiliated with
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