The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Former Ecuador coup leader back in spotlight

* Deposed former president back as top opponent

* Could cause trouble for Correa in legislature

* Gutierrez gets strong support from indigenous people

By Frank Jack Daniel

QUITO, April 28 (Reuters) - Lucio Gutierrez, a former Ecuadorean president who toppled by protests four years ago, has resurrected his political career by emerging from elections as the leading opponent to President Rafael Correa.

Correa, a leftist, cruised to a widely expected re-election victory in Sunday's general election with 52 percent of the vote, the first candidate to win in the first round of voting in Ecuador's 30-year-old democracy.

But Gutierrez, a former coup leader who ran against him on a platform of low taxes and small government, surprised analysts by taking 30 percent.

Seen as an outsider when he announced he was running again for office less than four years after he fled the presidential palace in a helicopter, the result effectively makes him the OPEC nation's opposition leader.

That title was formerly held by banana mogul and four-time presidential candidate Alvaro Noboa, who limped into third place on Sunday with 11 percent of the vote.

Gutierrez has not yet formally accepted the result of the election, alleging fraud at some polling stations. A rowdy group of his supporters tried to force their way into the electoral commission building on Tuesday.

"I call to resistance all Ecuadoreans who voted for Lucio Gutierrez," he said in televised statements. But experts said it was unlikely he would mobilize big protests.

On Monday he began adopting his role as the country's most visible opposition figure.

"The people have given us a huge responsibility -- to lead the opposition," the clean-cut and deep-voiced Gutierrez said then. "We will be dignified and firm."

Gutierrez has a colorful past. As an army colonel he led a coup in 2000, then ran for president and won in elections two years later on a left-wing ticket he quickly dropped once in office to back an unpopular trade deal with the United States.

He was ousted after weeks of street protests and turmoil in Congress and sought asylum in Brazil. Returning a few months later he was arrested but was released in 2006.

Gutierrez says he was illegally removed from power and once gave a faux state-of-the-nation speech from a jail cell.

He will now look to build on support in mainly indigenous rural areas with an eye to elections in four years time.

"We can't lower our guard, the war continues and we are going to keep fighting in defense of our country," Gutierrez said after the vote.


After campaigning door-to-door and mainly in the Amazon region where he grew up, Gutierrez's Partido Sociedad Patriotica has emerged as the second force in the legislature, according to preliminary results.

That could make it harder for Correa to pass key laws.

Correa was dismissive of Gutierrez's success, saying he had been supported by an "immoral" right wing.

"Nobody sensible can vote for a person with such grave moral and intellectual limitations as Lucio Gutierrez," Correa told foreign journalists at the presidential palace on Monday.

His story has some parallels to Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, who also became president after leading a popular coup, but Gutierrez abandoned leftist politics and is a fierce critic of Correa's high-spending policies.

Support from indigenous regions in the Andes and the Amazon was key to Gutierrez's strong showing. Despite speaking the main Indian language Quechua, Correa has alienated some indigenous sectors by promoting mining on their lands.

Indigenous groups say they represent 30 percent of the country's population, although the government says the numbers are lower.

Although Ecuador's opposition remains divided and damaged by a history of corruption, it could slow key legislation including anti-monopoly and banking laws.

Correa's allies looked likely to scrape to a majority in the legislature, but his alliance with small parties will be fragile.

"It's the most notable outcome of the election: Correa and Gutierrez are both triumphant," said political analyst Adrian Bonilla of the Flacso social science institute.

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