- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

QUITO, Ecuador A former coup leader viewed as a crusader against corruption won Ecuador's presidential runoff yesterday, defeating a billionaire businessman who socialized with the United States' rich and powerful.
With almost 94 percent of the votes counted, Lucio Gutierrez, a cashiered army colonel, had 54.4 percent compared with 45.6 percent for Alvaro Noboa, head of a banana and shipping empire comprising 110 companies.
The president-elect, 45, who led a 2000 coup that toppled an unpopular president seen as corrupt, campaigned as an anti-corruption crusader. That appealed strongly to voters fed up with leaders who had plundered government coffers.
From early in the day, voters from throughout the Andean nation highland Indians in traditional ponchos and fedoras, coastal fishermen, urban shantytown dwellers tried to decide which of the two populists might keep his word to improve their lives. At least 25 percent of Ecuador's 8.1 million voters were undecided Saturday, polls showed.
Mr. Noboa, 52, who counts among his friends several members of the Kennedy clan and Hollywood actors such as Charlton Heston, said his election would attract millions of dollars in foreign investment from his contacts in international financial circles, creating jobs for Ecuador's unemployed masses.
Before casting his vote in Quito, Mr. Gutierrez charged that Mr. Noboa, making use of his wealth, had bribed election officials in three provinces to ensure his victory.
"People are telling me, 'Lucio, you're winning, but be careful. They're trying to buy'" the elections, he said.
Marco Zambrano, head of the election board in Manabi province, one of the provinces Mr. Gutierrez mentioned, immediately denied the accusation, and international election monitors said they had seen no signs of wrongdoing.
Mr. Gutierrez earned his reputation as a corruption fighter when he led a group of disgruntled junior army officers and 5,000 Indian protesters in a coup in January 2000 that ousted President Jamil Mahuad in the midst of Ecuador's worst economic crisis in decades.
Mr. Gutierrez was expelled from the army for his rebellion and spent six months in a military prison.
He had maintained a wide margin over Mr. Noboa since the first round of voting Oct. 24, in which they left nine other candidates by the wayside. But in the past week, Mr. Noboa closed in on him with an aggressive media campaign in which he accused Mr. Gutierrez of beating his wife, being a communist and being likely to assume dictatorial powers if elected.
"Colonel Gutierrez doesn't have an economic plan," Mr. Noboa said in one televised ad. "So when the people demand jobs, houses, unemployment bonuses, he'll turn into a dictator and give them bullets, bullets and more bullets."
Mr. Gutierrez has denied the accusations, calling Mr. Noboa a "little liar."
"I'm an ex-military man without any doctrinaire leftist formation," he said in an interview with the Associated Press. "As an ex-military man, I have a philosophy of service to the poor, to the neediest."


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