Ecuador’s new president, Lucio Gutierrez, who is frequently grouped with Latin America’s growing cadre of populist left-wing leaders, said yesterday he aims to establish social justice without sacrificing the rights of businessmen and entrepreneurs.
“I am a radical in the struggle against corruption, social injustice, impunity and achieving the extradition of corrupt bankers and politicians who stole from our country,” Mr. Gutierrez said at a breakfast meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
“We must use the things that are good from the left, but also take what is good from the right: the respect for private property, entrepreneurship and guarantees and the protection of capital.”
Less than one month in office, Mr. Gutierrez came to Washington to meet President Bush and other top officials. He also came to reassure the U.S. business community that their interests are safe in Ecuador.
“We offer legal security, the rule of law, complete transparency in all state transactions. We are a country of immense potential in tourism, natural resources and human resources,” he said.
He said that by helping his country to create employment, jobs and wealth, the Bush administration could also reduce illegal immigration into the United States.
“We are truly desirous, to the point of anxiety, to receive [U.S.] investments into our country,” Mr. Gutierrez said.
Like Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, Mr. Gutierrez is a former military officer who led what he called a “civil junta” to oust a corrupt civilian government. Both men spent time in jail and both emerged to win elections based on populist themes.
Mr. Gutierrez is also criticized for his friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Brazil’s Inacio Lula da Silva. But he seems to be winning over some who were initially skeptical.
“By and large, this is a gentleman who is genuinely interested in improving the well-being of his countrymen,” said Stephen Johnson, Latin America analyst at the Heritage Foundation, after meeting Mr. Gutierrez on Monday. “He understands that you cannot generate wealth by taking out loans and giving handouts.”
Ecuador has had six presidents in the last seven years. Jamil Mahuad was ousted in January 2002 when Mr. Gutierrez, then an army colonel, led marches of Ecuadorean Indians demanding a new government.
Elected in November with 54 percent of the vote, Mr. Gutierrez said he met and spoke with Mr. Chavez for the first time at his inauguration in January. He was also cautious regarding U.S. policy on Cuba, saying only that the people of Cuba should not be made to suffer for the policies of Mr. Castro.
But he was effusive about Brazil, thanking Mr. Lula da Silva for intervening on Ecuador’s behalf with the International Monetary Fund. The IMF on Jan. 31 announced $300 million in loans and support for Mr. Gutierrez’ administration, which inherited an $11 billion debt.
“The new Ecuadorean government has been very courageous in its first few days by quickly taking measures to address a difficult fiscal situation,” the IMF said in announcing the loans.
Following meetings with Mr. Gutierrez, the IMF released another statement Monday saying Ecuador’s economic reform program “should substantially strengthen the country’s fiscal position, stabilize the economy, and lay the basis for sustaining healthy growth.”
Mr. Gutierrez said he would talk to Attorney General John Ashcroft about the extradition under a 1948 treaty of Ecuadorean politicians and bankers now living comfortably in Miami. He said the government he helped overthrow looted approximately $3 billion from Ecuador’s treasury.
“My main objective is to bring morality to Ecuador and to recover the money that was stolen by corrupt politicians and bankers,” he said.