- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

QUITO, Ecuador, Jan. 15 (UPI) — A 45-year-old former military colonel who three years ago led a successful coup against Ecuador's standing president became the small South American nation's new leader Wednesday.

After donning the presidential sash, Lucio Gutierrez, who played an integral role in the January 2000 ousting of President Jamil Mahuad, stood before an estimated 1,300 guests and called for an end to corruption among the political ranks.

Several regional leaders were on hand for the event, including Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

The recently inaugurated Lula, the embattled Chavez — at present searching for ways to end a 45-day general strike at home — and now Gutierrez represent a move to the left among South American leaders.

Analysts viewed the move as a result of growing discontent among the continent's poor who have grown weary of political scandals and increasing economic disparity.

"I want a profound democracy," said Gutierrez in a Wednesday interview with leading Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio. "The people are looking for a honest, transparent president, (someone) sensitive to the pain of the neediest."

While addressing Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Court Tuesday, Gutierrez railed against his political adversaries, setting the stage for a likely showdown between the center-left president and the entrenched, old-guard officials over the next four years.

Gutierrez won Ecuador's presidency in November on a platform of ending corruption and poverty. He also focused on the vexing problem of the national economy, which has been beset by years of recession.

The world's leading exporter of bananas, Ecuador's nearly 13.5 million people have witnessed the enormous divide between the wealthy and poor grow even larger in recent years, a trend witnessed by many nations in the region.

The discovery of oil in the largely agrarian nation during the 1960s did spark some advancement in education, healthcare and other public-services sectors, however the impact was offset by rising inflation and foreign debt.

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