washingtonpost.com  > World > Americas > South America > Ecuador

Ecuador Calms as Ousted Leader Waits on Asylum

By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page A11

QUITO, Ecuador, April 21 -- A day after the country's presidency changed hands in the wake of violent street riots and a congressional revolt, relative calm -- if not a sense of lasting political stability -- returned Thursday to the capital's rain-soaked streets.

Former president Lucio Gutierrez spent much of his day waiting to learn whether he would be flown to Brazil, which offered him political asylum in the morning. Meanwhile, Gutierrez's replacement, Alfredo Palacio, a former vice president, presided over a swearing-in ceremony for members of his new cabinet.

Soldiers march to provide security at the presidential palace in Quito. (Jose Miguel Gomez -- Reuters)

_____From the Post_____
Ecuadoran Congress Ousts President(The Washington Post, April 21, 2005)

Gutierrez remained inside the Brazilian Embassy complex, which was surrounded by military guards. A spokesman for Brazil's Foreign Ministry said the embassy is expected to reach an agreement with Palacio's government to allow Gutierrez to fly to Brasilia, the Brazilian capital. "An airplane has already flown to the Amazon region, where it will wait for authorization to fly to Quito and collect" Gutierrez, Glaucio Jose Noguera Veloso, the spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

Throughout the day, however, it remained unclear if Gutierrez could be safely transferred to a waiting plane, given the intense rage of the roaming street mobs that had prevented his plane from leaving the Quito airport Wednesday night.

Mauricio Gandara, who was named minister of government and police by Palacio, said Thursday he had ordered police to detain Gutierrez if he attempted to flee. However, he said that if Brazil and Palacio reached an agreement, he could not deny Gutierrez safe passage.

Gutierrez, 48, was removed from office by a divided Congress after allegations surfaced that he illegally overhauled the nation's courts to his benefit. A week of escalating street demonstrations preceded his ouster. On Wednesday, 62 members of the 100-seat Congress stormed out of its chamber, regrouped in another location and passed a resolution to remove him from office.

Congress defended the constitutionality of the move by saying that Gutierrez had essentially abandoned his responsibilities as president. But others continued to question the resolution. The Organization of American States was scheduled to discuss the constitutionality of removing Gutierrez in Washington on Friday. And in the Ecuadoran capital, some of the 38 members of Congress who did not participate in the decision to oust him labeled the action illegal.

"As an Ecuadoran, I'm very sorry for what has happened," said Mario Toumo, a member of Congress who supported Gutierrez and said his removal was unconstitutional. "It's a shame that the country changes president every two years."

Toumo said he did not plan to resign, but the Congress he rejoins will likely be much different than before. Gutierrez had enjoyed a slim majority of legislative support before last week. Now, former minority parties such as the Social Christians will likely assume more prominent roles, political analysts said.

After he was elected in 2002, Gutierrez adopted an austere spending plan to try to accelerate repayment of the national debt, a move that was applauded by international lenders but reviled by large sectors of the Ecuadoran public.

Palacio was one of those who turned against Gutierrez, and some of his cabinet appointments Thursday signaled a reluctance to bend to international pressure. His new economics minister, for example, has opposed free trade agreements and the advice of international monetary institutions, according to Adrian Bonilla, a political analyst here.

"I don't know if as minister his ideology will affect his decision-making, but this could cause some future problems," Bonilla said.

After being told that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had made comments earlier Thursday encouraging a new round of elections in Ecuador, Gandara, the government and police minister, was unmoved.

"Ms. Rice has nothing to do with the internal politics of Ecuador," he said.

The streets of Quito were quiet after several days of increasing violence, which peaked Wednesday when protesters set fire to several government buildings and beat government workers in the street. On Thursday, only a few small, scattered demonstrations were visible during the rainy daylight hours.

One group of about 50 demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace to call for all members of Congress to be removed from office.

"It's been 25 years of the same," said Francisco Falcone, 34, one of those standing in the rain outside of the palace. "We are fed up. Down with Congress!"

An announcer on Radio La Luna -- an FM station that had broadcast information to help demonstrators convene in recent days -- encouraged more protests by saying that Wednesday's actions were just the beginning of a political revolution in Ecuador. But by evening, few demonstrators had taken to the streets. And despite the lingering questions about the future of the government, Bonilla predicted that further uprisings were unlikely.

"It seems to me the situation will stabilize, and we'll probably have less agitation in the streets," he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company