Countries pay a price, in American media neglect at least, when they fail to stage the wars and revolutions that make up the stuff of most news, especially news of Latin America. Let us try to remedy some small part of that customary condition by greeting the president of Ecuador, Osvaldo Hurtado, who is in Washington this week on an official working visit.
An academic and Christian Democrat who is now 43, President Hurtado helped lead his country out of military dictatorship in 1979, becoming the elected vice president and then the president. Ecuador was promptly hit by its greatest economic crisis in 50 years. Part of it arose from the familiar interaction of poverty, painfully uneven development and world recession. Another part flowed from the readiness of Ecuadoran military leaders of the 1970s to accept the immense loans that Western private bankers pushed upon them at a time when Ecuador was selling its modest amounts of oil for up to $40 a barrel; the current price is $30. Not only were the country's economic health and social peace on the line; so was the life of its reborn democracy.
Ecuador is not out of the woods, and it may not be, even if things go smoothly, in this decade or even in this century. It is worth observing, however, how Mr. Hurtado managed Ecuador's latest ordeal just a few weeks ago. The International Monetary Fund and the private banks, by way of agreeing to refinance $2.5 billion of Ecuador's $6.3 billion foreign debt, had decreed the usual severe austerity measures: a second devaluation of the sucre, sharp increases in the prices of milk and fuel, and so on. The students came out in the streets, the unions called a strike. Mr. Hurtado, explaining the need, held firm, and calm was soon restored--without untoward violence and without the military's coming out of the barracks.
President Hurtado has earned not only respect for his leadership but a hearing for his appeal for international cooperation, especially cooperation among the hemisphere's democracies.