Lucio Gutierrez, an Army colonel cashiered after he joined a popular indigenous rebellion that overthrew the Ecuadorian government and briefly seized power in 2000, won the first round of that country's presidential election on Sunday. Gutierrez won 19.5% of the vote, compared to 17.6% for runner-up and second-round challenger Alvaro Noboa, a banana magnate and the country's wealthiest man. Socialist Leon Roldos came in third with 15.8%. The run-off election is scheduled for November 24.
Gutierrez could best be described as a military populist in the tradition of Brazilian military rebel Luis Prestes in the 1930s, Juan Peron in the 1940s and 1950s, the 1968 Velasco regime in Peru, Panamian leader Omar Torrijos in the 1970s, and Hugo Chavez, the embattled current leader of Venezuela, with whom he is often compared. Gutierrez won the first round with the support of indigenous voters, peasants, labor unions and leftist groupings, running on a platform of nationalism, social justice and ending pervasive political corruption.
In an interview with DRCNet in San Salvador in July 2001, Gutierrez said he opposed Plan Colombia, calling it "a massacre of innocent people" and "environmental terrorism." Nor would it end the drug trade. "A problem like the narcotics trade cannot be solved by military action, but only by addressing the underlying social and economic factors instead," he said (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/196.html#luciogutierrez).
In a nationally broadcast speech after the election, Gutierrez said he would implement "the political model of Jesus Christ" for the "poor and the barefoot." His victory on Sunday was "a sign that the Ecuadorian people are tired of the same politicians of always," he said. "Who is responsible for the country that we have? We have one of the most corrupt, unjust countries, with the greatest inequalities and greatest migration, in Latin America and the world. The moment has arrived to tell those politicians who do not understand the true concept of democracy. Enough."
Gutierrez faces a tough campaign from the deep-pocketed Noboa, who unveiled his campaign strategy by calling Gutierrez a "communist" on Monday. Still, according to Ecuadorian analysts, Gutierrez is better placed to win supporters from the ranks of the vanquished candidates. He began moving Monday to try to win over the skeptical ranks of private enterprise, saying that he was willing to work with "the honest bankers remaining in Ecuador." (The military/indigenous uprising he led in 2001 overthrew then President Jamil Mahuad, who had received $3 million from a crooked banker.)
With Hugo Chavez in power in Venezuela, a Gutierrez victory in November and a victory for leftist Brazilian presidential candidate "Lula" Da Silva on Sunday would leave rightist Colombian President Uribe and his benefactors in Washington increasingly isolated in the region. Pro-US Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo's government is increasingly unpopular, plagued by scandal and Toledo's inability to actually govern.