Lucio Gutierrez was cashiered from the military and imprisoned after he led a short-lived coup at the head of radicalized Ecuadorian Indians two years ago. On Sunday, he was elected president of Ecuador, joining newly elected Brazilian president "Lula" da Silva and embattled Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in an emerging left-populist bloc spread across central and northern South America, a bloc critical of both US economic policy and the US drug war in the region.
Congressional conservatives in the US are nervous. Even before da Silva's October victory in Brazil, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), head of the House International Relations Committee, sent a letter to President Bush warning of a new "axis of evil" in Latin America. That would be Brazil under da Silva, Venezuela under Chavez, and, of course, Cuba under long-time nemesis, Castro. And now they've got Gutierrez to worry about, too.
Like da Silva and Chavez, Gutierrez was popularly elected, this time at least. Gutierrez claimed victory on Sunday with 54.3% of the vote, defeating banana billionaire Alvaro Noboa in a stunning repudiation of politics as usual in Ecuador. Campaigning on a platform of social justice and ending corruption -- $2 billion is stolen from the government each year, BBC News reported -- Gutierrez ignited both indigenous and ladino protest votes that swept away the established parties and swept him to power.
Gutierrez has been a critic of Plan Colombia (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/196.html#luciogutierrez for the interview DRCNet conducted with Gutierrez in July 2001 in El Salvador), and a leading official of the Pachakutik Party, a key pillar of support for Gutierrez, is now talking about drug legalization. In an interview with NarcoNews, Fernando Buendia, secretary of international relations for Pachakutik, said: "As a social movement we are going to push a public debate, at the widest level, about legalization." (See http://www.narconews.com/Issue26/article544.html for the interview and visit http://www.narconews.com this week for additional NarcoNews reports from Ecuador.)
The comment came in the context of a broader discussion of drug trafficking, the Colombian civil war, and the US military base at Manta, Ecuador, which is used to help prosecute US war aims next door in Colombia. Amidst broad criticisms of US drug policies, Buendia added that legalization is an issue that knows no ideological bounds. "This issue has been extensively discussed inside Colombia," he told NarcoNews. "A columnist for the Colombian daily El Tiempo, which is not at all a newspaper of the left, already said that it is necessary to raise the issue of legalization of the sale of drugs. Milton Friedman has said this, and he's not of the left either, in a letter to the US drug czar published in a newspaper: 'From the bowels of Christ, I beseech thee, decriminalize drugs.' This is the root of the issue..."