International Papers

Ecuador’s Top Banana

Col. Lucio Gutiérrez, who served six months in prison for his part in a 2000 coup, was elected Ecuador’s new president Sunday, beating his rival, billionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, by 8 percentage points. Neither Gutiérrez nor Noboa had ever held elected office before; as in recent elections in Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru, the candidates struggled to portray themselves as outsiders with no ties to the corrupt political class. The Independent observed, “With his swarthy looks, indicating some residue of Indian ancestry, and his humble origins, Mr Gutiérrez came across as a more plausible man of the people than Mr Noboa, who could not escape the image of a big business fat cat with support largely in the urban coastal region of the country.”

Gutiérrez campaigned on a populist platform, promising cheap health care and housing for the poor, though he took time from the campaign trail to visit the United States, where he assured international investors he planned no radical moves if elected. The Financial Times reported that Gutiérrez promised to “focus on reducing corruption, dismantle monopolies to lure more capital and seek greater foreign investment in the electricity and oil sectors.” He also plans to boost tourism, mining, and agriculture to reduce Ecuador’s dependence on oil. It’s not clear how he plans to initiate these changes, though. Although he enjoys popular support, particularly among the indigenous population, his coalition controls only 15 percent of the seats in parliament.

In Ecuador, an op-ed in the Guayaquil daily Expreso fretted that when Gutiérrez “wakes up from the inebriation of triumph, he will find himself faced with a difficult reality because of the hemorrhage of promises he made during the campaign. The pledges he made here, there, and everywhere—wherever he went looking for support—will form a net that will imprison him.” El Universo echoed that sentiment, reminding readers that “a country isn’t built on electoral promises.” The editorial said Gutiérrez should focus on “judicial insecurity, the technology gap, the lack of investment in strategic areas, the education crisis, and our nation’s poor image in international markets.”

An op-ed in Expreso declared, “The triumph of Lucio Gutiérrez is, unquestionably, the beginning of a new era in our nation’s history. … The indigenous movement’s involvement in the electoral process is a landmark in our history.” Still, it warned Gutiérrez to “look at himself through the mirror of [Alejandro] Toledo of Peru or [Hugo] Chávez in Venezuela, leaders who came to power with a huge majority, but who haven’t been able—or haven’t wanted—to make profound changes to their countries’ infrastructures.”