QUITO (IPS)–The triumph of leftist former Colonel Lucio GutiŽrrez in a Nov. 24 runoff election in Ecuador has brought this Andean country’s indigenous movement, the best organized in the Americas, to power.

Mr. GutiŽrrez, who garnered 54.4 percent of the vote, against the 45.6 percent of his rival, banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa, said he would create a government of national unity, which would “put emphasis on the social debt” in this Andean nation where nearly 80 percent of the population is living in poverty.

The president-elect was backed by an alliance of his 21 January Patriotic Society party and the Pachakutik Movement for Multinational Unity–the political arm of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).


“I won in the first and second round, and now I must win the third round, which is the most difficult: governing,” he said.

“This is the triumph of a simple people who are waking up to become the protagonists of great moments in the history of Latin America,” said the president-elect.

Some 3.5 million of Ecuador’s 12 million people are Indians belonging to 11 ethnic groups: the Quechua, Awa, Chachi, Epera, Ts‡chila, Cof‡n, Siona, Secoya, Huaorani, Achuar and Shuar.

The rest of the population is mainly of mixed-race Indian, European and Black heritage.

On Jan. 21, 2000, disgruntled junior military officers led by Col. GutiŽrrez threw their support behind an indigenous uprising and toppled then-president Jamil Mahuad, who was replaced by then Vice President Gustavo Noboa (no relation to banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa).

Mr. GutiŽrrez, 45, who has degrees in business administration and physical education, said, “We are dreaming of a more just, honest and democratic country, worthy of bequeathing to our children. To achieve that we will put the priority on social security, food security and legal security in our country.”

The GutiŽrrez triumph was applauded by the president of CONAIE, Leonidas Iza, as “a historic day, a day of hope.”

“We have been excluded for so long. At this moment we have created a hope for change–not only for indigenous people, but for all of the dispossessed, abandoned sectors who have been cheated for so long,” said Mr. Iza, the head of the movement that will form the main support base of the future government.

Political analysts interpret GutiŽrrez’s triumph as part of a current of change sweeping through South America. They draw a parallel between his arrival to power and that of populist Venezuelan President Hugo Ch‡vez, also a former military officer who led a failed coup d’etat, back in 1992.

Observers also point to similarities with the recent election of Brazilian president-elect Luiz In‡cio Lula da Silva.

In addition, they point to the strong showing by the leader of Bolivia’s coca farmers, Evo Morales, who came in second in this year’s presidential elections in that country, which were won by Gonzalo S‡nchez de Lozada.

In the campaign, the GutiŽrrez alliance with the indigenous movement and his promise to redistribute wealth led his rivals to raise the specter of a “communist government,” and gave rise to jitters among multilateral credit institutions and foreign investors.

Mr. Ch‡vez said he was a friend of Mr. GutiŽrrez, who he admired for his “fight against corruption and his criticism of the adherence by the countries of Latin America to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) which is in the process of creation, because it is negative for the development of our nations.”

Mr. GutiŽrrez said he would push for the creation of a regional bloc that goes beyond the Andean Community trade bloc (made up of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela). He did not rule out the possibility of meeting over the next few months with President Lula–who takes office on Jan. 1–and other presidents interested in working towards that objective.

In an interview, the president-elect said his idea was to invite representatives of a broad range of social sectors, including farmers, manufacturers, business leaders, and “honest bankers,” in a government that will maintain equilibrium between sound economic fundamentals and the fight against poverty.