Ecuador's brash leader adds dimension to quirky politics
In Ecuadorean politics, anything is possible. A legislator once brandished a stick of dynamite to get Congress's attention. In May, the outlawed mayor of the nation's largest city successfully campaigned from exile in Panama to get three relatives seated on the city council.Skip to next paragraph
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President Le'on Febres-Cordero Ribadeneyra has added his own chapter to quirky Ecuadorean politics through his controversial style.
Portrayed in the international press as a South American version of a Ronald Reagan ``Wild West'' conservative, Mr. Febres-Cordero is the first Latin American President ever elected on a free-enterprise ticket. And, unlike other presidents treading lightly in unsteady democratic systems in South America, Febres-Cordero operates politically like a bull in a china shop. He tends to rely on brute political strength rather than diplomacy to make his business-based agenda work in the four-year term he's limited to under Ecuadorean law.
``I have to admit with a little bit of shame that politics are very hard in Ecuador. Politics are violent. But I'm not responsible for that, and I have to survive [in that system]. I'm not saying it's good, but I think it will change'' as democracy matures, President Febres-Cordero said in an interview here.
The white-maned, mustachioed President comes under fire from his Ecuadorean opponents not only for his political style but also for his inclination to work with the international bankers rather than against them. He has encouraged foreign investment in his country and refused to blame the international financial community for the region's economic troubles.
``I don't think the failures we've seen in Latin America are due to the people, but to leaders who don't go through with policies. Ecuador is still an oasis in Latin America from an economic point of view -- we have growth, even though we may be politically very unstable,'' he said.
Today, at midterm, Febres-Cordero faces his rockiest period in office, and he may have to call on his commanding style more than ever. The trouble is, that itself could backfire.
He runs the country as if it were his own company. His flamboyant wrangling with an opposition Congress has often flared into incidents that one foreign diplomat here calls ``comic opera.'' For example, he had three opponents jailed for four days for ``spreading false rumors,'' he temporarily closed the Supreme Court (using constitutional grounds to disallow the appointment of new judges he didn't approve of), and he refused to allow a law passed by Congress to take effect.
Fresh from a major defeat in a national referendum, Febres-Cordero is saddled with a new opposition Congress and an oil price decline that has wiped out nearly half of the nation's trade revenues.
He also has had to deal with the repercussions from a recent revolt led by an Air Force commander who alleged corruption in the President's inner circle.
To many international observers the situation looks unstable. But Febres-Cordero's supporters -- and even some critics -- say he will keep the country on the democratic path started seven years ago, even though some of his policies may fail to achieve his goals.