Written 1996


 by Ethan Adelman
 August 10, 1996

abdala image    A little over a month ago, Ecuadorians frustrated by the persistence of poverty made their voices heard when Partido Roldatista Ecuatoriano (PRE) candidate Abdala Bucaram Ortiz was elected as the next President of Ecuador. Although Bucaram defeated Social Cristiano Party candidate Jaime Nebot by a slim margin of approximately 20,000 votes, he managed to win all but one of the twenty one Ecuadorian provinces. The elections marked the end of a tight race in which Bucaram was frequently criticized for spending more time singing and dancing at campaign rallies than talking about issues. But in the end, Bucaram's rallying cry, "Primero los Pobres! (First the Poor)" turned out to be the decisive factor. In a country where over 65% of the population lives in poverty, and where every citizen by law must vote, it was clear that the candidate who successfully appealed to the poor would have the advantage.

abdala imageBucaram was inaugurated today as the thirty eighth president of Ecuador and the sixth since the return of Democracy in 1979. He is replacing Sixto Duran Ballan, whose term was plagued with corruption and inactivity. In addition to facing the bleak state of Ecuador's economy, Bucaram will also have to deal with international challenges such as the ongoing conflict between Ecuador and Peru. Although his critics charge that the charismatic Bucaram is a madman and not up to the task of running a country, he remains confidently vague in his ability.
     "I am much more and much less than what they have said about me,"he told reporters before heading to the inauguration. Born in 1952 in the rough coastal city of Guayaquil, Bucaram is the son of Lebanese immigrants. He grew up playing soccer in the streets of Guayaquil and later went on to become a successful athlete and earn a degree in physical education. Not content with being a gym teacher however, he earned a degree in law and soon began his political career. He eventually became the mayor of Guayaquil, where despite accusations of corruption and his lavish lifestyle on an expensive estate, he remained popular with the poor due to his eccentric style. Through out his political career and especially during the recent campaign, Bucaram displayed an uncanny ability to talk to different people in different-even contradictory ways. Whether he was bare-chested in coastal cities promising a better tomorrow as he poured beer down his throat, wearing a stiff suit as he talked calmly to Quito businessmen, or pledging brotherhood as he danced with indigenous groups in El Oriente, Bucaram made many people feel as if he was one of them.
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     While this behavior has hinted that the presidency of Bucaram will be unstable and unpredictable, the behavior of Bucaram's vice-president, Rosala Arteaga, has done just the opposite. Many feel that Arteaga, who will become the first female vice-president, will be a stabilizing force in the new administration. During the campaign, her reputation for being intelligent, honest and down to earth served to tone down Bucaram's erratic image. It remains to be seen if Bucaram will give her considerable influence in the administration or if she was merely used as a political tactic.

abdala image     Despite the many questions surrounding the new administration of Abdala Bucaram, one thing is known, the democratic process is healthy and the people have chosen their representative. Unlike the volatile elections of Ecuador's past, the transition from Sixto Duran to Abdala Bucaram has gone smoothly. While many doubt Bucaram will be able to defeat Ecuador's financial woes during the next four years, they know that the year 2000 will bring another election and yet another opportunity for change.

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Written 1996