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Cablegate: Ecuador: Political Instability Rising

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 QUITO 002459

SIPDIS

AID FOR AA/LAC, LAC/SA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/09/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: ECUADOR: POLITICAL INSTABILITY RISING

REF: QUITO 2446

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney for reason 1.4 (b&d).

1. (C) Summary: After a hiatus of three months, and with
local elections looming in October, the political temperature
here is rising, fueling rumors of political instability.
While we take these recurrent rumors with a grain of salt,
opposition politicians blame President Gutierrez' political
mis-steps for each subsequent cycle of scandal, and warn this
could lead to impeachment, social unrest or worse. In
response to these rumors, we have stepped up our efforts in
support of constitutional democracy and its institutions with
opposition and government leaders, to help calm the political
waters. End Summary.

Background on Impeachment Talk
------------------------------

2. (C) The latest round of opposition maneuvering against
the Gutierrez Government came in reaction to the President's
recent meeting in Panama with disgraced former president
Abdala Bucaram, who lives there in exile as a fugitive from
Ecuadorian justice (RefTel). In response, some elements of
the opposition are now threatening impeachment proceedings
against Gutierrez. Meanwhile, reacting to Gutierrez' recent
round of travel by Gutierrez to inaugurate public works
projects in areas where his party has electoral hopes, Vice
President of Congress Ramiro Rivera (of the small Democratic
Party) in late August submitted a request to the Attorney
General to investigate the diversion of public funds by the
President, allegedly for electoral purposes. Others are
calling for the resignation of Social Welfare Minister
Antonio Vargas for his alleged role in the alleged
inappropriate use of public funds (to construct local sports
facilities inaugurated by the President on his travels).

Congress Contemplating Impeachment
----------------------------------
3. (C) President of Congress Guillermo Landazuri told the
Ambassador on September 9 that discord in Congress about the
Bucaram meeting threatens to divert Congress from its
legislative agenda. He blamed Gutierrez' political
ineptitude for the decision to visit Panama and, while there,
committing the breach of meeting with a fugitive from
Ecuadorian justice (Bucaram is wanted on corruption charges
here). This political blunder by Gutierrez came on the heels
of his campaign-like swing to inaugurate public works in
areas where his party has electoral hopes, another breach of
presidential etiquette. Landazuri said his party, the
Democratic Left (ID), is reluctant to support formal
impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez at this time, for
lack of votes. Landazuri said he personally would prefer
that Gutierrez be allowed to finish his term and let the
voters judge his performance in national elections in 2006.
That position is unpopular within the ID; as a result,
Landazuri implied, he would face internal competition for his
job when the ID nominates the new President of Congress in
January 2005. Ultimately, however, the President is his own
worst political enemy, and each subsequent scandal builds on
the others.

4. (C) The Ambassador noted that it is not the USG role to
judge the performance of the Ecuadorian president--that is
for Ecuadorian voters to decide. Instead, she emphasized to
Landazuri how important political stability and respect for
the institutions of Constitutional democracy is to Ecuador's
democratic and economic development. The Ambassador also
urged Landazuri to get Congress to address pressing national
legislative issues involving trafficking in persons reforms,
labor code reforms, civil aviation and money-laundering. The
Ambassador also raised the issue of GoE action against
Occidential Petroleum (SepTel). Landazuri agreed with the
Ambassador that many issues merit Congressional action, but
regretted they would probably have to wait until after the
October 17 election. Similarly, he said he was not
interested in meeting with President Gutierrez to discuss the
legislative agenda until after the elections, and then, only
if requested by the President.

5. (C) Landazuri estimated there are currently 61
Congressional votes, including the ID (17 deputies) and the
PSC (25) and other small parties, but without the support of
the PRE (15) or PRIAN (10), in favor of impeachment; just
five short of the two-thirds majority needed to impeach. The
ID party leadership, headed by former president Rodrigo
Borja, is reluctant to bring an impeachment resolution
without sufficient votes to assure passage, according to
Landazuri, for fear of giving Gutierrez a political victory
before the upcoming elections. Landazuri also said Congress
was looking into the business interests of the President and
his brother Gilmar (a controversial Congressional deputy who
leads the PSP bench in Congress), to determine whether they
are benefiting from any business with the state. On the
opening day of the fall session on Congress on September 7,
no action was taken on impeachment but Congress voted to
censure Gilmar Gutierrez' provocative public accusation that
a "conspiracy" exists to terminate his brother's presidency.
Landazuri also expressed concern that with indigenous
disillusionment with this government at an historic low, he
feared the potential for social mobilization and protest.
6. (C) Indigenous party (Pachacutik) leader Gilberto Talahua
was mute about the possibility of national protests in a
meeting with PolCouns on September 8. Talahua said decisions
on protests come from the indigenous social movement
(CONAIE), only. However, according to Talahua, Pachacutik is
convinced there are ample grounds for impeachment proceedings
against Gutierrez or Vargas.


Risk of Self-Coup?
------------------

7. (C) Landazuri said there is growing concern among the
opposition parties that President Gutierrez might attempt a
"self-coup" to hang onto power in the face of mounting
Congressional opposition. However, Landazuri said he did not
believe the Armed Forces would support such a coup. The
Ambassador told Landazuri that she has made the USG position
rejecting all extra-constitutional maneuvers perfectly clear
in public and private, including with the President.

8. (C) Separately, indigenous leader Talahua raised the same
concern bout a possible "auto-coup" with PolCouns. Any such
unconstitutional attempt to retain power would provoke a
strong (but unspecified) reaction from the indigenous
movement, he said. Talahua insisted that his party would not
support any change of regime through extra-constitutional
means, a position which PolCouns noted coincides with the USG
position. Talahua also noted that the constitution provides
for dismissal and replacement of the President by the
Congress.

Comment
-------

9. (C) This is by no means the first time our political
interlocutors have raised the spectre of replacing President
Gutierrez prematurely, by constitutional or
extra-constitutional means. While hostile anti-Government
debate in Congress may simply be a pre-electoral maneuver, we
must redouble our efforts to encourage a more reasoned
discourse and promote the virtues of political stability.
While always alert to the very real prospect for
anti-Government opposition to move to shorten Gutierrez' term
of office through impeachment, we believe the prospects for
an "auto-coup" are far lower.
KENNEY

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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