Ecuadorean demonstrators hurl stones towards an anti-riot vehicle during clashes in Quito
Henry Lapo  /  Reuters
Demonstrators hurl stones at an anti-riot vehicle during clashes in Quito, Ecuador, on Tuesday as tens of thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace, demanding the resignation of President Lucio Gutierrez.
updated 4/21/2005 11:19:30 AM ET 2005-04-21T15:19:30

Brazil has granted asylum to former Ecuador President Lucio Gutierrez, who was removed from office by Congress amid street protests calling for his ouster for abuse of power and misrule.

Brazilian Ambassador Sergio Florencia told Radio Caracol in Bogota, Colombia, that asylum was granted to Gutierrez on Wednesday.

“President Gutierrez is in the residence of the Brazilian Embassy,” Florencia told Radio Caracol. “We are taking the necessary steps with the Ecuadorean foreign ministry to finalize procedures to obtain his safe conduct and his transfer to Brazil.”

Florencia said he was not sure when that would occur, “but our hope is that it will be as soon as possible.”

3rd leader ousted
Gutierrez was the third Ecuadorean leader forced from office in the past nine years.

Lawmakers swore in Vice President Alfredo Palacio to replace Gutierrez late Wednesday, and he immediately promised to hold a referendum and constitutional assembly to create a new state structure in this small Andean nation.

Palacio, a cardiologist by profession, had for months used medical metaphors to describe Gutierrez as a dictatorial disease afflicting the nation.

“I am no politician. I belong to no political group, no economic group, banking or financial,” Palacio, 66, told reporters. “I’m a simple doctor and my friends are my colleagues and my patients and no one else.”

Earlier Wednesday, a special session made up of opposition legislators in the 100-seat unicameral Congress voted 62-0 to fire Gutierrez in hopes of ending a crisis that was spiraling out of control with the threat of violent clashes between government supporters and opponents.

Gutierrez took office in January 2003 on a populist platform of working for the nation’s poor but soon angered many in Ecuador by applying economic austerity measures. His recent decision to overhaul the Supreme Court was seen by protesters as an illegal attempt to amass power.

Following Congress’s decision to remove Gutierrez, Ecuador’s military quickly withdrew its support for the embattled leader, who apparently fled in a helicopter from the government palace roof.

Mob outside embassy
Several hundred people had gathered outside the Brazilian embassy and the ambassador’s residency in Quito’s upscale northern neighborhoods on Wednesday, demanding Gutierrez be turned over to Ecuadorean authorities.

They shouted “Lucio, assassin” and “Lucio to jail” until police arrived and forced them to leave peacefully.

The rapid events were only the latest in a long history of political instability in Ecuador, a Colorado-size, oil-rich Andean nation of 12.5 million inhabitants on the northwest shoulder of South America.

Palacio’s ascension to power is reminiscent of Gustavo Noboa, another former vice president who took the reigns of government five years ago after President Jamil Mahuad was toppled following a revolt by Indians and junior military officers led by a rogue army colonel: Lucio Gutierrez.

After being imprisoned for four months for his role in the coup, Gutierrez was cashiered from the army. He was elected president in November 2002 after campaigning as a populist, anti-corruption reformer.

But that image quickly dissipated, along with his fragile constituency, after he implemented austerity measures, including cuts in food subsidies and cooking fuel, to satisfy international lenders.

Support for Plan Colombia
His strong support for the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, which has provided tens of millions of dollars to Colombia to fight leftist rebels and drug traffickers, and his free-market policies made him a close ally of the Bush administration, but further alienated many Ecuadoreans.

The setup to Gutierrez’s political fall was a struggle for control of Ecuador’s judiciary system after he negotiated a loose alliance of legislators to purged the Supreme Court — a move widely viewed as a gross violation of Ecuador’s Constitution.

The crisis boiled over earlier this month with the return from asylum in Panama of another former president, Abdala Bucaram, who was in office for six months before Congress removed him in February 1997 for “mental incapacity.”

Gutierrez served as Bucaram’s military attache during his short-lived presidency.   The presence of Bucaram, a flamboyant populist who calls himself the “Crazy One,” provoked fury in many Ecuadoreans because of his government’s reputation as one of the most corrupt in many decades.

'Our state is decrepit, obsolete'
Gutierrez’s opponents charged he cut a deal with Bucaram to have the Supreme Court clear him of corruption charges, allowing his return, as payback for key votes Bucaram’s political party provided last year blocking an impeachment effort against Gutierrez in Congress.

“People have lost trust in their representatives,” Palacio said in a nationally televised address from the defense ministry, with the four members of the military high command standing behind him. “Our state is decrepit, obsolete,” he said.

Hours earlier, a crowd of some 500 protesters prevented Palacio from leaving the building where congressmen were forced to meet to vote Gutierrez out of office because protesters had blocked the entrance to Congress.

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