By Reporter
NBC News
updated 4/25/2005 10:47:50 AM ET 2005-04-25T14:47:50

“We have had many presidents and it’s all the same,” said Luis Moran with a shrug as he examined several television sets at Creditos Economicos in Queens, New York.

The store, in the Jackson Heights neighborhood -- the first stop for thousands of immigrants to the United States -- allows Ecuadorean immigrants such as Moran to send shimmering American electronics equipment back home to relatives, the fruit of their toil in New York City.

Moran has been in the United States for five years, and worries about the economic hardship for his relatives back home as Ecuador stumbles through another dismal chapter in a saga of political instability.

Over the weekend, ousted President Lucio Gutierrez, fled to political asylum in Brazil as former Vice President Alfredo Palacio tried his hand as the nation's president.

The Organization of American States recently voted to send a commission to study the circumstances in Quito, according to an official at the Consulate of Ecuador in Washington, D.C. But for now, it's anyone's guess who can pull together the impoverished Andean nation of 12.5 million people.

Little change?
For Moran, the differences between the various candidates vying for power are miniscule. His prediction for the future is “no change.”

Ecuador native Dr, Marcelo Arboleda shared the pessimism.  “If we don’t like the president, we get rid of him,” he said.

Arboleda, the director general and founder of the Ecuador News, described the ouster of Gutierrez as the middle class throwing the populist party out of office, mainly because of the exploitation of the poor by the rich. 

“In Ecuador there are three parties…very bad parties,” he said.

Although the plight of Ecuador gains little attention in the mainstream media here, Ecuadoreans who number about 260,000 in the United States, with more than 47 percent living in New York, are desperate with worry about life in Quito.

Across the continent
“We all are in shock,” says Leticia Pino.  “It is not the first president to go home, it’s like the third in a row.”

Pino, a native of Ecuador, is president of Ecuador TV Inc., a national cable network that serves the Ecuadorean community in the United States.  “It’s the same problem all over Latin America.  Just look at the continent and see what they all have in common.”

That common thread, according to Pino, is the link between economic corruption and the populist party.

Gutierrez, who was elected on a populist platform to improve the lives of the poor, never lived up to those promises, Pino said.  “The poor became poorer and the rich became richer.”

Ecuador is South America's fifth-largest oil producer and the region's No. 2 petroleum exporter to the United States after Venezuela.

Yet, Transparency International ranked Ecuador as the 20th most corrupt country out of 133, as perceived by business people, academics, and risk analysts in 2003. According to USAID, Over 60 percent of the population lives in poverty and only 40 percent has access to safe water.

Poverty at home
“I am disappointed because it’s just very bad there now,” says Carmita Gonzalez, a 42-year-old sales representative who works at Creditos Economicos.

Gonzalez said government corruptions was so rampant that her store in Queens was necessary for survival in Ecuador.  “Everything over there costs too much.  That is why people come here.”

While supporting her husband and 2-year-old son in New York, Gonzalez regularly buys items for her mother and two sons in Ecuador who could not normally afford such items, if they had to be purchased on Ecuadorian soil.

Nearly misty eyed as she talks about her family back home, Gonzalez says she cannot return to Ecuador because it is too expensive.  "It costs too much. Where would I live?"

And like Moran, Gonzalez is pessimistic about Palacio and what changes he may bring to Ecuador.  “My country is very rich, but the people are very poor.  Where do you think the money goes?”

Mixed views on new leader
Although Palacio has reportedly called Gutierrez “a disease” infecting the nation, local Ecuadoreans have not been able to ignore that Palacio was his vice-president and their suspicions that they are more alike than not.

“I don’t think this new president going to be around long…maybe two or three months,” Arboleda said. 

“The people want a change and he was a populist, he was the vice president,” he said with a laugh.

Leticia Pino disagrees, giving Palacio the benefit of the doubt.  She noted that although Palacio was the vice president, he did enter the race as an independent.

Pino said Palacio was the only politician who accepted Gutierrez offer as a running mate, and the two were never close during Gutierrez’s time as president.

“Impressed by Palacio’s congressional selections thus far, Pino says “He might do a good government. It’s different.”

But for a government that has seen three presidents in less than ten years, local Ecuadorean are not optimistic about the future of the country’s economics or its politics.

Arboleda, whose newspaper reach over 2,000 Ecuadorians, summed up the sense of disenchantment. “The new president is from the same party as the old court.  It’s the same.  Just change the person.”

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