Ecuador: President Gustavo Noboa Names New Ministers

Article excerpt

Ecuadoran President Gustavo Noboa has recently made several changes to his Cabinet. Most see the changes as an effort to breathe new life into the administration, which faces serious political and economic problems. The most significant changes were in the Interior and Social Welfare Ministries. And, as politicians begin to look ahead to the 2002 presidential race, political infighting is growing.

Policies implemented by Noboa's administration have brought improvement in some macroeconomic indicators, the result of his dollarization of the economy and freezing wages. But those indicators are offset by the sharp decline in the social well-being of the population, also in part the result of dollarization.

New interior minister

Marcelo Merlo Jaramillo was sworn in as Interior Minister on Sept. 6, the fourth person to head the ministry in Noboa's 20-month presidency. At the ceremony, Merlo promised to combat crime, a priority for many Ecuadorans.

"The primary concern of Ecuadorans at this time is security and we are going to make security the focus of our actions," said Merlo, who replaced Juan Manrique. He also said he would spearhead a broad national dialogue to develop laws and actions to promote the good of the citizens.

Some analysts said Merlo could add to rather than solve administration problems. Although an independent, Merlo is close to the Partido Social Cristiano (PSC) and to Quito business owners, and he strongly supports privatizations.

Some political observers say his appointment is an effort by Noboa to win the support of the PSC in Congress. However, the head of the PSC, former President Leon Febres Cordero (1994-1998), whose base of support is on the coast, particularly Guayaquil, has continued his attacks on the government, especially regarding the recent closing of Filanbanco (see NotiSur, 2001-07-27).

Noboa names Indian minister of social welfare

On Sept. 14, Noboa named Luis Maldonado to head the Ministry of Social Welfare, replacing Raul Patino. Maldonado is only the second Indian to occupy a Cabinet-level post in Ecuador; nevertheless, the nation's major indigenous groups opposed his taking the post.

The only other Indian to occupy a Cabinet-level post was Rafael Pandam, who was minister of ethnic affairs during the short presidency of Abdala Bucaram (1996-1997).

At Maldonado's swearing-in ceremony, Noboa said the appointment shows the respect his administration has for indigenous people and acknowledges the marginalization that Indians have suffered in the past.

After the ceremony, Maldonado said his "historic" appointment would enable him to carry out "true community work...especially on behalf of all of the country's children."

A native of Otavalo in northern Ecuador, Maldonado headed the Consejo de Desarrollo de Nacionalidades y Pueblos del Ecuador (CODENPE) and the World Bank's Proyecto de Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indigenas y Negras del Ecuador (PRODEPINE).

The Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigenas de Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Movimiento Pluricultural Pachakutik (MPP) criticized Maldonado's decision to accept the post, saying it would be used to undermine the unity of the movements representing the country's Indians, who account for more than 30% of the population of 12.4 million people.

CONAIE president Antonio Vargas publicly questioned Maldonado's appointment. He said it could split the indigenous movement between those who support collaboration with the administration and those who oppose it.

Many indigenous organizations oppose backing a government that they say has failed to fulfill the agreements signed in the wake of nationwide protests in January and February (see NotiSur, 2001-02-09). …