During the nineties the Indians of Ecuador they assumed an active role – for them completely new – in the economic and political affairs of the nation. In addition to proudly claiming their cultural traditions, the Indians defended, as an alternative to the neoliberal model of development advocated by the parties in power, the collective ownership of land, typical of their communities. Dissatisfied with a political system unable to respond to the needs of a large part of the population, the Indians also gave birth to their own movement, which established itself as the country’s fourth party on the occasion of the electoral debut in the legislative elections of May 1996 (see below).
In office since July 1992, Conservative President S. Durán Ballén further tightened the austerity measures already adopted by the previous administration and accelerated reforms aimed at fully liberalizing the economy, hoping to attract more investment from abroad. However, the government program of general reorganization of public employment and that of privatization of state-owned enterprises, as well as arousing a wave of protests from trade unions and left-wing parties, also met with strong resistance in some conservative sectors and in the armed forces themselves, interested in the management of numerous public enterprises in strategic sectors such as oil extraction, telecommunications and electricity.
The mid-term legislative elections held in May 1994 penalized the formation of President Durán Bellén, the Partido de Unidad Republicana (PUR), which despite the alliance with the Partido Conservador (PC), obtained just 9 out of 77 seats in the National Congress. After these elections, the main political force returned to being, with 26 seats, the conservative Partido Social Cristiano (PSC), followed by a center-left coalition formed by Izquierda Democrática (ID), Democracia Popular (DP) and Movimiento Popular Democrático ( MPD), 21 strongseats, then from the populist Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano (PRE), which obtained 11 seats. For Ecuador 2005, please check ehealthfacts.org.
In June 1994 the right-wing parties found an agreement to approve a law on agricultural development; well regarded by landowners and flower growers, engaged in production for export, the law was instead harshly opposed by the indigenous communities of Ecuador. After two weeks of roadblocks, protests and occupations of public buildings, the Indians obtained from the government the rewriting of a large part of the law, especially of the articles that threatened the collective ownership of the land. Further weakened by the involvement of numerous government figures in a series of financial scandals, the president attempted to divert public attention from internal problems and to play the patriotism card when a long-standing border dispute with Peru returned to ignite.
After a series of firefights between departments of their respective armies in the disputed area of the Cordillera del Condor (Jan.-March 1995), thanks to the mediation of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the USA, the two countries started direct talks to delimit the stretch of disputed border. When the hottest phase of the conflict ended, the government’s popularity returned to its lowest levels, both due to the negative impact on the population of new austerity measures and the outbreak of new scandals (in October 1995, Vice President A. Dahik was forced to resign after admitting that he paid some opposition MPs with public funds to support the government’s economic reforms).
The legislative elections of May 1996 confirmed the PSC as the first party (27 seats), but above all they rewarded the demagogic propaganda of the PRE, which obtained 19 deputies, while the Christian Democrats of DP won 12. The party of Durán Ballén emerged dramatically from the polls, presenting itself under the banner of the PC and reduced to only two representatives in Congress, while 8 seats were won by the newborn Movimiento Nuevo País – Pachakutik, an expression of indigenous groups and environmental movements. In the contemporary presidential elections, no candidate won an absolute majority. In the ballot of July 1996, A. Bucaram Ortiz, candidate of the PRE, protagonist of an unscrupulous electoral campaign centered on the desire to establish a ‘government of the poor’, won the PSC candidate with over 54 % of the votes. In spite of the promises made in the election campaign, Bucaram confirmed the neoliberal economic policy of his predecessor, distributed appointments and posts according to the most extreme nepotism and became involved with his government in a series of scandals. A resumption of social tensions followed, but above all a serious constitutional crisis. Concerned about the president’s numerous extravagant initiatives, Congress dismissed Bucaram in February 1997 for mental incapacity; the president of the Congress, F. Alarcón (of the Frente Radical Alfarista, FRA, which had obtained two seats in the elections of May 1996), was appointed provisional head of state for a period of 18 months; Alarcón’s appointment was therefore confirmed by a popular referendum held in May 1997, in which the electorate also ruled in favor of the election of an Assembly charged with modifying the country’s Constitution. The PSC, with 21 seats out of 70, was the most represented political force in the Constituent Assembly, elected in November 1997. Before this had finished its work, the country was again called to the polls in May 1998for the renewal of the Parliament (whose members were increased from 80 to 125) and the election of the new president. The legislative consultations gave a relative majority to DP (35 seats), followed by the PSC (26), the PRE (25), the center-left formation Izquierda democrática (ID, 17 seats) and the Movimiento Nuevo País-Pachakutik (6 seats). In the presidential elections, no candidate obtained the 45 % of the votes necessary to be elected in the first round (percentage reduced by the Constituent Assembly in March 1998, compared to 50% previously requested). In the following July the ballot between the two most voted candidates took place and the Christian Democrat J. Mahuad Witt, former mayor of Quito, narrowly prevailed (51.3 % of the votes against 48.7 %) over A. Noboa Pontón, of the PRE. In the first months of 1999, a very serious economic crisis, caused by the consequences of the 1998 floods and by the general drop in oil prices, caused a wave of strikes in the country (March) and moments of great tension.