QUITO, Ecuador – President Lucio Gutierrez's (search) ouster Wednesday was almost foretold five years ago by another Ecuadorean president, the one that Gutierrez helped topple.
A former army colonel, Gutierrez was the main player in the January 2000 coup. He joined with Indian leaders and led a rebellion of young army officers in a takeover of Ecuador's Congress that prompted the military's top commanders to force President Jamil Mahuad (search) from power.
"If the movement of a few people supported by junior military officers manages to change the government, how long will the next one last?" former President Jamil Mahuad said in a speech broadcast on radio and television before a military junta forced him into hiding and then out of the country.
Gutierrez said at the time that the military was acting on "the voice of people."
Several hours later the elected vice president, Gustavo Noboa (search), was sworn into office to succeed Mahuad, a Harvard-educated centrist.
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 his left-leaning constituency soon fell apart after he instituted economic austerity measures to satisfy lenders like the International Monetary Fund (search).
Gutierrez's fall came over a struggle for control of Ecuador's judiciary system, and the special interests it serves in a country known for its corruption and bruising politics.
In December, a loose alliance of pro-government lawmakers fired 27 of the 31 Supreme Court judges in a simple majority vote — a violation of the constitution. The move sparked massive protests by opposition figures who saw it as an attempt by Gutierrez to pack the court with supporters.
The crisis came to head earlier this month with the return of another former president, Abdala Bucaram, a flamboyant populist who was in office for six months before Congress removed him in February 1997 for "mental incapacity."
Gutierrez's opponents charged he cut a deal with Bucaram to have the Supreme Court clear him of corruption charges, allowing his return from political asylum in Panama, as payback for key votes Bucaram's political party provided last year blocking an impeachment effort against the president in Congress.