QUITO, Ecuador – Brazil's decision to grant asylum to Ecuador's deposed President Lucio Gutierrez (search) provoked outrage on Thursday among many Ecuadoreans who demanded that the politician remain and account for alleged abuses of power.
Gutierrez, who was fired by Congress on Wednesday after a week of street protests calling for his removal, was waiting at the Brazilian Embassy residency for a flight to Brazil, said Brazilian Ambassador Sergio Florencio Sobrinho.
After a meeting between government officials Thursday night, the ambassador said Ecuador was not ready to grant permission for Gutierrez to leave the country.
"I think what they should do with that man is arrest him. Don't let him get away like the others," Josefina Calderon, 31, a private secretary, said as she hurried to work on a cold, rain-drenched morning in this city high in the Andes.
Carlos Garrido, 28, an auto salesman, agreed. "Brazil, as a sister nation, is obligated not to give asylum to that thief," he said of Gutierrez, the third Ecuadorean leader driven from office in the past eight years for misconduct.
Lawmakers swore in Vice President Alfredo Palacio (search) to replace Gutierrez on Wednesday, and he immediately promised to hold a referendum and constitutional assembly to create a new state structure.
"People have lost trust in their representatives," Palacio said in a nationally televised address from the Defense Ministry Wednesday night, with the four members of the military high command standing behind him. "Our state is decrepit, obsolete."
Palacio, a 66-year-old cardiologist, broke with Gutierrez shortly after their election in 2002.
On Thursday he installed five new ministers for Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense, Economy and Foreign Commerce in the 15-member Cabinet.
The political crisis was only the latest in a long history of political instability in Ecuador, an oil-rich, mountainous nation of 12.5 million inhabitants on the northwest shoulder of South America.
Gutierrez took office in January 2003 as a populist, anti-corruption reformer but soon angered many Ecuadoreans by implementing economic austerity measures. Ecuadoreans were also upset by the growing accusations of nepotism and corruption surrounding family members and his inner circle. Gutierrez's recent decision to overhaul the Supreme Court was seen by protesters as an illegal attempt to amass power.
On 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.
On Thursday, the Organization of American States (search) gave Ecuador a 24-hour deadline to explain how Congress justified dismissing Gutierrez under a constitutional clause allowing legislators to remove a president for "abandonment of the post" while he was still in the Government Palace issuing orders.
Congressman Ramiro Rivera made the motion, arguing that since Gutierrez had not faithfully carried out the responsibilities of the presidency, Congress should declare it vacant.
The measure avoids a drawn-out impeachment process and is similar to what Congress did in 1997 when it dismissed President Abdala Bucaram for "mental incapacity." Constitutional experts, however, say the process violates the Constitution.
Fernando Bustamante, a university professor, said Ecuador's political establishment has a history of "trampling on the Constitution" when it is convenient.
Police on Thursday were searching for Bucaram, whose return from exile abroad inflamed the protests that drove Gutierrez from power. Gutierrez's opponents accused him of reorganizing the Supreme Court so that corruption charges could be dropped against Bucaram. Gutierrez served as Bucaram's military aide during his turbulent six months in office.
Bucaram went into hiding sometime before authorities arrived at his house Thursday morning in the coastal city of Guayaquil.
Acting Attorney General Cecilia Armas on Wednesday issued a "preventative" arrest order for Bucaram, who was accused of stuffing some $3 million of public funds into burlap bags in 1997 when he left power. He fled the country and was granted political asylum in Panama soon after his ouster.
"We will not reveal the whereabouts of Bucaram for his security, but he is all right," Jimmy Jairala, a stalwart in the populist ex-leader's Roldosista party, told reporters.