Before, it happened in Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. Last week, Ecuadorean voters too -- dissatisfied with their political establishment and traditional political parties -- elected an outsider as president. Col. Lucio Gutierrez is an engineer better known as the bookish head of the Military Academy than for his experience in the country's complicated political arena.
After the election, Gutierrez got a call from President Bush congratulating him on his triumph. A meeting between the two should be arranged soon. Ecuador needs more trade and the U.S. needs to ensure that the drug trafficking troubles in Colombia don't spill out to neighboring Ecuador.
Gutierrez's task is daunting. Sixty percent of the population lives in poverty and the country has barely recovered from the economic chaos of 1999 that caused it to default on its foreign debt.
An Indian protest in 2000, triggered by an economic crisis, catapulted Gutierrez into political prominence. He led a group of military officers who joined with the indigenous population in a fight against poverty, discrimination and government corruption.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Peter Romero has described Gutierrez as "sincere, intelligent, honest and perhaps naive, but deserving of a helping hand from the United States."
Avoiding the knee-jerk reaction of populist leaders in the region, Gutierrez has acknowledged the need for Ecuador to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. He'll have to adhere to unpopular fiscal and monetary policies in exchange for outside financial support. Ecuador's incoming president looks poised to become a leader that the Andean region needs as the U.S. seeks to contain economic and political fires worldwide before they spread.