In This Review

Populist Seduction in Latin America: The Ecuadorian Experience
Populist Seduction in Latin America: The Ecuadorian Experience
By Carlos de la Torre
Ohio University Press, 2000, 192 pp

The repeated success of populist appeals to the poor -- to the detriment of modernizing political movements -- is not an exclusively Ecuadorian dilemma, but it has recently wrought in Ecuador the most deleterious effects: an elected president's removal, unrest in the army and the indigenous population, a default on bond payments, and a desperate attempt to use dollarization to impose fiscal responsibility. In this timely book, de la Torre examines the rule of Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra (1934-72) and Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz, who was elected in 1996 but removed from office in 1997 on grounds of "mental incapacity" after his reform efforts failed to find allies. Both claimed to represent mestizo Ecuador but ultimately excluded indigenous peoples from their concept of the Ecuadorian nation -- and both were contemptuous of democratic institutions and procedures. De la Torre attributes the populist appeal in Latin America to the weakness of citizenship rights, which in turn limits the poor's power to defend themselves and forces them to depend on protectors. Some politicians have responded to this frustration with inflammatory rhetoric and clientelist networks. Yet by the early 1990s, the emergence of a powerful indigenous movement was already complicating the Ecuadorian scene. All these intricacies, argues de la Torre, make it "premature to offer any optimistic assessment on the future of race relations in Ecuador."