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Opposition Leaders Blast President’s Deal with Kidnappers

January 18, 1987

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Opposition leaders on Saturday harshly criticized President Leon Febres Cordero, who gained his freedom from rebel paratroopers holding him hostage by ordering the release of a jailed mutinous general.

Former President Osvaldo Hurtado, who handed power to Febres Cordero in August 1984, called for the 55-year-old president’s resignation.

Gen. Frank Vargas Pazzos, the former air force commander whose release Friday night ended Febres Cordero’s 11-hour captivity, remained secluded at an air base outside Guayaquil. Rene Vargas Pazzos, his brother and a member of Congress, said the general probably would go to Quito ″to inform the people of his future activity.″

Vargas Pazzos, 52, had been imprisoned since last March for leading an unsuccessful rebellion against Febres Cordero.

The New York Times, in a report from Guayaquil, quoted Febres Cordero as saying he was punched, kicked and his life threatened by his captors.

It reported that in an interview outside his home in Guayaquil, the president said he was forced face down on the airport runway with a rifle barrel placed against his his neck and a pistol at his head.

Febres Cordero was reported uninjured in the mutiny, but the Times said he had a small cut on one arm and an abrasion on his right cheek.

The Times quoted him as telling his captors, ″I was shouting, ‘Kill me, kill me.’ What else could I do? I was the president of the country.″

It said that later, after he was taken to a base chapel, he was told an execution squad had been formed because he resisted a series of demands, and a man came into the room and said, ″I’ve been put in charge of killing you.″

Andres Vallejo, president of the unicameral Congress, called an extraordinary congressional session for Tuesday ″to analyze the country’s situation and the conduct of the president of the republic and adopt the pertinent resolutions.″

Vallejo is a member of the opposition Social Democrat Party.

Interior Minister Luis Robles criticized Vallejo’s action.

″It is illogical to analyze the conduct of the victim in an act of insubordination,″ he said in a statement. ″While everyone is condemning the horrible kidnapping, it is lamentable that the Congress may judge the conduct of the Ecuadorean president.″

Vargas Pazzos refused to talk to reporters Saturday but told one of his brothers he planned to go to Quito on Monday. ″I am in Taura simply as an invited guest,″ Publio Vargas Pazzos quoted the former general as saying.

Publio Vargas Pazzos said his brother had not been informed of the kidnapping of the president until the plane that took him from Quito to Taura was in the air.

Febres Cordero toured a military hospital in Guayaquil where at least 10 people hurt in Friday’s confrontation were being treated.

During the hospital tour Febres Cordero said that Vargas Pazzos ″is free as are all nine million Ecuadoreans.″ He declined to make further statements except to say, ″I am grateful to the Ecuadorean people for defending the democracy.″

Among the wounded at the hospital was Defense Minister Medardo Salazar, who had a bandage over his left eyebrow and another one over his left eye. Officials denied earlier rumors that the injuries were caused by bullets.

Both Quito and Guayaquil were calm Saturday. A police guard that had been posted for two blocks around the presidential palace was withdrawn, and a television report showed normal activity at Taura.

The Roman Catholic Church issued a statement denouncing Friday’s actions, saying, ″What was committed is not simply a political act but a true crime.

″The greatest crime that can be committed is an attempted crime against the chief authority of the state.″

Renegade paratroop commandos surrounded the president and Salazar at a military ceremony at Taura air base 15 miles southeast of Guayaquil Friday morning. The paratroopers fought presidential bodyguards before taking the two men and other members of presidential delegation captive. There was no official report on casualties, but local news media said Saturday two people were killed.

They said wakes were held in Quito for two of the president’s bodyguards slain in the

Febres Cordero and the other hostages were released at 8 p.m. Friday after Vargas Pazzos arrived at the base aboard a government plane. Vargas Pazzos had been detained at an army garrison east of Quito, the capital, awaiting trial on charges stemming from his insurrection.

Besides freedom for Vargas Pazzos, the rebel troops Friday originally demanded that Febres Cordero be removed from office.

Soon after he was released, Febres Cordero called the outcome of the incident a ″triumph″ of Ecuadorean democracy.

He told reporters in Guayaquil on Saturday: ″As long as democracy continues going forward, overcoming obstacles like the ones we saw yesterday, democracy gets stronger.″

He remained in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and main port 170 miles southwest of Quito, but said he had resumed his presidential duties.

Vallejo said he called the special session after ″gathering all the criteria expressed by the different parliamentary sectors.″

The opposition to Febres Cordero’s center-right government controls Congress with 41 of the 71 seats.

The session could approve with a simple majority what is called a ″political trial″ for the president, which would take place at a later date.

Congress has the power to impeach a president, on certain grounds. A president may be removed for treason, corruption or for being physically or mentally incapacitated.

Febres Cordero, asked about the special session, said ″I don’t want to make political declarations.″

Opposition leaders assailed Febres Cordero’s handling of the entire Vargas Pazzos episode, citing in particular his September veto of a congressional measure that would have granted amnesty to the rebellious general.

Vargas Pazzos is described as charismatic and popular with his troops. He rebelled after his demands were not met for prosecution of the then-defense minister and then-army commander on corruption charges. His uprising received a measure of popular support, with crowds taking to the streets to back his demands.

Before releasing Febres Cordero, his captors obliged him to sign documents providing for amnesty and promising there would be no reprisals or disciplinary measures against the troops who took part in the kidnapping.

″Vargas Pazzos is now a free citizen,″ Vice President Blasco Penaherrera said Friday in announcing the swap.

″Febres Cordero has taken it upon himself to foment physical violence and verbal violence and that violence has now enveloped him,″ said Rodrigo Borja, leader of the Democratic Left party, which holds the largest congressional bloc.

″It was a mistake to use violence against the military. The president’s resignation is the only way to preserve the constitutional order,″ said Hurtado, leader of the Popular Democracy Party.

Febres Cordero put down Vargas Pazzos’ rebellion last year by sending about 2,000 troops backed by tanks into the Quito air base held by the general and forces loyal to him. Several soldiers were killed.

The next general election is set for January 1988. Febres Cordero’s term expires in August 1988.

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