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Populist Takes Power as Ecuador’s New President

August 11, 1996

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Abdala Bucaram, a populist who calls himself ``the scourge of the oligarchy,″ took office as Ecuador’s new president Saturday promising equality in the small Andean country.

After taking the oath of office and donning the red, blue and yellow presidential sash, Bucaram quickly criticized Ecuador’s wealthy elite.

``Today is a historic day when the poor accede to power. It is the first day of ... a government of the people and the last day of dominance by the oligarchs,″ he said in a 90-minute speech before a Congress packed with cheering supporters.

The oligarchy, Bucaram said, was ``a cancer″ that was the cause of ``all Ecuador’s ills.″

The 44-year-old Bucaram replaced the 75-year-old President Sixto Duran-Ballen, a conservative who stepped down after a four-year term plagued by corruption scandals.

Bucaram defeated rightist candidate Jaime Nebot in a July 6 runoff election for a four-year term.

He has sought to attract foreign investment and win the support of the business sector by adding economic advisers from banks and large companies to his administration.

But his explosive outbursts against political foes have made many Ecuadoreans nervous, and his generous campaign promises of public housing, lower prices on basic goods and free medicine have made some investors uneasy.

Reflecting uncertainty over his economic policies, the Central Bank announced a devaluation of the sucre shortly before the inauguration.

In the last few weeks, there has been a heavy demand for dollars, forcing the Central Bank to sell $80 million of Ecuador’s reserves to stabilize the currency.

Earlier Saturday, Bucaram attacked the outgoing government for the decision to devalue the currency.

He said that although Duran-Ballen was ``a respectable man, a good man, a gentleman, it is undeniable that he has been a disaster in the management of economic policy.″

Bucaram won the presidency on his third try, after finishing second in 1988 and third in 1992.

Twice in his political career he fled to Panama to escape prosecution _ on charges he insulted the armed forces and misused public funds while mayor of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city.

He was able to return to Ecuador in 1988 and 1990 after receiving amnesty from Congress.

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