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ECUADOR: President Bucaram, “A Madman Who Loves” – and Sings

Mario Gonzalez

QUITO, Oct 11 1996 (IPS) - The album “A Madman Who Loves” joins “Abdalact” and “Abdalagua”- low-cost powdered milk and bottled water – on the list of new releases by Ecuador’s charismatic new president, Abdala Bucaram.

Popularly known as a “loco” (madman) who climbed down the swinging ladder of a helicopter dressed as Batman in a previous election campaign, this week Bucaram told a crowd of 5,000 in Guayaquil: “I am crazy because I sing. But who doesn’t sing?”

The Guayaquil concert, where the president sang 10 of the songs from the album recorded with the Uruguayan group “Los Iracundos” was broadcast live throughout Ecuador and neighbouring countries.

But some members of the audience chanted “We want our houses/in one single stroke,” referring to Bucaram’s low-cost housing programme, “One Single Stroke”. One of his key campaign promises, the project is to provide 50,000 housing units a year.

Bucaram, who heads the populist Ecuadorian Roldosista Party, took office on Aug. 10. He has assured his fellow Ecuadorians “don’t worry because your president sings, plays soccer or eats in the markets,” because the government “will deliver on its promises – the people’s housing and school backpacks.”

“The election campaign isn’t over for the president,” says deputy Napoleon Santos, a member of the parliamentary indigenous lobby group, who adds that Bucaram “uses his shows as a strategy to gloss over the country’s real problems.”

In his two months in office, Bucaram has formed an alliance with the right-wing Christian Democrats (PSC) – the country’s strongest political party – played soccer, attended international events such as the Rio Group Summit in Bolivia, piloted an air force plane, auctioned his moustache and recorded an album.

“There is a double-voiced presidential discourse. One, in which the war against corruption and oligarchy is extolled, is for the population, and the other (can only be heard) behind closed doors, where the destiny of our country is woven,” said Santos.

“Bucaram knows his style gets him political results,” Gonzalo Ortiz, editor-in-chief of the economic magazine ‘Gestion’, told IPS.

“He attracts the attention of the poor, while maintaining the calm among strong sectors of the economy” with “apparent stability in macroeconomic indexes.”

Ortiz said the latest surveys demonstrate that Bucaram has a roughly 50 percent popularity rate among both the poorest and wealthiest sectors, “but the middle class and intellectuals are not at all happy with his performance and his image.”

Bucaram’s social projects – “One Single Stroke”, “Abdalact”, “Abdalagua”, “Abdalafono” – telephone lines for the poor outskirts of the capital – school backpacks and breakfasts – are “paternalistic actions” according to sociologist Simon Pachano.

“A social policy means investment in human capital, fighting poverty and working towards equity, which are achieved with far- reaching policies.”

The government’s social and economic policies have not yet been well-defined, Pachano added, which hurts the country because of the resulting “uncertainty, which is reflected in low rates of growth and investment.”

Bucaram “is like the man in charge of the fireworks in small- town ‘fiestas’,” said Ortiz. “The attention is centred on him, but the fireworks eventually run out.”

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