283. Telegram From the Embassy in Ecuador to the Department of State1

3015. Subject: (C) Conversation With Jaime Roldos

1. Entire text confidential.

2. Summary: On May 1, President-elect Jaime Roldos spoke at length with EmbOff. He commented inter alia, on the political climate, his relations with Bucaram, the Jarrin Case, and Peru. End summary.

3. Polcouns spoke with President-elect Jaime Roldos Aguilera in the Guayaquil Home of Guayas Prefect Guido Chiriboga for nearly three hours on May 1. Among matters discussed were his plans to visit the US, his attitude towards narcotics, the Texaco problem (septels)2 and his plans and political thinking in general.

4. Polcouns delivered to Roldos a letter from the Ambassador containing a congratulatory message from the President.3 Roldos was highly gratified by the gesture and registered his warm appreciation. He said that he had received messages already from Adolfo Suarez, Carlos Andres Perez, and Julio Cesar Turbay; however, this was the most important, he said. At this time and throughout the lengthy conversation, Roldos expressed his gratitude to the United States for its role in bringing about the retorno.

5. Roldos said that he was not surprised by his landslide victory two days before, although the margins in some of the traditional provinces of Sierra were unexpected.4 He admitted that he was somewhat concerned by the Febres-Cordero smear campaign and observed that [Page 814] his support had dipped appreciably, albeit not dangerously, about two weeks before the election. Recognizing that his camp had also engaged in a counter-smear campaign for a few days, Roldos said that although they had plenty of ammunition to fire, they decided to continue to emphasize the positive during the remainder of the campaign. In this context, he personally rejected a proposal that his campaign specifically attack Santiago Matheus, Duran’s son-in-law who had been accused of conspiring with the former Minister of Finance Santiago Sevilla to secure the broking of GOE bonds. Roldos stated that his strategy of combining traditional personal stumping with an intensive media campaign in the last ten days was the key to his landslide. He was very complimentary about Osvaldo Hurtado’s speeches on television during the last week of campaigning.

6. Musing that the landslide victory was not without its problems, Roldos said that he was doing everything possible to keep the euphoria of his supporters within bounds. He was proud that no exuberance leading to violence had occurred when the results were known, and he pointed to his own and Hurtado’s low-key acceptance of victory as crucial in this respect. The worst thing that he could do, he added, was to gloat and display arrogance. He hoped that this tone would be continued during his administration.

7. While the margin of his victory eliminated any chance of interfering with the results and it would give him more leverage when he assumed office, Roldos said it also increased expectations, and perhaps fears, about how he would use his power. He declared that he had not swayed from his original intention of going ahead with a moderate reformist government aimed principally at strengthening the institutional bases of democracy. On the other hand, he now felt that he would have less trouble than anticipated in carrying out some of the socio-economic reforms that he thought necessary, e.g. minor reform of the Tax Law plus increased enforcement in collection, the resuscitation of the useful parts of the Agrarian Reform Law to assist effectively the small landholder, a raise in the minimum wage, etc. Although he would demonstrate that he was willing to listen to all climate of opinion, he also thought it necessary to prove early on that he would not be pushed around. He repeated an opinion that he had expressed several times before over the past few years, that no lasting socio-economic or political reform could take place in a climate of social indiscipline.

8. Roldos said that he was committed by his strong connection with the Guayaquil slums—the so-called suburbio—to give special emphasis to that sector. His strategy would include preventing further growth of the slum area by provision of large-scale public housing, and alleviating the miserable living conditions of present dwellers there with a stepped-up program of public services (paving, sewers, [Page 815] electricity, drainage). He noted that the principal problem with the slum was not the destitute economic condition of its denizens, but the more tangible one of government neglect and indifference over many years. He inquired what type of international assistance might be available to assist him in this regard.

9. Roldos was asked about the difficulties created by the friction between him and his longtime mentor Assad Bucaram, the leader of the CFP. Roldos frankly acknowledged that this was a problem, and perhaps the most difficult one currently facing him. He asserted that it was becoming clear to him that a political movement could not have two strong leaders. This was not a judgment that he had made easily, but one which he had been forced to accept. At this point, Chiriboga, who had remained silent until then, claimed that Roldos, not Bucaram, was now the idol of the masses, and within the CFP organization itself Roldos had greater support among provincial leaders than Bucaram. Roldos observed, however, that this might not necessarily apply to the CFP contingent in Congress which contained a number of persons who had not been CFP leaders before and were only included at Bucaram’s personal direction. Roldos and Chiriboga thought that the group from the Sierra, which had had little day-to-day contact with Bucaram might align itself with Roldos if push came to shove. However, this would not be known for sure until Roldos had a chance to sound out the individuals which he planned to do as part of an “orientation” tour throughout the provinces commencing in a few weeks.

10. Chiriboga stated, while Roldos listened, that Bucaram had always been difficult to deal with; however, recently his bitterness about Roldos and his paranoia had made any relationship impossible. Roldos did not relish the idea of Bucaram becoming President of the Congress, but neither was he enamored of the possibility of Bucaram failing to win the position and being able to blame it on treachery by Roldos. He indicated that if Bucaram needed only a handful of votes to gain the election, the pressures on the Presidency to help him obtain the remainder would be immense. Polcouns said that it sounded to him that an open split was unavoidable. Chiriboga seemed to agree with this, but Roldos opined that it was not inevitable and he would do everything short of capitulating in order to prevent it.

11. Another cloud on the horizon for Roldos was the disposition of the Abdon Calderon Assassination Case and its involvement of ex-Minister of Government General Bolivar Jarrin.5 Roldos declared that [Page 816] he would not rpt not conduct a vendetta against the Military and attempt to persecute them for the pecadilloes that they might have committed while in power. Certainly cases of corruption and abuses would continue to be uncovered in the normal course of the Administrative changeover, but he was satisfied that once the court system regained its independence, ordinary justice would automatically take care of these. However, the Jarrin case was different. On a practical level, Roldos said that the person murdered was not some unknown, but a prominent politician and party leader. He feared leaving Jarrin unpunished would just convince the military that it was a special caste which possessed a cloak of immunity, thus making such assassinations even more likely in the future. On another level, Roldos believed that there was a basic moral issue involved which he could not dodge. Asked what he would do if the Military Court exonerated Jarrin or gave him a slap on the wrist, Roldos replied firmly that a way would be found to re-open the entire judicial procedure. He did not think that the military would choose to draw the line on the Jarrin case, but even if it did, he felt he could not back off.

12. During a brief discussion of GOE arms purchases, the problem of Peru arose. Roldos thought that the present military situation was dangerous and wondered about the utility of making some dramatic gesture toward Peru which might improve relations. He mentioned that he was thinking of a visit to Peru, but did not know how the conflicting interpretations of the border problem could be handled in the publicity surrounding any Peru-Ecuador summit meeting. He said that he would explore this with the Foreign Ministry and with his own Foreign Policy Team.

13. Roldos said that he would go slow on making important appointments, because they could have a significant and enduring impact on politics as well as substance. However, he planned to name a series of task forces by May 15 and they would undoubtedly include people whom he planned to name to his offices. But he cautioned that most of the rumors that will be bruited about will be based on pure speculation since he planned to hold appointments very close to himself.

14. Comment: Roldos, despite his new status, was his same old, informal and quietly friendly self. If anything, he seems to be listening harder than ever. He appears absolutely determined not to commit the sin of hubris at this point and spoil his chances at government.

15. In our estimate, he has correctly delineated his problem areas: relations with Bucaram, relations with the military, and the need to conduct a reformist program without alarming anybody. This is a tall order for any President coming into power after seven years of military rule, let alone for one who is still a couple of years short of 40 and [Page 817] without any previous administrative experience. However, during the recent campaign local commentators coined a new word, “Roldosear”, defined as having the good fortune to turn adversity into advantage and coming out on top. After viewing Roldos’ surprising campaign over the past 1½ years, there is a growing suspicion that Roldos may have not only the ability, but the luck, to surmount these obstacles, by “Roldoseando”, and continue in power for five full years.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790207-0442. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to La Paz, Lima, Santiago, USCINCSO, and the consulate in Guayaquil.
  2. In telegrams 3068 and 3069 from Quito, May 8, the Embassy reported on the GOE dispute with Texaco. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790170-0382 and D790170-0462)
  3. In telegram 109948 to Quito, May 1, the Department transmitted Carter’s messages to Poveda, Roldos and Duran-Ballen. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790198-0953)
  4. In his April 30 Evening Report to Carter, Vance wrote: “With three-quarters of the vote counted, populist candidate Jaime Roldos has won an impressive victory in the Ecuadorean presidential elections, garnering 62 percent of the vote against 27 percent for his conservative opponent. The magnitude of Roldos’ victory should make his mandate somewhat more secure and, for the moment at least, inhibit any inclination the military or commercial oligarchy may have to overturn the election.” In the left-hand margin, Carter wrote: “Send my congratulations.” (Carter Library, Carter Presidential Papers, Staff Offices, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Evening Reports (State), 4/79)
  5. Abdón Calderón, the presidential candidate of the Radical Alfarist Front (FRA) party, was shot in Guayaquil on November 29, 1978, and later died in a Miami hospital. Calderon had placed fifth among the six candidates in the first round of the presidential election in July 1978. (Telegram 8546 from Quito, December 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780511-0347)