Atlas’s president, Alex Chafuen, has a
story about when he first met my father, Romulo Lopez-Sabando, in
1985. Alex asked him what the biggest challenge for free markets in
Ecuador was. My dad replied, “Winning the country’s presidency”.
My father was president of the Chamber of Industries of Guayaquil,
where he fought alongside Leon Febres- Cordero,( former president of
the Chamber and a Congressman) for free market reforms. Their efforts
were so successful that in 1984, Febres-Cordero won the presidency. Not
only did he win, he won while preaching a free market message. The left
called him “the most insolent oligarchy’s messenger ” for being so
straightforward in his arguments for free markets.
Ecuador talked about free market reforms in Latin America before
Argentina, Peru, Brazil or Venezuela; on a continent where the only
other free market option was Chile under Pinochet’s dictatorship. As is
always the way, Ecuadoreans have been the first ones to talk about
many reforms, like dollarization and privatization, but the last ones
to actually implement these reforms. No free market reforms or
privatizations were ever accomplished (except for a bank
privatization) under Febres-Cordero’s government. Their only success
was fighting against the guerrillas, and literally wiping them out. His
government became the favorite whipping boy of the Ecuadorean left.
Later on, as mayor of his hometown Guayaquil, he recovered his
political image by transforming the city from an ” American Calcutta”
(no offense to Calcutta) into a decent and livable place. I had the
chance to ask Febres-Cordero (thanks to my dad’s friendship with him)
why he never implemented any free market reforms during his presidency,
given his admiration for Ludwig Earhart’s reforms in Germany. His only
response was that the special interest groups made reforms impossible.
You can view Leon Febres-Cordero’s obituary in the Washington Post.
I might add, that due to his failure to implement the reforms he so
ardently called for, it has been difficult to promote free markets in
Ecuador. He was a great leader for Ecuador, but his great opportunity
to implement lasting reform was squandered. His is a classic example of
Hayek’s warning to Atlas’s founder, Antony Fisher against getting
involved with politics in order to advance reforms.
It was not until recently, thanks to the steady work of Dora Ampuero (Instituto Ecuatoriano de Economia Politica established in 1991) and others (too many to name here) like my father, university students, Movimiento Libertario in Quito (Juan Fernando Carpio) and most recently Fundacion Ecuador Libre (winner of a 2008 Fisher Venture Grant),
that the bad reputation left by Febres-Cordero has slowly been cleared
away. Little by litte the people of Ecuador are coming to appreciate
the need for free market reforms, especially after the
Pro-Chavez-Castro regime of Rafael Correa.
Originally posted here