The Miami Herald
Sat, Oct. 15, 2005

Ex-president returns, is arrested at airport

Almost six months after Congress removed him from power, ousted President Lucio Gutiérrez returned from exile and was immediately arrested.

Special to The Herald

QUITO - Ousted President Lucio Gutiérrez was arrested Friday immediately after the plane bringing him from exile in Bogotá landed in the coastal city of Manta, almost six months after Congress removed him from power.

Authorities confirmed Gutiérrez was arrested on charges related to accusations of police brutality during the weeklong demonstrations spurred by his meddling with the Supreme Court which led to his downfall on April 20.

''We will take all possible legal and constitutional actions to retake the power being held by this usurper,'' Gutiérrez said in an interview broadcast before he left, referring to his former vice president and now President Alfredo Palacio.

The administration had warned that Gutiérrez would be arrested if he returned to Ecuador.

''He will be arrested, and his constitutional rights will be respected,'' Interim Interior Minister Galo Chiriboga said at a news conference in Quito Friday. A female police officer would take custody, Chiriboga said, ``to prevent a struggle.''

The former president arrived on the flight with his brother and former legislator Gilmar Gutiérrez, lawyers, friend and journalists to the Manta airport. He was then flown in a military plane to Quito, where Chiriboga had said he would be transferred to the Ex-García Moreno prison.

The government had said earlier in the day that Gutiérrez would not to be taken to a detention center known as Jail No. 4, a more comfortable facility which has housed some of the country's more prestigious inmates.

''He will be released soon because there is no legal reason to hold him,'' Irina Vargas, a leader in Gutiérrez's Patriotic Society Party, told The Herald via telephone from Manabí province, where Manta is located.

Gutiérrez announced his plans to return last week when he launched his book, El Golpe or ''The Coup.'' Gutiérrez's first attempt to return to Ecuador earlier Friday was thwarted by mechanical problems that forced his plane to return to Bogotá.

His followers say that he is the legitimate president, despite international recognition of Palacio. A few hundred marched in Quito Friday afternoon, and police used tear gas to control a smaller group outside the Manta airport.

''If they arrest him, they are arresting the president of the country,'' Luis Almeida, one of Gutiérrez's legal representatives and a former Congress member, told The Herald earlier Friday.

However, the country's lack of a Supreme Court, which was dissolved by Gutiérrez in the last days of his administration, could complicate matters for those in the government who want to keep him jailed.

The arrest warrant out for him was not issued by the Supreme Court president -- due to the lack of one -- as required by law. Legal analysts say that Gutiérrez could try to use this legal technicality to fight his detention.

Gutiérrez did not explain why he was willing to return to Ecuador despite the threat of arrest, other than saying that he is coming back to try to reclaim power.