Great News for the Galapagos - Sea Shepherd Cheers the Removal of President Lucio Gutierrez

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society received the news of the overthrow of President Lucio Gutierrez with great joy.

"The President of Ecuador was removed in a democratic manner," said Captain Paul Watson. "His removal is good news for the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve."

Under the administration of President Gutierrez, the situation in the Galapagos National Park has deteriorated badly.

"It has been chaos in the Park under this President, "said Captain Watson. "The Park has been occupied, and rangers have been beaten and threatened by mobs of fishermen. The latest concern was a move to legalize longline fishing in the Marine Reserve, a move that would have been the death sentence for the Reserve."

The President was removed from office by a vote of 62-0 after a series of violent clashes between Gutierrez supporters and opponents.

The new President is former Vice President Alfredo Palacio. Sea Shepherd will be writing to President Palacio to request that he restore order to the Galapagos and appoint a pro-conservation director for the National Park.

Admiral Victor Hugo Rosero, the head of the joint chiefs of staff has announced that in response to the vote, the military has withdrawn its support of Gutierrez. The soldiers withdrew their guard from the Presidential Palace immediately after the vote.

Gutierrez was removed by reason of a clause in the Ecuadorian Constitution that allows for the removal of a president for "abandonment of the position." The motion was made by Congressman Ramiro Rivera who argued that the President had not complied with the responsibilities of the Presidency.

"Congress in representation of the Ecuadorian people has proceeded ... to declare Col. Lucio Gutierrez in abandonment of the position of constitutional president. Therefore, he has been ceased in the position," said Rivera.

Admiral Rosero said at a news conference, "We cannot remain indifferent before the pronouncements of the Ecuadorian people. In this scenario of anarchy the military high command ... has been forced to make the hard decision of withdrawing support from the constitutional president in order to protect public safety and recover peace and tranquility."

Gutierrez was elected president in November 2002 after campaigning as a populist, anti-corruption reformer. But his left-leaning constituency soon fell apart after he instituted austerity measures, including cutting subsidies on food and cooking fuel, to satisfy lenders like the International Monetary Fund.

On April 19th, police fired tear gas and dispersed about 30,000 people trying to reach the palace. Demonstrators accused Gutierrez, a 48-year-old former army colonel, of trying to illegally control the three branches of government. Gutierrez dissolved the Supreme Court on April 15th to try to placate protests after his congressional allies in December fired most of the court's judges ad named replacements sympathetic to his government. That move was widely viewed as unconstitutional and critics accused him of trying to consolidate his power.

In the Galapagos, Gutierrez had the support of the fishermen and was openly supporting the violent opposition of the fishermen against the rangers and the tourist industry.

In June 2004, Sea Shepherd crew stood with the rangers to defend the offices of the Galapagos National Park. Sea Shepherd crew were held hostage on Isabela island by fishermen and were violently attacked on Santa Cruz Island.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is now in the fifth year of a five year cooperative agreement with the Galapagos National Park to provide a patrol vessel to help police the Marine Reserve.