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Ecuador's testing time: Will nation continue progress without Roldos?

Under Jaime Roldos Aguilera, Ecuador appeared to be moving into a new era of prosperity and progress. But some wonder whether Mr. Roldos, who died in an airplane crash May 24 in the southern Ecuadorean jungle, was able to fully set the new era in motion in his two years as president. Progress appeared to depend on the force of his own popularity.

But his brand of populism had begun making its mark on Ecuador -- and on the rest of the hemisphere, where he was viewed as a vital force for change in Latin America.

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President Roldos initiated a wide range of economic and social reforms aimed at improving what he called the "quality of life" of Ecuador's 5 million people.

Inflation was running at 14 percent in early 1981, but personal incomes in 1980 soared a solid 16 percent. There are signs the inflationary spiral is slowing.

More impressive is the decline in the unemployment rate in Quito, the capital , and Guayaquil, the principal seaport and main city, in 1980 and early 1981.

"That is most vital," Mr. Roldos said interview with the Monitor in late February.

Roldos expounded on his populism and set very high goals for his five-year administration: "I want every Ecuadorean to enjoy a better life at the end of my term -- or at least the imminent possibility of such a life," he said. "If that is not the situation, then I will have failed to live up to my goals. But I do intend to use every minute of my term to achieve those goals."

Early assessments of his record were generally favorable. There were few hints of scandal concerning his administration -- a significant circumstance when compared with most earlier Ecuadorean governments. Mr. Roldos, who developed his populism during nearly two decades of port politics in Guayaquil was, at 40, Latin America's youngest president ever and one of the region's most promising politicians.

He emerged as a leader of the Andean countries -- Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela -- and was one of the Andean Pact's most ardent spokesman. The Roldos civilian government was a marked contrast to the military dictatorships that long dominated the region. He was playing a role, albeit limited for domestic reasons, in trying to solve the civil war in El Salvador.

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Ecuador and Peru almost went to war early this year in an old dispute over their common border in the El Condor mountains. Mr. Roldos was accused of fanning the issue for domestic political gain.

Roldos's replacement as president is Oswaldo Huturado Larrea, also a populist , but one whose ability has yet to be proved. He was largely in Mr. Roldos's shadow. Success in his new role will indicate how well Mr. Roldos was able to im plant his ideas.

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