Rosalia Arteaga, Ecuador’s new president, is soft-spoken and usually wears a smile. But as the country’s political leaders have learned in recent days, she is no pushover.
While deposed president Abdala Bucaram and congressional leader Fabian Alarcon hurled insults at each other, Arteaga worked quietly, talking with influential players like U.S. Ambassador Leslie Alexander and the military high command.
She was the only one of the three contenders for the presidency to meet with the country’s generals - and it paid off. Armed forces chief Gen. Paco Moncayo stood at her side Sunday when she assumed the presidency.
“Life gave me the opportunity to be the first female education minister,” she said. “The Ecuadorean people made me their first female vice president and now … because of their Congress, I can hold the highest office in the land.”
Arteaga, 40, is a lawyer by profession. She is married to the former mayor of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city, and has three children.
She belongs to the white elite that has dominated politics and business in Ecuador since Spanish colonial times, and is known for her elegant taste in clothing.
Bucaram, who is from the rough-and-tumble port of Guayaquil, won wide support among the poor with his bash-the-oligarchs rhetoric and off-color jokes. But he needed Arteaga’s support to win over women and the middle class, polls show.
Bucaram enjoyed showing Arteaga off on the campaign trail. During one rally, he hiked up her skirt to let the crowd get a good look at her legs.
She put up with the embarrassment, and seems to have gotten the last laugh.
Today she is president.