Former president of Ecuador

Associated Press

Former President Leon Febres Cordero, a conservative politician who dominated Ecuador for decades, died Monday. He was 77.

Close friend and confidant Alfonso Harb said Febres Cordero -- who survived five heart bypass operations, two bouts with cancer and a chain-smoking habit -- died of complications from pulmonary emphysema.

The indisputable leader of Ecuador’s right for half a century, Febres Cordero was one of only three presidents in the last 27 years who finished their terms in the politically unstable Andean nation.

Born in the port city of Guayaquil on March 9, 1931, Febres Cordero was president from 1984 to 1988 under the banner of the conservative Social Christian party. Following his term, he dominated Ecuador’s Congress and courts until his failing health forced his withdrawal from politics in 2002.

A lover of horses and a prize-winning sharpshooter in his younger days, Febres Cordero was known to tuck a miniature .38-caliber automatic, a gift from the U.S. Secret Service when he visited the White House in 1985, under his shirt before going out.

The first Latin American president to champion free-market economics in the 1980s, Febres Cordero won warm support from fellow conservative Ronald Reagan.

He survived politically despite an earthquake that crippled oil exports for six months, a leftist insurgency, two military rebellions and a kidnapping by renegade paratroopers who killed three of his bodyguards. He was released 11 hours later after being roughed up.

He applied an iron fist to virtually eliminate the urban, Cuban-inspired guerrilla group Alfaro Vive.

His opponents considered him autocratic and accused him of using his party’s control over the judicial system to harass his enemies by having them arrested or driving them into exile.

But Febres Cordero enjoyed unconditional support from Ecuador’s right and a large part of the country’s population.

After leaving the presidency in 1988, he served as mayor of Guayaquil from 1992 to 2000.

As head of the Social Christian party, Ecuador’s largest and best organized, he still held national sway. His party typically controlled a third of Congress’ 100 seats, enough to guarantee him a virtual veto over legislation given the fractured party structure of the long-unstable nation.

Febres Cordero married Eugenia Cordovez, with whom he had four daughters.

He later married Cruz Maria Massu.They had no children.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.