The Lotus Tree Literary Review, Autumn 2022 (issue #1)

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8 | From the Editor

In 1997, Dr. Rosalía Arteaga served briefly as the 39th President of Ecuador, the first female head of state of the South American nation. She had already made history in 1996, as the first woman to be elected Vice President of Ecuador. Dr. Arteaga’s achievements are milestones in the social and political history of Ecuador and are significant within the broader global context of women’s progress in attaining political power at the highest levels of national government. The importance of her political accomplishments in Ecuador are as evident today as they were in 1996 and 1997.

Dr. Arteaga gained and lost the presidency in a remarkable political battle that made international headlines. After the dust settled, Dr. Arteaga continued to serve as vice president, finally resigning that position after more than a year of protracted conflict with the new president and his supporters.

Dr. Arteaga is a courageous politician who advanced the equality of women in a conservative society that did not readily embrace the concept, especially as it concerned a head of state.   

A couple of decades later, Dr. Arteaga finally had her portrait displayed in the presidential palace, which is a victory in and of itself and a nod to progress.

Dr. Arteaga continued her involvement in politics and was in the running to become the secretary-general of the United Nations.

Her political story is fascinating, and I highly recommend reading up on it (more about all of this in my editorial on page five).

Very special thanks to Ana Montero de Cardoso for arranging this interview and to Ximena Cardoso-Sloane for translating it.

I am deeply honored to have been granted this interview, which was conducted via email in April 2001 for a presentation in political leadership at the University of Washington, Seattle.

The Editor

An Interview with Dr. Rosalía Arteaga, 39th President of Ecuador

Credit: Cancillería del Ecuador from Ecuador — conversatorio Mujeres en Negociaciones Internacionales, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Rosalía Arteaga

The 39th President of Ecuador — the country’s first female head of state.

Maintain purity of heart.

Sloane: Why did you decide to enter into politics and leadership? What were your interests and your reasons?

Dr. Arteaga: I started in politics because I wanted to make changes in the educational and cultural fields — remember that my first job in a public office was as the Subsecretary of Education and Culture. My main motivation was and still is making radical changes in these areas.

Sloane: From Machiavelli: As a leader, do you believe that it is more important to be loved or to be feared?

Dr. Arteaga: I would say being loved although it is most likely that one can get better results by being feared, but that is not the way I conceive politics.

Sloane: What is the most astonishing political reality that you have observed and/or experienced as a leader?

Dr. Arteaga: The lack of coherence between what is said and what is done. Particularly in the National Congress. And of course, the machismo that rules over the politicians in Ecuador which had a very clear manifestation in February of 1997 [the events which removed her from the presidency].

Sloane: What do you believe to be the single most important quality that a leader should possess?

Dr. Arteaga: A clear vision of reality and the capacity to give oneself to a cause.

Sloane: What is the single most important understanding about leadership you have gained during your political career?

Dr. Arteaga: Clear goals. Hard and constant work.

Sloane: What is the hardest thing you have ever had to learn as a leader?

Dr. Arteaga: To distrust other people.

Sloane: Do you believe that it is more important for a leader to be an idealist or a realist at heart?

Dr. Arteaga: You have to manage a dose of both: Without ideals there is no leadership, but without realism we stay only in the ideals.

Sloane: The great American politician Tip O’Neill, who served in the U.S. Congress for 34 years and as Speaker of the House for 10 of those said that “The hardest part of leadership is compromise.” In your experience, have you found this to be true?

Dr. Arteaga: If compromise means coherence, then I agree.

Sloane: When does a leader cease to be effective?

Dr. Arteaga: When he or she feels above good and evil and forgets their own limitations. Or when one loses their own motivations and stops being in tune with the people.

Sloane: What decision have you made as a leader that has had the most unexpected consequences?

Dr. Arteaga: Not accepting unworthy pacts [February of 1997] and being pointed out as ambitious for wanting to exercise a right.

Sloane: What advice would you give to those who aspire to positions of leadership?

Dr. Arteaga: Maintain purity of heart.

Sloane: What leader has most influenced your style of leadership?

Dr. Arteaga: On the Ecuadorian level, President Eloy Alfaro and on a continental level, Simon Bolivar.

Sloane: Leadership can be exceedingly difficult, is there something that you focus upon to help you keep going through challenging situations?

Dr. Arteaga: Always have a sense of humor and even the capacity of laughing at myself.

Sloane: Leadership has its rewards, name one or two that you feel are of particular value to you.

Dr. Arteaga: Peace of mind. People’s respect.

Sloane: When a situation becomes really challenging for a leader, what do you recommend?

Dr. Arteaga: Think it over twice and then act.

Sloane: What is one of the worst things that a leader can do in any given situation?

Dr. Arteaga: To bewilder oneself and stop listening to one’s self-convictions.

Sloane: What is a common trap that leaders can fall into?

Dr. Arteaga: Self-sufficiency — thinking too highly of oneself.

Sloane: What should leaders always keep in mind?

Dr. Arteaga: Their own limitations.

Sloane: What is something that you know about leadership now that you could only have learned through experience?

Dr. Arteaga: That you cannot give your trust away and that experience is indeed the basis for success.

Sloane: Do you feel that leaders are born, made or some combination of both?

Dr. Arteaga: There is a combination of both.

Sloane: And finally, are there any last words of wisdom concerning leadership that you would like to share?

Dr. Arteaga: We are all able to assume leadership positions given the time, we just have to know how to do it.

Spanish translation credit: Ximena Cardoso-Sloane