Jaime Roldós Aguilera

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Jaime Roldós Aguilera
File:Roldos aguilera jaime.gif
President of Ecuador
In office
August 10, 1979 – May 24, 1981
Vice President Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea
Preceded by Alfredo Poveda
Succeeded by Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea
Personal details
Born November 5, 1940
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Died May 24, 1981(1981-05-24) (aged 40)
Huairapungo Mountain, Celica Canton, Loja Province, Ecuador
Political party Concentration of People's Forces
Spouse(s) Martha Bucaram
Alma mater University of Guayaquil
Religion Roman Catholicism

Jaime Roldós Aguilera (November 5, 1940 – May 24, 1981) was President of Ecuador from August 10, 1979 until his death on May 24, 1981. In his short tenure, he became known for his firm stance on human rights.

His death in a plane crash has given rise to accusations he was surreptitiously assassinated by the United States government. The Ecuadorian Roldosist Party is named after him.

Early life and career

Roldós was born in Guayaquil on November 5, 1940. He attended high school at the Vicente Rocafuerte National School. He studied law and social sciences at the University of Guayaquil. He was an excellent student and won many awards, medals and scholarships.

At the age of 37, he ran for president on a populist platform. In the first round, he received the greatest number of votes, but not the 50% plus one needed to avoid a runoff.[1] He won the second round of elections against Sixto Durán Ballén, and assumed office on August 10, 1979.


File:Stamps of Ecuador, 2014-36.jpg
Jaime Roldós Aguilera on a 2014 stamp of Ecuador

On October 11, 1979, Roldós signed a decree reducing the workweek to 40 hours. On November 1, 1979, he issued another decree doubling the minimum wage, to 4,000 sucres per month. ($160 in 1979 US dollars). On March 8, 1980, he established the National Development Plan. On April 15, 1980, he established a committee of notables to search for a solution for the power struggle in the National Congress, presided over by his former mentor Assad Bucaram.

He named 1981 the "year of advances". In late January and early February 1981, there were border skirmishes with Peru, in the Cordillera del Cóndor. Clashes occurred in the regions of Paquisha, Mayaycu, and Machinatza. With great skill and diplomacy he left the territorial dispute to the arbitration by the Organization of American States.

Roldós's most important accomplishment was his policy in support of human rights, in an era in which most Latin American countries were military dictatorships. In September 1980, Roldós met with the democratically elected presidents of the Andean region (Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru), proposed the signing of a Charter of Conduct, in which the principles of universal justice and human rights were re-affirmed, signaling protection of human rights as a more important principle than non-intervention.

This policy was questioned by American conservatives, who considered it an excuse to justify Soviet meddling in the region, especially in Central America. They[who?] condemned the "Roldós doctrine", as they did that of Panamanian Omar Torrijos, who also died in a plane crash several months later. Following the 1980 U.S. presidential elections appointing Ronald Reagan, bilateral relations with the USA became strained; Roldós declined to attend Reagan's January 1981 inauguration on these grounds. His foreign policy initiatives also attracted the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and with the Frente Democrático in El Salvador, which opposed the military regime in that country.


On May 24, 1981, a Beechcraft Super King Air carrying the President, the Minister of Defense, their spouses crashed into the slopes of Huairapungo a mountain, in canto Celica of Loja Province. The crash left no survivors: killed along with the president were First Lady Martha Bucaram, Minister of Defense Marco Subía Martínez and his wife, as well as two aided-de-camps, one other passenger and both pilots.

The controversy about the cause of the crash began immediately, when the Accident Investigation Committee (Junta Investigadora de Accidentes, JIA) of the Ecuadorian Air Force attributed the crash to pilot error, supposedly caused by an overloading with cargo. The parliamentary commission formed months after, after pressure from the families of the victims and political groups allied with the president, found contradictions and inconsistencies in the JIA report, but could not reach definitive conclusions especially since the aircraft that was purchased by the Air Force to operate as a VIP transport lacked a Black Box equipment. A team of the Zurich Police, also conducted an investigation, concluded that the plane's motors were shut down when the plane crashed into the mountain. This opinion, which contradicted the Air Force Report, was not investigated further by the Ecuadorian government.

The American author and activist John Perkins, in his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, concludes that Roldós was assassinated, because his plan to reorganize the hydrocarbon sector would have threatened U.S. interests. Roldós had entered into a pact with neighboring Colombia and Peru, a pact which US President Reagan saw as a tilt toward the Soviet Union. Just months after Roldós died, another Latin American leader who had been at odds with U.S. interests in the control of the Panama Canal, Panama's Omar Torrijos, died in what was allegedly just a plane crash, which also is perceived by some to have been a CIA-conducted assassination, again according to Perkins. Historian Niall Ferguson has described Perkins's allegations as implausible. Ferguson notes that that US economic involvement in Ecuador was minimal (less than .5% of foreign aid went to Ecuador, and Ecuador purchased less than .5% of American exports) and inadequate to motivate such drastic action as assassinating a head of state.[2]


After Roldós's death, the National Congress named Roldós's brother, León Roldós, as Vice President of Ecuador for the remainder of what would have been Jaime Roldós's term. León Roldós was later a candidate for president in 1992, 2002, and 2006. Jaime Roldós's daughter, Martha Roldós Bucaram, was a presidential candidate in the 2009 elections. Jaime Roldós's son, Santiago Roldós Bucaram, is a journalist and playwright. Jaime Roldós's brother-in-law, Abdalá Bucaram, founded the populist Ecuadorian Roldosist Party and was elected president of Ecuador. He governed from August 1996 to February 1997, when he was removed by the National Congress on the grounds of "mental incapacity". Martha Roldós has said that the Ecuadorian Roldosist Party has corrupted her father's ideals.[3]

Jaime Roldós's most important legacy was his support for human rights. The Roldós Doctrine holds that the international community's concern for a country's internal human rights situation is not a violation of the country's sovereignty.


  1. La Junta ecuatoriana a la segunda ronda electoral. ELPAÍS. August 12, 1978
  2. Ferguson, Niall (2008), The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, Penguin Books, ISBN 978-0-14-311617-2, pp 295-295
  3. Ayer se recordó el fallecimiento de Roldós y su esposa. EL UNIVERSO. May 25, 2005
Political offices
Preceded by
Alfredo Poveda Burbano
President of Ecuador
Succeeded by
Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea