In Self-Promotion Abroad, Ecuador’s Correa Omits His Repression of Critics at Home
Those who read Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa’s opinion piece in the Boston Globe or saw him speak at Harvard or Yale in April were presented with an impassioned and compelling defense of the governance model he has developed in Ecuador. If we take his word for it, he has finally achieved “real” democracy by ensuring that “everyone is now equal before the law.”
Yet while the president has been promoting himself through a public-relations campaign abroad, he has ratcheted up the suppression of critical voices within his own country. In Freedom House’s recently released report Freedom of the Press 2014, Ecuador was rated Not Free for the second consecutive year. And as the report suggests, the developments over the past year were more disturbing than just a continuing negative trend.
Correa went to great lengths to silence his detractors in 2013, passing one of the region’s most restrictive media laws, ordering an illegal raid on a journalist’s home to steal potentially critical information, and rigorously policing social media to weed out citizen criticism. Importantly, he also diversified his targets, frequently seeking to silence or discredit the very groups that he correctly acknowledged in his opinion piece as having traditionally been “disaffected and disenfranchised.” His actions over the past year revealed the contradictions underlying his theoretically inclusive “citizen revolution” and provided a startling glimpse of what is likely to come.
Among the most worrying incidents occurred on December 26, 2013, when Ecuadorian security forces, upon receiving an “urgent action” document from Correa’s general counsel, raided the home of journalist Fernando Villavicencio. Twelve police officials confiscated computers and documents in an apparent effort to undermine Villavicencio’s investigation into government corruption in the oil industry. That same night, state forces broke into the office of National Assembly member Cléver Jiménez, seizing two computers. Both Jiménez and Villavicencio were previous targets of the government, having been sentenced in April 2013 to 18 months in prison for alleged defamation of the president. They were free pending an appeal at the time of the raids.
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