Ecuadorean dictator Rafael Correa uses his courts to intimidate, imprison, and stifle free press

Latin America’s “21st Century Socialism” may not be all about terrorism, summary executions, and guerrilla warfare like that of its predecessor, but the end results are the same: Intimidation, repression, and tyranny. Ecuador’s dictator, Rafael Correa, is using the country’s court system, over which he has taken complete control, to implement 21st Century Socialism and intimidate, imprison, and stifle free press in Ecuador.

Via the Miami Herald:

Ecuador’s Correa wins fresh victory against press

When it comes to suing journalists, Ecuador President Rafael Correa is on a roll. Just 10 days after winning a $2 million judgment against two reporters, the courts upheld a $42 million criminal libel suit Correa filed against members of El Universo newspaper.

Early Thursday, Ecuador’s high court found that three executives and one columnist for El Universo crossed the line when they wrote and printed a column suggesting that Correa had ordered troops to open fire on a hospital in 2010 where he was briefly held hostage. The ruling, which is not subject to appeal, also ratified three-year prison sentences for the men.

The El Universo case has drawn the ire of human rights and journalism groups that say Ecuador has been systematically targeting the opposition press.

“This shortsighted ruling will only keep Ecuadoran journalists from investigating powerful politicians,” Carlos Lauría of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. “It represents a serious setback for democracy in Ecuador.”

Correa, a charismatic populist who has enjoyed high approval ratings, has painted the media as the propaganda arm of oligarchs who attack his government under the guise of free speech.

On Thursday, he called the verdict a triumph of justice over power and predicted the ruling would unleash as wave of similar lawsuits in Ecuador and the region.

“It will be a great step for the liberation of America, and freedom from one of the greatest powers that has operated with impunity – the corrupt press,” he said in a statement.

In a conference, he said his lawsuit had set a precedent by holding the media outlet — and not just the columnist – accountable.

“We have proved that you can sue the clowns but also the owners of the circus,” Correa said.


El Universo claims the case against it was plagued with legal problems. The lawyers said the government shopped for compliant judges and that an exam of the original lower-court verdict found that it was written by Correa’s lawyers and not the presiding judge. Correa and others have ridiculed that claim, but it’s not the first time such charges have been leveled. Lawyers for Chevron, which is facing an $18 billion judgment for polluting the Ecuadoran Amazon, say they have evidence that someone other than the judge wrote the verdict.

The El Universo lawsuit also violates international treaties. Using criminal law to prosecute expression about public officials is illegal under the American Convention on Human Rights, which Ecuador signed in 1969, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission said.

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