Ecuador’s President Restricts Freedom of Expression
January 30, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa celebrated the fifth anniversary of his administration earlier this month. Since taking office in 2007, Correa has curtailed the media’s freedom of expression. A new law now bans any media reports that can benefit or hurt a political candidate. According to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, Correa went on the offensive last month when he requested the Organization of American States (OAS) to consider limiting the power of its rapporteur for freedom of expression. The office has been critical of Ecuador in the past as well as other countries in the region. According to local publication, Hoy, in 2010, the OAS pushed Ecuador to change a media bill that opened the door to censorship. If Correa’s plan is adopted, the annual OAS report on the status of free expression in the Americas would not be published publically, as it has for more than a decade. The plan also includes a revised code of conduct that would increase state oversight of the work of special rapporteurs.
Speaking with the Washington Post, Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, said he does not believe Correa’s plan will gain much traction amongst the other 33 countries of the OAS, save Columbia, Venezuela and perhaps Brazil, which have also been criticized for their human rights practices. Correa has cultivated close alliances with two other countries known for their repression of the media, Iran and Cuba.
In Ecuador, Correa recently filed a defamation lawsuit that sentenced the three directors of the country’s largest newspaper to three years in prison and fined them a total of $40 million. The Washington Post spoke to Cesar Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for Media Study and Observation in Quito, who said, “Ecuador is moving faster than anywhere else to restrict free expression.” The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists tracks Correa’s treatment of individual journalists. He regularly singles them out on government broadcasts and ruins their careers, calling them “unethical”, “liars”, “corrupt” and supporters of the interests of outside powers.
Despite such behavior, Correa is widely popular and is backed by a congressional majority. According to the Associated Press, Correa’s doubling of public spending has earned him many supporters in the tiny country of 14 million. Thanks to the high price of oil, Ecuador is able to devote 10 percent of its gross domestic product to public investment, more than any other Latin American or Caribbean nation. Economist Xavier Ordenana, from the Escuela Politecnica del Litoral in Guayaquil warns that that Ecuador’s current economic model is not sustainable and can only last for “some years.” In the meantime, many poor and even middle class families and individuals have benefited from housing subsidies, welfare payments, rebuilding roads, improving schools, etc.
Correa’s policies have alienated other groups in society such as bankers, industrialists, the Roman Catholic Church and most recently, indigenous groups who oppose the state’s insistence on extracting materials from their lands without consent. Populist presidents have risen in Ecuador before but were ousted do to corruption charges. So far Correa has not been accused of corruption but without a free media, there will be few mechanisms left for criticizing the government.
For previous news on Ecuador, please see:
Correa’s Referendum Wins Support in Ecuador By Small Margin
The Los Angeles Times - Ecuador's war on the media
Hoy - OAS Rapporteur: 13 Observations on the Media Law
The Washington Post - In tiny Ecuador, a populist president restrains the press
Associated Press - Public spending fuels Ecuador leader's popularity