By endorsing the judicial and media “reforms” in this month’s constitutional referendum, Ecuador has moved a step closer to Venezuelan-style autocracy. President Rafael Correa, a Hugo Chávez disciple who has attacked opposition journalists, harassed private companies, and weakened democracy, will now have greater powers to regulate media content and punish reporters, judges, magistrates, and businessmen who disagree with his radical agenda. This represents a huge setback for those Ecuadoreans struggling to preserve the basic civil liberties that Americans take for granted.
In a press release issued after the votes had been counted, the nonprofit organization Freedom House said it was “deeply concerned” that the reforms “will give President Correa undue influence over the country’s media, as well as its judiciary.” The group’s senior program manager for Latin America, Viviana Giacaman, declared that “Correa’s continuous demonization of independent media and the use of criminal defamation suits to silence journalists are having a chilling effect on the press in Ecuador. Attention and action from the international community is urgent in order to safeguard democracy and human rights of the Ecuadorean people.”
Meanwhile, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published a new report this month that accuses Correa of soliciting financial assistance from the FARC, the well-known Colombian narco-terrorist outfit, during his 2006 presidential run. According to the IISS study, the FARC gave $100,000 to a Correa supporter, and there is compelling evidence that this money was then deposited into Correa’s campaign account.
The Obama administration originally pursued a rapprochement with Quito, but Correa was not interested. In April, he expelled U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges after learning that she had criticized Ecuador’s rampant corruption in secret diplomatic cables (publicized by WikiLeaks). The reality is that U.S.-Ecuador relations won’t significantly improve until the South American country gets a new president who is committed to genuine democracy.