Español By Juliana Morosco and Arianna Tanca
The reality of life in Ecuador is seldom allowed to be shown internationally by the ruling regime. Our aim with this open letter is to provide an insight, from an Ecuadorian perspective, on the matters to be discussed by President Rafael Correa during his upcoming visits to Harvard, Yale, and MIT.
Individual freedoms are being violated in Ecuador on a daily basis, and we consider it our civil duty as students, Ecuadorians, and concerned citizens, to present clear examples of the misuse of power throughout the last seven years of the “Citizen Revolution.”
Sabatina: Character Assassination and State Propaganda
Correa may boast about the development of rail connectivity in Ecuador and government spending on highways, but that does not mean we should accept domineering arrogance and character assassination as the norm. On a weekly basis, our country suffers through his Saturday broadcast, Sabatina — as we’re supposed to give thanks for paved roads.
We might be more appreciative if Correa were not misusing the state apparatus to benefit the ruling party, as well as his own stranglehold on power. Through his televised addresses to the Ecuadorian public, he uses the taxpayer-funded platform for state propaganda, to campaign for the Alianza PAIS (AP) political party, and to denigrate the opposition.
His Amargura (bitterness) segment, for example, has attacked journalists who dare to question his omnipotence, accusing them of “shameless politicking” — oh the irony. A winner of the International Press Freedom Award, Janet Hinostroza, is one of many to suffer this harassment. Eventually she had to resign, given threats to her life, and the Committee to Protect Journalists has concluded that Ecuador suffers from “a new era of widespread repression by pre-empting private news broadcasts, enacting restrictive legal measures, smearing critics, and filing debilitating defamation lawsuits.”
Term Limits and the Constitution
Respect for the rule of law is not to be taken lightly, especially when it involves not only the President in office, but the civil society as a whole. Ecuador has a long history of tossing constitutions around as unimportant pieces of paper when the laws in place are not convenient for the sitting president. President Correa continued this unfortunate legacy when he began with the dissolution of Congress, and then the rewriting of the constitution for the 20th time since the founding of the republic.
Surprise: Alianza PAIS is now pushing for another constitutional reform that would allow for the indefinite reelection of the president. Although Correa claims to be different from the “partyocracy” that preceded him, he is guilty of the same evil, as he believes the constitution is a political project he can change to suit his needs.
Even though the president himself is not leading the change, the political party he manages is pushing for it to be passed in the National Assembly. Alianza PAIS has 100 seats and only needs 92 votes to pass such reform. The general public has no say or influence on the passage of this legislation, and once again, we lose faith in the rule of law. This reform would make a monarch of the president.
Communications Law: Another Tool of the State to Muzzle Dissent
During his current term, Correa has enacted a new Communications Law. This Ley Organica de Comunicacion (LOC) has been used by the regime as one of its many censorship tools to limit criticism and dissent. For example, Xavier Bonilla, a local political cartoonist, was prosecuted for publishing a drawing that portrayed the house raid of a fellow journalist.
Correa referred to him as “an assassin with ink.” Bonilla was then forced to publish a correction and his newspaper, El Universo, was issued a large fine. The newspaper has previously been on the receiving end of legal action from the government. In 2011, President Correa sued them for libel and fined them US$40 million. The offending journalist and owners of El Universo were sentenced to jail, although the case was later dismissed.
Economic Measures Cripple Ecuador’s Development
During the Citizen’s Revolution era, Correa has lead a new development plan to push for a change in our economy. This production matrix (Matriz Productiva) seeks to re-engineer the structure of the Ecuadorian economy by restricting imports.
While we all want growth for our society, the double standard is immense. Consider that the new presidential plane cost $50 million from the state budget — allowing the president to spend freely — yet citizens are restricted from buying common products of their choice.
Our central government states that we are experiencing an economic bonanza as a result of the past seven years of Correa’s mandate, as they quietly ignore our fragile economic dependence on high oil prices. On the contrary, Ecuador continues to operate in a relatively clustered, closed economy, forever playing in the minor leagues. In fact, our foreign investment is one of the lowest in the region at $486 million. Peru and Colombia, by comparison, receive an average of $12.8 billion in foreign investment and have benefited from free trade agreements as part of the Pacific Alliance.
While Ecuador has decreased its poverty levels, by 10.3 percent (PDF), it is important to recall that this phenomenon is a regional tendency with no connection to Alianza PAIS’s mandate. Further, poverty fell by 26.8 percent in the six years before the installment of Correa and with far less governmental expenditure.
Standing for Personal Autonomy
Government should allow for liberties to prevail regardless of their particular motives, as citizens pursue their best interests. This principle is a fundamental part of the social contract we have engaged in with Rafael Correa’s regime, the one he has failed to uphold.
Although it is a privilege to address ourselves to you, as proud Ecuadorians, it would be naive of us not to consider the possibility of governmental repercussions (or 15 seconds of blasphemy-filled fame in a Sabatina). Freedom of speech is a virtue engraved into all individuals from birth, and we should be allowed to benefit from it regardless of our political ideology or government. However, the law executed by the National Assembly states that media is a public service, and therefore subject to government regulation.
We do not accept such a notion: freedom of speech is a fundamental right — neither private nor public; it is a human right. By writing these lines, against the Citizen’s Revolution and its limited view of freedom of expression, we are exercising our right to voice both opinion and truth.
The new national tourism campaign states that #AllYouNeedIsEcuador. How about we go with freedom instead?
Arianna Tanca (@ariannatancam) is a political science student from Ecuador and a researcher at Inteligencia Estratégica, a political consulting agency. She is a Students For Liberty local coordinador for Latin America.
Juliana Moscoso (@JulianaMosocosoC), based in Guayaquil, has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Georgia, Atlanta, where she majored in political science.