An Iron Fist Hides behind Rafael Correa’s “National Dialogue”

Nationwide protests have come as a blow to President Correa's lust for greater power.
Nationwide protests have come as a blow to President Correa’s lust for greater power. (Mesa Redonda Anticomunista)

EspañolFollowing several weeks of protests across Ecuador, in which citizens demonstrated against the president’s wealth-redistribution policies, the country’s legislators finally came to the rescue of Rafael Correa. On July 21, the National Assembly, controlled by the ruling party País Alliance, passed a resolution repudiating the protesters.

That’s right. The document that calls Ecuadorians exercising their freedom of speech “violent” and putschists passed in a 84-to-30 vote, with two abstentions.

Legislators condemned the marches and called for debate as the democratic and peaceful way of solving differences and reaching consensus, but the opposition was quick to point out the government has disregarded this very principle. The Correa administration only invites like-minded groups to the table, and dismisses the rest who oppose his intent to modify the constitution to allow for indefinite reelection and other harmful policies.

National Dialogue?

In an attempt to muster some democratic credentials, Correa tasked the National Secretary of Planning and Development with conducting a “National Dialogue for Equality and Social Justice” in June. Secretary Pabell Muñoz claims that 30 conversations with civil-society groups have already taken place over the course of the first month.

For his part, Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño announced on July 22 that he will leave his post for two months in order to travel across Ecuador carrying the “national dialogue” banner. The president of Congress, Gabriela Rivadeneira, joined him in stressing that permanent committees set up in every province will expand the discussions and try to reach more people.

But what about the “subversive” Ecuadorians who took to the streets to protest, those whom the president has repeatedly accused of plotting a coup? Officials have repeatedly undermined the credibility of the marches and opposition leaders. If they really want to encourage a national debate, every voice must be heard, not just those selected by the government.

Organizations seeking to enter the so-called national dialogue, such as the Libertarian Movement, are still waiting for an answer from the Correa administration.

“Ecuador Proposes how to increase savings and trade. Rafael Correa and Gabriela Rivadaneira, we are waiting for your official response.”

During his weekly TV show, Correa has insisted on making his opponents’ personal information public and attacking them because of their wealth. Instead of hearing out those with different views, he continues to insist that his proposed inheritance and capital-gains taxes will only affect rich people, further deepening resentment and division among Ecuadorians.

He has made fun of the thousands of protesters that have gathered in Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Loja, Machala, Ibarra, Riobamba, Ambato, Portoviejo, Esmeraldas, and other cities all over the country. Instead of engaging with them, Rafael Correa summoned his supporters to a well-funded counter march in Plaza Grande, Quito’s main square, with shows and concerts.

Overt Repression

The government’s crackdown on dissent is not limited to harassment and lawsuits. The international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a complaint against the Ecuadorian government over the use of excessive police force against protesters in Quito last year.

In their statement released in October 2014, HRW said that people “suffered serious physical abuse, including severe beatings, kicks, and electric shocks, during arrest and in detention.” Patiño responded by calling the report “biased,” and claimed that international organizations commonly put out these kinds of statements against the region’s “progressive and revolutionaries governments.”

After Congress passed the offensive resolution on July 21, Human Rights Watch again complained about the government’s targeting of protesters. “These groundless terrorism and sabotage convictions exemplify the government’s use of repressive legislation against its critics,” Americas director José Miguel Vivanco said.

The ball is in Correa’s court. Patiño, a chief supporter of the ruling party, will lead the dialogue initiative. Rivadeneira and Muñoz have already publicly confessed their support for the regime. They can start to listen to what Ecuadorians have to say, or they can continue attacking them, as Congress’s declaration did.

Government officials must take opposition groups seriously, or the “great national dialogue” will be just another gimmick to keep pushing Correa’s unilateral agenda.

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