Students for Liberty Take On Correa’s Censorship in Ecuador

The student conference “Activism, Media, and Freedom” highlighted the importance of free speech in the digital-media age.
The student conference “Activism, Media, and Freedom” highlighted the importance of free speech in the digital-media age. (EsLibertad Ecuador)

EspañolThe perilous state of political humor, transparency, and diversity of thought in Ecuador brought several speakers together in Quito on Monday, September 21.

The conference, held at San Francisco de Quito University, focused the Ecuadorian state’s intensifying crackdown on independent media.

EsLibertad Ecuador, the local chapter of Students for Liberty, and Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo (Citizenship and Development Foundation) organized the event in collaboration with the Latin American Democracy Youth Network, the Bastiat Society, and the Hispanic American Center for Economic Research.

The less formal setting allowed attendants and speakers to ignore the country’s censorship laws and speak out without fear.

Fergus Hodgson, editor in chief of the PanAm Post, began the event with his talk, “Media for the Digital Era,” which stressed the importance of free speech in obtaining and verifying information from a variety of sources.

The digital era means more information is available to us. Yet, this comes with greater responsibility for both media and the public regarding what they decide to share and choose to consume. Hodgson commented on the advantages of digital media and how it helps to promote free speech.

However, governments around the world continue their attempts to monopolize the flow of information, he says. Such is the case in Ecuador under the rule of Rafael Correa, where the government has erected several barriers to limit information and favor the ruling party’s version of events.

“The socialist press does nothing but provide excuses for [socialism’s] failures,” he concludes.

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Miguel Villacís, a lawyer and member of Bastiat Society Ecuador, furthered the discussion on freedom of speech and transparency in Ecuador. Marcelo Espinel, head of projects at the Citizenship and Development Foundation, explained the role of transparency in a truly democratic government.

Espinel then introduced the NGO’s Legislative Observatory, a team that constantly monitors Ecuador’s National Assembly for evidence of legislators’ wrongdoings.

Luis Eduardo Vivanco closed out the event with a discussion on activism on social media and the censoring of Ecuadorian newspaper La Hora, which has come under attack following Congress’s passage of the Media Law in June 2013.

According to Vivanco, digital media has, in some ways, replaced the traditional press, even though the demand for the latter remains strong. He argues that we should not let traditional media fall, since only a fraction of the public has access to the internet. Of those who do have access, he says, some are not using social networks effectively enough or spending enough time interacting with online publications.

Finally, he called on activists and digital outlets to be more creative and find ways to incorporate humor in their work.

All in all, the conference served as an opportunity to inform young university students about the worsening conditions for free speech in Ecuador, and the fact that it isn’t just the media at risk.

With every passing day, citizens are losing the right to voice their opinions and gain information through non-official sources. Correa’s decision to not allow independent reporting of the Cotopaxi volcano eruption should raise red flags even for non-libertarians.

I hope this event was the first of many to come to help bring this sort of awareness to Ecuadorians. As Espinel said during his talk, infringements on free speech were a hallmark of 20th-century dictatorships, and we cannot let our countries slide back into totalitarianism.

Latin America needs free and responsible individuals who will stand up to abusive governments and defend our rights.

Translated by Marián Vázquez.

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