The Ecuadorian Pot Calls the American Kettle Black on Media Freedom

For a time it looked like Edward Snowden, famed NSA leaker, was headed for Ecuador, whose London embassy still hosts asylum-seeker Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. But the leftist government curiously has cooled on Snowden.

President Rafael Correa originally praised Snowden for his leaks, but then back-tracked. More recently Correa indicated that an asylum request would be considered only after Snowden reached Ecuadorian territory or an embassy, and after consultation with the Obama administration. The Hugo Chavez confidante added: “I believe that someone who breaks the law must assume his responsibilities.” 

The suspicion is that Correa decided principle wasn’t as important as his people’s access to the U.S. market. Nothing personal, just business!

Thankfully, President Correa is primarily a problem for his own people, a dangerous demagogue like Chavez who uses nominally democratic means to amass ever more power. The group Freedom House cited Correa’s use of “questionable maneuvers to remove opposition legislators and members of the Constitutional Court.” Human Rights Watch reported that “prosecutors have repeatedly applied a ‘terrorism and sabotage’ provision of the criminal code against participants engaged in public protests against environmental and other issues.” 

Correa also uses his control of the government and the courts to discourage media criticism. Last month the National Assembly approved a new “gag law” which creates a Communication Regulation and Development Council, Office of Superintendent of Information and Communication, and Citizen Participation, and Social Control Council to enforce its provisions.

The government closed a score of independent radio and television stations last year. President Correa also has used lawsuits to punish his critics. One case imposed a $40 million judgment and jail terms. Observed Freedom House: “International human rights and press freedom organizations, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the United Nations denounced the court decision as a clear effort to intimidate the press.”

His attacks on the press dramatically contradict his policy toward foreign leakers. Indeed, observed my Cato Institute colleagues Juan Carlos Hidalgo and Gabriela Calderon de Burgos:

Another, less reported story is Correa’s war against leakers in his own government. Since he came to power in 2007 there have been four well-documented case where the Ecuadorean government either prosecuted or arrested people who leaked information to the media, revealing instances of corruption in Correa’s government. 

Freedom House only rates Ecuador as “partly free.”  As I wrote in my latest Forbes online column:

While [recently] in Ecuador I talked with people who are more classically liberal, favoring limited government, competitive markets, and free expression.  Although they oppose the crony right as much as the populist left, there was a shared feeling of intimidation.  Years ago, when a free market university let Correa go after he chose politics over the classroom, he sent government regulators to the school.  Many who write about the president today say they temper their criticism, lest they face a ruinous lawsuit.

For Ecuadorian President Correa, sanctimony is high art. To him press freedom and government transparency are for other governments, not his own.