Tag: ecuador

Rafael Correa’s Flat in Belgium

It is traditional for a Latin American nationalist to criticize people who take their money out of their country and invest it somewhere else. President Rafael Correa has done it several times. In 2009 he forced private banks to repatriate part of their assets.

What is unusual is finding evidence that he who preaches does not necessarily practice what he preaches. Last week, Ecuadorians were surprised to hear the news—with our tax authority (Servicio de Rentas Internas–SRI) and then the presidency as a source—that Correa had transferred $330,000 to his bank account in Germany. The President then clarified (“…don’t be stupid, the money was sent to Belgium not Germany”) [in Spanish] that the money was transferred to pay for an apartment for his family in Belgium, given that his children may pursue studies in that country.

But the story did not end there. Earlier this week, the director of the SRI, Carlos Marx Carrasco, announced [in Spanish] that he will publish a list of all citizens that have taken money out of the country with the amount they have paid in taxes for doing so (currently there is a 2% tax on all transactions that imply taking money out of Ecuador). Marx Carrasco said that this has to be done “so that the citizens can see (the behavior) of those who represent El Universo, Diario Hoy, El Comercio and all media, who with human misery have allowed themselves to question (what the president has done)”.

This is how, those who concentrate political power in Ecuador, use information collected for the purpose of charging taxes to take reprisals.

Dollarization Keeps Ecuador Economically Stable Despite Political Instability

Political chaos and institutional meltdowns are all too common in Ecuador’s recent history. A cynic could even interpret yesterday’s violent police uprising that threatened the continuity of President Rafael Correa’s government as “a return to normalcy” in a nation that has had 10 presidents in the last 15 years.

Yet, despite the chaotic nature of its politics, Ecuador has enjoyed relative economic stability since it adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency on January 9, 2000.

In a country where presidents are regularly toppled by mob protests or popular uprisings, it can be expected that the economy—and particularly the value of its currency—would go into a tailspin with every crisis. This was precisely what happened in the decade prior to 2000, when inflation averaged 37.5% per annum. However, in the 10 years since dollarization, the yearly inflation rate has averaged 6.8%. This number is itself inflated by the fact that inflation reached a peak of 91% in the first year of dollarization, and remained high the following year too. (That initial high rate is explained by the fact that, at the time of adopting the dollar, the government set a particularly high conversion rate for the sucre, Ecuador’s old currency, forcing a massive devaluation that led to high inertial inflation that year.) However, Ecuador’s inflation rate rapidly went down and has largely converged with that of the United States in recent years.

Of course, there are no silver bullets in economic development. Ecuador’s sound monetary policies have not been matched by similar coherent reforms on taxes and spending, or in the areas of trade policy, or labor and business regulations, for example. Ecuador stands in dismal 109th place (out of 141 economies) on economic liberty, according to the latest Economic Freedom of the World report. However, even as their country’s political and democratic institutions constantly fall apart, Ecuadorians can take satisfaction that the value of their currency is not under threat thanks to dollarization.

The Ecuadorian Government’s Campaign against the Free Press

The World Cup is over but not the Ecuadorian government’s propaganda campaign vilifying the free press.

For those Ecuadorians who don’t have Direct TV, but only have cable TV or the local network channels, the only place to have watched the much-awaited matches was on one of the state-owned TV stations and with constant state propaganda. (You can watch the videos depicting the private press as a snake or as shooting bullets coming out of the TV here, here, here and here.)

When I say constant, I might be understating the frequency: according to Infomedia — a media monitoring company— during the weekend of June 18-20 these ads were broadcasted 414 times for a total of 7,988 seconds or 133 minutes.

To make matters worse, the ads continue to be aired at the same time the not-so-independent National Assembly is debating a new communications law that would create a Communications Council — controlled by the executive branch — with the power to impose severe sanctions on radio and TV stations and newspapers.

For starters, the proposed law contains this contradictory statement in its preamble:

Every person … has the right to … search, receive, exchange and distribute information that is truthful, appropriate, contextualized, plural and without previous censorship…

Of course, it will be up to the council to decide what is truthful (and appropriate, contextualized and plural, whatever that means).

Additionally, the Council would have the power to impose sanctions on TV and radio stations and the written press, including fees of 1-10% of the average sales of the media company during the previous three months. The long list of actions that could provoke a sanction includes the following:

  • not complying with the obligation to broadcast at least 40% of nationally produced material during the daily programming schedule;
  • broadcasting or publishing ads that “provoke violence, discrimination, racism, addiction to a drug, religious or political intolerance and all publicity that threatens human rights”;
  • broadcasting commercials that do not “promote consumption that is social and environmentally sustainable”

Again, the government-controlled Council will judge whether media stations are in compliance.

Moreover, the proposed law stipulates that several positions (editors, general directors, news directors, reporters) at TV and radio stations and newspapers be held by individuals with college degrees in communications and journalism. 

The current communications regime also gives similar powers to a body charged with regulating radio and TV stations, but at least on paper, it is not controlled by the executive branch and does not have the power to impose sanctions on the written press. Even so, the current communications regulation was drafted by a military dictatorship in the 1970s and partly amended since the return to democracy in 1979.  President Correa relied on the content control provisions of the law — mostly ignored since 1979 — to shut down privately owned Teleamazonas TV for three days last year.

The Ecuadorian penal and civil codes already define sanctions for individuals who commit libel. These codes, applicable to all citizens, have been useful for Correa’s government: the op-ed page editor of El Universo, Emilio Palacio, was sued by one of Correa’s allies (Camilo Samán, the president of one of the state-owned banks) and convicted to three years in prison for libel (more on that here). Palacio appealed and then Samán mysteriously lifted all charges against the accused a couple of days before Hillary Clinton met with Correa in Quito.

During the last week of the World Cup, the editors-in-chief of the country’s main newspapers published public letters to the secretary of communications of the presidency (read them here, here, and here), Fernando Alvarado, in which they protested being accused in the government propaganda of being “thieves,” promoting “violence” and lying. The editors also demanded that Alvarado specify which media outlet is guilty of these charges and on what precise occasion they committed these punishable crimes. Guadalupe Mantilla, the editor-in-chief of El Comercio stated in her letter that this regrettable abuse of public funds for propaganda has been characterized “by an aggressiveness never before seen in Ecuador during a democratic regime.”

The government reacted to these letters with another offensive ad on TV that was aired during the Spain vs. Germany match. Last week, the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors issued a statement, endorsed by the country’s 12 most important newspapers and magazines, that read: “This attack from the executive branch happens at a time when the National Assembly is about to approve a new Communications Law … that flouts all international principles and agreements pertaining to rights and freedoms. Given these facts and given the lack of independence of the judiciary, we affirm that freedom of expression continues to be violated in Ecuador…”

Journalists Condemn Attack on the Free Press in Ecuador

On Monday I wrote about an Ecuadorian court’s sentencing of Emilio Palacio, editor of the opinion section of El Universo, to three years in jail. Since then, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed “profound concern” about the prison sentence for Palacio, and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have strongly condemned it.

Op-ed writers from leading national newspapers have signed a statement condemning the court’s decision. This statement was published in El Comercio, El Universo, Diario HOY and La Hora. So far 47 columnists have signed on. See an updated list here of those of us who express our solidarity with the accused journalist.

A Columnist Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Ecuador

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has long labeled the free press as his “main enemy.” His attitude has unfortunately resulted in official intolerance of individuals critical of the government.

The latest example is that of Emilio Palacio, the editor of the op-ed page of El Universo – the newspaper with the highest circulation in the country – who was sentenced on Friday to three years in jail for an op-ed he wrote in August 2009. Palacio accused Camilo Samán, director of a state-owned bank, of having sent protesters to El Universo’s offices after the newspaper reported on possible acts of corruption at the bank. The President has repeatedly stated that Palacio should be punished for what he wrote. In a country where everybody knows that the courts are not independent of political power, it’s not surprising that the ruling went against the editor.

I have known Palacio since I began writing op-eds for El Universo in late 2006. Although we hardly ever agree on policy issues, I certainly don’t believe he (or anyone else) deserves to go to jail (and possibly pay a fine of $3 million) for expressing an opinion. (The court actually found Palacio guilty of libel, but even if we were to agree with that finding, the punishment surely does not fit the crime.)

Correa’s government has accused at least 31 people of offending “the majesty of the presidency,” jailing many of them for short periods of time. To do so, the President revived a law that the first military dictatorship of the 1970s put into place that made such an offense a crime and that was never taken off the books.

The government regularly vilifies its critics including journalists, university students, businessmen, and indigenous leaders. For example, during his weekly national radio shows, the President has attacked Carlos Vera and Jorge Ortiz, the two most popular news anchors in the country. The government’s frequent nationally televised messages (that every TV station on public airwaves is forced to broadcast) usually have the sole purpose of attacking a person or group that opposes official policy. Sometimes these messages were broadcast during Vera’s and Ortiz’s programs, thereby keeping their viewers from watching them. In 2008 Correa took over several privately owned TV and radio stations. Last year, he apparently had his eyes set on Teleamazonas, another TV station on public airwaves. In December, the government shut down Teleamazonas for three days and now has a frivolous legal case pending against it.

Sadly, Correa is following the pattern of his fellow populist Hugo Chávez in curtailing freedom of speech, though receiving virtually no international scrutiny.

Ecuador Copies Venezuela on Press Freedom

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced Monday that his government is reviewing the broadcast licenses of radio and television stations and that it is finding “irregularities” to which sanctions will be applied, including revoking licenses. “Some sacred cows will fall,” he warned. The measures could affect hundreds of stations. The announcement was made just days after President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also used an administrative pretext to close down 34 radio stations critical of his regime. Last week the Venezuelan congress began considering a press crimes law that would criminally penalize with prison sentences of up to four years members of the media “or any other person that expresses himself through any medium of communication” for reporting news that is false, harmful to mental health, or that produces instability. It’s not clear that Correa will also copy Chavez on a press censorship law or that he will close as many stations. But at the very least, Correa is seeking to significantly muzzle the independent press through intimidation and self-censorship.

The Populist Assault on the Latin American Press

Mary O’Grady writes in today’s Wall Street Journal on the Kirchners’ threats to press freedom in Argentina. Unfortunately, the attack on free expression is part of a worrying trend that is intensifying in some of the region’s populist countries. For more, see Gabriela Calderón’s post on Ecuador here; and my posts on Ecuador and on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s efforts to close down Globovision TV here and here.