A bitter quarrel
“Ecuador is moving faster than anywhere else to restrict free expression,” said Cesar Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for Media Study and Observation in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. “There is the discourse that leads to aggression, there are the lawsuits, there are laws to muzzle. And you also have a powerful propaganda system.”
The increasingly bitter quarrel between journalists and Correa would have gotten little notice beyond the country of just 14 million people on South America’s northern cone.
But Correa has also become an increasingly outspoken and active foe of the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous branch of the Organization of American States that he accuses of being in lockstep with U.S. policy.
The 48-year-old president has been particularly infuriated by the work of the commission’s free expression advocate, Colombian constitutional lawyer Catalina Botero. Her office has documented Correa administration aggressions against the news media and participated in a public hearing in Washington in which Ecuadorian journalists aired their grievances.
“They treat us the same as dictatorships,” Correa said in a December summit of Latin American leaders in Venezuela, where he dedicated a 26-minute speech to the media and Botero’s office. “We are fighting, friends, against an immense power.”
At Correa’s urging, the ambassadors to the 34 countries of the OAS, including the United States, will debate a series of proposals on Wednesday in Washington that could weaken the commission and Botero’s office, which issues a long annual report critiquing all OAS member states.
“What is happening is grave, very grave, because in effect it is an attempt to debilitate the commission, because what it says bothers them,” said Santiago Canton, an Argentine who heads the commission.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, said Correa’s efforts would have had little traction except that the commission’s work investigating rights abuses has not only irritated countries such as left-leaning Venezuela and conservative Colombia but also the region’s power broker, Brazil.
“Countries as ideologically different as Colombia and Venezuela have found common cause in their aversion to the commission’s criticism of their human rights practices,” said Vivanco. “And then you add to this the giant of Brazil.”