On April 7, wearing a mask and goggles as protection against the coronavirus, an Ecuadorian judge sentenced former president Rafael Correa to eight years in prison for corruption and barred him from holding public office for 25 years. The court found Correa and 19 others, including jailed former vice president Jorge Glas, guilty of accepting $8 million in bribes to be funneled into election campaigns between 2012 and 2016. But critics say it’s another case of legal harassment or “lawfare” to discredit the leftist leader, following a similar script as cases against Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
The conclusion to a campaign of what Correa and his allies have condemned as political persecution came as the dire situation in Guayaquil—buckling under COVID-19—brought Ecuador into the international spotlight. Amid scenes of dead bodies in the streets, mourning families, a collapsing health system, and authorities unable to respond, the death rate in Guayas province leapt to 11,000 in the past six weeks from the usual 3,000. The chaotic response to COVID-19 fueled criticism of president Lenín Moreno—elected left and governing right—and his austerity policies, including reductions in public health spending. A former Correa ally, Moreno has resorted to the politicization of justice and militarization to silence his former allies and dissenters.
The trial is a key milestone for Ecuador’s ruling elites, who believe the best way to stay in control is to eliminate alternatives. In response to the conviction, Correa tweeted: “Well, this is what they were looking for: manipulating justice to achieve what they could never do at the ballot box.” Correa, who now lives in Belgium, maintains his innocence.
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