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South Florida Sun-Sentinel – Opinion – Democracy a real sham in Correa’s Ecuador

Date: Apr 17, 2014

Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador since 2007, is undoubtedly the best-educated leftist president in Latin America. He has two masters degree — one from Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium and another one from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a PhD from the same university.

He speaks four languages: Spanish, English, French and Quechua.

This allows Correa to present himself as a reasonable politician. One who in his Op-Ed column for the Boston Globe can rationally argue, “Real freedom requires justice.” He quotes from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “All men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable (sic) Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

In Ecuador and across Latin America, Correa wrote, we also hold these truths to be self-evident, and we must make them a reality not just for certain people or at some future time, but right now and for everybody.

No doubt Correa talks and writes a good game.

It is a shame, however, that Correa does not practice what he preaches. When eight U.S. senators replied to his Op-Ed piece, he had a fit. How dare senators question his article! That clearly is an intromission in the internal affairs of Ecuador.

And therein lies the problem. Correa may be well educated, but he certainly does not understand what a true democracy is.

Nobody questions his right to speak at Harvard and write for the Boston Globe. Nor should he be surprised by the critical response of a bi-partisan group of American senators. This was not a partisan reply. Among those who questioned Correa were: Bob Menéndez, D-N.J., and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marco Rubio, R-FL, and six other members of the committee — three Republicans and three Democrats.

American lawmakers and the press are aware of Correa’s disregard for the free press. Questioning the president is dangerous for the press. He has imposed multi-million dollar fines (later magnanimously forgiven) to El Universo of Guayaquil for publishing a column that question the events of a police uprising against Correa.

He has also confiscated or closed down radio stations that question his policies.

When I talk to Ecuadorean journalists they all tell me that they have to be very careful of what they write or air on radio and television. Auto-censorship best describes what is happening in Ecuador.

The few journalists who try to use social media to voice their displeasure with Correa find out that their accounts are frozen. Correa’s diplomats take care of that.

Relations with the United States are strained. Correa expelled the American ambassador, as well as other diplomats. He closed down the naval base at Manta that the American Navy used in its war against drugs. His relations with human rights organizations are poor.

But now Correa wants international and private investors in the United States to forget about his authoritarian policies. He has decided to explore for oil in the country’s easternmost Amazonian regions. He wants politicians and international organizations to forget he has sided with the indigenous people in the region to sue Chevron for damages to the region in a dispute where international arbitrators and a Federal Court in New York have agreed with the American oil company.

He needs American technology and science to begin exploitation of Yachay, Dos, a potentially rich oil field in Ecuador’s Amazon region.

Now he needs the same companies that Ecuador once expelled from the country to come back to Ecuador if he is to successfully exploit the new oil field.

That is why Correa came to the United States. That is why he replies so aggressively to anyone who questions his speech, or his motives.

Correa is a well-polished man and the contrast with Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro is enormous. But be careful. He is a well-educated wolf disguised in sheep’s clothes.

International organizations have already decided to re-invest in Ecuador. Correa needs more. He needs to convince major international oil companies to forget the past and invest in Ecuador for the future.

That is a big risk. One that major oil companies should measure well before deciding to again invest in Ecuador.

Guillermo I. Martínez resides in South Florida. His e-mail is Twitter is @g_martinez123.

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