In my seventeen years on the faculty here at Yale, I have never sought to write to you.
I reach out to you today because the visit of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was an affront to many of the values we treasure here at Yale and the United States.
Though elected to his post, Rafael Correa rules as a despot. He has all but silenced the news media in his country and has also crushed political opponents through violence and intimidation.
I attended Correa’s talk yesterday, but was not allowed to ask any questions. So here are five questions for him.
1. Mr. President, you have been criticized for attacks on freedom of expression by groups including Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists and the U.S. Department of State for your attacks on media and civil society. Yet here you are speaking at a University that prides itself on freedom of expression and vigorous debate. If Yale were located in Ecuador, would any considerations keep you from closing down Yale if its students and faculty dared to challenge your policies?
2. Mr. President, you have approved a law that requires public media in Ecuador to report on all issues the government considers of public interest. You were educated in the USA and have seen first hand the contribution a free press and robust civil society can bring to a nation. Why is it that you refuse to tolerate free speech and open debate in Ecuador?
3. Mr. President, you are an enthusiastic supporter of the Castro regime in Cuba, one of the most repressive states on earth, which forbids freedom of expression to all its citizens, denies them internet access and has been condemned repeatedly by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders as one of the most flagrant abusers of human rights on planet earth. Would you like to comment on this?
4. Mr. President, it is common knowledge that Ecuador wants to return to international financial markets to borrow money again following its 2008 default. Yet you yourself have publicly attacked bond holders, calling them “true monsters.” Outside institutions tend to think that the rule of law and protection for investors is weak in Ecuador. So what is the case you make for investing in Ecuador today?
5. Mr. President, your government has approved laws that give you the right to close an NGO if the government determines it has undermined “public peace.” Pachamama, one of Ecuador’s most prominent environmental NGOs was ordered shut down after being accused of stirring up rowdy protests. Would you like to comment on this incident and others like it?
6. Mr. President, LifeSitesNews.com reported in Jan. 6, 2014 from Quito that you had “criticized gender ideology, calling it absurd and very dangerous.” Speaking about gays, you were also reported as saying “We respect them as persons… But we don’t share these barbarities.” Would you like to explain these statements to the Yale community?
While Correa has every right to speak freely here at Yale, and to be treated with respect, he also needs to be reminded that back in Ecuador he is denying his country the same rights that allow him to speak to us.
Dictators should never feel comfortable beyond their borders, or within them. And when they venture to praise themselves on foreign soil, they should be reminded that tolerance is a two-way street.
The writer is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies.