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Ignoring Repression and Dirty Tricks in Coverage of Ecuador’s Election


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Source: FAIR

Ecuadorians went to the polls on February 7 to elect a new president, vice president and National Assembly. A week before the election, a widely reposted Reuters article (1/29/21) by Alexandra Valencia and Venezuela-based reporter Brian Ellsworth explained that “nostalgia for better times under former leftist president Rafael Correa has pushed one of his proteges into the lead.” The protégé in question is Andrés Arauz, a 36-year-old economist who was part of the Correa government’s economic team, including a stint as head of its central bank, during the ten years that it was in office (2007–17).

Lies of omission characterize Reuters coverage of Latin American politics (FAIR.org, 12/17/19, 6/14/19). This article was no exception. There was no mention in the article that Arauz was almost not allowed on the ballot at all.

As I explained in August (FAIR.org, 8/17/20), over the past four years, Correa’s allies have not been allowed to register as a new political party, and have had to resort to running under the banner of already-existing parties. The election results have confirmed once again (as did regional elections in 2019) that Correa’s political allies are the largest political force in the country. How could the CNE get away with denying them their own party? Why would Reuters fail to mention, never mind explore, that very significant fact?

By August, the CNE had effectively banned one of the parties allied with Correaists, a maneuver that almost succeeded in disqualifying Arauz—the candidate who just won the first round of the election by 13 percentage points over his closest rival. On October 30, with three votes in favor and two abstentions, the National Electoral Council (CNE) finally allowed Arauz’s candidacy. Still, a week before the election, one CNE member made a last-ditch attempt to have Arauz disqualified.

The CNE also banned the use of Correa’s image in Arauz’s campaign ads, on the grounds that Correa’s conviction for corruption (more about that below) voided his right to “participate” in the election. (How does Correa’s image lose political rights?)

Moreover, a party that Correa strongly opposes was able to use Correa’s image in a commercial. Did the electoral council figure that this deceptive use by a party that does not actually support Corrreismo might draw some votes away from Arauz, and was therefore acceptable?

Progressive International, who had a team of observers in Ecuador during the election, will soon be publishing a report documenting serious problems with the way Ecuador’s election was carried out.  Reuters, which makes headline news out of decisions by Venezuela’s CNE that displeases an insurrectionist US-backed opposition, apparently couldn’t care less about what Ecuador’s CNE does under a right-wing government.

Preposterous charges

Valencia and Ellsworth wrote that outgoing President Moreno

was elected in 2017 on expectations that he would continue Correa’s policies. But the two quickly fell out as Moreno accused his predecessor of corruption and of irresponsibly running up debt.

The article doesn’t explicitly say, but those expectations came from Moreno’s own election campaign in 2017, when he ran as a staunch Correa loyalist who used his ten years in Correa’s government (six as vice president and the remaining four as a special envoy to the UN) to convince voters that he was sincere. But once in office, Moreno immediately began parroting all the views of his right-wing opponent in 2017, a banker named Guillermo Lasso.

The claim that Correa left Ecuador deeply in debt is a lie I wrote about (FAIR.org, 10/23/19) shortly after protests against Moreno’s austerity policies left eight protesters dead. And Moreno’s corruption allegations against Correa are no more credible. As the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research remarked on Twitter (2/7/21):

Coverage of #Ecuador’s elections today often mentions that former president Rafael Correa was tried & convicted on “corruption” charges. Missing from this: he was found guilty of “psychic influence” over a group of public officials.

Interpol has rejected on human rights grounds three different requests by Moreno’s government to have Correa arrested. The cases are preposterous but very numerous—literally dozens of them are ongoing—and facilitated by Moreno’s stacking of the judiciary and other control authorities.

Lopsided media terrain

Equally important, when Moreno betrayed the Correaist movement, he immediately brought public media into alignment with the private media that had always attacked Correa. A nationally televised interview with Moreno that took place early on in his term was very revealing of how public media had been brought into sync with private media (Counterpunch, 1/31/18).

Remarkably, Arauz came in first with 33% of the vote on February 7, despite having 100% of Ecuador’s national-level media against him. That’s hardly a sign of a healthy democracy; a lopsided media terrain encourages flagrant dishonesty. A letter by 40 economists from around the world decried the Ecuadorian media’s shameless lying about Arauz’s position on maintaining the US dollar as Ecuador’s currency.

A vehemently anti-Correa media monoculture over the past four years helps explain the CNE’s outrageous behavior, but also that of Moreno’s cabinet secretary, Juan Sebastián Roldán, who openly threatened Correaist candidates. In a TV interview in August (MAXTV Online, 8/7/20), Roldán said that it was a “big risk being a Correaist candidate, because the justice system will have its eyes on those who have not yet fled or been convicted.” Indeed, many of Correa’s top allies have been jailed or driven into exile.

Reuters also said that right-wing candidate Guillermo Lasso (who may eke out a second-place finish by 0.36 of a percentage point to qualify for the runoff election in April) “has been hurt by his image as a conservative banker.” He has actually been hurt by the fact that Moreno implemented Lasso’s 2017 campaign platform (which included repression of Correaists) for the past four years, and it has been disastrous on multiple levels. Ecuador’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was so incompetent that, based on excess deaths per capita, it is among the worst in the world.

Moreno now has about a 7% approval rating. That hasn’t deterred him from vowing, in a recent Miami Herald op-ed (1/31/21),  to work to entangle Ecuador’s economy more tightly with Washington until his “last day in office.” In fact, he is now trying to privatize Ecuador’s central bank before his term ends (Reuters, 2/8/21).

In the wake of Arauz’s victory, Moreno’s attorney general made a show of appearing with her Colombian counterpart to receive information about accusations spread by private media that Arauz was funded by the ELN, a Colombian rebel group. The story is ridiculous, as Progressive International and others pointed out before the prosecutors from the neighboring countries met. Nevertheless, this has fueled excited speculation among Ecuador’s right wing that Arauz may still be disqualified from the runoff election. One can’t blame them for being excited. Wild allegations backed by big media outlets and a legal system rigged by Moreno have been effective weapons against the left over the past four years.

Speaking of wild allegations, the third place finisher in the election, Yaku Pérez, negotiated a recount in a public meeting with Lasso, the electoral authorities, and the observers from the Organization of American States (OAS). During the meeting, Yaku Pérez accused Correa of meddling in the vote count by “remote control.” How Correa could manage that but fail to get a political party registered over the past four years was not explained. In 2018, Moreno had the CNE stacked with anti-Correa people, as its decisions since then have shown.

Amazingly, Pérez also said that he would not be surprised to see Arauz end up in third place after a recount. These unhinged remarks by Pérez were not mentioned by Reuters in an article about the meeting (Reuters, 2/12/21). Also unmentioned was that Pérez endorsed Lasso in 2017, and that Lasso said he would endorse Pérez against Arauz in a runoff.

Additionally, anyone who doesn’t rely on Western corporate media for news about Latin America would be very alarmed about OAS officials being involved in Ecuador’s elections.  The false claims of OAS officials  incited a US-backed coup in Bolivia in November 2019 (FAIR.org, 12/17/19).

Don’t look back

A subhead to a New York Times analysis (2/7/21) of Ecuador’s election said, “The country, facing a pandemic and an entrenched recession, is seeing political debate revolve around the legacy of a long-gone leader.”

That’s a bizarre complaint to make, when Correa’s decade in office ended only four years ago. Moreover, political debates are usually about what voters should learn from the past. In the US, that often includes debating what the Framers intended centuries ago when they wrote a constitution. Talk about “long-gone” leaders.

Setting aside the silly and condescending argument the Times chose to highlight, the article replicates all of Reuters’ lies of omission.  But the Times stooped lower. It quoted Moreno as if he were a noble democratic reformer, failed by a shortsighted and unenlightened electorate:

And in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, once-popular leaders or their protégés have sidestepped free and fair elections altogether to perpetuate their rule.

Mr. Correa’s successor and his former vice president, Lenín Moreno, wants to see Ecuador break that mold, arguing that leaders with too tight a grip on power are unhealthy for democracies.

“The eternalizing of power, unfortunately, leads those who wield it to acquire malice, which in more than one occasion has ended in corruption and even crimes against humanity,” Mr. Moreno said in an interview during his visit to Washington last month. “When your period ends, a leader has to say, ‘Right, enough.’”…

Mr. Moreno chose not to seek re-election, and reinstated presidential term limits abolished by Mr. Correa. His administration also undertook the corruption investigations that resulted in the former president’s conviction and the jailing of eight of his ministers. But Mr. Moreno’s austerity measures made him highly unpopular, leaving many Ecuadoreans clamoring for Mr. Correa’s return.

Governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua are depicted as oppressive even when tolerating insurrectionist opposition backed by Washington (FAIR.org, 4/23/18, 8/23/18). But Moreno’s sincerity and commitment to democracy (whatever the facts) are never in doubt to the Times, because he was submissive towards Washington, local oligarchs and the media outlets they own. Moreno jailing political opponents, whom he praised to the skies when he needed them to gain power in 2017, is evidence of sound character to the Times—not evidence that Moreno is a cynical person who undermined democracy. Moreno’s credibility with the Times was also undamaged by the fact that he struck a blow against press freedom around the world by mistreating and ultimately expelling WikiLeaks‘ Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Moreno was a Correaist when it was easy to be one. That’s not the case with Arauz, who the Times (2/7/21) sought to disparage as a “little-known economist” who would merely follow Correa’s orders (as opposed to sharing his convictions). If you read my interviews with Arauz (Counterpunch, 5/15/18, 11/13/18, 7/1/20), you may conclude it is actually corporate journalists who often behave (consciously or otherwise) like puppets of their wealthy employers.

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