Freedom of Press in Ecuador

On May 24, 2017, in his inauguration speech, the newly elected president of Ecuador Lenín Moreno said, “There can’t be dialogue without freedom of expression”. Though these are powerful words for freedom of press they are in strong contrast to Moreno’s previous stance on the liberties of journalists, as he had previously served as former President Rafael Correa’s vice president.

Correa’s relationship with the press was a complex one.  He took steps to silence critics of his administration, and as his control of media grew he did not did not hesitate to publically attack both independent media outlets and individual journalists. Correa passed a constitutional referendum that guaranteed the public the right to receive “truthful, verified” information (as determined by the government) and introduced the idea of media and news as a government-supplied public service. This made it subject to regulation and gave the government the ability to determine what constitutes issues of public interest and therefore what could be published.

In 2013 Correa further solidified his anti-press stance by passing the Organic Communications Law. Under the law, “censorship by omission”, or not publishing what is mandated by the government, was illegal, and required publications to run government-approved “corrections” to controversial articles. The law also gave broad powers to the state’s ‘media watchdog’, allowing them to control and penalize media outlets. This law has been used as justification for hundreds of lawsuits and fines against journalists, frequently resulting in the loss of a journalist’s job. Law enforcement has staged raids on editorial offices, publications have been shut down when articles or political cartoons are not ‘rectified’, and at least one reporter was forced to leave the country. Journalists who resisted the government’s instruction were driven from their jobs.  Since the law was instituted, there have been more than 900 lawsuits against media organizations, more than half of them directly by the government.

As recently as April 2017, four newspapers and three television programs were fined for not running a story promoted by the government. “The communication law has allowed the government to strongly influence the media. Editorial decisions are no longer being made by journalists, but by teams of lawyers,” César Ricaurte, the executive director of press watchdog Fundamedios, said. “The worst effect is that the traditional media has stopped investigating corruption because they can be punished.” Public confidence in the media is minimal, and local officials regularly infringed on the civil liberties of reporters.
Since his election Moreno has worked hard to improve the government’s relations with the press and has shown respect for the people’s rights. He has curbed the media regulators and encouraged investigative journalism, something rarely permitted under Correa. Moreno also pardoned a number of activists who had been criminally charged for protesting peacefully. The Moreno government claims it cannot legally repeal the Organic Communications Law because Ecuador’s Constitution requires that the country have an active communications law at all times, but Moreno has pledged to work on reforming the Communications Law.

Despite the steps taken forward by Moreno, the results of Correa’s harsh regulation and enforcement will be apparent in the country for years. Ecuador’s long history of intimidation and persecution of the media resulted in widespread self-censorship, and journalists are still harassed over remaining defamation laws. Until the Communications Law is repealed and the most restrictive articles rescinded as Moreno has promised to do, it is unlikely that journalists in Ecuador will be able to effectively perform their jobs.

“Everything that is Old, Becomes New Again”

The recent inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has highlighted two of the most prominent issues the country has faced for the past few years: corruption and unemployment. The city of Rio de Janeiro acts as a microcosm for both of these issues, mirroring the statistical downturn, though it also acts as an example of the result of both of these issues. The rate of violent and organized crime has been increasing since late 2016, as has the number of police killings taking place in the poor shantytowns of the city known as favelas.

These downward trends come as a result of the recession in the Brazilian economy occurring around the same time as a major corruption scandal involving Petrobras, an oil company run by the state. The massive number of layoffs from the company and the contracting companies involved kicked the unemployment rate to 11.7% by 2017. 92,000 formal jobs were lost in that year, the resulting economic deterioration of the favelas snowballing into the most tangible problem facing these areas.

With the loss of conventional means of income, both citizens and police have turned to other means for survival – the homicide rate reached the highest point since 2009, and Bloomberg reports that beginning in 2018, a truck was robbed in Rio every hour. Instability increased with the record high of 1,444 police killings during 2018 in Rio alone. While a number of these incidents were in self defense, Human Rights Watch has reported that a large number were extrajudicial executions of those suspected to be involved with gang violence, which render citizens less likely to report crimes or aid in investigations, and criminals less likely to surrender peacefully in fear that they will be killed.

With frequently occurring violence, a vicious cycle is revealed, and the economy suffers from a high number of incidents. Violent bank robberies and a large number of highway robberies have made businesses suffer, and Rio’s services sector has shrunk more than twice that of Brazil’s as a whole – the economic issues causing the surge in violence are being perpetuated, with few means of returning from the recession.

As a means of combating the issue, the military was dispatched into precarious areas in February of 2018. Few citizens opposed this measure, and military intervention took place in the form of patrols and highways checkpoints across the city. This interventionist mindset can be seen in the new president, who promises a hard line on security. Bolsonaro has said that the main factor hindering progress in combating violent crime is modern concern for human rights, and has promised a sort of “carte-blanche” to police to use deadly force while on duty. Parallels can be seen between this stance and that of the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has used extrajudicial execution as a mean of combating drug use.

Despite the international controversy over relaxing gun control laws and consequences for use of deadly force, many remain optimistic with the arrival of the new administration, which has promised a respite from the corruption that has been plaguing Brazil for years. The hardline security measures are welcomed in poor areas, and the economy is projected to catch a break as oil production is set to increase, allowing for an increase in government spending to fund security measures and the return of job opportunities in the state.