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January 20, 2014

Ecuador Journalist may seek U.S. asylum amid continued media pressure

UPDATE: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was NOT a fan of our story about increased media pressure. According to this Prensa Latina post, he called The Miami Herald "the worst newspaper on the continent." 

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Fernando Villavicencio, an Ecuadorian opposition adviser and journalist, says he may seek asylum in the U.S. after the government last week ratified an 18-month jail sentence and ordered him to pay part of a $140 million fine.

The government is pursuing him on libel charges after he suggested that the National Assembly open an investigation into the 2010 police riot that led to President Rafael Correa briefly being held hostage.

Correa has always maintained it was a coup attempt - his critics say he basically fanned the flames of a police labor dispute by going to the strike and then daring the cops to shoot him.

Additionally, Villavicencio's home was raided just after Christmas on separate charges. Here's a Miami Herald story about that: 

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Two days after Christmas, masked and armed police raided the home of Fernando Villavicencio in the predawn hours, hauling away a lifetime of data and documents.

Hours later, President Rafael Correa said Villavicencio — an opposition advisor who also writes about corruption and the oil industry — was suspected of hacking into the president’s email.

Ten days later, Ecuador’s state-run El Telégrafo newspaper wrote about a proposed online media outlet that is seeking funds in the United States, including with the National Endowment for Democracy — whose Cold War origins and “democracy building” efforts have made it a bogeyman in the Americas.

There was one problem with the El Telégrafo story: According to Martha Roldos, a former legislator and government critic who was pitching the idea, the only way the paper could have had access to the information was by hacking her email.

The twin “hacking” stories shed light on the small Andean nation that has been hounding the independent press even as it builds one of the most sophisticated state-run media apparatuses in the Americas, behind Venezuela and Cuba.

Correa, a U.S.-educated economist, has repeatedly called the media his “greatest enemy” and has leveled multimillion-dollar lawsuits against those who cross him. This week, as he celebrated his seventh year in power, there were no signs of a truce. Read the full story here.

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jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

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