February 06, 2014

Ecuador cartoonist cartoonist tries to turn government sanction into laughing matter

 

Boni0402Last week, Ecuador’s newly formed media watchdog ordered El Universo newspaper to print a “correction” of an editorial cartoon.

The drawing, which provoked tirades from President Rafael Correa, depicted the moment that government security raided the house of Fernando Villavicencio, a journalist and opposition adviser, and confiscated hard drives and laptops.

El Universo cartoonist Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla put a caption on the bottom of the drawing saying officials were carting away proof of administration corruption.

On Wednesday, the newspaper ran the “correction.” This time, Bonilla’s cartoon shows Villavicencio inviting authorities into his home, inviting them to take everything they want, and blaming them for being too courteous.

“Call your lawyer,” one of the policemen tells him in a frame, to which Villavicencio responds: “Don’t BONIL1worry, I trust all of you.”

Correa has said the raid was sparked after Villavicencio was suspected of hacking into the presidential email account. During his weekly broadcasts, Correa has also unloaded against Bonilla, most recently calling him a “shameless, ignorant, hating coward disguised as a cartoonist.”

The Superintendent of Communication, the government watchdog, said Bonilla and the paper broke the law for taking “an institutional position on the innocence or guilt” of a person who is being investigated. But the watchdog also said that Bonilla should have put quotes around the caption on his original cartoon and indicated its source.

El Universo Director Carlos Perez said the sanction was so ambiguous that it has created confusion at the paper.

“Before, we were keeping an eye on [Bonilla’s] work to make sure it didn’t make the people ‘up there’ [the government] too uncomfortable,” Perez said. “But it’s difficult.”

He said the paper might have to quit writing editorials about ongoing cases.

The newspaper, which has faced multi-million-dollar defamation suits from Correa in the past, is also required to pay a fine for the cartoon of 2 percent of its quarterly revenues. Perez said the fine is equivalent to more than $93,000. The sanction has been paid, but the newspaper is appealing, Perez said.

Correa, whose socialist reforms and public works have made him one of Latin America’s most popular leaders, has long accused the media of playing politics shielded behind the banner of free speech.

Ecuador passed a sweeping communications law last year that advocates say makes the Andean nation among the most repressive media environments in the region.

“It has been apparent for some time that Ecuador’s new communications law was designed to muzzle journalists critical of the administration. That this has been extended to cartoonists is ridiculous,” Carlos Lauría, the senior program coordinator for the Americas for the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

“Ecuadoran authorities should reverse this decision and allow the press to function freely without fear of official reprisal. Tolerance for dissent — whether written or drawn — is a touchstone of any democratic government.” Read the full story here.

[Pictures courtesy of El Universo]

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." 

***

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.

October 16, 2013

Ecuador's Chevron trial goes on trial, as plaintiffs' lawyer faces RICO allegations

IMG_3479One of the hemisphere’smost contentious and longest-running environmental trials is going on trial. On Tuesday, a New York judge will begin hearing testimony that a $19 billion judgment against Chevron for polluting Ecuador’s Amazon decades ago was the product of fraud.

The oil giant claims that Steven Donziger, a lawyer for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, engaged in racketeering by manufacturing evidence and bribing judges in the Andean nation to win the record-setting verdict.

Donziger and his legal team say Chevron is trying to evade its responsibility. Since it couldn’t win the pollution trial on its merits, they say, it’s going after the lawyers.

The case has dragged on — in one form or another — for 20 years, has produced more than 200,000 pages of evidence, spawned documentaries and television programs, and dragged celebrities and politicians into its wake. Movie star Daryl Hannah has dipped her hands into oily muck for the cameras, and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has called the case a matter of national honor and asked for a Chevron boycott.

Read the full story here

October 15, 2013

Leaders of Dominican Rep. and Ecuador top new ranking, US and Uruguay at bottom

Mexico’s Consulta Mitofsky recently put out its annual ranking of regional leaders, which found Dominican Rep. President Danilo Medina on top and US President Barack Obama at the very bottom. The ranking is based on approval ratings in each country and they’re not strictly comparable, but let's not let the small print get in the way of a good list.

Two interesting points:

1)      Ecuador’s Rafael Correa remains hugely popular. (Compared to last year he fell one spot in the rankings but his approval numbers are actually up.)

2)      Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro debuts on the list at #8 after his late boss, Hugo Chávez, exited the rankings at #4 last year.

Check out the full report here.

Otherwise, here are the takeaway numbers:

#1 Dominican Republic  - Danilo Medina 88%

#2 Ecuador  - Rafael Correa 84% [He was ranked at #1 with 80% last year]

#3 Panama – Ricardo Martinelli 69%

#4 Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega 66%

#5 El Salvador – Mauricio Funes 64%

#6 Bolivia – Evo Morales 59%

#7 Mexico – Enrique Peña Nieto 56%

#8 Venezuela - Nicolás Maduro 48% [The late Hugo Chávez was #4 last year with 64% approval]

#9 Guatemala – Otto Perez 48%

#10 Uruguay – Jose Mujica 45%

#11 USA – Barack Obama 44%

October 11, 2013

Colombia tie guarantees nation World Cup slot; Ecuador moves one step closer

Colombia tied Chile 3-3 tonight and Ecuador beat Uruguay 1-0. The outcome guarantees Colombia a slot in Brazil, ending its 16-year World Cup drought. Barring an upset, Ecuador is almost certain to have a slot, also.

Here are the South America standings as of Friday night:

STANDINGS
TeamMPWDLGFGAPts
Argentina 14 8 5 1 30 11 29
Colombia 15 8 3 4 25 12 27
Ecuador 15 7 4 4 19 14 25
Chile 15 8 1 6 27 24 25
Uruguay 15 6 4 5 22 23 22
Venezuela 16 5 5 6 14 20 20
Peru 14 4 2 8 15 22 14
Paraguay 15 3 3 9 16 29 12
Bolivia 15 2 5 8 16 29 11

August 05, 2013

An experiment in Amazon conservation faces economic reality

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I recently returned for Ecuador where I was working on this story about one of the most innovative and ambitious conservation plans ever attempted.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was designed to leave more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched, in perpetuity, beneath Yasuní National Park — rioting with unknown species and tribes living in voluntary isolation.

In exchange, the government asked the world to cover just half of the crude’s $7.2 billion market price.

Environmental groups praised the plan as a novel way to slash greenhouse gases. In 2010, the United Nations threw its support behind the project, setting up a trust fund to receive and manage donations. There were hopes that crowd-sourcing conservation might be a model for other developing nations.

But six years after its launch, those goals are proving elusive. The plan has raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion it’s seeking. Ecuador’s government says it has received $116.7 million and has pledges for an additional $220 million — some of it in non-cash cooperation. The United Nations trust fund has just $9.8 million in the bank.

The shortfall is driving speculation that Ecuador might be forced to drill for crude in the ITT oil block (short for Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini), which it says holds 20 percent of the nation’s reserves.

“We want to keep 400 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere,” President Rafael Correa told a crowd in April. “But if the international community doesn’t help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people.”

Correa and his cabinet held a meeting about the fate of the project in June and are expecting to meet again in coming weeks. Officials say drilling the ITT is on the table.

In the balance is one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. The ITT block is among the most isolated areas of Yasuní National Park, a 2.4 million-acre U.N. biosphere reserve, which holds about one-third of all of the Amazon’s amphibian species, even though it represents just a small fraction of the total area. In any given two-and-a-half acre plot of the Yasuní — roughly the size of a soccer pitch — there are more species of trees than in the United States and Canada combined.

An entomologist from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History told me that 85% of all the insects he collects in Yasuni are unknown to researchers. 

PHOTO: Santiago Serrano

See the full story here. 

Interested in supporting the cause? You can donate as little as $2 though the UNDP website. 

July 02, 2013

As Ecuador backtracks on Snowden asylum, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba emerge as potential safe-havens

Stranded in a Moscow airport, NSA-leaker Edward Snowden is casting his asylum net wider as he hopes to elude capture by U.S. authorities on espionage charges.

With a number of countries backtracking on support , including Ecuador, Snowden’s options seemed to be dwindling, but might include Venezuela, Bolivia or Cuba.

On Tuesday, whistleblower website WikiLeaks said it had submitted asylum papers on Snowden’s behalf with at least 19 countries, in addition to Russia and Ecuador.

Among the Latin American destinations are Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. But it’s still unclear how Snowden might get out of Russia. The United States has revoked his passport and Ecuador says that any documents he might have from that country are not valid.

The impasse raised speculation that Snowden, 30, might hitch a ride with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who is in Russia for a meeting with leaders of gas-exporting countries. Asked by reporters Tuesday if he would leave with the U.S. fugitive, Maduro avoided the question.

“We’re going to take back many accords that we’ve signed with Russia,” he said, according to the Venezuelan presidency, “that’s what we’re going to take back to Venezuela.”

Read more here

May 01, 2013

New study finds the press in six Latin American nations "not free."

The percentage of the world’s population living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, according to a Freedom House report released today.

The study, "Freedom of the Press 2013," found an overall downturn in global media freedom in 2012 "punctuated by dramatic decline in Mali, deterioration in Greece, and a further tightening of controls in Latin America."

In Latin America, 15 countries were ranked with a "free press," 14 had a "partly free" press and six had "not free" press.

Among the Latin America highlights are:

St. Lucia ranked among the top for press freedom coming in at 12 out of 196 on the list.

Costa Rica came in at  23 (tied with the United States.)

Peru came in at 89

Bolivia and Panama tied at 94

Argentina 109

Colombia 112

The nations ranked "Not Free" were:

Mexico, Ecuador, Paraguay tied at 134

Honduras 140 

Venezuela 168

And at the bottom of the barrel was Cuba at 191. It's tied with Iran. 

See the full Freedom House list here

November 08, 2012

The US elections as seen from south of the Rio Grande

I spent election day on Colombian naval base on the Pacific. Military men are pretty circumspect when it comes to politics, but everyone said it wouldn't have mattered who won the vote, because US-Colombia relations are so institutionalized and far-reaching that they're immune to politics. I'm not sure that's completely true, but thought it was an interesting sentiment.

My colleagues Mimi Whitefield and Tim Johnson take a deeper look at the Latin American reaction to the US vote in today's Miami Herald.  

MEXICO CITY -- There’s agreement across the region that Latin America wasn’t a priority during the first term of President Barack Obama but analysts say there are issues that might raise the profile of Latin America and the Caribbean during the president’s second term. Among them: trade, potential political change in the region, the potent voting bloc U.S. Hispanics have become, immigration, changing U.S. attitudes toward drug policy and security. But, in general, regional expectations for meaningful change in U.S. Latin American and Caribbean policy during Obama’s second term were muted. The campaigns of both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney “proved that Latin America is not a priority for the United States,’’ said Simon Pachano, a political science professor at the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences in Ecuador. “Latin America existed when they were looking for Hispanic votes, but it wasn’t present in their foreign policy proposals.”

Read the full story here.

 

September 25, 2012

Ecuador, Venezuela lead ranking of hemisphere's most popular leaders

Mexico's Consulta Mitofsky just put out their regional leadership list. The ranking is based on approval ratings so they're not strictly comparable nation-to-nation, but let's not let that get in the way of a good list.

Approval ratings are usually a good indicator of a candidate's election chances, so we'll have three opportunities in coming months to test that thesis. Hugo Chavez (ranked No. 4) is facing reelection Oct. 7, Rafael Correa (ranked No. 1!) faces reelection in February, and, of course, Barack Obama (ranked No. 10) has his chance Nov. 6. 

Without further ado: 

Top 5 Leaders in the Region based on approval ratings

#1 Ecuador - Rafael Correa 80%

#2 El Salvador - Mauricio Funes 72%

#3 Guatemala - Otto Perez 69%

#4 Venezuela - Hugo Chavez 64%

#5 Brazil - Dilma Rousseff 62%

...And the Bottom 5:

#16 Canada- Stephen Harper 37%

#17 Paraguay - Federico Franco 36%

#18 Chile - Sebastian Pinera 36%

#19 Honduras - Porfirio Lobo 14%

#20 Costa Rica - Laura Chinchilla 13%

To see the full list click here.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

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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