OPINION

Opinion: Ecuador's Rafael Correa tries to control the courts throughout Latin America

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA- NOVEMBER17: Ecuador's president Rafael Correa attends the opening session of the third OPEC Summit on November 17, 2007 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA- NOVEMBER17: Ecuador's president Rafael Correa attends the opening session of the third OPEC Summit on November 17, 2007 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)  (2007 Getty Images)

Ahead of the 7th Summit of the Americas, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa isn’t too pleased that the international community has dared call attention to serious human rights violations under his government. But instead of addressing his attacks on the media, free speech, and anyone who opposes his presidency, Correa conveniently blames Washington.

In a recent speech, President Correa asked the rhetorical question: “Where is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)?" Only to offer his own answer: "In Washington. Who finances it? The United States. But the United States has not signed the Convention [on Human Rights]. It subsidizes the IACHR in order to control us, the Latin Americans.”

To avoid allegations against his own human rights violations, President Correa wants to control the Inter-American system in order to evade international justice and control the barrage of lawsuits against the Ecuadorean government that remain concealed while Correa maintains power.

- Andrés Páez Benalcázar

But these antagonistic comments are not just Correa’s most recent anti-U.S. tantrum. Rather, they are part of the scaffolding he has mounted in order to cover up his concern for a growing number of lawsuits initiated against him by various activists, students, indigenous groups, journalists, members of the opposition, and those he has persecuted, jailed, and alienated.

To avoid allegations against his own human rights violations, President Correa wants to control the Inter-American system in order to evade international justice and control the barrage of lawsuits against the Ecuadorean government that remain concealed while Correa maintains power. The ALBA, CELAC, and other anti-U.S. international blocs are included in this scheme. 

The South American political soapbox, UNASUR, recently inaugurated its new headquarters in northern Quito, and its construction costs —$43.6 million— were paid for largely by Ecuadorian contributors and other member countries.

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“They say we are going to interfere with the court … of course we are.” This is Correa’s emblematic slogan, with which he advertised his takeover of the judiciary in Ecuador. A promise he kept through when he dismantled the constitution and consolidated the judicial powers of the country into his hands. 

Seeing his success, Correa now wants to take the Ecuadorian system of judicial control to the regional level.

He wants this in order to rise as the new Chavista leader in the region in response to Maduro’s ineptitude, Cristina’s decadence, and the Castros’ decrepitude —and certainly in order to go unpunished for his human rights violations and persecution of journalists and businesses. It's all that is left to ensure that no international court is able to try or convict him. 

That is why he now intends to interfere in the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (known by its Spanish acronym Corte IDH) and propose Ecuadorean Judge Patricio Pazmiño to sit on this regional court. Pazmiño is known in Ecuador as a puppet to President Correa, who from his seat as President of the Constitutional Court of Ecuador has done nothing more than serve the president's wishes.

It was Pazmiño who introduced the “Gag Law,” or the Organic Law of Communication, which states that information is a public service. Since its implementation, this new law has been used to impose fines on the media, censure journalists, and persecute them for doing their job. This new law also requires that governmental bodies outside the Ecuadorean judiciary administer penalties to intimidate the independent media, the majority of which have no legal basis. 

Pazmiño and the judges of the Constitutional Court are the ones in charge of assigning the “legal means” for the persecution of independent journalists and other opponents, including political cartoonist Xavier Bonilla (or Bonil).

With the Ecuadorian judiciary under Correa’s control, the country’s citizens are left with no other alternative but to appeal to the Inter-American system with the hope that independent and neutral judges will rule fairly on their cases. However, even the neutrality of the Corte IDH seems to be bending under Correa’s ever-growing regional influence.

This new influence over this regional court comes in the form of a recent and unusual donation of $1 million made by Correa. It is suspicious, to say the least, that he who has so angrily questioned the Inter-American system has suddenly made a donation so large that it could allow him to impose his own terms on the Corte IDH. Correa himself is known to say, “Since the world began, he who pays is he who sets the conditions,” revealing the ulterior motive behind this unexpected generous donation — made with money collected from taxpayers.

This donation gained recognition by one of Corte IDH judges, Humberto Sierra, who highlighted Correa's "career in the defense and promotion of human rights" in a recent letter inviting the Ecuadorean president to the court in Costa Rica. How is it that a judge who could potentially hold the power to bring Correa to justice for his crimes is now extolling the President for the exact opposite? Sierra also overtook any criticisms that would strip him of any ethical credentials to rule on cases of human rights violations under President Correa.

This is undoubtedly because, as the old refrain goes, “money makes the world go ‘round.”

Without question, the control of the Inter-American system is key for Correa's regional ambitions. With Pazmiño’s faithful service and Sierra's blessing, will he be able to do it through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica? This is to be determined. But as the Summit of the Americas convenes later this week in Panama City, it should be known that interfering in the Ecuadorean judicial system is not enough for Rafael Correa, as he seeks to control the courts throughout Latin America.

Andrés Páez Benalcázar is a legislator in the National Assembly of Ecuador.

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