Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Correa Pardons Journalists in Controversial Libel Case

After provoking international outcry over his decision to pursue a 42 million dollar libel suit against three directors and the former opinion editor of Ecuadoran daily El Universo, President Rafael Correa announced yesterday that he intends to pardon the journalists. In a 30-minute address, Correa said he will “pardon the accused and grant them remission of the sentences that they rightly received,” although he also cautioned that “forgiveness is not forgetting.” In addition, Correa announced he intends to drop the libel case against Juan Carlos Calderón y Christian Zurita, who authored a book alleging that the president knew that his brother Fabricio Correa had been awarded public contracts.

After the announcement, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters that El Universo executive Carlos Perez can now leave the Panamanian embassy in Quito, where he was granted political asylum earlier this month after Ecuador's highest court found him guilty of libel. The Associated Press quotes Patiño as saying "He's got to be told he can go home now...there was never an arrest warrant. He makes out like he was persecuted." The opinion page editor, Emilio Palacio, has said that although he considers the pardon a “spectacular triumph,” he is still weighing whether or not to apply for asylum in the United States.

But while the El Universo case may be closed, the controversy surrounding it is far from over. As mentioned in last Friday’s brief, an Ecuadoran judge who reviewed the case has fled the country after claiming that lawyers tied to the Correa administration promised her “$3,000 a month and steady work if she would rule against the newspaper.”

As McClatchy notes, the case was ultimately given to Judge Juan Paredes. But when Paredes was asked how he issued his lengthy 150-page ruling against El Universo so rapidly (he allegedly wrote it in a little over 25 hours), he claimed that he relied on Encalada's previous casework. Encalada has denied this, saying that while she gave Paredes a memory stick that contained some analysis of the case, none of it was published in the final sentence.

She claims that the sentence was written by the Correa administration, a claim which seems to be supported by the fact that the sentence was written on a version of Microsoft Word registered to a “Chucky Seven,” which allegedly matches other documents written by Correa's lawyer Gutenberg Vera.

Ultimately, Correa’s pardon may help to quell some of the condemnations he has received in recent months from press freedom groups, but the El Universo case has raised serious questions about judicial independence and the state of Ecuadoran democracy that will be difficult for the president to shake. Considering that polls show domestic support for Correa is around 80 percent, however, his critics will have a hard time delegitimizing him in the eyes of Ecuadoran voters.

News Briefs

·         Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano defended US drug policy yesterday, saying "I would not agree with the premise that the drug war is a failure," and arguing against decriminalization. She made the remarks at a press conference in Mexico City as part of a tour of Mexico and Central America. She is scheduled to head to Guatemala today, where she will meet with President Otto Perez and no doubt discuss his recent pro-decriminalization remarks.

·         InSight Crime’s Steven Dudley offers some astute analysis of the FARC’s recent announcement that it will stop kidnapping civilians. According to Dudley, increased pressure from security forces have made it difficult for the Colombian guerrilla group to hold captives for long periods of time, and its profits from the drug trade render the proceeds from kidnapping nearly unnecessary.

·         The Miami Herald profiles the recent drop in drug violence in Tijuana, where residents, police and experts offer competing explanations over the relative calm that has fallen over the city.

·         The US government has announced that it will begin flying deported migrants back to their home states rather than simply dropping them off at the border. Last October, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that the US was contributing to border violence by busing deportees to border cities.

·         As anxiety over Hugo Chavez’s health rises among his supporters in Venezuela, El Universal reports that the government has continued its official silence on the issue, with no word yet as the results of his medical procedure in Cuba. Meanwhile, the Washington Post has published another round of medical conjecture, with experts claiming that it is increasingly likely that Chavez is “facing an aggressive tumor.”

·         Commemorating the anniversary of a harsh military crackdown in the wake of Chavez’s failed 1992 coup, Defense Minister Henry Rangel has assured Venezuelans that the military will never again be deployed against civilians in the county. His remarks come amidst concerns that the Venezuelan military may intervene to keep Chavez in power if he loses the upcoming elections in October.

·         Argentine President Cristina Fernandez took on criticism of her handling of last week’s deadly train crash yesterday. According to the AP, she has also hinted at re-nationalizing the country’s railway system.

·         La Republica reports that Peru’s captured Comrade Artemio has been transferred to a maximum security naval prison. He will be tried on drug trafficking and terrorism charges, due to take place this summer. More from the BBC.

·         In the latest development in ongoing diplomatic dispute between Argentina and the UK over the Falkland Islands, two British cruise ships were denied entry into the port city of Ushuaia yesterday in keeping with a provincial law banning “British vessels, ships partly owned by British companies and ships flying flags from British territories” from entering.

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