Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Correa Critic Arrested on Libel Charges

Authorities in Ecuador have arrested a critic of President Rafael Correa on defamation charges, continuing the pattern of his government’s aggressive use of libel suits to target political opponents.

El Universo reports that yesterday morning police in Quito detained Dr. Carlos Figueroa, a former head of Ecuador's Federation of Medical Doctors who has been wanted since March. Along with opposition lawmaker Jose Clever Jimenez and journalist Fernando Alcibiades Villavicencio, Figueroa is accused of slandering Correa by filing a request with the attorney general to investigate the president’s handling of a police uprising in September 2010. In their petition, the three alleged that Correa perpetrated “crimes against humanity” by ordering security forces to raid a hospital where he was being held.

In 2012 a judge dismissed the case, and ruled that it was “malicious and reckless,” constituting defamation of Correa’s character. Following a lengthy court battle, in March of this year Ecuador’s National Court of Justice sentenced Figueroa to six months in prison, while Jimenez and Villavicencio received sentences of 18 months each. When the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested that Ecuador take precautionary measures to protect the rights of the accused, this was swiftly rejected by the government.

The three then went into hiding, briefly taking refuge in the Sarayaku indigenous community in the Amazon before leaving again when their presence heightened tensions between locals and security forces.

As the case has played out, Correa has been vocal about condemning the three, describing their actions as not only slander, but false testimony as well. In the last high-profile libel case pursued by the president, two of his critics in the press were saved from paying a multimillion dollar fine by a last-minute presidential pardon. But Correa has shown no inclination towards clemency in this instance, saying that forgiving Jimenez would amount to impunity.

On top of Correa’s anti-slander crusade, some in the country have pointed to the implementation of controversial media law passed last year as further proof that the government is unfairly targeting opponents. Press freedom advocacy group Fundamedios, for instance, has accused the media watchdog created under the law of ignoring and failing to remedy complaints about inaccurate coverage in state media, while disproportionately targeting private media outlets that publish content that is critical of the government.

News Briefs
  • As El Espectador reports, Colombia looks set to become the latest country in the hemisphere where lawmakers will debate legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Semana features an interview with Senator Juan Manuel Galan of the Liberal Party, the sponsor of the initiative. While he is vague on specifics, Galan said that the goal of the legislation would be for the government to work with medical experts to determine the proper dosage and method of administration of medicinal pot. When asked about how patients could access the drug, Galan told the magazine it would be “up to the government to determine whether to permit home cultivation” of marijuana.
  • Meanwhile, public support for Uruguay’s marijuana initiative does not appear to be growing even as the government moves forward with its implementation. Leading pollster Cifra published a survey yesterday showing that two-thirds (64 percent)  of respondents are against marijuana regulation. This figure has been remarkably consistent, and stands at the same level as in December 2012, when President Jose Mujica temporarily placed the issue on hold to allow for greater public debate. The poll also found that 62 percent of Uruguayans believe the best course of action is to repeal the law, rather than wait to see its results.
  • In the wake of Peru’s passage of a controversial new environmental law, Cesar Gamboa of Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) has a column in Project Syndicate arguing that the measure is a blow to Peru’s economic outlook as well as its environmental standards. He argues that law’s lifting of restrictions on mining operations in the country only deepens its dependence on the extractive industry, against Peru’s long-term national interests.
  • The New York Times profiles dissatisfaction with the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose reforms have been more popular abroad than at home.
  • The Miami Herald reports on a new Central Bank survey released yesterday which lowered the forecast for economic growth in the country, a sign that the odds of a post-World Cup boost for the economy are looking grim. But while the Herald frames this in the wake of last week’s Datafolha poll showing that President Dilma Rousseff could lose a second-round matchup in October elections, a new Ibope survey contradicts this, suggesting she would win a runoff by an eight-point margin, as O Globo reports. 

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