In a truly bizarre exchange that took place at Columbia University Friday, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa responded to a question from CPJ's Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría by calling him a liar.
"Sir, you are lying and a liar." With these words, uttered before an audience of around 150 people, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa dispelled any doubt as to whether he might cool his explosive rhetoric in the face of criticism. His harsh words came in response to a critical question posed by CPJ's senior coordinator for the Americas, Carlos Lauría, after a speech on Friday hosted by the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University in New York.
Back in April, before leaving on a research trip to Ecuador, I contacted Communications Secretary Fernando Alvarado by phone and email in hopes of meeting with him to discuss press freedom concerns that have emerged under President Rafael Correa. The secretary was among the high-ranking administration officials who did not respond to CPJ's requests for meetings or to our subsequent efforts to obtain comment for our special report, "Confrontation, repression under Correa's Ecuador." So it was interesting to see that a week after the report's launch in Quito that Alvarado wrote an open letter to CPJ on his personal blog.
The turning point in President Rafael Correa's aggressive campaign against the private media, Ecuadoran journalists say, came in July with the criminal defamation convictions of four managers of the Guayaquil-based daily El Universo. Bad went to worse when the paper's former opinion editor and three of its executives were sentenced to jail and fined, along with their newspaper, a total of $40 million over a piece that called the president a "dictator." Emilio Palacio, who wrote the critical op-ed that infuriated Correa and motivated the lawsuit, fled the country last week after saying that he is being persecuted and justice will not be served.
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