Elections in Ecuador unmask Western media dishonesty
On February 5, Revolución Ciudadana (RC5), the political party led by former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, a leftist who was in office from 2007 to 2017, won significant victories in municipal and regional elections. RC5 candidates triumphed throughout the country but, most significantly, were elected mayors of Ecuador’s largest cities: Guayaquil, Quito (the capital) and Cuenca. Notably, in Guayaquil, RC5 ended three decades of rightwing rule. It also won the prefectures of the most populous provinces: Guayas and Pichincha. Indeed, it won the most mayor and prefect elections of any political party on February 5.
Correa’s achievements: Neither forgiven or forgotten
Correa, a leftwing economist by trade, left Ecuador for Belgium after his time as president came to an end. He cannot even return to his native country, as, in 2020, he was sentenced (on entirely spurious grounds) to prison for corruption before being recently granted political asylum in Belgium. Other members of his government have faced similar persecution; some have even been jailed.
Correa’s real crimes, in the eyes of Ecuador’s elite, are breaking with both neoliberalism and Ecuador’s traditional subservience to Washington. His achievements while in office explain the persecution but also why his movement was able to make such a remarkable electoral comeback on February 5.
Under Correa’s leadership, poverty fell by almost half. He achieved that by completely discarding neoliberal dogmas like the supposed importance of central bank independence. Much to Washington’s dismay, after a commission found that much of it had been illegally contracted, his government defaulted on a third of Ecuador’s external debt. He dramatically increased financial regulation and tax collection. He also increased government revenues by getting much better terms for Ecuador in oil contracts. And his policies did not just involve the improved distribution of oil and other revenues to reduce poverty; a foundation for sustained development was built through public investment.
By 2015, the efficiency of Ecuador’s public services, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, improved dramatically compared to other countries in the Americas. Studies by the U.N. found that the quality of Ecuador’s educational system was, by 2016, one of the most improved. In 2016, the World Economic Forum touted Ecuador’s system of roads as the best in the region. It had ranked Ecuador tenth by that metric a decade earlier.
Correa also enraged Ecuador’s U.S.-subservient elite by joining the ALBA economic block with Venezuela and Cuba, expelling a U.S. military base from Ecuador in 2009, strongly defending a $9.5 billion dollar judgment by Ecuador’s Supreme Court against Chevron for pollution, and granting political asylum to Julian Assange.
However, of all Correa’s achievements in office, the one that has arguably come back to haunt his enemies the most is the dramatic reduction in violent crime that had been achieved by 2017.
In addition to all its other victories in the elections of February 5, Correa’s party spearheaded a successful campaign for a “no”‘ vote against eight proposed constitutional amendments that rightwing President Guillermo Lasso had put to voters. Lasso’s proposals were sold as solutions to a crime wave that has grown catastrophically since Correa left office. All eight of Lasso’s proposals were rejected by voters by margins ranging from three to sixteen points, depending on the question.
A key graph Western media ignored
The election results are easily explained by a single graph showing Ecuador’s homicide rate from 1980 to 2021. The graph, which shows which president was in office during each year, was cited by Ecuadorian economist and political analyst David Villamar. The data comes from various official sources in Ecuador. World Bank data shows a similar story.
Ecuador experienced a dramatic and unprecedented two-thirds reduction in its homicide rate during Correa’s years in office (January 2007- May 2017). The homicide rate then increased, just as dramatically, after Correa left office and rightwing governments took over. If the graph above is updated for 2022, it would be even more dramatic; the homicide rate increased to 25.9 per 100,000 in 2022 according to InSight Crime – a historic high for Ecuador. When Correa left office in 2017 it was 5.8 per 100,000 – one of the lowest in Latin America. It is now among the highest.
Even if you believe (falsely, as I’ll explain later) that Correa was simply lucky – that factors unrelated to his policies explain the homicide rate’s reduction while he was in office – it is still inexcusably dishonest not to tell readers about it. Reuters, in a report by Quito-based Alexandra Valencia that was republished by U.S. News, Al-Jazeera and others, made no mention of it, nor did articles about the election results in BBC News, Washington Post, or the Financial Times.
The graph wasn’t missed. It was ignored
How could news outlets with ample resources have missed it? One might assume that they simply ignored Correaists and listened only to what rightwingers in Ecuador were saying. That would follow the pattern of how Ecuador has been covered by Western media since Correa left office in 2017. I’ve pointed to that pattern in articles for FAIR.org over the past five years. But in this case, the practice of listening only to rightwingers does not explain the western media’s lies of omission about the election results.
The fact that Ecuador became very safe under Correa (then very unsafe after he left office) was so undeniable and inconvenient for rightwingers, such as prominent Ecuadorian journalist Carlos Vera, that they resorted to wild explanations for it. For example, in January, Vera tweeted that,
Under Correa, the drug gangs were not unleashed because of a tacit agreement: ‘You can pass, provided you don’t kill.’ And they divvied up the country. Today, they can’t pass…”
So skyrocketing violent crime today, in Vera’s theory, reveals Correa’s wickedness and Lasso’s virtue. Lasso himself has promoted the same absurd theory. Speaking to reporters last year, Lasso claimed that Correa essentially told criminals “don’t cause problems for me on the streets, and you can continue with your drug and human trafficking”.
Despite a media environment in Ecuador that, since 2017, relentlessly vilifies Correa, Lasso failed to persuade the majority of voters. And the Western media’s silence on this issue, suggests they were not persuaded either, or eager to broadcast that wild theory to an international audience.
Alexandra Valencia’s Reuters article subtly promoted one of Lasso’s referendum proposals that would have allowed the extradition of Ecuadorians: “Though the practice would be new for Ecuador, Latin American countries, including Colombia and Mexico, often accede to extradition requests from the United States and other nations.” But extraditing people was unconstitutional when the dramatic reduction in violent crime took place under Correa. It is also a poor argument because Colombia and Mexico are among the most unsafe countries in the region.
Joe Parkin Daniels of the Financial Times was more aggressively dishonest. This is how he deleted from Ecuador’s recent history the huge reduction in violent crime that took place under Correa:
Correa’s decade-long tenure from 2007 saw Ecuador take out $18bn of loans from China to fund a public spending boom. The country distanced itself from the U.S. while Correa mounted fierce attacks on perceived opponents. After leaving office amid mounting legal troubles, Correa went into exile in Belgium. In 2020 a judge sentenced him in absentia to eight years in prison for accepting bribes.”
If you rely on Joe Parkin Daniels account, you’d believe all Correa did while in office was irresponsibly run up debts, persecute opponents, and take bribes. None of that is true. Note how the passage ignores that Correa’s conviction was based on a theory that he exerted a “psychic influence” over any official that took brides, a legal abomination that stemmed directly from the unconstitutional destruction of Ecuador’s legal system after Correa left office. Interpol’s multiple rejections of attempts to extradite Correa were also left unmentioned. Also, Correa did not flee to Belgium after leaving office. While still in office, he had often announced his intention to move there with his wife, who is from Belgium, to pay her back for all the years she spent living in Ecuador away from her family.
Moreover, it has been years since Correa has been in a position to do any of the things Joe Parkin Daniels falsely claims he did: waste public funds, persecute opponents or take bribes. Today, he cannot even return to Ecuador. So how could his party have humiliated Lasso at the polls as it did on February 5? Without even knowing details, the story told by the Financial Times reporter collapses under the weight of that reality.
A revealing exception to media dishonesty
One exception to dishonesty about Ecuador’s recent history came from Courthouse News: a U.S.-based news agency catering to lawyers and law firms. It actually provided the graph below showing homicides in Ecuador since 2000. Its article also mentioned Interpol’s rejection of Ecuador’s attempts to extradite Correa.
The graph above shows that in 2022 alone, Ecuador had about 2500 more homicides than it would have had if its homicide rate had remained at the level it was at when Correa left office in 2017. Moreover, there has been no spikein neighboring Colombia’s homicide rate since Correa left office. It has been stable since 2017, unlike Ecuador’s. While it’s plausible that sharing a border with violence-ridden Colombia has always made Ecuador more unsafe than it would otherwise have been, Ecuador’s homicide rate had been on a relentless upswing at the same time Colombia’s was falling considerably, albeit from a very high level, in the decades before Correa took office.
Some people I have encountered online have blamed migration from Venezuela after 2017 for the spike in Ecuador’s homicide rate. Xenophobia aside, a huge problem with that theory is that, again, there has been no spike in Colombia’s homicide rate since 2017 despite, by all accounts, Colombia being the country to receive by far that largest share of Venezuelan migrants in recent years.
Ecuadorian economist David Villamar laid out some of the reasons for Correa’s success in making Ecuador one of the region’s safest countries. Under Correa, rigorous testing of police for any potential links to crime purged one fifth of its officers from its ranks, and one third of police force applicants. After he left office, testing was greatly weakened. The involvement of Ecuadorian police in high profile crimes last year very painfully revealed the costs.
Another factor Villamar pointed to was a reduction in the backlog of unresolved court cases that took place under Correa. In only two years, the unresolved cases went from 3 million to 200,000. A massive drain on the judicial system’s resources that was removed. Correa’s government also invested heavily in expanding and modernizing the legal system’s infrastructure.
This was all linked to Correa’s rejection of neoliberalism. His decade in office made public distrust in Ecuador’s political institutions fall to historically low levels compared to the rest of Latin America. That was all undone when the western media’s darlings (of course also U.S. government darlings) took over. Little wonder we aren’t told about it.
That said, it appears that in the wake of Lasso’s referendum defeat, rightwing media in Ecuador and internationally have started to break their silence about grave corruption allegations against Lasso. He is now openly feuding with the Attorney General and trying to obstruct investigations against his government. Perhaps Lasso might finally have become too widely discredited for Ecuadorian and foreign media to prop up.