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Ecuador: Rafael Correa's "Dictatorship Of The Heart"

Correa and kin
Correa and kin
Arlene B. Tickner


BOGOTA — The government of Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa released a somewhat Orwellian video last month that tries to turn the concept of dictatorship on its head.

The soundtrack of the video, which touts the administration's various achievements, is a schmaltzy pop song that goes: "If this is a dictatorship, then we've been had. Until recently I thought dictator meant a tyrant... If this is a dictatorship, then let's applaud the dictating heart."

The music is accompanied by pictures of mothers, babies, youth, the disabled and elderly, interspersed with public works and the natural landscape. The video is meant to remind us that Correa's "dictatorship" means progress, education, health and patriotic pride.

But in painting this emotional picture of a "kind" and "loving" state, the leftist government is essentially justifying its increasing crackdown on criticism. Under Correa, the state has impinged more and more press freedoms, even targeting satire. Authorities have also used provisions in the criminal code regarding terrorism, sabotage, rebellion and "incitement to discord" to prosecute indigenous chiefs, peasants, trade unionists and rights activists who oppose the president's environmental or labor policies.

Obscene gesture

Correa's disciplinary actions don't stop there. Earlier this year, he began a program called somosmas.ec (we're more) that uses civilian informants to monitor all negative opinions written about the president on social networking sites. A month ago, acting like a neighborhood bully, he stopped his convoy to personally confront a teenager making rude signs at him. The boy was detained and sentenced to 20 hours of community service for "discrediting the president with an obscene gesture."

More recently, massive protests took place in Ecuador against new tax laws (now on hold) targeting inheritances and profit margins. Correa's response was to denounce the demonstrations as a "coup conspiracy," and to challenge the protesters to topple him through a referendum.

Ecuador's "dictatorship of the heart" would like people to think that it is building a citizens' revolution. Instead it is shrinking and suppressing political participation, especially when positions expressed by citizens are at odds with the government's.

For now, the president's high (albeit declining) approval numbers suggest that a good many Ecuadorans are willing to forsake certain liberties and allow the "kindly" state to accumulate power in exchange for social and material benefits and better infrastructure.

But looking ahead, the country's shrinking economy, due to falling oil prices, could make this tutelary model of government unsustainable. An even bigger problem is that the "radical" 21st-century democracies — a group to which Ecuador claims to belong — are supposed to be based on direct citizen involvement and supervision, and on pluralism and non-coercive consensus building. Sadly, and in spite of Correa's undeniable achievements, none of these seem to be flourishing in Ecuador today.

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