Geopolitics

Ecuador, How To Attack Democracy And Fly Below The Radar

Unlike Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa manages to keep his political crackdowns below the international radar.

Correa loving life
Correa loving life
Santiago Villa

-Op-Ed-

BOGOTA â€" Perhaps no case is more emblematic of the Ecuadoran government's particular brand of below-the-radar political repression than the jailing of Francisco Endara, a young man who had the gall five years ago of applauding during a protest against President Rafael Correa.

For that the judiciary convicted him last month of "terrorism." In Ecuador, it turns out, heckling or jeering at the president is a serious criminal offense. This is the kind of thing one might expect to find in a novel about the ruler of a banana republic, a caricature, it would seem, that Correa el Supremo isn't afraid to emulate.

The Ecuadoran president is vain and proud, but unlike his counterpart in Venezuela, Correa is no fool. His modus operandi for handling criticism is to be harsh enough to intimidate opponents but soft enough not to provoke an international outcry â€" repression lite â€" a trademark approach that is also highly efficient thanks to the complicity of courts, which Correa controls by appointing and dismissing judges with the same ease he does civil servants.

What's alarming here isn't just the perversion of democratic institutions, but also the huge power imbalance inherent in the president's ability and willingness to subject regular citizens to "juridical" persecutions. The case of Francisco Endara is both recent and exemplary.

Endara was sentenced Oct. 21 to an 18-month prison term for having clapped. He did that at a protest on Sept. 30, 2010, during a police strike in Quito, which the government characterized as an attempted coup.

Pardon for the Pope

A group of citizens had gathered outside the state television station ECTV to protest against the interruption of all private broadcasters, which were being forced at that moment to air only ECTV programs. In that way, the Correa administration created what was effectively a single national channel with which to repeatedly hammer home its version of events: that a coup was underway, police had kidnapped the president, and democracy was falling prey to a plot.

Some of the protesters smashed ECTV's glass doors. Francisco Endara was not one of them. With the building entrance now open, the crowd decided to take its protest into the premises. The young man sought to calm others down at this point, but did make the mistake of clapping while the crowd was denouncing the president.

The absurdity of the sentence speaks for itself. "It is necessary to point out in the case of Francisco Endara Raza that his presence does not correspond to that of an author or agitator, but of a pacifier. He did, however, take part in clapping at a particular moment," the text reads. "He thus publicly revealed his general agreement with the actions of that social group, for which reason his participation in the events fits the concept of complicity as an indirect and secondary collaborator."

The curious thing about these cases is that some of those convicted of terrorism and sabotage for entering ECTV were not arrested. Thanks to intervention by the Catholic Church, they were left free for almost a year, and given a presidential pardon on the occasion of Pope Francis' recent visit to Ecuador.

And so again, the repression went largely unnoticed by leading international rights bodies. Yet these young people suffered all the same. Legal proceedings made them prisoners in their countries, subjected them to enormous emotional pressure and forced them to spend all their savings on lawyers. They also live in fear that the state could still decide, when and if it sees fit, to jail them. Other government opponents will no doubt be extra careful, and the attention of the rest of the world will again be directed elsewhere.

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Geopolitics

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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