Tensions rise between Ecuadorian President and free expression watchdog

Tension has been escalating between the Organisation of American States’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Special Rapporteur Catalina Botero has turned a watchful eye towards Ecuador, criticising President Correa’s attacks on the news media. Botero’s office has now come under fire, after President Correa and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela dismissed criticism from Botero’s office, claiming that the office is too harsh with governments of nations such as Ecuador.

The OAS will now meet on 25 January to consider a Chavez-Correa proposal to review the freedom of expression office and limit its jurisdiction.

The office, which was created in 1997 but under Botero, a respected Columbian jurist, it has worked hard to protect journalists under threat in Latin America. Its hard line on human rights violations has even earned it funding from the European Union and other Latin American countries.

Botero’s work has earned the wrath of both Chavez and Correa. Correa recently attacked the OAS for allegedly being under U.S. control at the inaugural meeting for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States early last month. Both nations have faced criticism from the organisation for restrictions on free expression. Chavez closed down a number of radio stations and television channels for critical reports. Correa sued the daily El Universo of Guayaquil for critical editorials. The daily, the largest in Ecuador, now faces fear of collapse because of financial strain from legal proceedings for former editor Emilio Pacheco, who fled to the United States after Correa charged him with treason. The charge is now being appealed.

The thinly-veiled attack on the Rapporteur’s office seeks to utilise administrative controls to prevent it from publishing independent annual reports and forbid independent fundraising from sources apart from the OAS. The decision has been condemned by the Human Rights Watch office responsible for the region.

While the proposed changes even include a code of conduct that could silence the rapporteur, reactions to the proposed changes have been tepid.