Senator Patrick Leahy On The Election in Ecuador

Mr. President, Article 2 of Chapter I of the Charter of the Organization of American States, of which Ecuador is a party, states that one of the OAS’s purposes is “to promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention.” 

I mention this because the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election is scheduled for April 2, less than two weeks away.  In the first round, Lenin Moreno, who is supported by outgoing President Correa, received 39 percent and his opponent, Guillermo Lasso, received 28 percent.  So it is a hotly contested election. 

But democracy is about more than elections.    

There is no institution more fundamental to democracy than a free and independent press.  A free press helps protect the rule of law, to ensure that no person or group is above the rules and procedures that govern a democratic society.  A free press helps ensure transparency to prod governments to be honest and accountable to their citizens. 

Although wavering at times, Ecuador has a history of democratic government of which its citizens can be proud.  And it has a long tradition of recognizing the importance of freedom of the press.  Ecuador’s first constitution, written in 1830, stipulated that “every citizen can express their thoughts and publish them freely through the press.” Ecuador’s 1998 constitution guaranteed the right of journalists and social communicators to “seek, receive, learn, and disseminate” events of general interest, with the goal of “preserving the values of the community.”  Even Ecuador’s current constitution protects the right “to voice one’s opinion and express one’s thinking freely and in all of its forms and manifestations,” and the right to “associate, assemble and express oneself freely and voluntarily.”

Yet, since President Correa was first elected, freedom of the press has been under assault.  He has called the independent press his “greatest enemy.  He sought to intimidate and silence his critics in the media and civil society, like Janet Hinostroza, El Universo, Vanguardia, El Comercio, Xavier Bonilla, and Fundamedios.  He publicly vilified Dr. Catalina Botero, a respected Colombian lawyer and former OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.  He pursued criminal charges against columnists and newspaper owners who had criticized his policies.  And during this period, the number of state-owned media organizations exploded – growing from just one government-run news outlet to a media conglomerate that today is made up of more than a dozen outlets echoing the government’s self-serving declarations.  These actions are a threat to democracy, and they damaged relations with the United States. 

On April 2, when the people of Ecuador elect their next President, they alone will decide Ecuador’s future.  What is important at this stage is to ensure that the electoral process is free and fair, that the press can participate freely, and that the election is open to international observers including the OAS. 

Whoever wins on April 2, I hope Ecuador’s next president is someone who genuinely believes in the freedoms of expression and association that are enshrined in Ecuador’s Constitution.  I hope he defends the right of a free press, an independent judiciary, and the right of civil society organizations to function without government interference.  These rights are part of the foundation of the representative democracy referenced in the OAS Charter.  The alternative is unaccountable government.  That is, in fact, where Ecuador was heading, after President Correa orchestrated the adoption of a new Constitution in order to run for reelection in 2009 and again in 2013.  

I hope the result on April 2 will signify a commitment to uphold Ecuador’s Constitution and the beginning of a new relationship with the United States, based on a common devotion to the fundamental rights of citizens. 

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David Carle: 202-224-3693