03.06.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Silencing the Press in Ecuador

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I want to speak briefly, as I have several times over the past year, about the government of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, which continues its aggressive clamp down on press freedom.  Most recently, political cartoonist Xavier Bonilla was reprimanded for a cartoon he drew, and the newspaper he works for, El Universo, was fined for publishing it.  El Universal, one of Ecuador’s most respected dailies, has been the target of one of the dozens of harassing lawsuits filed by President Correa.

The cartoon by Mr. Bonilla, who goes by the pen name Bonil, depicts a police raid at the home of an investigative journalist, Fernando Villavicencio, who claimed to have documented evidence of corruption in the government.  It shows the police knocking down the door to Mr. Villavicencio’s house and parading out with computers and filing cabinets.

A government-established media oversight agency, Superintendency of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM), used Ecuador’s vague communications law to sanction both Mr. Bonilla and El Universo for publishing an “institutional position” over the guilt or innocence of people involved in investigations.  It subsequently ordered a major investigation, required a “correction” to the cartoon, and fined the newspaper.  In doing so, the Correa administration sent a clear message to journalists that criticism of government misconduct will not be tolerated.

I have spoken several times about President Correa’s attacks on press freedom and I will continue doing so as long as these restrictive laws are enforced and as long as journalists are threatened for their work.  Most recently I recognized the efforts of Janet Hinostroza, an Ecuadoran investigative journalist who was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for her commitment to fighting for a free press.  Ms. Hinostroza is continually threatened for her work exposing government corruption.  Unfortunately, the harassment she and Mr. Bonilla face illustrates a norm, not an anomaly, when it comes to President Correa’s attempts to intimidate and silence his critics.  

The absurdity of censoring a cartoonist aside, this latest attack further erodes what remains of an independent press in Ecuador.  It explains why Human Rights Watch and CPJ continually rank Ecuador among the world’s worst for press freedom.  It is shameful, it is an embarrassment for the hemisphere, and the people of Ecuador deserve better.

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