Democracy and rights
Abbreviated as ECU by Abbreviationfinder, Ecuador is one of the countries in South America where democracy is considered to suffer the greatest shortcomings, but the situation has improved in recent times. Some restrictions on press freedom and civil rights have started to loosen up.
Elections are held regularly and political parties can be formed freely. However, the NEC electoral authority has been accused of being politicized.
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In the rankings of countries based on political and civil rights, Ecuador falls far below the countries in the region. But both Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit point to a positive trend since Lenín Moreno succeeded Rafael Correa in 2017 (see Current Policy). Moreno has unexpectedly broken with the authoritarian rule and the anti-democratic tendencies that former party comrade Correa stood for. Among other things, media criticism has been eased, corruption convicted people have been banned from holding public services and a restriction on re-election of presidents has been re-introduced (see Political system).
Correa himself and several of his employees have been sentenced to prison for bribery in connection with the 2013 election (see Calendar). He has been internationally wanted since 2019 but is on the run in Belgium, where his wife comes from. Former Vice President Jorge Glas was sentenced to the same goal and has also previously been sentenced to prison for corruption linked to the large bribe in Brazil (see Calendar).
Transparency International (TI) also finds that development is moving in the right direction in Ecuador. Civil society restrictions have been eased. Despite this, control is still strong over nonprofits and it is uncertain how the state will handle the protests that erupted lately, TI writes in early 2020. Ecuador has climbed upwards in TI’s index and is in 93rd place by 180 countries and territories in TI’s index (full list available here).
Indigenous peoples, human rights defenders and other activists are subjected to severe persecution and harassment. For indigenous peoples, a particularly charged issue is the right to land and the state’s intrusion on, among other things, oil exploration, which causes environmental degradation (see Population and Languages and Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment).
Freedom of expression and media
Press freedom prevails according to law, but the media is sometimes subjected to political pressure and it has happened that journalists have been arrested or beaten by police. The debate climate is described as open, but there is some self-censorship among journalists on politically sensitive issues and topics related to the military. Defamation is criminal and can result in up to three years in prison.
In Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in 180 countries, Ecuador ranks 98th in 2020.
During Rafael Correa’s ten years in power, there were serious restrictions on media freedom. Following the police uprising – or the coup attempt, according to Correa himself – in September 2010 (see Modern History and Calendar), the president voted for El Universo magazine when he was called a “dictator” in a chronicle, and indirectly accused of several people being shot to death. A court sentenced Correa to $ 40 million in damages to Correa, and four people in the newspaper were sentenced to three years in prison. The judgment drew sharp criticism among human rights and freedom of speech organizations around the world. The convicted were later pardoned by Correa and the damages were postponed.
On several other occasions, Correa sued media organizations and stormed privately owned and often opposition-loyal media. A new media law passed in 2013 was seen by many as a victory for the president. The law meant that at most one third of the radio and TV licenses were to be held by privately owned media organizations. One third was awarded public service and the last third was voluntary organizations and associations. In the past, private media accounted for about 60 percent of broadcast permits. According to the law, at least 60 percent of the television programs must also be produced in Ecuador and 50 percent of the music in radio must be produced, composed or recorded in the country. Furthermore, the law meant that a new authority was given the right to fine the media for slander and order them to publicly apologize.
The law from 2013 has been extensively used to get journalists dismissed, to bring prosecution charges against them and to impose fines. Under President Moreno, the law has begun to loosen up and tensions between the government and the media have generally subsided after his entry.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary has always been heavily politicized. Parliament has traditionally appointed the judges of the Supreme Court, the Election Authority and the Constitutional Court. This has led the judges to be loyal to the party that nominated them. By the 2008 Constitution, the system would be changed so that the courts were more free to the political special interests, and after a 2011 referendum, reforms in the justice system were approved.
However, the regime’s influence over the judiciary did not decrease. In mid-2012, a judicial council with members appointed for 18 months took office by the President, Parliament (where the President’s party has a majority) and the Citizens’ Council (see Political system). The task of the Judicial Council was to review the judicial system and appoint and dismiss judges. During its term of office, several thousand judges were dismissed and in many cases replaced by temporary judges without proper legal expertise. Human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have expressed concern about the development.
Now, among other things, TI is pointing out that efforts are underway to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and that corruption convicted persons can actually be sentenced to tangible punishments.
The indigenous peoples have the right to practice their jurisprudence and follow their customs as long as they do not conflict with national law, which sometimes happens. The death penalty was abolished in 1906.
Amnesty International reports that torture is occurring in Ecuador’s detention centers and prisons, and police are sometimes guilty of arbitrary arrests. In a number of cases, police are suspected of having carried out extrajudicial executions. Impunity for police officers who are guilty of crime is common. One reason for this is that their cases are being tried in a special military court. Lawyers and witnesses have been threatened. Abuse of women, blacks and indigenous peoples is a major problem.
“Illegal foreign debt”
President Correa explains that Ecuador does not intend to pay millions of dollars in “illegal” foreign debt.
Choosing-yes to new constitution
The proposed new constitution (see April 2007) is approved in a referendum, by 64 percent of voters. The new constitution gives the president and the government greater powers at the expense of the legislative assembly (see Political system). The constitution also means that the state has increased control over certain industries, such as mining, telecommunications and the oil industry, as well as the right to confiscate certain agricultural land. Healthcare will be allowed free of charge for older and same-sex partnerships. The new constitution, which comes into force in October, replaces the one adopted in 1998.
The crisis with Colombia is dampened
Ecuador resumes low diplomatic relations with Colombia (see March 2008).
Unasur is formed
Ecuador and the other eleven independent states of South America at a meeting in Brazil form the economic and political community Unasur (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas) whose secretariat is to be located in Quito.
Defense Minister fired, military resigns
President Rafael Correa dismisses Wellington Sandoval as a consequence of disagreement between the government and the military over the crisis with Colombia that occurred in March. Several high-ranking military members also retire after Correa accused the military intelligence service of having been infiltrated by the CIA.
Diplomatic crisis with Colombia
A diplomatic crisis arises after the Colombian military crossed the border into Ecuador and killed a leading member of the Colombian left guerrilla Farc. Together with Venezuela, Ecuador is gathering troops at the border with Colombia, breaking diplomatic relations.