Observers wondering who would assume the mantle of Hugo Chavez as Latin America’s fiery, anti-American strong man did not have to wait long. That man is Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.
Correa won a second term last February and promised to continue his "citizens’ revolution."
However, his record looks different beyond the rhetoric. More than half of Ecuador’s 15 million people still live in poverty. Crime rates remain high. And journalists, members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and indigenous inhabitants are routinely fined and arrested.
As the world awaits the birth of true democracy and freedom in Ecuador, the Washington Free Beacon compiled the five worst things about the country’s government:
1. Rafael Correa
Correa’s tenure as Ecuador’s strongman-in-chief has been surrounded by charges of corruption and nepotism. The Miami Herald noted that his cousin was forced to resign from the nation’s Central Bank after he was found to have lied about having an economics degree. Additionally, Correa’s brother received nine-figure government contracts—with the knowledge of the president.
Correa has tried to distract from his own personal ethical lapses by attacking foreign businesses. Correa has stood by a 2011 Ecuadorean court decision to award villagers $18 billion for pollution from an oil field formerly owned by Texaco, a company that has since been bought by Chevron. However, the Economist has noted that Ecuador’s government already reached a settlement with Texaco in 1998. The field is now owned by state company Petroecuador.
When the Free Beacon reported last month that Correa’s government had ties to a Spanish anti-piracy firm that has sought to remove videos posted by Chevron on YouTube, he tweeted an image that called this news site "corrupt." Chevron alleges that the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the oil field case bribed the judge who issued the $18 billion award.
Correa has said "the world is extremely hypocritical, and the logic that prevails is not that of justice, but power."
2. Repression of the media
Owners of the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo were found guilty of defamation in 2011 and received three-year prison sentences and fines of $40 million.
While Correa later said he would pardon the El Universo owners and forgive the fines, his government passed a law last year that forbids the "deliberate omission of … topics of public interest" and "lynching by media," according to the president of Ecuador’s congress.
The press watchdog Fundamedios reported more than 170 cases of verbal, physical, or legal harassment against Ecuadorian journalists in 2012. Byron Baldeon, a freelance photographer and witness in a criminal case involving alleged police corruption, was shot 17 times by two gunmen in 2012.
3. Lack of economic freedom
Ecuador ranks 159 out of 177 countries on the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom and scores well below regional and world averages.
The country’s repressive political environment has weakened property rights, limited financing for entrepreneurs, and created a risky climate for outside investors, according to the index.
Corruption is also pervasive in Ecuador, which is ranked 102 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Close aides to Correa have been accused of belonging to Ecuador’s "nouveau riche" and enriching themselves illegally.
4. Opposition to free trade
Correa, who has expressed concern about how other governments treat their citizens, pulled Ecuador out of a long-standing trade agreement with the United States last August in what he said was retaliation for America’s handling of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
The expiration of the trade agreement substantially raised prices on imported broccoli, artichokes, and flowers, including some large-headed roses that only grow in Ecuador.
Correa reportedly told exporters concerned about the expiration of the deal to "take a valium."
5. Vampire Bats
A dozen indigenous inhabitants of Ecuador—mostly children—died in 2011 from rabies, which they contracted from the common vampire bat. Correa’s administration was criticized for waiting more than a month after the first victim’s death to declare an emergency and for laying off doctors at public hospitals.
While the government likes to boast about its billions in health spending, Correa’s critics say it does not translate into quality care. A funding shortfall for the public health system in 2011 resulted in more than 100 infant deaths.