Since becoming president in 2006, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is steadily becoming known as the tyrant with a smile. On Capitol Hill, Correa has been referred to as a tyrant with an “irresponsible tongue” that abuses his power within his country.
As president of Ecuador, Correa has used his power to stifle with the news media and ignore the country’s nongovernmental groups when it comes to the interest of the people.
“Correa comes from that virulent reaction of people not just sensing that they were getting screwed over, but seeing it,” said J. D. Bowen, an assistant professor of political science at Saint Louis University.
Like neighboring countries Brazil and Venezuela, Ecuador has never shied away from protesting against a president the people feel does not have their best interest at heart. And while it’s only been nine years since he’s been in office, the president has drawn noticeable criticism stateside.
Last Saturday, Correa visited New York City and decided to attend a town hall meeting at the New York Hall of Science. The Hall of Science is located in Corona, Queens and happens to be one of the largest Ecuadorean communities.
So, taking the moment Ecuadoreans living in NYC stood outside to protest the president for his actions back in Ecuador.
The group of an estimated 60 protestors or so surrounded the building to bring attention to Correa’s criminalization of social movements, the condemning of any new media, and the recent exploits he made in the oil expansion into Yasuni Park located in the country’s Amazon.
The activists also aimed to bring attention to three political prisoners who Correa has imprisoned under his order. Assemblyman Cléver Jiménez of the Pachakutik Party—a left-wing indigenist party, Activist Carlos Figueroa, and former labor leader Fernando Villavicencio were sentenced to prison in 2013 after being charged for slandering the president.
In 2011, the three political prisoners came out against Correa after he ordered an armed assault on a police hospital after he had been held captive by striking police officers during a strike back in September 2010. While the suit was dismissed against the three men, the president moved forward filing a countersuit for slander.
“Correa censors and represses those who do not favor his politics,” said Vicente Mayorga, an activist for immigrant rights. “We demand a true democracy and freedom of expression. We are not in the time of the dictatorship, when you couldn’t fight censorship.”
Among the protestors fighting for the political prisoners, there were activists also demanding a stop to the proposed drilling of Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini, in Yasuni National Park to reach the oil reserves that are there.
“What’s fair is that the people decide through the ballot box. A dishonest Congress doesn’t represent our voice,” said Antonio Arizaga, president of the United Front of Ecuadorian Immigrants.
Yasuni National Park is estimated to be about 2.4 million acres and considered one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. Last October, Ecuador’s congressmen approved Correa’s petition to lift a constitutional ban on extracting natural resources like oil from the area.
In Latin America, analyst of the region have connected Correa to being opposite to Venezuela former president Hugo Chavez, stating that he maintains a strong connection with the business sector while his presidency has sustained a period of economic growth and low unemployment. This success may be due in part to his possible educational upbringing in economics.
Analyst believe that Correa represents a new model of Latin American leadership. What this model means is that Correa exhibits traits which include being economically populist, socially conservative, and quasi-authoritarian. While he has received protests and criticism as a tyrant, according to polls his ratings stand between 60 to 85%. This percent makes him a popular leader within the region.
Last March, Correa was re-elected to a third term winning the election with a huge margin for him to keep his presidency. Despite the result, and the polls, Correa has announced that he will not run again when his current term end s in 2017.
In an interview with El Telegrafo, a government newspaper in Ecuador, Correa commented on his decision to not run again stating: “It’s very damaging when one person becomes indispensable.”
While Correa has said he will not run again, those who do not trust nor believe the Ecuadorean President believes the decision is merely his tactic. Protestors and opponents against the 50-year-old president do not believe he has any interest in an early retirement.
Those who do not agree with Correa connect his political ambition to being that of the new 21st century socialism with an added touch of contemporary Latin American caudillismo. What this means is that, while he may appear understanding before cameras he is merely aware the cameras are on him and subduing his authoritarian thrive of power.
Whatever his stratagies are to keep rule, Correa will not be avoidant of protestors until 2017. The protests held last Saturday in Corona are just a small portion of the Ecuadorean people’s motivation to make themselves heard.
Activists continue to protest against the president despite a Communications Law approved in 2013 that allowed for the imprisonment of “slanderers” there are those in Ecuador still stepping out against the president. Xavier Bonilla is just one of those protestors. A cartoonist by trade, Bonilla was penalized under the law that has censored the protestors outcry. The incident has drawn international attention, and possible an unsavory focus on Ecuadorean President Correa.