The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Correa's war

In Ecuador a reforming government is battling against a hostile opposition media as well the country's corrupt political class.

Mark Weisbrot, in The Guardian, July 26, 2007

In his recent book The Assault on Reason, former vice-president Al Gore describes how "the potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis." The concentration of broadcast media ownership is indeed a real threat to democracy, as we learned the hard way when more than 70% of Americans were convinced, falsely, that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks of September 11 - thus enabling the launch of a disastrous and unnecessary war in Iraq.

The problem is even worse in Latin America, where monopolised TV media provides a much larger share of the news that people receive, and is even more shamelessly manipulated for political purposes. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, an economist with a PhD from the University of Illinois, was elected last November with a broad mandate for economic reform, pro-growth development policies, and poverty alleviation. One of his government's first acts was to double the monthly stipend for single mothers, the disabled and elderly poor.

Although Correa ran without a political party or candidates for the congress, his mandate was strongly reinforced when the government won a referendum to draw up a new constitution by an even larger margin of 82%. As in a number of other countries in the region, which has seen a record economic failure over the last 25 years, voters endorsed the sweeping institutional and political changes they saw as necessary to enfranchise the majority.

But on May 21 the opposition media launched an assault on President Correa's finance minister, Ricardo Patino. In a seven-minute grainy video clip from a hidden camera, they showed the minister meeting on February 12 with two representatives of a New York investment firm, as well as a former finance minister. Patino talks about "scaring the markets", in what looks like a plot to manipulate the country's bond market. The clip, taken out of context, was shown repeatedly for days on the TV news, spliced with gratuitous, unrelated images of faceless people counting large amounts of cash.

It turns out that the video was authorised by Patino himself, an odd thing to do if one is meeting to plan a crime. Patino claims that the purpose of the meeting and the taping of it was to investigate corruption. And indeed the rest of the video - not shown on TV but presented in a transcript published in Ecuador's major newspapers - supports his explanation. In the rest of the meeting, Patino is probing for information on corrupt activities - including past market manipulations. He allows the others to present and explain the possibilities in detail, never agreeing to go along with anything - just as one would expect in an investigation of this sort.

In fact he states that it would be wrong to manipulate the market. The meeting ends with one of the investors stating that nothing would be done regarding the current debt payment - which was due three days after the videotaped meeting - but that they could think about what to do in the future.

But the TV media's repeated, propagandistic images - playing on people's cynicism from decades of corrupt government - had the most influence. This emboldened the opposition to make more wild allegations of secret deals with foreign banks, and vote to censure Patino in the Congress - which they control. All of this has been done without anyone presenting evidence that the finance minister was involved in any wrongdoing.

If all this seems Orwellian, it is. Ecuador currently has the most honest government it has ever had - that is why it has had so much support from the beginning. Yet the impression that is coming across in the media - both Ecuadorian and now spilling over into the international press - is one of corruption.

Correa remains immensely popular, and he has defended Patino, who has now taken another cabinet position. The government will survive this assault, and move forward with its agenda. But the opposition, led by the traditional elite and corrupt politicians, will use this "scandal" - with the help of the media - to undermine the government and the reforms that the voters have chosen.

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