One of the things I like to do as a preparation for a trip is to get up to speed on the local news. Who’s in charge? Who wants to be? What big scandal is everyone talking about? What are the most important soccer teams? Knowing a bit about these few things can help to get on a taxi driver’s good side on your first ride from the airport. It can make the difference between getting ripped off in a major way or maybe just a little. Furthermore and for reasons I don’t really understand, conversations with taxi drivers often end up making for the best anecdotes to characterize the atmosphere and attitudes to people back at home.
So now that Ecuador has come up on my itinerary as my next destination, it’s time to find out about Rafael Correa and the upcoming elections that he is likely to win with an absolute majority against opposition candidates covering the political spectrum from Right to Left. Despite the apparent certainty of his reelection and the fact that he is the longest serving president in a century, not everyone in the country is bound to be a fan.
Correa fits into the leftist-mold that has become common and well-known in South America, with special thanks to the (now very ill) president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Like Chavez, Correa has been very intolerant of criticism in the media and has used his political power to increase his influence and gag his opponents (figuratively speaking). As the Economist reports:
He has built a powerful government media empire, including two television networks seized from corrupt bankers. Like Mr Chávez and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández, he has abused a provision, intended for national emergencies, in which all television and radio stations are required to carry his broadcasts—no fewer than 1,365 of them between January 2007 and August 2012, according to Fundamedios, a media body. Freedom of expression is a “function of the state”, he claims. He has pursued criminal libel cases against critics, and is pushing to curb the powers of the media-freedom watchdog of the Organisation of American States.
Coming from a country that ranked second on this year’s Press Freedom Index, independent and impartial(ish) news is something we tend to take for granted. If you want to know the facts, you read the newspaper, simple as that. Being somewhere where the version you get of a specific chain of events can be completely different from one news source to another, is extremely frustrating for me. To what extent this will be the case in Ecuador is hard to judge from where I am now, but I will find out soon enough. And in the end I might just go back to listening to cab drivers…