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Ecuador: Bearing the Mark of “The Empire”

by Alex Schoemann | University of Notre Dame

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: August 17, 2012
headshot alex schoemann Alex Schoemann

Spending the summer in Ecuador was an eye-opening experience to not only get a taste of another culture, but also see firsthand the way another culture views the United States. It was extremely frustrating to find out that for many Latin Americans, we as Americans still bear the mistakes of the generation before us. That frustration serves as a reminder of what the next American political administration should aim to do abroad.

The overstepping American foreign policy of the Cold War has not been forgotten in Ecuador, even though the nation avoided American involvement like that in Chile or Nicaragua. This, combined with a President, Rafael Correa, who consistently refers to the United States as: “The Empire,” Correa’s close ties to Hugo Chavez and now Julian Assange — who was recently granted political asylum in Ecuador — should serve as fair warning to the next administration that the nation of Ecuador should be on their radars. Some have questioned if Correa might in fact be the next Chavez. At the very least, it would seem that Rafael Correa would like nothing more than to get the attention of “The Empire.”

Correa has done wonders for Ecuador’s economy since his ascent to the presidency in 2006, but his handling of constitutional reform and his desire to oust American forms of imperialism should serve as a warning — a warning that will hopefully force Washington to re-think and re-focus policy, rather than barking back. Correa’s Ecuador is beginning to resemble a perfect storm of productivity, oil, and animosity toward America that is not unlike certain nations in the Middle East.

In fact, Ecuador is beginning to possess many of the same characteristics Saudi Arabia possesses. Saudi Arabia went from being one of the United States’ greatest allies to becoming the largest harbor and training ground for terrorists, whose sole aim is to see America crumble.

Though this is far from the case in Ecuador, certain things should not be taken lightly.

Starting in 2007, Correa moved forward with his plan for a referendum to re-write the Ecuadorian Constitution. When the dust finally settled in late September 2008, the new constitution had been approved. It granted far more governmental power over the economy, far more power for Correa himself, and allowed for the re-election of Correa twice more in four-year terms. If he is indeed elected twice more, he could serve from 2006 to 2017.

Though this alone shouldn’t be too frightening, Correa’s incessant jabs at journalists and newspapers across the country should sound the alarm. In 2011, a popular newspaper, El Universo, stated that Correa’s decision to use lethal action during a riot in 2010 could leave him susceptible to legal action in the future. Four members of the newspaper’s staff were sentenced to three years in prison, and the paper was fined $40 million.

In 2007, in response to the Constitutional Referendum, a Quito-based newspaper ran an editorial that said Correa intended to rule the country with “rocks and sticks” and called the handling of the referendum unconstitutional. Correa sued the author of that piece for contempt, and that case is still ongoing.

This type of journalistic bullying is common in “Petrodictatorships,” and in many ways points back to the economy. America’s reliance on foreign oil has enabled the reversal of democratic trends in the Middle East, Russia and Latin America, allowing radical regimes to propagate their philosophies. There is a negative correlation between positive economic activity due to oil and the amount of freedom experienced by the people of that nation, as measured by freedom of the press, acceptance of women, and a variety of other factors.

Correa has not only won himself a reputation as a bully of the media, but a poll conducted by Gallup found that Ecuador is tied for first for the largest gender equality employment gap in the world. Ecuador’s only match? Saudi Arabia.

Though that may not even seem like much, it is hard to ignore the attitudes of people that were not open to Americans working in their country — attitudes I witnessed firsthand. As American volunteers, many people called us out for only bringing war to South America. Additionally, it was plain to see that women are seen as inferior in many parts of Ecuador. Though they are not forced to cover their faces, the gender discrimination was striking.

Especially given Correa’s anti-American stance and leadership, Ecuador is another country that should be on the next president’s radar. Correa sees American involvement worldwide as unilaterally unbalanced in terms of the benefits for Americans, masked by bilateral agreements. Though he may have a point, and our politicians will need to appreciate a new generation of global politics, it’s hard not to see the similarities to Middle Eastern leaders.

In writing this piece, I do not wish to put a damper on my experiences in Ecuador. Many families and people embraced our help and work with open arms, but at other times we were met with animosity that was unsettling. Not because of the force or size of the opposition, but because their words and concerns echo those of members of one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations halfway around the world.

Alex Schoemann Alex Schoemann Alex Schoemann is a columnist from the University of Notre Dame. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Alex is majoring in English and Accountancy. Follow @AlexSchoe

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