Ecuador ‘following Russia’s lead’ – USAID forced out

USAIDUnder pressure from Ecuador’s left-wing government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is shutting down its operations in the South American nation after 53 years, John Otis reports for NBC News:

In a telephone interview with GlobalPost, Adam Namm, the US ambassador to Ecuador, called the decision “very disappointing.” But it was no surprise. The government in Quito had refused to allow Washington’s aid agency to renew its programs or start any new activity in the country.

President Rafael Correa is a fierce US critic who has already pulled the plug on US counter-narcotics operations at a Pacific coast base and expelled Namm’s predecessor as well as 14 US military advisers, whom he claimed were infiltrating Ecuador’s security forces.

The agency had worked in Ecuador for 53 years and spent more than $800 million in development projects, AFP adds:

The US embassy has said it tried for two years to reach a deal that would allow USAID to keep working in the South American country.

“Officials can now essentially decide what groups may say or do, seriously undermining their role as a check on the government,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said after Correa signed Decree 16.

Vivanco added: “Instead of adopting reasonable measures to facilitate the work of NGOs, the Correa administration is following the lead of countries such as Russia, Bahrain, Uganda, and Venezuela, which have imposed unjustified restrictions that violate fundamental rights and limit spaces that are critical to democratic society.”

Since Decree 16 went into effect, several other Ecuadorean NGOs have closed their doors, NBC adds:

So has Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which runs civic education programs in more than 100 countries and is affiliated with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union political party.

The foundation said the group was shutting its Ecuador office Sept. 1 due to the government’s “increasing control” over NGO work. Quito’s international cooperation department “reserved the right to see and ultimately modify [independent organizations'] plans,” Konrad Adenauer Foundation director Winfried Weck told Germany’s Deutsche Welle…..

About 10 percent of USAID’s $12 million annual budget for Ecuador was earmarked for “democracy and governance” programs. For example, the Quito-based free expression group Fundamedios received about $280,000 from USAID in 2011…..

“The attacks against NGOs have been fierce,” said Cesar Ricaurte, the director of Fundamedios. “The government tries to paint us as destabilizing the country.”


Ecuador’s Correa seeks perpetual re-election

ecuador mediaEcuador’s President Rafael Correa, whom opponents characterize as a semi-authoritarian leader, is deliberating a proposal by the ruling Alianza Pais Party to permit indefinite re-election for every office-holder, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Buoyed by high oil prices, Mr. Correa has funneled money into education and highways, giving him high approval ratings, while drawing sharp criticism from rights groups and press freedom advocates for trying to muzzle critics…..

In speeches, Mr. Correa has rejected accusations that he is trampling on Ecuador’s democracy, arguing instead that the people shouldn’t be deprived of their democratic will.

“With the judge, the courts and all the players on their side, the leaders of so-called 21st Century Socialism are imposing authoritarian regimes, backed by the votes of their own citizens, and are undermining democracy,” said Antonio Rodríguez Vicens, a constitutional lawyer in Quito.

“Unlike Chávez, he knows the importance of infrastructure, roads, and schools, and Ecuador has seen a vast improvement in these areas,” Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter told the Journal:

More controversial have been his relations with the press and civil society groups. Last year, his supporters passed a communications law that mandates criminal charges if media outlets don’t report news in ways regulators deem fair and balanced. The government last year also announced new restrictions on civil society groups that activists say threaten their work. Pachamama, an environmental organization that is allied with indigenous communities, was closed after being accused of stirring protests.