Dictators have an unfair advantage over democratic governments; they can overturn their previous decisions without needing to explain themselves to anyone. In their territory they are king. The people are there to praise and obey.
Such is the case of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and of his fellow caudillos in Latin America — Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, and last but not least, the Castro brothers in Cuba.
With the exception of the Castro brothers, modern-day Latin American dictators have a thin veneer of democracy. Most are elected to power in elections that have pre-ordained results. Scratch off that veneer and they are no different from dictators past.
Today these dictators adhere to a socialist credo. Their predecessors did so from the right. Ideologies do not make them different. In both cases, only a few of their closest friends get rich, while the poor are repressed if they protest too much.
Correa's case is particularly interesting because he is an American-trained economist. He is bright, young, and to his followers, charismatic. Many say he is the new Hugo Chávez on the left. Fidel and Raúl Castro are not included in this Hit Parade of dictators, for they are in a league all their own. After all they have governed for close to 54 years.
Life for those who live in Ecuador under Correa is not easy. The strongman has steadily tightened his grip of society, so if one dares to criticize him, they do so at their own risk.
Ecuador now has a new law that governs the media. It monitors and punishes media owners and journalists who question his decisions.
A case in point is Correa's recent decision to search for oil in Yasuni National Park. In 1989 UNESCO designated this environmentally sensitive area as a Biosphere Reserve and the largest tract of tropical rain forest in Ecuador. It is the home of several indigenous populations who live in isolation.
Correa, who is a self-proclaimed environmentalist, demanded the international community pay Ecuador $3.8 billion to offset half of the profits the country would receive by extracting oil from the area. On August 15, Correa said the international community had failed to come up with the monies he had demanded, and thus the Yasuni National Park would now be open to oil exploration.
Ecuador's President also threatened the media. If they campaigned against his decision too forcefully, he would demand all the newspapers in the country forgo its print editions and publish only on the web. This measure of course was prompted by Correa's environmental concerns.
He also controls social media. Anyone who "insults" his government on Twitter or Facebook can be jailed. He threatened to expel all students who protested his decisions. He is seeking to silence all NGOs. He has given diplomatic protection in Ecuador's Embassy in Great Britain to Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame.
Correa withdrew Ecuador's membership in the World Bank's arbitration court and is threatening to do the same with the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague and the Organization of American State's human right's commission.
For Correa, his decision to drill for oil in the Yasuni National Park is ironic. This is the same president who for years has continued to fight a legal battle against Texaco/Chevron because they, according to his lawyers, polluted a once pristine rainforest in northeastern Ecuador.
This legal dispute pre-dates Correa's presidency, but he has become its champion. According to an article published by Business Week in July, the trial in Ecuador was tainted by fraud. The Ecuadorian court decided the company had to pay $19 billion in what was a record-setting pollution verdict. With no assets in Ecuador, Chevron refused to pay and now the trial will begin anew this October in the same Federal court where the proceedings first started in 1993.
To drill for oil in Yasuni National Park, Correa, the environmentalist, has to convince new international oil companies that his government will not persecute them for any environmental damage as he has done with Chevron/Texaco. Not an easy task in a country where the president can change his mind overnight, and often does.
Guillermo I. Martinez resides in South Florida. His e-mail is Guimar123@gmail.com and his Twitter is @g_martinez123