Ecuador: Government implements new ways to criminalize and control social protest

Source: Latinamerican Press

The Ecuadorian government has decided to confront the social organizations opposed to its political project by taking the organizations’ leaders to court to imprison them or restrain them with indefinite trials in order to silence them. Likewise, the government seeks to close down the organizations through a decree that threatens their stability and limits their activities. The organizations, meanwhile, have not yet defined their strategies for dealing with the government threats, but there are looming options for social unity that concern the government.

In 2008, the Constituent Assembly granted amnesty to more than 360 people whose trials were related to protests and acts of resistance. All of these trials began before the government of Rafael Correa, who started his first term in 2007.

In 2011, the Ombudsman’s Office of Ecuador, led at the time by Fernando Gutiérrez, issued a report which found that the practice of criminalizing social protest continued in the government, for it showed the existence of 21 new cases between 2008 and 2010. The new Ombudsman, Ramiro Rivadeneira, who is aligned with the government and who took office in late 2011, chose to cast into oblivion his predecessor’s report, citing methodological errors.

Since then, the government has lashed out in various ways against the organizations and the social protest. Salvador Quishpe, indigenous leader and prefect of the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in the southern Amazon, summarizes these new ways of lashing out, citing the control of the media; control of the poorest social sector through monthly installment of US$50, which is called “human development bonus” and is given to nearly two million people; the division of social organizations and associations; cooption of community leaders with job offers; and finally, the initiation of trials against those not docile enough for the government.

“Since you refuse to submit yourself, now you’ll go to trial,” says Quishpe while analyzing the ciminalization of social leaders.

Harassment of social organizations
Ecuadorian social organizations have slowly moved away from government influence and have began to take actions of opposition, such as the demonstrations of September and November 2014 in which they rejected, among other things, the labor reforms that restrict workers’ rights, the enforcement of Decree 16, issued in June 2013, which controls social organization, restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminalization of social protest.

Last Mar. 19, social movements staged another day of protest in nine cities. In addition to those issues already raised, women’s groups joined to reject the new sex education policy that is based on morality and abstinence, and other consumer groups affected by the new tariffs on imports also joined.

Decree 16 violates the right to freedom of association by requiring a series of reports with which the government can know about the actions and thoughts of organizations.

“The entire state apparatus is controlled by an authoritarian government to shut down social organizations; they want to force us to report on each assembly, each meeting; say what resources [we have], what we have invested, who has given [the resources]. That is, they want a source of information that violates the right to free association,” said Nina Pacari, an historical leader of the indigenous movement, to Latinamerica Press, in regards to the requirements under Decree 16 for an organization to exist.

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