Ecuador’s granting of asylum to WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange “should be an opportunity to start at home,” said Gerardo Jumí Tapias, leader of the Andean Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI). “Democracy should begin at home and cannot be reduced to a discourse for the juncture,” he said, adding that protection of human rights and free expression is laudable but should apply to all citizens, not just a high-profile foreigner. “This is an opportunity for us to review throughout the continent, where many governments present themselves before the world as protectors of human rights, but violate the human rights of indigenous peoples in their own countries.”
Rafael Quispe Flores, CAOI’s coordinator for political rights, added: “There are common denominators among all the governments that call themselves progressive. In Ecuador, it is the government of the citizen revolution; in Bolivia, it is the government of the democratic cultural revolution. But both in practice violate human rights in their countries.”
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) issued a communique signed by its president, Humberto Cholango, saluting the asylum granted Assange, but at the same time denouncing “the immense contradiction and double discourse of President [Rafael] Correa, who within the country insults, persecutes and prosecutes indigenous leaders and social strugglers as terrorists, judicially harasses journalists like Calderón and Zurita, seized the magazine Vanguardia and communications media like Telesangay, and condemned three indigenous leaders to prison for supposed obstruction of roads in protection of water resources and the Rights of Nature.” (CAOI, Aug. 17)
Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita are writers facing litigation from Correa over an unflattering biography they wrote of him. The magazine Vanguardia had its offices raided and assets seized earlier this month, supposedly over its failure to meet affirmative action guidelines on the hiring of disabled persons—a charge denied by the magazine, and met with skepticism by the Inter American Press Association, which protested the action. (MercoPress, Aug. 3) Telesangay, TV station of the provincial government of Morona Santiago which is controlled by the indigenous-based opposition party Pachakutik, was ordered closed by the Correa government in May, ostensibly for failure to comply with unspecified broadcast guidelines. (IFEX, May 28) Last year, three indigenous leaders from Morona Santiago were charged with “terrorism” for allegedly inciting violence at protests against Ecuador’s pending Water Law, which opponents claimed gave a free hand to exploitation of water resources by mining and other extractive industries.