The Committee to Protect Journalists may believe that "freedom of expression is under siege in Ecuador," and Freedom House may give Ecuador poor marks for press freedom, but Argentina's Universidad Nacional de La Plata apparently disagrees. On Tuesday, the university awarded Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa the Rodolfo Walsh Prize for battling the "hegemoic will that tries to restrict speech" and for enabling the "poor and marginalized sectors of society" to express themselves, in part by helping create the Latin American television network teleSUR and enshrining communication as a right in the country's constitution and laws.
Americas Quarterly points out the contradictions in the university bestowing the prize -- one named after an investigative journalist who was killed in the 1970s during Argentina's "Dirty War" -- on Correa, who has repeatedly locked horns with Ecuador's private news outlets:
The U.S. government has long criticized Correa's record on freedom of speech, and granted political asylum to the Ecuadorian journalist Emilio Palacio in August after he faced a three-year prison sentence and a $40 million fine for referring to Correa as a "dictator" in El Universo.
Facing pressure from press freedom groups, Correa eventually pardoned Palacio and other executives who had received prison sentences. The U.S. offered asylum to Palacio just 24 hours after Ecuador granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London, who published a series of classified U.S. government cables on his website.
When CNN's Erin Burnett asked Assange in November why, as a champion of free speech, he was seeking asylum in a country where the president had suggested that "freedom of expression should be a function of the state," Assange angrily dismissed the question. "Whatever little things are occurring in small countries are not of our concern," he noted, adding that Ecuador "is not a significant world player."
Correa, for his part, has relished the chance to mock his critics. "It turns out that there is such a lack of freedom of expression in Ecuador that one of the most important universities in Latin America has awarded the president a prize for the fight to have true freedom of expression and democratization of the media," he exclaimed sarcastically over the weekend. When he told his Twitter followers that he would be receiving the award, he couldn't help but add, "I know some people who should eat cement!" Not exactly the taunt you'd expect to hear from the winner of a free speech award.
Last year's recipient of the Rodolfo Walsh Prize? That paragon of press freedom in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.
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