Correa supporters protest during journalism awards ceremony in US
By Sara Rafsky/CPJ Americas Research Associate
The Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, administered by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in recognition of journalistic contributions to Inter-American understanding, are the oldest international prizes in journalism. But Josh Friedman, director of the prizes, said this year marked the first time he remembered arriving at the awards ceremony to be greeted by protesters screaming from behind barricades. The tuxedo and gown-clad guests last night shot confused glances across the street from Columbia's Italian Academy building, where about 20 protesters brandishing Ecuadoran flags and pictures of President Rafael Correa yelled slogans like "Down the with corrupt press!" and "Long live President Correa!" One sign identified a long list of alleged "enemies of Latin American democracy" that managed to include the leading dailies of South America, the United States, Spain, the Ecuadoran press freedom group Fundamedios and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The source of the group's ire was the Cabot's decision to give an honorary citation to the daily El Universo of Ecuador. In February, Ecuador's highest court upheld three-year prison sentences and multimillion-dollar fines against three El Universo executives in a defamation suit brought by Correa. The opinion editor who wrote the critical column about the president at the heart of the suit received a similar sentence and fled to Miami, where he has been awarded political asylum. Correa later pardoned the defendants, but his actions had already done lasting damage to free expression and established his country's reputation as one of the most repressive in the region for the press.
The bad blood between the newspaper and the president did not end with the resolution of the lawsuit. Making good on his promise to pardon "but not forget" the daily, Correa accused El Universo editor Gustavo Cortez on his weekly TV broadcast in June of being "wicked" and of "having bad faith" and, after showing a photo of Cortez, called on the Ecuadoran people to remember his face. Correa's TV show has been a favorite venue to smear and intimidate his critics. César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, has been another frequent target of such attacks. And CPJ's own Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas, was featured in August after the Cabot winners were announced. Lauría serves as a member of the Cabot board, and Correa, remembering a contentious encounter between the two at Columbia the previous year, showed Lauría's photograph and said his participation was behind El Universo's honorary citation.