20 June 2010

Guadalupe Llori and justice in Ecuador

Early in 2008 I started working for the Human Rights Foundation (no longer there). One of the first assignments I got was to investigate the human rights situation in Bolivia and Ecuador, a couple of countries that had fallen under the chavista formula of using democratic tools to destroy the very tenets, such as rule of law and due process, that sustain democracy. The first report I was in charge of producing, about Bolivia's intention of granting constitutional legitimacy to an indigenous justice system called 'communal justice', caused no small amount of controversy. Bolivia officials quickly reacted to our report, in which it was stated:
"The constitution proposed by the Morales government contains glaring contradictions. For instance, it explicitly establishes that rulings from communal judges are not subject to judicial review and that such rulings are binding for all. At the same time, it provides for a Plurinational Tribunal that can hear and resolve conflicts of competence between ordinary and communal justice jurisdictions. The Plurinational Tribunal cannot revise rulings or sentences, but it can determine whether particular rulings or sentences were issued by the proper legal authorities (ordinary or communal judges). The Bolivian government..., is proposing discriminatory legislation that would deny Bolivia’s “indigenous” and “peasant” communities access to ordinary justice and would force them to seek redress only before communal judges. This legislation would also prevent Bolivia’s ordinary legal system from revising or overturning decisions and sentences issued by communal judges. As far as the proposed law is concerned, communal justice verdicts may not be appealed."
With the passing of time, I have been proved right in many of Latin America's political issues, and alas, in this instance, it is no different.

Then, investigating human rights conditions in Ecuador, I found out the fascinating tale of Guadalupe Llori: a democratically elected governor of the Ecuadorian province of Orellana, who had been illegally arrested after Ecuador's President Rafael Correa accused her of being a terrorist. Her crime was to have said in front of cameras of a local TV station (TV Amazonas) that President Correa was a lout. Her statement came on the aftermath of use of excessive force during a military assault ordered by Correa to break protests in Orellana province, where most of Ecuador's oil is produced. Given that Guadalupe Llori was the governor of that province, and the fact that she was squarely behind its citizen's legitimate right to protest, President Correa thought appropriate to level unsubstantiated accusations against her, have her illegally arrested, while stripped of her democratically elected position as governor.

When I found out how the whole affair had taken place, with plenty of evidence of brutality against Guadalupe's father, niece, and other young relatives, let alone herself, I remember quite vividly having thought "this is one of only two women holding such office in the whole American continent (the other being Sarah Palin). How come no international human rights NGO has made a stench out of this? How come no one has heard about the abuses and violations on this woman?" It was clear to me that we had to take the case, and, as if I needed any further confirmation, it was even clearer that the human rights NGO establishment was far from objective, dividing human rights violations along a left and right divide, exposing the latter being primary objective of nearly all work done in the field. Mind, there was this woman politician, lefty, indigenous, former ally of Rafael Correa, being completely ignored by those who claim to defend rights of women, indigenous, and oppressed people.

We launched an international campaign for her liberation, that took place after many months of illegal detention, during which she was abused, both physically and psychologically. Once the case was just too evident to ignore, Amnesty International even copied verbatim of a letter we had sent to President Correa, demanding immediate release and dropping of all charges. However, I was the only representative of an international human rights NGO to have visited twice Guadalupe in El Inca prison in Quito.

Fortunately, Guadalupe Llori accepted an invitation to speak about her case during the last Oslo Freedom Forum. Hear her words about justice in Ecuador, a harrowing account that many in the left-dominated human rights world should pay attention to.

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