A note from COHA regarding yesterday’s release (“Ecuador’s Flirtations with Democracy: Correa Does it Somewhat Differently,” 12/9/09)

After a careful analysis of FLACSO’s Guillaume Long’s admirable, if highly critical letter on Ecuador, which devastatingly took to task yesterday’s (December 9th, 2009) COHA research release on Ecuador, we decided that the quality of Long’s analysis justified it being sent to our entire mailing list of over 55,000 names. We do this in order to detail its critique of the errors and shortcomings of COHA’s piece.

In order to preserve it as a point of reference for those who may also want to comment on the now withdrawn piece, we are shifting the latter to the COHA forum where it can temporarily still be found. In deciding to ultimately take down and rework the piece, we had in mind the importance of our achieving the necessary fidelity to the facts that we would hope characterizes COHA’s research.

The COHA staff and its body of intern researchers spend many hours of our time trying to meet the expectations and research standards that we have set for ourselves and in order to serve the equally high standards of our readers. Occasionally, erroneous conclusions get through the various filters and other quality controls that we have set up to safeguard the accuracy of our research. The multiple mistakes in scholarship that populated the piece that we ran and which we are now officially removing, were inexcusable and must be quickly corrected. By running Guillaume Long’s forceful rebuttal to the shortcomings of COHA’s research on Ecuador, we hope to begin the remedial process. The publication of COHA’s own heavily revised piece will follow in the next few days.

The following letter from Guillaume Long was received on December 9, 2009:

Dear COHA,

I am unfortunately compelled to write to you regarding the article “Ecuador’s Flirtations with Democracy: Correa Does it Somewhat Differently”. I wish to call your attention to the fact that this article is poorly researched, empirically flawed and deeply reactionary.

The researcher displays an extremely poor understanding of Ecuadorian history, making several unforgivable factual mistakes, which demonstrate anything but fluency in Ecuadorian historiography.

1. The “four successive democratically-elected presidents (Carlos Alberto Arroyo del Río, José María Velasco Ibarra, C.J. Arosemena Tola, and Galo Plaza)” the author describes, were nothing of the sort. Arroyo del Río was elected in what were largely regarded as fraudulent elections. He was toppled in 1944 by the Revolución Gloriosa (also known as the May Revolution). Velasco Ibarra, his successor, was therefore not elected. He was himself toppled by a general called Mancheno, in turn replaced by C.J. Arosemena Tola as interim president. C.J. Arosemena was therefore not elected either. The first president elected after this unrest was Galo Plaza in 1948. There was relative political stability until 1961. Plaza thus marked the start of democratic stability and not the end of it, as the above quote suggests. So wrong on all fronts.

2. There has never been a “President Aguilera” in Ecuador. The full name of the president the author refers to was Jaime Roldós Aguilera (1979-1981). If the author had even a basic understanding of Spanish and Hispanic culture, she would know that the surname of the President was Roldós, and not his second surname Aguilera (which nobody in Ecuador would understand actually referred to him). A party named after him, admittedly distorting his legacy, was named the Partido Roldosista Ecuatoriano. For any person familiar with Latin America, these kinds of mistakes seriously erode a text’s standards and credibility.

3. The military regime of 1972-1979, was in fact divided into two very distinct military regimes. The first (1972-1976) was more nationalist, developmentalist and unaligned. The second (1976-1979) was more conservative and elite-based. No knowledge of that was displayed in the text.

Wikipedia springs to mind, maybe some other dubious websites, but no serious research.

The title “Ecuador’s Flirtations with Democracy: Correa Does it Somewhat Differently” implies from the outset that the article deals with Correa’s government. But this is not the case. After two very vague introductory paragraphs, the article drops the topic of Correa entirely, and gets lost in an imprecise historical narrative full of factual errors, some of which I have highlighted above.

The little which is said about Correa is a mere reproduction of stereotypes of the kind easily found in third-rate conservative press and not of the analytical standards espoused in other COHA pieces.

The article nebulously associates the Correa government with corruption. Although the association is not clearly made, it is implicit. Any close scrutiny of the Correa administration will show that the fight against corruption is a high priority on the government’s agenda. Some thoughts regarding whether this is being achieved would have been interesting.

The rest is simply an amalgam of the sort of accusations usually associated to Colombia’s anti-Correa media campaign and to the Uribe government’s foreign policy strategy, which have no real grounding. These are the kind of rumours one would like to see a serious research institute contest, or, at the very least, investigate. The following sentence is revealing of the author’s reproduction of easy clichés:

“Ecuador has been accused of harboring terrorists operating against Colombia, threatening to shut down the independent TV station Teleamazonas, and seizing oil fields owned by the Anglo-French company Perenco Corp.”

Firstly, “terrorists” evidently here refers to the FARC, which COHA should know are not recognized as terrorists by any government in South America, a part from Colombia: not by Brazil, not by Chile, not by Peru, not by anybody. It would therefore be advisable that COHA, in its attempt to “explain Latin America”, understood that “terrorism” is a US-Colombian-imposed category, which down here, in UNASUR, nobody adheres to. Furthermore, while it is clear that the FARC do make use of international borders in jungle terrain in their military strategy, simply blaming Ecuador for this is unreasonable. It should be noted that while Ecuador has between 15 and 20 fully operational military border posts in its attempt to resist the infiltration of irregular armed groups, Colombia merely has 3 such posts (as part of a deliberate strategy of abandonment of its borders). No mention of this whatsoever.

Secondly, “the independent TV station Teleamazonas” is in fact a very radical right-wing media organization owned by the country’s biggest bank and managed by banker and business magnate Fidel Egas. Here too, more analysis is needed. But the simplistic manner in which it is relayed in this piece is certainly misleading and encourages the notion of an “innocent” TV stations attempting to resist the totalitarian impulses of the Correa government. Yet the lies, deceit and constant political propaganda carried out by Teleamazonas would be sanctioned in most self-respecting democracy. Moreover, the “threats” have not been to “shut down” the TV station, but to take it off the air for 3 months, a sanction contemplated in pre-Correa Ecuadorian law. In any event, none of this has materialized, and so far the channel has merely been fined a few dozen dollars (!) for intentionally divulging false factual information (not of the interpretative kind) and not for its anti-governmental editorial line.

Thirdly, the mention of the Correa government “seizing oil fields owned by the Anglo-French company Perenco Corp” is also misleading. After a long process of contract renegotiation with major oil companies, such as Petrobras, Repsol YPF, Andes Petroleum, amongst others, most foreign oil companies operating in Ecuador have accepted the new – fairer – rules of the game. Perenco refused and as a result conflict has emerged. But to extrapolate the Perenco case from the wider context of Correa’s progressive oil policies illustrates the author’s scarce knowledge of Ecuador and the article’s bias towards a conservative mode of thinking.

Of course, the phrase employed is “Ecuador has been accused of …” If this officially frees the author of any responsibility, it does not make the author any less guilty of denigrating, without resorting to coherent analytical arguments, one of South America’s most interesting political projects.

COHA has once again, in its coverage of Ecuador, fostered the reproduction of stereotypes, prejudice and false information.

Yours sincerely,

Guillaume Long