The court of cassation of the National Court of Justice of Ecuador, on September 7, ratified the 8-year prison sentence against former president Rafael Correa and 15 other officials from his government in the “Bribes 2012-2016” case. The court also confirmed that Correa will be barred from electoral politics for the next 25 years. With the confirmation of the sentence, Correa is officially and definitively disqualified from contesting as a vice-presidential candidate in the 2021 general elections in Ecuador.
The former president, who is currently residing in Belgium, rejected the ruling through his Twitter account. “They finally succeeded. In record time they issued a ‘final’ sentence to disqualify me as candidate. They do not understand that all they are doing is increasing (our) popular support. I will be fine. Extend all your solidarity to those persecuted there (in Ecuador). Remember: the only thing they are sentencing us to is victory,” wrote Correa in a tweet.
Many legal and political analysts have questioned the urgency with which the cassation process was concluded and the sentence was issued. In less than a year, all three courts heard the appeals and ruled their verdict in the country where numerous other legal processes like this one have lasted up to 20 years. Experts also criticized the complete lack of evidence in the case. In lieu of concrete evidence linking Correa to any acts of corruption in the case, the court resorted to sentencing Correa based on having “psychic and cognitive influence” and being able to “control others’ will.”
On April 7, the first instance court sentenced Correa to 8 years in prison and barred him from electoral politics for 25 years on bribery and corruption charges for his alleged involvement in the aforementioned case. On July 20, the second instance court rejected Correa’s appeal and confirmed his sentence in the case. On August 7, an appeal was filed before the court of cassation.
The “Bribes 2012-2016” case began in April 2019, and alleged that former ministers and government officials accepted bribes from private companies in exchange for public contracts between 2012 and 2016. In August 2019, Attorney General Diana Salazar accused Correa of leading the corruption scheme and using the funds to finance the electoral campaigns and other political events of his party, the Alianza Pais (AP) movement. There is no concrete evidence against Correa and he has been tried in absentia. Many constitutional scholars believe that the charges against Correa and his allies are politicized.
Correa has rejected the charges pressed against him and has denounced the case as a form of political persecution by current president Lenín Moreno, intended to prevent him from running in the elections.
Moreno, who was Correa’s vice president from 2007 to 2013 and promised to continue with Correa’s progressive and anti-imperialist policies in the 2017 elections, after being elected betrayed Correa’s legacy and waged “lawfare” against Correa and Correistas with a combination of electoral reforms and leveling of false charges against them to impede them from contesting in the elections. Correa, who was in office from 2007 to 2017, still maintains a strong popular support in the country.
Recently, Moreno’s administration approved an electoral reform, which requires the participants to present their candidature in person before the National Electoral Council (CNE) in order to stand in elections. Due to the same law, on September 1, the CNE refused to accept Correa’s nomination as a candidate for the vice presidency, presented by his sister and legal power of attorney in Ecuador, Pierina Correa.
In the light of the CNE’s refusal, the Union for Hope (UNES), the new coalition of left-wing political parties and social movements that nominated Correa for vice-presidency, filed an appeal in the Electoral Dispute Tribunal (TCE) to suspend the law, arguing that it violates the rights of the migrants and people in quarantine due to the COVID-19. The appeal is pending to be heard.
Earlier, on July 19, the National Electoral Council (CNE), suspended four political parties and banned them from taking part in the 2021 general elections. The suspended parties include the Fuerza Compromiso Social or Social Commitment Force, led by Correa. On August 2, the Electoral Dispute Tribunal (TCE) nullified the resolution of the CNE, arguing that it violates the rights
Correa also faces a preventive prison order in the case of the failed kidnapping of opposition leader Fernando Balda. The emptiness and fabrication of the same was revealed days ago. In a press conference from Argentina, on August 31, the former intelligence agent of Ecuador, Raúl Chicaiza, confessed that he was pressured to involve Correa in Balda’s failed kidnapping case in 2012 to avoid a nine-year prison sentence.
Following Monday’s ruling, which violates Correa’s right to political participation, activists, parties and leaders from across the world denounced the lawfare campaign carried out against the popular leader. Many pointed out that Correa’s disqualification occurred on the same day that Evo Morales was disqualified from running for senator in Bolivia in the upcoming October 18th polls. Jorge Taiana from Argentina’s Frente de Todos coalition commented on twitter that “Today is a day of mourning for democracy in the region.”
The former Bolivian president Morales also stood in solidarity with Correa and wrote, “The Ecuadorian justice system rushes a sentence against brother [Rafael Correa] with the political objective to outlaw him as a candidate for the elections. They do not realize that it is impossible to outlaw the people.”
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, another victim of lawfare in the region who spent 580 days in prison in a similar accelerated, trumped up corruption case, wrote, “I extend solidarity to my comrade [Rafael Correa], victim of an unjust and abusive sentence, whose only objective is to impede him from being candidate in the elections in Ecuador. Once again there is a political use of the justice system, at the service of the elites and foreign interests. We have already seen this happen.”
Guillaume Long, the foreign minister of Ecuador during Correa’s time in office wrote on twitter, “The sentence against [Rafael Correa] is fruit of a pact of the authoritarian and mediocre elites. Authoritarian for violating the most elemental rules of liberal democracy. Mediocre because they do not see that they are feeding the citizen indignation and contribute to the triumph of progressivism in February.”