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The government of the South American country of Ecuador spied on its political opposition and on environmentalists that campaign for the protection of the Yasuní rainforest, according to leaked secret documents reviewed by the local publication Plan V, the web site Ecuador Transparente, and the UK Guardian newspaper.
These disclosures come just as the government of president Rafael Correa is being rocked by almost continuous street protests led by an unlikely coalition of right-wing conservatives who claim that the country is being turned into “another Venezuela”, a Marxist-Leninist left that considers Correa a sellout, indigenous peoples and campesinos affected by oil and mining activities, and environmental groups which for all their claims of being apolitical and non-partisan, are activelly involved in the protests, and even helping organize them.
“From outside, Ecuador is now a paradox where organizations callings themselves leftist are mobilizing against a government calling itself socialist. A closer look reveals a trail of political schisms and realignments – especially increasing collaboration between right and left movements and parties against Correa – in what is amounts to a struggle for power over the country’s highest office.”
The leaked documents are from the National Intelligence Service (SENAIN) and cover the years 2010-2013. The collected information on activists includes emails, photos taken at public activities, financial information, and international travel. The government agency seemed particularly interested in the political and financial links between the different organizations as well as their foreign funding and connections.
According to The Guardian, the documents suggest that even as president Correa was publicly supporting the Yasuní ITT Initiative, an innovative proposal to leave oil deposits under the rainforest unexploited in exchange for a $3.6 billion compensation from international donors, he was secretly undermining the effort and courting oil companies.
In 2013, after the fundraising efforts failed, Correa cancelled the Initiative and authorized oil drilling to start in the last unexploited quarter of the Yasuní. Refusing to call it quits, the activists banded together under the Yasunidos coalition to continue advocating against further oil drilling in the rainforest, which rankled the president and made him wonder out loud about the environmental campaigners’ motives.
SENAIN kept a particularly close watch on Yasunidos’ campaign, as well as on the staff of Acción Ecológica and Oilwatch, two leading environmental organizations.
According to Ecuadorian attorney Ramiro Avila, under the country’s law citizens’ personal data are protected from the state, and public funds cannot be used against the government’s political opponents. Another local lawyer, environmental and human rights advocate Pablo Piedra, was indignant at the revelations and presented, together with Yasunidos, a legal complaint to the country’s Prosecutor General’s office.
With its political spying, SENAIN is in violation of articles 178 and 230 of Ecuador’s penal code, which calls for sentences of one to five years of prison for government employees involved in this type of activity, says Piedra.
As reported in a previous CounterPunch article, Ecuador is no stranger to espionage. In the 1970’s former CIA agent Philip Agee revealed that the Agency had in its secret payroll 137 individuals and institutions in Ecuador, including a vice president of the republic, and a president of the congress, well known politicians, business leaders, union bosses, journalists, news media, intellectuals, public functionaries, etc.
More recently, diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks revealed that the US embassy in Quito was actively involved with Ecuador’s opposition in undermining president Correa’s government program. These disclosures moved Correa to expel US ambassador Heather Hodges and to offer asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.