Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador

An interview with Fausto Jarrin

On October 6, I interviewed Ecuadorian lawyer Fausto Jarrin, who has represented former Ecuadorian President Rafael and other former members of his government. Correa was in office from 2007-2017. In 2017, Lenin Moreno, who had been part of Correa’s government for ten years, won the presidency on a platform of continuing Correa’s leftist economic and foreign policies. Instead, he veered sharply to the right as soon as he took office. To both rationalize and facilitate that right turn he launched a ruthless campaign to vilify and prosecute former members of Correa’s government – conveniently excluding anyone who went along with his betrayal. Moreno has trampled all over judicial independence to do it.  I interviewed Fausto Jarrin as protests were already under way all over the country against Moreno’s IMF-imposed austerity measures. We discussed the details of some of the numerous legal attacks on Correa and the people who remained loyal to him.

Joe Emersberger: Under Moreno, prosecutors have been extremely busy generating charges against Correa, his form VP Jorge Glas (who has been imprisoned since 2017) and many others. It is hard to keep up with them all, so can you update us?

Fausto Jarrin: They have been out to delegitimize everything that has been achieved in public policy, institutional reform, and constitutional changes during the decade of Correa’s government. Among other things, there was a referendum in 2018 that did not get approved by the Constitutional Court. It never gave its approval to the questions.  Apparently the Moreno government learned that the court was going to make big changes to 2 of the 7 questions that were most important to them. Through legal subterfuge the government then refused to wait for a ruling by the court. It issued a decree and held the referendum. The CNE (electoral authority) was submissive and went ahead with the referendum. I mention the referendum because, among many other things, it generated a “transitory” body [the CPCCS-T in the Spanish Acronym] composed of seven members selected from a short list given to the National Assembly by Moreno. This body then evaluated and terminated a slew of authorities [judicial council members, superintendents, prosecutors, regulators].

I mention all this because, through the CPCCS-T, an “acting” prosecutor was named which doesn’t even exist in our constitution.  What this “acting” prosecutor did was simply gather every allegation that had ever been made against Correa. From one day to the next, Correa and his supporters were faced with all these criminal proceedings and investigations. Among them, one that oddly took off years after the incident, was the supposed kidnapping of a pseudo political activist named Fernando Balda.

In Colombia he had suffered an attempted kidnapping by a group of delinquents led by an Ecuadorian police officer. In Colombia all the alleged perpetrators were sentenced. In fact, they had served their time which was 4 years. Here in Ecuador, by using what is called “effective cooperation” [in which the accused becomes witness for the prosecution in exchange for benefits that can include a 90% reduction of a sentence] they revived the case. The Ecuadorian policeman, who was part of a group of associates of Fernando Balda’s who attempted the kidnapping, came to Ecuador with his lawyer and told the “acting” prosecutor what he wanted to hear. There was no evidence or valid reason to open a case that had been closed in Colombia. It was also done without the legally required approval of the National Assembly [to prosecute an ex-president for something that had been allegedly done while he was in office]. The allegations against Correa cannot be pursued in his absence and the accused in Ecuador already served their reduced sentences. That’s the most advanced case against Correa.

What we are dealing with in Ecuador is very similar to what has happened in Argentina and in Brazil against Lula Da Silva.

Joe Emersberger: I recall that Balda went missing for about a half hour in that incident. Interpol also threw out Ecuador’s request for an arrest warrant against Correa in that case. It was rejected on human rights grounds.  Could you talk about the “notebook” case I’m sure many people who will read this may never have heard of?

Fausto Jarrin: There is an ex-functionary of Correa’s government, Pamela Martinez, who had a bunch of irregular dealings with various companies including Odebrecht. She and her family received monthly payments. She wrote a notebook, she claimed in 2012, which had daily entries showing sums received by high government officials. There are details down to the last cent of fraudulent public contracts used to divert money to Alianza Pais, the former political party of Rafael Correa. This particular case against Correa is based totally on what Martinez says – and also her assistant, Laura Terán, who supposedly had a spreadsheet that matched the information produced by her boss.

These women who were being prosecuted were similarly rewarded for their testimony by the “acting” prosecutor. This case has been dubbed “Bribes: 2012-2016”.  Now in this case there are 26 different people accused including business people and former government officials, so it has been difficult for the prosecutors to sustain the story it put together with these women who are presently in prison. It turns out the infamous notebook was not written in 2012. In her testimony she says she wrote it at the end of 2018, already well into Moreno’s time in office. It turns out it wasn’t a “diary” but a memoir written as if it were a diary. That completely discredits it. All the 24 other accused (except for these two women who are cooperating with the prosecutors) are arguing that the notebook should be thrown out as evidence. The notebook matches the contents of a website (milhojas) that has served as a launching pad for allegations that prosecutors under Moreno have pursued.

We are at the point where we face a hearing before a judge who will decide, in the case of each accused, if there is enough evidence to proceed. There are lots of other details but to the extent it was a real case at all it would have led to fines for electoral law violations, and possibly the disqualification of same candidates, not criminal proceedings.  But there is a five year time limit on such cases, and these allegations go back to 2012 and 2013. We face legal persecution based on cases that should collapse under their own weight.

Similarly, the Comptroller alleged – through a body composed of people who hate Correa who were tasked to “investigate”– that a legal limit on public debt had been exceeded by Correa’s government in 2017. Moreno’s government itself ended up refuting that in the figures it submitted to the IMF as part of its recent deal with them. Prosecutors under Moreno have converted allegations that lack any substance into criminal investigations.  Many open investigations have ended up sitting in the desks of these prosecutors. The only ones they have got off the ground have been the ones where they used testimony from accused people in exchange for lighter sentences (“effective cooperation”). And that’s largely due to the massive support the prosecutors have had in the corporate media. That’s really where the cases have been adjudicated.

Joe Emersberger: Could you update us a bit about Jorge Glas? He was elected in 2017 as Moreno’s running mate. He stayed loyal to Correa and within months was thrown in jail where he remains.

Fausto Jarrin: Glas has also been implicated in the “Bribes: 2012-2016” case. Things are more complicated for him because he is in prison for an alleged “illicit association”. Again, that was through testimony from an accused – the  “effective cooperation”. In that case, a protected witness emerged who delivered these contracts (without signatures) to prove that public contracts were being handed out to Odebrecht in exchange for bribes. A few weeks ago, chats, emails and recordings came to light that showed that this protected witness was being paid by the Ministry of the Interior to provide his evidence.

A week earlier, before the new information came out, the appeals process began in Glas’ “illicit association” case.  All of the most important due process violations are part of the appeal. On October 16 we are supposed to hear the decision. Surely, given the circumstances that judges are being subjected to unconstitutional evaluation, it’s not possible to believe that we’ll get an impartial decision. My expectations are very low. Nevertheless, in Ecuador, as in most countries, when new evidence emerges that can prove innocence, there are options for a much fuller review of the case which I am sure Glas’ defense team will pursue. We now see that the evidence against Glas was clearly produced through a political stitch up between the government and its protected witness.

Joe Emersberger: Wasn’t there also was some contradiction recently exposed in the testimony?

Fausto Jarrin: Jose Conceicao Santos gave testimony in the 2017 case that put Glas in jail and in the “Bribes:2012-2016” case.  Santos was a top Odebrecht manager for South America and basically their guy in charge of bribing public officials. In 2017, Santos said in his testimony against Glas that he was never involved with making donations to political parties. He never mentions Pamela Martinez, the key state witness whose notebook is the basis of the “Bribes 2010-2016” case. But now he said, again under oath, that he did give donations: $2.1 million in 2011 (when Moreno was Vice President) and $2.6 million more in 2012. He is not able to explain why he never referred to this in his sworn testimony of 2017. Of course he has just refused to answer because of the serious contradiction.  There are actually 11 major contradictions in his 2017 and 2019 testimony that have been published by Glas’ legal team.

Joe Emersberger: Can you explain what happened with two judges who were dismissed recently?

Fausto Jarrin: They dismissed two judges from the Criminal Chamber of the National Court of Justice because they approved my request that pre-trial detention be rejected for Correa’s former legal advisor Alexis Mera. Through a very irregular process they used the “Bribes: 2-10-2016” case to formulate charges against him [alleging that he abused his public position to handle illicit funds]. He was put in pre-trial detention. The judges, after I appealed, revoked it because they said the prosecutors had not provided enough grounds for it.  The judges were then ousted in a totally arbitrary way. To lawyers and academics it has been obvious what happens to judges if they defy the prosecutor and the government when they are going after Correa or anybody who has remained loyal to him.  

Joe Emersberger: But the key weapon is the media?

Fausto Jarrin: The prosecutors have allowed cases that should be handled with great care because they involve peoples’ reputations to basically be tried in the media. It coordinates with the prosecutors. I think the judges are mainly extorted and manipulated. The dismissal of the two judges we talked about is a good example. The government is capable of anything if judges don’t cooperate.  

Joe Emersberger: It must be hard for most people to keep track of all the details of these court cases and allegations. I struggle with it myself. The austerity measures are a different story. People can feel them first hand and so media spin has limits.

Fausto Jarrin: We understand that to the extent people get informed about these cases it is through the media. The magnitude of the media’s slant is extreme. Unless you are immersed in this it is very hard to be informed and think outside the media’s box.

Nevertheless, Correa’s increasing popularity shows that regardless of what people believe or don’t believe about these legal battles, they are fed up with a government using these cases to cover up its failures. Now that public annoyance has been tremendously aggravated by the most recent austerity measures imposed by the IMF. Now there is an explosion of accumulated discontent in all sectors except of course the private media and the banks.

Joe Emersberger is a writer based in Canada whose work has appeared in Telesur English, ZNet and CounterPunch.