Friday, August 31, 2007

Larriva Case II

Update on my posting of a couple of days ago regarding the investigation of the death of Minister of Defense Maria Guadalupe Larriva in a helicopter crash in January:

Larriva's successor Lorena Esudero resigned as MinDefense yesterday afternoon without any public explanation as of this writing. News reports this morning indicate that she or Correa had planned her departure some time ago. Whatever the facts at this point, it had been apparent for some time that Escudero was not a strong Minister. She certainly never mounted a convincing case for not, repeat not, prosecuting high level military leaders for their (negligent) role in the Larriva disaster.

I saw a wire report saying that Correa had not been in agreement with the results of his own Commission's report and its findings regarding responsibilities and responsible parties in the case. This literally is news to me, since I personally have never heard or seen anything that indicated that Correa was not in agreement with Escudero or his Security Coordinator, Fernando Bustamante who both have steadfastly maintained the innocence of military commanders in the case.

Whatever Correa might be thinking, it's clear that the government was not happy with Escudero's performance, not as clear as to what high level military is thinking. As I said, earlier, though, for sure, Correa doesn't want to rock the military's boat as we move towards the Constituent Assembly, so I don't expect that changes in MinDefense will change the Commission's findings regarding ultimate responsibility for the death of Larriva and others.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sharks and the Larrea Case: Get the Votes and Don't Make Waves

Forgive the long title, but I wanted to tackle two subjects which relate, in this same post.

I've already mentioned the shark issue before. Basically, Correa went "fishing" for votes amongst the Manabi and Guayas fishermen's communities, and I believe he hooked a great many by simply issuing a decree all but removing limits on "incidental" hooking of sharks(accidental by-catch).

The infamous Decree 486 has served as a wink-and-a-nod to the fishing community to go ahead and catch as many sharks (for their fins) as they want - and the fishermen have. Since Decree 486 was issued, the shark catch has shot up dramatically and of course shark stocks are headed for the bottom, literally.

The National Police, together with an international NGO, Sea Shepherd, seized large amounts of shark fins which were being smuggled out of the country, with attendant publicity, in early August, but their small victory was short-lived. Correa's ex-Minister of Public Works, Trajano Andrade, now candidate for Asemblista from Manabi Province showed up very quickly on the scene and essentially cowed the local District Attorney (Fiscal) covering the seizure into ordering the return of the fins to enraged fishermen/fin smugglers. At the same time, Andrade and his allies got the Sea Shepherd rep, an American citizen, arrested and they would have had him deported in short order until it was discovered that he's married to an Ecuadorian.

Since this incident, there have been no more seizures of shark fins, but the "incidental" catches continue to skyrocket. Newspaper and television coverage of the issue was very high at the outset, but that's dropped to nothing over the last two weeks. There have been demonstrations by angry fisherment in Guayaquil and a police-protected demo of fishermen in front of a Quito tv station which featured articles critical of the fishermen, Correa and his Decree 486.

Editorial comment and letters to various editors has been savage. Everyone knows that Correa decided to sacrifice the sharks (who don't vote, after all) for the fishermen's votes on the Constituent Assembly, a brutally cynical move if there ever was one, and one that's cost him a few points in opinion polls, but only a few. I wouldn't call Correa a teflon Presi, but on this one, I'd bet that Correa's won more votes than he lost, a shrew move albeit a brutal, cynical one, as I say.

The Larrea case is another study in Correa's shrewd but cynical political moves.

Briefly, Correa's first Minister of Defense, Maria Guadalupe Larrea, was killed in a nightime military helicopter crash, along with her daughter, and five Air Force personnel.

Helicopter night flights are one of the most, if not THE most dangerous night manuevers that any military arm performs (another one being nightime aircraft carrier landings). For perspective, more U.S. Army personnel are killed in nightime helicopter training flights than any, repeat, any other type of night manuever. Even with night observation devices (and actually, because of them), pilots' distance and depth perceptions are negatively affected, and it's just way, way easy for helo pilots to cross rotor disks, which is exactly what happened with these young Ecuadorian Air Force pilots.

A Presidential Commision made up of military and civilian members (including a member of Larrea's family) found that crash occurred because of pilot error (for sure) and then blamed a couple of junior/mid-level officers for having set up the flights to begin with.
All well and good, but the Commission's findings drew immediate criticism from Larrea's family and press because top level military officers present (and videotaped) with Larrea as she got on the helo were not held responsible for having allowed a dangerous and unplanned flight like this.

Criticism died down for a while and then flared up again about three weeks ago when new videotapes came to light which appeared to show the top doggies urging Larrea to fly. At the same time, copies of military memoes came out which contradicted each other regarding the actions of some of these same officers right before the flight, and indeed, the conflicting memoes seemed to suggest that there had been an attempt to change stories on just what had happened in those last minutes of Larrea's life.

What's most interesting about all of this has been the response of the Correa government to family and media charges of failure to charge high level officers in the case with negligence, etc. Correa's new MinDefense and his Secretary for Security matters have steadfastly refused to charge anyone new in the case and have done their utmost to keep the case closed despite new evidence to the contrary.

I think the reason for the refusal of the Correa government to reopen the case is simple. Even though it would be the morally and legally right thing to do, reopening the case would frighten and alienate military leaders, something that Correa y cia most definitely don't want to do in the run up to the CA elections slated for the end of September.

So, the bottom line: These guys have their priorities straight; they'll do anything necessary (or NOT do anything; depends on the subject) to get themselves a majority in the CA. There are other things they really should be doing (like firing the entire union leadership of the teachers' union, UNE, and the leadership of PetroEcuador, a national disgrace), but they won't; it'd cost them votes.

Will this all win Correa and his allies the CA? Don't know yet, but they're sure trying hard.....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Monthly Post

I call it asi, because, boy, that's what it's become lately, to post. I'm just too busy with my business projects and there's been a certain repetitiveness to political life here in Ecuador.

By repetitiveness, I mean that the barrage of Correa attacks on the press, the banks, the partidocracia and of course, the press, continues unabated, and as I predicted earlier, his popularity ratings have gone down. Only natural, of course. As I commented to a Correa supporter the other day, people tend to get tired of personal attacks, insults, and threats after a while, and people begin to lose sight (or interest, anyway) of the positive potential Correa could - and still does, actually - have for this country.

I read a couple of articles over the last weeks regarding Correa, one analyzing his personality and another analyzing (well, commenting, acutally) his political actions, as opposed to his political rhetoric.

The psychoanalysis comments that there's a possibility that Correa is bipolar (I think this is what used to be known as manic-depressive when I was a kid), to watch him in public, I'd agree with that take. I have noticed that there are times when he speaks and acts in a normal tone of voice, makes reasonable, non-threatening statements and postulates reasonable ideas. Other times, well, as I've said, any emotional intelligence he might have simply flies of the handle, as they say, and he becomes and extremely unpleasant person, and the results are as I mention above.

There's lots more to say regarding Correa's cynical lifting of the "incidental" shark fishing ban, the new banking law, Corrrea's defense of high level military in the Larrea case, and the TSE's professed inability to stop Correa's government from promoting their CA candidates during the Assembly campaign, but I'll address those later...