By William K. Black
Quito: July 12, 2015
Now that Pope Francis’ visit to South America has ended we can reflect on the Rupert Murdoch’s effort to slam Pope Francis and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa using the pretext of the Pope’s recent visit here. The Wall Street Journal warned “Ecuador’s Correa Wants to Co-Opt Pope Francis: The pontiff risks leaving the impression on his visit that the church condones repression.” Given that Pope Francis is Argentine, the idea that the Murdoch’s minions needed to inform and warn the Pope about President Correa is very funny.
Murdoch’s minions are always reaching for a thesaurus of insults when they write about Correa, and this article is no exception. The title: “condones repression” gets the verbal assault going quickly. But the minions are only warming to their task and are a bit repetitive, warning in the second paragraph that “the visit is likely to leave the impression that the church is in solidarity with the repressive Correa machine.” Note the addition of “machine” at the end of that agitprop.
This particular minion’s great hate is all things Castro, so before you know it the reader is whisked from Ecuador to Cuba to fulminate against the Pope’s coming visit in September to Cuba. This goes on for four paragraphs, and includes a discussion of “prisoners of conscience.”
Suddenly, the reader is back in Ecuador and has landed in “a political mine field.”
But in Correa’s Ecuador, where the government rules through intimidation and is increasingly unpopular, the meeting will be used for politics. This means that it is likely to overshadow the rest of the visit, possibly damaging not only the pope but also the church.
The reader was hijacked to Cuba because Ecuador has no “prisoners of conscience” for Murdoch to decry. When Correa’s party loses elections (as it has in several large cities) there is a peaceful transition of power. Protests are freely allowed. An alternative description would be that President Correa’s party rules because it has won a series of democratic elections over the intense opposition of the oligarchs who once totally dominated all news coverage in Ecuador and who used their economic power and the threat of military coups to intimidate the people of Ecuador.
Criticism of Correa by the middle class and above is increasingly common. It is well publicized and open. It is predominately peaceful and the police response has been relaxed. The mayors of several large cities, who won their municipal elections in a democratic process, support and sometimes lead the demonstrations against their political opponents (Correa’s party). We normally describe this pattern as: a functional democracy.
These facts pose a problem for Murdoch’s minions. But they follow the old legal adage: when I’m strong on the facts I pound the facts, when I’m strong on the law I pound the law, and when I’m weak on both the facts and the law I pound the table. The minions resort to pounding the table – harder and harder.
But this pope is very political and his politics, if we take him at his word, favor statist solutions to poverty. In terms of appearances that puts him on the same side of many policy debates as the region’s socialist tyrants.
So, now Correa, supported by Pope Francis, is a “socialist tyrant.” A “tyrant” with no “prisoners of conscience” (unlike the U.S., the UK, and Australia), who forgets to rig elections to ensure that he wins them, and who responds to large protests by political opponents with the “tyranny” of polite, peaceful policemen and women that permit the protests.
And do you know what the “tyrannical” response of the people of Ecuador who support Correa has been to these protests? They have staged peaceful marches and meetings in support of their party. Ah, the tyranny of it all.
Recall that even before Murdoch bought the WSJ and turned it into another of his embarrassing rags, the paper routinely supported real “tyrants” in Guatemala and Chile who murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Guatemala and tortured and murdered over 1,000 people in Chile. And then there is Argentina, where the prelate who eventually became Pope Francis appears to have learned the lesson from the Argentine tyrants who led the “dirty war” against the people of Argentina that the church has a duty to speak out early and forcefully against real tyrants. The WSJ loved Argentina’s tyrants.
But Murdoch’s minions have a unique definition of tyranny – taxation of the wealthy.
The populist Mr. Correa smells opportunity. In the lead up to the visit, he posted billboards in Guayaquil and Quito featuring his government’s logo encircling a photo of the pontiff next to what appears to be a Francis quote that reads “one must demand the redistribution of wealth.” State television and radio delivered a similar message.
Of course there’s a world of difference between church teaching that we must strive for a generous heart and a politician preaching that it is virtuous to use the state’s monopoly power to take property away from rightful owners.
Mr. Correa wants to conflate the two. Yet Catholics understand very well that one does not grow closer to God by endorsing tyranny….
It turns out that the phrase “use the state’s monopoly power to take property away from rightful owners” refers to the inheritance tax that Correa adopted (and then dropped in response to the protests). Taxation of the wealthy through democratic processes is “tyranny” to Murdoch – who has spent decades obsessed with minimizing his taxes despite his enormous wealth. The fact that Pope Francis supports such taxation of the exceptionally wealthy drives Murdoch crazy.
Who knew that when a legislature adopts an inheritance tax on billionaires’ estates it is a “tyranny?” Of course, democratic nations typically have such a tax, so we now know that virtually every developed nation that the Pope visits is a “tyranny” under Murdoch’s tortured definition.
It is only at the very end that the Murdoch minion even quotes someone claiming that Ecuador is a place of terror. But the minion’s own article has already refuted the quoted claim.
Others are hoping [Pope Francis] will speak against repression. Over more than seven years in power, Mr. Correa has collapsed what few democratic institutions there were and he has destroyed the free press. The owners of the surviving independent media and the journalists who work for them operate under continual threat of imprisonment or fines that would ruin them financially.
In a July 5 letter to Pope Francis, the Inter American Press Association says that Mr. Correa has silenced all who deviate from his “official truth.” The president “has shut down and punished the media and has imposed a culture of fear which has cut off public debate and the right to freedom of expression for members of the public.”
First, the media was not a “free press” in Ecuador eight years ago before President Correa was first elected democratically. The media was overwhelmingly owned and controlled by the oligarchs (Ecuador’s own Murdochs) and the news was viciously biased against anyone the oligarchs opposed. From a U.S. perspective, think of a dozen Fox news operations dominating the national coverage. The “Inter American Press Association” – still largely controlled by the Murdochs of Latin America – cheerfully accepted that condition without complaint. Second, no one in the media has been imprisoned for criticizing Correa.
I stress here that I am an American and I far prefer our legal system that has no criminal libel provisions. President Correa inherited that law. I urge him to ask the legislature to repeal it.
Third, “democratic institutions” have not been “destroyed.” Murdoch simply objects to who the people of Ecuador voted for – largely President Correa’s party. Democratic municipal elections are also held routinely. When President Correa’s party loses the vote there is a normal, peaceful transition of power, whether in the national legislature or the municipal elections. That is the litmus test of a functional democracy. The opposition has won the municipal elections in several of Ecuador’s largest cities. Much of the media in Ecuador is unremittingly hostile to Correa and anyone who says anything favorable about Correa or his party.
Fourth, “public debate” in Ecuador is robust, common, and taking place very “publicly.” Murdoch emphasized this fact. Public protests are not met with “repression,” much less violence by the police. The protestors do not wear masks to hide their faces. They do not fear reprisals by the government or by government supporters. Murdoch cannot have it both ways. The very protests he celebrates have put the lie to Murdoch’s minions’ claims of “tyranny” and “repression” by President Correa.