During Rafael Correa’s decade as president of Ecuador, the political opposition complained of repeated violations of their civil liberties, as Correa used the judicial system to further his authoritarian government. In order to shed light on the abuses Angélica Porras, and others, launched The Forum for Truth and Justice: Persecuted Politicians Never Again, in order to document Correa’s transgressions in illegitimate prosecution of political opponents.
The case involves a systematization in the persecution of opposition leaders through the criminal justice system, with eagerness and intimidation, explains Alejandra Cevallos Cordero, vice president of the group.
The PanAm Post contacted her in order to understand the seriousness of the political persecution against her and how this demonstrates the political and judicial climate that existed in Correa’s time.
Cevallos is a lawyer and currently a professor of criminal law at the Central University, a project that she undertook because of the need to “defend myself from the state”, in her words.
What is the Forum of Truth and Justice?
The forum is an effort by the judiciary to outline the evidence regarding the systematization of political persecution through the judicial system. The criminal justice system of the state was used as a tool of social control, to avoid criticism of the government, and to silence dissenting voices by means of criminal law, causing citizens to fear the repressive apparatus of the state.
Through case analysis, we seek to determine what the persecution patterns were and to collect statistics on them.
The purpose of the forum is to establish a precedent of justice. Because we are talking about acts of judicial corruption, the Plenary Session of the Judicial Council aims to highlight these cases of persecution in order to highlight those responsible, restore institutionality to the judicial system, and prevent these events from occurring again; presenting a historical memory to the country.
What is the function of the Judicial Council?
The Judicial Council is an administrative control body over the jurisdictional power of the state. In the constitutional reform that was made in 2011, under Correa, the Constitution was modified in such a way that the Judicial Council was modified to assume new powers of control over the jurisdictional organs, greater than those that it should have, since the way that is now structured has allowed for greater centralized control and less judicial independence.
These organizations have the possibility to sanction and dismiss judges very easily. Rumor has it that if the judges did not act as the previous members had, who were dismissed from office by the CPCCS-T because corruption was evident, they were immediately dismissed from their posts.
What is your role at the forum and what has it been like to be an activist?
I am the vice president of the forum, delegated by the commission of civilian victims. As a delegate of my committee and vice president of the forum, my job is to support victims who want to make complaints and do not know how to do so, giving them the necessary advice to bring the information that is required and upload the information onto the website of the Judicial Council.
I select the most relevant cases together with the other members to hold hearings, which will be mainly open to the public, where the irregularities committed by the justice system will be exposed. I also am taking a leading role with the preparation of the final report that will be delivered in December.
I was persecuted by the Correa government for having given an interview on a program called ECTV in 30S. My sin was to belong to the Christian Social Party, a political opposition party that was vital to put together the plot of the script prepared by the National Secretary of Communication (SECOM) to stigmatize us. At the beginning, the Communication Secretary of the government spoke of an armed coup, then, with the passing of days, a soft coup where the opposition parties conspired to overthrow the Correista government.
Under this premise, the key component involved allegations of a coup d’etat that they could never prove, just as they could not prove the existence of the criminal charges, for which they sentenced us to four years in prison.
I started my political activism in 2008, when I saw that the Constitution of 2008 was a violation of the rule of law, because it gave far too much power to the executive branch and, together with a group of young people, we formed a group called Jóvenes y Punto, with which we registered with the National Electoral Council (CNE) to campaign against the approval of the Constitution via referendum.
I was stigmatized by the Government and sentenced for a crime of terrorism, a crime that I did not commit, but which I was accused of in government media.
I have a daughter who was just 7 years old at the time. She was the victim of bullying in her school, her friends accused her of having a terrorist mother, an enemy of the government, a coup leader, which in their words was summarized by the allegation that her mother was a criminal and that’s why she was imprisoned. This greatly affected the development of his personality, since she lived with fear and a feeling of persecution.
Why is it important that there is justice now?
In a constitutional state of law, where the citizen should prevail over the state, it is important to protect individuals from the force of the state. Who has rights is the person, not the state.
The more the citizen is protected, the more it is a republican state. The more the state is protected, the more it is an authoritarian state.
It is important to return institutionality and independence to the justice system, because the more independent and impartial it is, the more we approach the definition of justice: give to each one his own, according to what corresponds to him.
In the correísta decade, which is what I had to live through, there simply was no justice, especially for us, the public enemies. Criticism of the president was a realm of the criminal justice system. It did not matter if there were valid reasons or not, what prevailed was to comply with the designs of Correa.
What happened to the justice system under Correa?
It happened to me that the day of my graduation from university, the professor with whom I took the criminal law exam had been a judge in the correísta period. I had not met him because I stopped studying for some years because I could not continue paying for my legal degree. The professor said: “your name caught my attention and I searched the internet and I realized that you had been processed [in the 30S case]. I want to tell you that it was me who sentenced you to prison.” In the end, he ended up apologizing that he had to issue the sentence.
In the same way, when the pardon was processed, one of the judges refused to sign the document: my family witnessed how Correa personally called the judge to sign. The judge’s hands shook with fright, but he ended up signing.
It was known loudly that justice was done as ordered by the presidency of the republic.
This authoritarianism, where the press can not comment, the National Assembly can not control or oversee, and administrative or judicial bodies can not investigate complaints, encourages corruption. This is how we see that this scheme that has been repeated in the Bolivarian countries has favored corruption so markedly, that we are exposed to the greatest robbery of public resources since the beginning of the republican era in Latin America.
The only way to counteract this is through citizen participation and freedom so that people can organize and audit, monitor, and evaluate authorities.
Where the norms are sufficiently restrictive for the state, the rulers have to respect the laws in order not to be imprisoned. There must be a balance of powers, so that they can be audited by each other. There must be independence. There must be institutionality. There must be freedom. There must be respect for the rules by citizens, to be able to demand exactly the same from politicians. We have to focus on building a better society, because that is what makes us see corruption as something normal, when it is not.
The work of the forum is to highlight the greatest cases of judicial corruption in the country during the republican era.