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Ecuadorian President's Epic Chutzpah: From Snowden to Chevron

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

Photograph by Maurizio Gambarini/AP Photo

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

By embracing fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has bolstered his bid to inherit the mantle of Latin America’s main Yanqui basher from the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. As our cousins at Bloomberg News note: “Correa, 50, has long cast himself as a U.S. adversary, and last year put his anti-American rhetoric to the test by allowing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to take refuge at Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

Lost in much of the coverage of Snowdown’s flirtation with Ecuador, however, is the supreme irony that Correa is a notorious enemy of openness, press freedom, and government transparency. The United Nations and other international organizations have criticized Correa’s government in this regard. A media law he pushed through just this month “boosts state control over what the press is allowed to report and bans the dissemination of restricted documents, similar to those leaked by Assange and Snowden,” according to Bloomberg News.

This kind of hypocrisy is standard operating procedure for Correa.

In a different context, one of his favorite targets is Chevron (CVX), which is fighting a $19 billion judgment related to oil pollution in the Ecuadorian rain forest. The populist president routinely depicts his country as the victim of “Big Oil” and “Big Business.” Chevron claims that it’s the real victim—of a massive fraud in the Ecuadorian courts. (To read more about the company’s defense, click here and here.)

The charges and counter-charges in the pollution litigation are still being hotly disputed in court. What’s beyond dispute is Correa’s chutzpah, as he enthusiastically auctions off much of his country’s remaining untouched rain forest to Chinese oil producers not known for making the environment their top priority. The common theme for Correa is that if it’s American, it’s fair game.

Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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