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Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has raged in a government statement against his country’s print media – demanding 80 million dollars in compensation for himself and three years in prison for four journalists.

Actually, it is about a private lawsuit of Mr. Rafael Correa against the Ecuadorian newspaper “El Universo” and some of its directors and editorials. In the meantime, however, the legal dispute has escalated into a struggle between the President of the Republic and the press in the country. In his government statement a few days ago, the chapter “Criticism of the press” took up almost half the time of his speech. The press is for the president the enemy of the state number 1, which he also says clearly:

“Can the press replace the rule of law with a state of opinion? In a constitutional state, the separation of powers is clearly regulated. This means that, as is also the case in many countries, the press should refrain from reporting on ongoing trials, especially if it is itself involved in them, which is disgracefully the case at the moment”.

The Correa versus Press dispute is about the rebellion of dissatisfied police officers at the end of September last year. They had surrounded the hospital where Correa was treated. As a result, pro-government security forces liberated the president. There was a shooting with five dead. Emilio Palacio wrote in an editorial in “El Universo” in February that a future President Correa might be held responsible for the shooting. In the article, the journalist consistently described the president as a dictator.

Rafael Correa reacted violently, filing a lawsuit against three directors of El Universo and against Emilio Palacio. In it he demands three years imprisonment and 80 million US dollars compensation for each of the four journalists. In a first verdict, a court followed the president’s demand to reduce the amount of compensation from 80 to 40 million euros. Both sides appealed against the verdict.

Emilio Palacio, who wrote the leading article, repeatedly rejected the offer to rewrite the article and apologise. He sticks to his presentation of things.

“I have nothing to correct. I underline every single word of the article. The president wants to destroy my family, he wants me to flee abroad or go to prison. All he wants is to sweep under the carpet the events of September 30 during the rebellion. I take nothing back, and if I break at it.”

Since his election in 2007, Rafael Correa has been regarded as an eccentric and changeable politician. Again and again he surprises with new initiatives and reversals in his government work. According to the renowned political observer Carlos Alberto Montaner, the criticism of his political style by the country’s press has always been a thorn in his side:

“We are dealing with a politician who cannot deal with criticism at all. I’m afraid that’s because he’s not mature enough. One characteristic of emotional immaturity is that you reject criticism in general and take aggressive action against all those who express opposing opinions. This gentleman, it seems, cannot accept that a journalist should criticize him.”

The newspaper “El Universo” and Emilio Palacio have already made it clear that they could never pay the demanded sum. President Correa doesn’t care. He wants 80 million US dollars, not a cent less.

He sees his legal dispute with “El Universo” as a precedent for disciplining the entire media landscape in Ecuador. With a view to the verdict of the first instance, Correa called on the citizens of Ecuador to denounce every journalist who – so literally – reports in an honest manner. Rafael Correa does not care that such statements cast a bad light on the freedom of the press in Ecuador.

“I was not elected to become Mr. Sympathy, but to change this country. And I think that if the press had a minimum of ethics and professionalism, it would limit its reporting to facts and not mix them up with personal preferences, sympathy, antipathy, complexes and frustrations. That would be the real work of a journalist.”

About Ecuador

Ecuador lies on the west coast of South America and used to belong to the heartland of the Incas. From 1533, when the last Inca ruler was executed, until independence in 1830, the country was a Spanish colony.

The economic performance of the country is low and Ecuador belongs to the poorer countries of Latin America. The decline of the national currency Sucre led to the introduction of the US dollar in 2000.

Due to the different altitudes in the country, there are large regional climatic differences. On the outer slopes of the mountains the precipitation is abundant, in the valleys rather low at low temperatures (Quito: 13° C in the annual average, 18mm precipitation in July, 124mm in January). In the Amazon basin tropical conditions prevail.