By Ben Norton . Feb 15, 2021
The US State Department is pushing a politicized vote recount, overseen by the coup-sponsoring OAS, after socialist Andrés Arauz won Ecuador’s election in a landslide. Meanwhile Colombia’s ex-president warns his country’s “radical right” is “interfering” with “slander” and a “dirty game.”
GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR – A popular socialist candidate, Andrés Arauz, won the first round of Ecuador’s historic presidential election by a landslide on February 7. The leftist’s overwhelming victory prompted the US State Department, the right-wing government of neighboring Colombia, and the Organization of American States (OAS) to mobilize to prevent him from entering office.
Arauz won the first round of the election with 33 percent of the vote, a full 13 percent greater than the second-place candidate, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso. His opponents are now seeking to force a vote recount under the supervision of the OAS, while simultaneously launching a smear campaign relying on blatant disinformation to link Arauz to a Colombian guerrilla group in hopes of disqualifying him.
Arauz has accused Ecuador’s US-backed government, led by right-wing leader Lenín Moreno, of “pushing to persecute me with crude lies… blackmailing and cheating justice.” The former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who was targeted in an OAS-backed coup in 2019, has also warned that a new plot is afoot.
The Moreno administration has broken records of unpopularity, garnering just an 8 percent approval rating. Against popular discontent, Moreno’s government is desperately working to disqualify Arauz, a follower of socialist former President Rafael Correa and his leftist Correista movement.
Just two weeks before the election, Moreno traveled to Washington, DC to meet with top officials from the US government, as well as the coup-sponsoring general secretary of the OAS, Luis Almagro.
Now, the Moreno administration’s top electoral body is openly conspiring with the second- and third-place candidates, meeting privately with them, giving them a massive public platform to call to “defeat Correismo,” and even agreeing to conduct a recount of the vote in the specific precincts where they lost.
This highly politicized recount, which has no legal basis, is estimated to take two weeks – an extraordinary length of time. The unusual process has the full backing of the US State Department, and will be overseen by the OAS, which inspired a military coup targeting Bolivia’s democratically elected socialist government in November 2019.
The head of the OAS electoral mission in Ecuador, the staunchly conservative former vice-president of Panama, was intimately involved in the US-led coup attempt against Venezuela, working closely with Juan Guaidó and the pro-Washington Lima Group.
The OAS disseminated lies about Bolivia’s October 2019 election, falsely accusing the government of fraud. Now, the Colombian government is spreading a remarkably similar series of lies about Ecuador’s election and its first-place candidate, Arauz.
Colombia spreads fake news to try to prosecute Ecuador’s leading presidential candidate
Just five days after the February 7 election, amid the recount chaos, Colombia intervened directly in Ecuadorian politics. The right-wing government of President Iván Duque, who has been credibly linked to drug cartels and death squads, sent its chief prosecutor to Ecuador on an official state plane in a desperate attempt to disqualify socialist Andrés Arauz.
The head of Colombia’s justice department, Francisco Barbosa, a close ally and personal friend of Duque, has amplified fake news stories published by conservative media outlets in his country, maliciously claiming that a leader of the socialist guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) funded Arauz’s campaign to the tune of $80,000.
The ELN commander they accused of giving this money to Arauz, code-named Uriel, was in fact killed in October 2020, nearly two months before Arauz was officially registered a candidate in December. But this inconvenient fact did not stop the conspiracy theory from spreading.
Barbosa met with the attorney general of Ecuador, Diana Salazar Méndez, on February 12. Ecuador’s prosecutor’s office said the Colombian prosecutor provided evidence gathered from Uriel’s devices “in the framework of penal cooperation between the two countries.”
#ATENCIÓN | #FiscalíaEc y @FiscaliaCol se reúnen para la entrega de información encontrada en los dispositivos de alias “Uriel”, del ELN, en el marco de la cooperación penal entre ambos países. Detalles ⬇️https://t.co/z5VncvweSz pic.twitter.com/NmdUnjYKSz
— Fiscalía Ecuador (@FiscaliaEcuador) February 12, 2021
To supplement the dubious accusations of links between the ELN and Arauz, right-wing media outlets in Latin America have also circulated a video that purports to show Colombian guerrillas endorsing the Ecuadorian leftist.
But the viral video was very clearly fabricated, as numerous experts have pointed out. Even the The Guardian, which collaborates with the UK’s spy agencies, acknowledged that the footage could not have been filmed in Colombia, because it featured a rare bird that is native to western Ecuador.
The fraudulent ELN video also contained spelling errors and weapons that the guerrilla group does not use. Linguistic specialists noted that the accents of the men in the video were not genuine, but rather those of foreigners pretending to be Colombian.
A continuación unos 2 que 3 tuits para demostrar que el vídeo donde supuestamente el ELN apoya a Correa/Arauz es trucho. El escenario donde están los 3 tipos debido a los cantos de las aves es bosque seco tumbesino del occidente de Ecuador, no es Colombia #ornitología pic.twitter.com/w91C0dSaKC
— Manuel Sánchez-Nivicela (@ClandestineBird) February 2, 2021
The exposé led the former leader of Colombia to warn that his country’s sitting government was engaged in a plot with the OAS to steal Arauz’s electoral victory.
Ex-President Ernesto Samper published a statement on February 13 condemning the Duque administration for falsely linking Ecuador’s leading presidential candidate to the ELN guerrillas.
“I can confirm that these claims are slander and form part of a dirty game that radical right-wing sectors from both countries are organizing, from inside Colombia, to interfere in the second round of the Ecuadorian presidential elections,” Samper wrote.
The former Colombian head of state pointed out numerous falsehoods in the Duque government’s accusations. He added, “The people of Ecuador should be warned that the enemies of progressivism in our countries are determined to stop by any means the transformations that Latin America needs.”
— Ernesto Samper P. (@ernestosamperp) February 13, 2021
Although the outlandish ELN accusations were quickly disproven, Ecuadorian right-wing activists have persisted in spreading the fake news.
Throughout Ecuador, opponents of the leftist Correista movement disseminated viral materials on WhatsApp and social media platforms falsely claiming that Arauz had been disqualified from participating in the second round.
It was just the latest example of information warfare targeting the working-class Ecuadorians who make up the base of the Citizens’ Revolution launched by the country’s socialist former President Rafael Correa.
— Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) February 14, 2021
Prominent Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda condemned the trip by his country’s chief prosecutor to Ecuador, writing, “With his trip to Ecuador, the role that the prosecutor Francisco Barbosa is fulfilling is not one of the investigator who acts with rigor and impartiality in a penal action. Rather it is of the official who carries out a blunt maneuver of political intervention in a foreign electoral process.”
Yet the corruption goes deeper. Barbosa is not just a high-level Colombian official; he is one of President Iván Duque’s closest allies. In fact, Barbosa has boasted that Duque has been his “great friend for 25 years.”
Colombian journalists and anti-corruption groups have accused Barbosa of serious conflicts of interest, warning that, under Duque and Barbosa, “democracy seems to be more at risk than ever.”
Duque is in power due in no small part to support from notorious Colombian drug lord José Guillermo “Ñeñe” Hernández. When a recording was leaked proving that Duque used illegal dirty money from Ñeñe to bribe Colombians and buy votes in the 2018 election that gave him the presidency, Duque’s good friend Barbosa made sure to sweep the scandal under the rug.
Francisco Barbosa, who was deployed to accuse Arauz of having links to a Colombian armed group, is in power thanks to direct support from one of the most violent drug cartels in Colombia, which bought votes for his boss, Ivan Duque. https://t.co/3BJu2irywF https://t.co/Ayc4u03C21
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) February 13, 2021
Ecuador’s former foreign minister and defense minister, Ricardo Patiño, condemned “the hasty general prosecutor of Colombia who comes to interfere in Ecuador’s electoral process with fraudulent information.”
Another ex-foreign minster of Ecuador, María Isabel Salvador, who also served as the nation’s ambassador to the OAS, noted that the Colombian government’s absurd attempt to link Arauz to ELN guerrillas echoes a tactic used a decade ago against Correa.
“What are they trying to do? Prevent the victory of hope and truth,” Salvador stated. “I remember like it was yesterday the same slander used by the government of Colombia (when [Álvaro] Uribe was president) and its media outlets.”
Salvador recalled that the government of Colombia’s former President Uribe circulated a photo purporting to show Ecuador’s then-Security Minister Gustavo Larrea with Raúl Reyes, a former commander of Colombia’s socialist guerrilla group the FARC.
Although the Uribe government and Colombian media outlets spread the photo far and wide, it turned out to be another fabrication. The man in the photo was not an official from Correa’s government; he was not even Ecuadorian. Rather, he was an Argentine communist.
Colombia’s major newspaper El Tiempo was forced to issue a retraction, admitting the story was a lie.
“The old strategies are being repeated,” wrote the ex-Foreign Minister Salvador. “The old practices as well, although today the government [of Ecuador], dedicated to other interests and not those of the Ecuadorian people, is a partner in this defamation. And… nothing is a coincidence.”
¿Qué pretenden? Impedir el triunfo de la esperanza y de la verdad. Recuerdo como si fuera ayer la misma maledicencia del Gobierno de Colombia (era Uribe Presidente) y de sus medios. Yo era canciller del Ecuador (2008). 2/6
— Maria Isabel Salvador (@SalvadorMIsabel) February 13, 2021
Ecuador’s biased electoral council collaborates with losing candidates against leading leftist
While the Colombian government has openly meddled in Ecuador’s internal affairs, the US government and Organization of American States have been working more quietly behind the scenes to undermine the electoral victory of leftist Andrés Arauz.
On February 12, the same day Colombia’s chief prosecutor arrived in Quito, Ecuador’s National Electoral Council (CNE) held an unprecedented closed-door meeting between the second- and third-place presidential candidates.
In a blatant violation of Ecuadorian law, the CNE hosted a private event where the losing opposition candidates were encouraged to unite and brainstorm ways to effectively defeat the leftist Citizens’ Revolution movement represented by the first-place candidate.
According to the CNE’s official count, Arauz won 32.71 percent of the vote in the first round of the election. This put him a solid 13 percent points above the right-wing banker candidate Guillermo Lasso, who won 19.74 percent.
Because Arauz did not reach the 40 percent threshold needed for a first-round victory, under Ecuadorian law, Arauz and Lasso must compete in a run-off election on April 11.
But the third-place candidate, Yaku Pérez, a foreign-backed environmentalist from a US-trained political party, has prevented the second-round contest by introducing baseless accusations of fraud.
In his insistence on participating in the run-off, Pérez revealed the US embassy called him immediately after the election and reassured him he would participate in the second round.
The only problem for Pérez is he failed to win enough votes.
But the slow and gradual way in which Ecuador’s National Electoral Council published the results lent the false impression that Pérez had been in second place.
The CNE did not finalize the full results until February 11. Up until 99.80 percent of the precincts were tabulated, the tally consistently, for days, showed Pérez with a narrow lead over Lasso, in second place.
These misleading, incomplete results gave Pérez the ammunition he needed to claim his victory was stolen by fraud.
Many Ecuadorians have accused the top electoral body of bias. And the US-backed Lenín Moreno government has not even pretended to be neutral.
Under his repressive rule, Moreno purged any members of the CNE who were suspected of sympathies with Correismo and filled the top electoral council exclusively with opposition politicians from Yaku Pérez’s party Pachakutik and Lasso’s party, CREO.
On the day of the private CNE meeting between the second- and third-place candidates, the name Diana Atamaint was trending on Twitter in Ecuador. Why?
Because Atamaint, the president of the CNE, is an ally of Pérez, and a prominent member of his political party, Pachakutik — which was trained by the US government’s National Democratic Institute (NDI), a partner of Washington’s regime-change arm the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA cut-out.
Under Atamaint’s leadership, the CNE has become a blatantly politicized body. The electoral organ consistently acted to prevent the leftist Correistas from freely participating in the election.
First, the CNE blocked former President Correa, the most popular politician in the country, from running as vice president. It also banned the original political party of Andrés Arauz, forcing the leading candidate to find another, little-known party to run with.
As if those obstacles weren’t enough, the CNE subsequently forbade Arauz’s campaign from using images of Correa in its promotional materials.
Despite the many anti-democratic impediments, Arauz won first place in a landslide. Meanwhile, Yaku Pérez clearly came in third place, meaning he will not go to the run-off in April.
The potential of a second round between Andrés Arauz and Guillermo Lasso has worried many Ecuadorian opposition figures. Parts of the country’s elites have lost faith in Lasso, and fear he would not be able to defeat the Correistas in a second round.
Lasso is quite unpopular, and his extensive use of offshore bank accounts is widely known. Lasso’s image as a banker and one of the wealthiest people in Ecuador could help reinforce leftist Arauz’s platform and his promise to fight elite corruption, stop tax evasion, and seek economic justice for working people.
Lasso is particularly tainted by his role as economic minister during the 1999 financial crash that destroyed Ecuador’s economy, bankrupting millions. Lasso is also stained by his close ties to the extremely unpopular Lenín Moreno government, and was exposed for sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to Moreno himself.
In the previous two presidential elections, Lasso was the right-wing’s candidate, but he lost. In the 2021 election, sections of Ecuador’s elites and their foreign sponsors have clearly thrown their weight behind Yaku Pérez, seeing him as a Barack Obama-style candidate who could provide an alternate message and is more likely to defeat Arauz in the second round.
Pérez has leveraged this support to demand a recount that could help propel him to the presidential run-off. And the CNE is happily participating in his scheme, in flagrant violation of its own bylaws.
In his February 12 meeting at the CNE’s headquarters, which Pérez had publicly requested, the opposition candidate did not even pretend to be neutral and fair.
Pérez used the event as a platform to speak directly to Ecuador’s elites. He declared that his goal is “not only to pass to the second round, but to defeat Correismo.”
🔴 ¡ÚLTIMA HORA!
Candidato presidencial @yakuperezg dice que quien llegue a la segunda vuelta electoral deberá tener legitimidad y respaldo constitucional y moral para poder derrocar al correísmo.
➡️ Mira nuestra transmisión en vivo aquí: https://t.co/8jASef6Kcc pic.twitter.com/sxCSz1H18U
— El Noticiero (@elnoticierotc) February 12, 2021
Lasso, on the other hand, used the opportunity at the CNE to make an impassioned public call for a broad anti-Correista alliance between the opposition candidates.
The historically unprecedented, closed-door meeting was just another example of how, under Ecuador’s US-backed President Moreno, the CNE has become a corrupt instrument of political control, committed not to overseeing free and fair elections, but rather to making sure that the socialist Citizens’ Revolution never returns to power.
Ecuadorian legal experts stressed that the private CNE meeting was illegal. Ismael Quintana, a professor of constitutional law and opposition supporter who is himself staunchly anti-Correista, acknowledged that Yaku Pérez forcing a recount in Ecuador “passed from being a possibly legitimate claim or doubt to a temper tantrum without legal basis.”
Lo de Pérez Guartambel pasó de ser un posible legítimo reclamo o duda a un pataleo sin fundamento jurídico. Si acusas fraude electoral, lo pruebas. Las urnas no se abren por capricho de quien pierde la elección, sino por las causas previstas en la ley (art. 138 LOE).
— Ismael Quintana (@ismaelquintanag) February 12, 2021
But the CNE’s clearly unlawful meeting was just one part of the body’s post-election actions to reverse Andrés Arauz’s overwhelming victory. Next, the electoral body approved a recount in areas in the country in which the opposition candidates lost.
The CNE declared its intention to recount 100 percent of votes in Guayas province, where Pérez had the worst results, as well as 50 percent of votes in other areas in which Pérez lost.
On February 13, Pérez met again privately with the CNE, and his formal recount request was granted. It stipulated that the process was expected to take a remarkable 15 days. This meant that the official results of the first round of Ecuador’s February 7 election would not be known until the end of the month, or perhaps early March.
With the CNE behind him, the third-place candidate also began to shift the narrative, claiming that, with the new count, Arauz could potentially fall from his resounding first-place victory to third, preventing the leftist from running in the second round of the presidential race.
“It would not be strange if Arauz fell to third place,” Pérez declared.
In reality, the only way Arauz could fall so far from his 13 percent lead would be through vote theft.
The credible fears of the opposition stealing votes was compounded by the announcement that the recount process would be overseen by the Organization of American States and its coup-sponsoring general secretary, Luis Almagro.
President Moreno met with Almagro in Washington, DC on January 27, less than two weeks before the presidential election. On the ssame trip, Moreno also held friendly meetings with US Senator Bob Menendez, a figure named as a key ally by Bolivia coup-plotters, as well as Joe Biden’s top Latin America policy advisor, Juan Sebastian Gonzalez.
El Primer Mandatario, @Lenin Moreno, junto a la delegación oficial, mantuvieron un encuentro con el Secretario General @Almagro_OEA2015 y demás autoridades de la @OEA_oficial, para revisar temas de interés nacional y regional. #EcuadorEnEEUU🇪🇨🇺🇸#SembramosFuturo🌱 pic.twitter.com/LsNoxdaPx2
— Presidencia ECU (@Presidencia_Ec) January 27, 2021
Under Almagro, the OAS played a leading role in the military coup that overthrew Bolivia’s democratically elected government in November 2019. The OAS spread demonstrably false claims accusing President Evo Morales of fraud – accusations that are reminiscent of those made by Yaku Pérez today.
The Biden administration has praised the CNE for agreeing to the illegal and deeply politicized recount.
The acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, tweeted, “U.S. government applauds the February 12 announcement by [CNE] to verify votes in 17 provinces in Ecuador’s February 7 presidential election. This allows the electoral process to advance with enhanced guarantees to the candidates and citizens alike.”
Chung did not mention that these 17 provinces were chosen specifically because Pérez performed poorly in them.
The U.S. government applauds the February 12 announcement by @cnegobec to verify votes in 17 provinces in Ecuador's February 7 presidential election.
This allows the electoral process to advance with enhanced guarantees to the candidates and citizens alike.
— Brian A. Nichols (@WHAAsstSecty) February 14, 2021
The US State Department spokesperson continued to claim that the clearly illegal process demonstrated “transparency” and “ensures public confidence in results.”
Chung added, “We thank [OAS] election observation teams for their continuing work supporting democracy in [Ecuador].”
Such transparency – with clear rules and in the presence of party representatives, plus national and international observers – ensures public confidence in the results.
— Brian A. Nichols (@WHAAsstSecty) February 14, 2021
While the Biden administration cleared the way for electoral shenanigans, the OAS deployed Isabel de Saint Malo, the former vice president of Panama, as the head of the OAS observer team in the country.
De Saint Malo was a key figure in the joint US-OAS coup attempt targeting Venezuela’s leftist government. In many meetings at the Lima Group, de Saint Malo reiterated strong support for Washington-imposed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó, lionizing him as “brave” for supposedly “returning Venezuela to the path of democracy, rights, and freedoms.”
Esto es súper sospechoso: La jefa de la misión de observación electoral de la OEA en Ecuador, la ex vicepresidenta de Panamá Isabel de Saint Malo, es una fanática de la derecha que jugó un papel clave en el intento de golpe en Venezuela, respaldando al títere golpista Juan Guaidó pic.twitter.com/FlH4a8yORp
— Benjamin Norton (@BenjaminNorton) February 12, 2021
De Saint Malo also strongly supported the US-backed 2018 coup attempt against the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
And not only did the coup-sponsoring OAS official celebrate the February 12 CNE meeting between Yaku Pérez and Guillermo Lasso; she personally oversaw the event.
During the meeting, Lasso thanked Pérez for endorsing him in the last presidential election.
“You said ‘I prefer to vote for a banker and not a dictator’; thank you for your vote, candidate Pérez,” Lasso declared.
🔴 #Ahora | Candidato presidencial por @CREOEcuador, @LassoGuillermo: 🗣 “Yo creo que Yaku Pérez y Guillermo Lasso están mucho más cercanos de lo que se pueden imaginar aquellos analistas y pensadores políticos, que nos ponen de extremo a extremo”. pic.twitter.com/6T3m2xD4Aq
— Pichincha En Vivo (@PichinchaEnVivo) February 12, 2021
As the CNE and OAS spend two weeks on the vote recount, and while the Colombian and Ecuadorian prosecutors prepare the baseless ELN case against Arauz, Ecuador’s opposition politicians are working behind the scenes to form a large anti-Correista coalition.
Ecuador’s fourth-place presidential candidate Xavier Hervas, who earned 15.69 percent of the vote, publicly proposed forming an alliance with both Pérez and Lasso. Lasso has said he would support such a coalition.
De acuerdo con @xhervas, ese es el camino. Debemos unirnos y apoyar la opción democrática que los ecuatorianos decidan que pase a la segunda vuelta. Y luego llegar a acuerdos de gobernabilidad. https://t.co/KtgQO1AFQJ
— Guillermo Lasso (@LassoGuillermo) February 10, 2021
Even if the recount fails to knock Arauz out of the race, Yaku Pérez has a Plan B. During his February 12 meeting at the CNE, Pérez proposed a total do-ever, holding a new election with no campaigning that would force millions of Ecuadorians to the polls all over again.
There is no legal basis for any of these propositions. But with the support of the US and OAS, Pérez and Lasso enjoy free license to pitch any plan capable of sabotaging a Correista victory.
For his part, Arauz has slammed the anti-democratic assault. Alluding to the attempt by Ecuador’s US-backed government and Colombia to falsely link him to guerrillas, Arauz wrote, “Those who co-governed with Moreno know they lost and are pushing to persecute me with crude lies.”
“They can’t keep blackmailing and cheating justice,” he added. “The Ecuadorian people will not allow a new blow to democracy.”
Los que han cogobernado con Moreno se saben perdedores y presionan para que me persigan con burdas mentiras. No podrán lograrlo, la verdad siempre prevalece
No podrán seguir chantajeando o engañando a la justicia
El pueblo ecuatoriano no permitirá un nuevo golpe a la democracia
— Andrés Arauz (@ecuarauz) February 13, 2021
Bolivia’s former elected President Evo Morales, who was deposed by the US-sponsored military coup in November 2019, echoed Arauz’s condemnation.
“After being complicit in the coup in Bolivia, now the OAS and Almagro are interfering in Ecuador,” Morales stated. “Their interest is not in democracy; it’s to support neoliberal candidates and governments.”
“Our Ecuadorian brothers should be alert,” he advised.
Después de ser cómplices del golpe de Estado en #Bolivia, ahora la OEA y Almagro interfieren en #Ecuador. Su interés no es la democracia, es apoyar a candidatos y gobiernos neoliberales.
Nuestros hermanos ecuatorianos deben estar alertas.
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) February 13, 2021
Morales added later: “We are warning of a plan by the right-wing and US in Ecuador, to try to prevent [Arauz] from winning the second round using the prosecutor of Colombia, right-wing parties, and the OAS.”
“We have an obligation to defend democracy and our regional integration,” Morales said. “Keep attentive people!”
Alertamos sobre plan de la derecha y EE.UU. en #Ecuador, para intentar impedir que @ecuarauz triunfe en segunda vuelta, usando al Fiscal de Colombia, a partidos de la derecha y a la OEA. Tenemos obligación de defender la democracia y nuestra integración regional. ¡Atento pueblo!
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) February 14, 2021
Featured image: File Photo
Benjamin Norton is the founder and editor of the independent news website Multipolarista, where he does original reporting in both English and Spanish. Benjamin has reported from numerous countries, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, and more. His journalistic work has been published in dozens of media outlets, and he has done interviews on Sky News, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, El Financiero Bloomberg, Al Mayadeen teleSUR, RT, TRT World, CGTN, Press TV, HispanTV, Sin Censura, and various TV channels in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Benjamin writes a regular column for Al Mayadeen (in English and Spanish). He was formerly a reporter with the investigative journalism website The Grayzone, and previously produced the political podcast and video show Moderate Rebels. His personal website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.