Friday, February 22, 2013

Ecuador: Rafael Correa apologizes to the LGBT community in nationally televised reelection victory speech

Rafael Correa's landslide victory on Sunday for his third and final term as president of Ecuador did not come as much of a surprise to observers of the region nor the president himself. Correa took to the airwaves less than an hour after the polls closed to declare victory, thank voters, commit himself to strengthening the populist economic policies that have defined his presidency and dedicate his win to ailing Venezuelan president and ally Hugo Chávez.

What few international observers have noted is that Correa also used a few moments during the 40 minute televised speech to apologize to the Ecuadorean lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (Tip: Turn volume level down before watching this clip and turn YouTube annotations on for an onscreen translation).

My translation:
A few months ago I used a number of inappropriate words that were offensive to LGBT groups and for which I apologized in writing - and I stated I would apologize again after winning [the election] to make sure they knew I wasn't doing it simply for political gain.
Once again I'd like to express my apologies to those LGBT groups for some words that might have escaped me. Each one of us was born and grew up with stereotypes and stigmas and we have to fight against this type of - let's call it deformed - social upbringing, etcetera. But our commitment is to defend everyone's dignity and equality. We are diverse but never unequal.
And I was reminded of this by the leader of a GLBT group who I greatly admire a couple of days ago. You need a lot of courage to lead these type of movements. Let's offer them all our support and - on a personal basis - I offer my full respect and the effort and commitment to eliminate all types of discrimination in this country.
The incident in question occurred on July 28th of last year during one of the public semi-weekly marathon presentations Correa uses to "report back" to the Ecuadorean community - much like Fidel Castro and Chávez used to stage at the top of their game (Turn YouTube annotations on for an onscreen translation).

International human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have long criticized Correa for using his presidential powers to browbeat antagonist media outlets and curtail the right to freedom of speech and in this particular excerpt from the latter part of a four hour presentation Correa goes against one of his favorite targets: El Comercio.

That Friday, the paper had published an article claiming the Ecuadorian Olympic Committee had turned down a request from the president to accompany the Ecuadorean Olympic team to London and be part of their contingent during the opening ceremonies.

In the clip Correa calls the report "slanderous" and a "barbarity" and denies ever considering attending the games. But what truly draws his ire is an online comment made by a reader on El Commercio's Facebook page calling the president a fag: "The fag thought that faggotry was part of the Olympic games and thought he could bring a gold medal in homosexuality - which is his strength... Degenerate fag."

Never mind Correa is holding El Comercio for comments made from a Facebook reader based in Spain. What outraged members of the LGBT community in Ecuador was the president's response: "If anyone knows this gentleman let me know. And I'll invite him and only him to tell me these vicious things face to face. To see who's the real fag."

On August 2nd, El Comercio shot back by publishing an open letter signed by a number of LGBT-rights leaders under the name of the GLBT Alliance.  The group said they were disgusted by the comments made by the Facebook member but even more disappointed that someone they had supported and considered a friend of the community had responded to homophobic insults with just as homophobic a response. A translated excerpt:
We regret that a "revolutionary" president and those who are close to the government are still bound backward notions which keep them from reaching the heights of statesmanship of the caliber of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Barack Obama, Jose Luis Zapatero or Francois Hollande who have chosen jump on the train of history and time to bet on behalf of the rights of citizens regardless of their sexuality. Respectfully, Mr. President, we believe the GLBT community of this country and particularly those who voted for you are waiting for you to acknowledge our existence and are deserving of an apology.
That led to Correa's first apology on his next marathon "report back" session on August 4th, a week after his homophobic rant.

A translated excerpt:
I trust you know that there has been no other [Ecuadorean] government that has fought to guarantee GLBT rights as this one has done. That's why we've had to confront fundamentalist and ultra-conservative groups and will continue to do so. But if the president committed a mistake and you consider it as such I have no problem in saying I am sorry. These apologies will also be expressed in writing to the four organizations that signed this statement posted in the social networks.
And because you know there will be bad faith journalists who'll argue I am doing this because the election season is near, ladies and gentlemen, if I decide to run and the Ecuadorean people give me the privilege of winning the election with their vote, the next day after winning the election I will reaffirm this apology. I am extremely sorry if I overreached, I sincerely am sorry if I offended you. I do not deny that I harbor prejudice and stigma inside of me because we have all grown up in this society.
I remember the apology when it was reported last summer and how it struck me as sincere and groundbreaking for a Latin American head of state.

To his credit, Correa has appointed an openly lesbian woman to his presidential cabinet who has made it a point to combat homophobic so called "ex-gay" religious-based clinics.  Correa also vowed to combat Ecuadorean homophobia in reaction to the brutal murder of Ecuadorean immigrant José Osvaldo Sucuzhañay in the United States. He backed a new Ecuadorean constitution adopted in 2008 which banned adoption rights for gays and lesbians but granted them civil union rights.

Critics say he continues to oppose marriage equality legislation based on religious beliefs and has not worked hard enough to enforce existing gender identity laws that protect transgender individuals from discrimination. In July a number of LGBT-rights activists who organized an anti-homophobia rally in Guayaquil criticized the way government forces shut them down.

I hope Correa's seemingly sincere efforts mean there is an openness to address these and other issues in his last term in office. If so, we more than welcome his reiterated apologies to the LGBT community.


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