BBC Faces Challenge Over Ecuador Distortions

June 20, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

London’s Ecuadorean community is becoming an important actor among the various organised Latin groups that have come into being in the city to give voice to the least heard. Its activities, which range from the involvement in the Justice for Cleaners campaign to the effort to regularise undocumented immigrants, are gathering an increasing number of participants and are co-ordinated by the newly formed Movimiento Ecuador en Reino Unido (MERU), a network of Ecuadorean migrants which seeks to foster the wellbeing and the integration not only of Ecuadorean citizens, but of the whole Latino and migrant community which resides in London.

Recent developments have highlighted their significance, demonstrating the salience of their presence. Of particular importance has been the visit of Mercedes Panta, an Ecuadorean assemblyman elected in the European circumscription for the Assembly which is currently drafting a new Constitution for the country. Her visit, which took place on 4th June in Elephant and Castle, has been the culmination of a week-long process of visits around Europe, in which the deputy has provided her electors with a detailed exposition of the changes that the new Assembly has hitherto attained. Inspired by the conception of a participatory democracy, Mercedes has put particular emphasis on the achievements obtained in terms of migrants’ rights and tutelage, convinced of the necessity to maintain a close contact with the people she is representing. She has stressed very keenly the future possibility for local migrants to appoint an officer of the Embassy of their own choice, and has declared that one of her next struggles will be to insist on proposing that a number of delegates for the Andean Parliament are elected by nationals living abroad. Moreover, she has reasserted the need to strengthen the work of Ecuadorean authorities in London to register more migrants, and have them benefit from access to proper assistance and rights coverage. According to the official registration of the Ecuadorean Consulate, only 800 people are registered, but realistic estimates suggest the presence of thousands of people from the little Andean nation.

Her visit was followed on the 7th by the Second Ecuadorian Assembly in London, held in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). This was a space promoted to discuss the various problems which Ecuadoreans are currently facing in the city. Some tensions have emerged following previous complaints by some individuals who were discontented at the behaviour of Ecuadorean diplomatic representatives in the past, the latter being accused of paying little attention to the claims of the community and of devoting insufficient resources to resolving the myriad of difficulties that plague the life of a migrant. Nevertheless, the leaders of the community have renewed their faith in the Ambassador Eduardo Cabezas, hoping to make collaboration much more intense and productive for both parts. In particular, Juan Carlos Piedra, MERU’s coordinator, has suggested a number of initiatives to improve the service of the Embassy. Oscar Jara, representative of SENAMI, an Ecuadorean institution recently set up by the new government to assist Ecuadoreans abroad, has specified the breadth of the reforms implemented in Ecuador and highlighted the preoccupation of President Correa with respect to migratory issues. Ambassador Cabezas has stated his commitment and dedication to help the migrant community and has ratified his intention to make these changes real.

However, the most interesting news comes from a claim made against the BBC by an Ecuadorean citizen. Fidel Narváez has recently submitted a third and final request to the BBC Trust, asking for the rectification of a documentary report entitled ‘Indian tribe sues oil giant’ shown by Newsnight last November. The report, produced by the American Greg Palast, carries a number of imperfections and oversimplifications: a typical example of bad journalism, where the sheer ignorance of the place mixes with the traditional generalisations foreigners formulate on Latin America in an ‘Orientalist’ fashion, giving birth to a product of low quality on a country which deserves much better attention. Palast has gone beyond this – his report included outright lies which consciously or unconsciously, had the effect of making his 10-minute reporte more spicy and controversial. Hence, according to Palast, behind ‘small Ecuador’ is ‘big Venezuela’, because ‘Chavez has given Ecuador a quarter of a billion dollars, and the political weapons to stand up to George Bush’, even though this data is unsupported by any verifiable evidence. What is more striking, though, is the attribution of Occidental expulsion from the country to the current President. In fact, the American oil company Occidental was expelled from the country by former President Alfredo Palacio, in response to a breach of contract. But saying that it has been an initiative of Mr Correa (pictured) gives more flesh to the distorted image Palast wants to raise. These factual inaccuracies wrongly imply that Ecuador is externally financed for political reasons, and give the misplaced impression that the oil policy of the current Ecuadorean Government is a simple extension of Chávez’ politics.

Many attempts have been made to dissuade Narváez from suing BBC through its formal internal channels of demand, which claim to be rigorously self-appraising and self-correcting. But Narváez, an Ecuadorean human rights activist now based in Cambridge, has not given up his will to advocate a decent journalistic coverage of his country and the intention to rectify what he has reasonably perceived to be a dangerous misrepresentation of the political reality. In this, he has obtained the support of the Finance Minister and the Foreign Relations Parliamentary Commission of Ecuador. It is time for Westerners to come to terms with the political situation of Ecuador, and South America in general, in subtler and more sophisticated ways, and to recognise the presence of these people in our territories not as an impediment or an obstacle, but as a valuable and enriching phenomenon, deserving of respect and legal protection. Sadly, the recent EU norm clearly goes in the opposite direction. By contrast, Mr Correa, is implementing, in Ecuador, policy of ‘open doors’, with the abolition of any Visa requirement for any citizen of the world, enshrined in the concept of “Universal Citizenship” in the forthcoming Constitution.

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This post was written by Samuele Mazzolini

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