It is February 17, 2016. Franco-Brazilian journalist and academic Manuela Picq wears a long coat against the winter chill in Brussels, home of the European Parliament. Located in the same city is the ‘small middle-class apartment’ purchased by Rafael Correa some years ago. Manuela also wears the blue scarf that has accompanied her since August 13, 2015; the day she was arrested, beaten and forced to leave Ecuador.
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Currently living in exile in Germany, Picq has been working at the Free University of Berlin. The Ecuadorian Government has prevented her from returning to the country she calls home because, according to the Ecuadorian Minister of Culture, Guillaume Long (himself born in France), the motherland is where one fights. Following express orders from Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry, several Ecuadorian consulates in different cities have all denied Picq’s applications for a visa to re-enter the country.
Manuela’s case is one of the best known examples of forced political exile during Rafael Correa’s Government. When she left, she had to bid farewell to her apartment in Quito; her work as an academic at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito; and above all, her life partner, Carlos Pérez Guartambel, President of the Confederation of Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari).
Invited by the organization Front Lines Defenders, Picq traveled to the Belgian capital to give her testimony at a special session of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee for Human Rights, chaired by Spanish MEP Elena Valenciano, a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats. The Subcommittee has shown interest in the human rights situation in Latin America and has recently received members of the Venezuelan opposition. Picq’s testimony on the cancellation of her visa highlighted how the situation in Ecuador fits into the general global framework of deteriorating rights and freedoms.
Picq recounted the increasing violence, intimidation and harassment she was subjected to by Ecuadorian security agencies in the months leading up to her violent arrest. She recalled her mistreatment by the police and the arrests in the Eugenio Espejo hospital and the hotel for foreigners awaiting deportation. But above all, she spoke about cases of repression in Ecuador, such as the Luluncoto 10 and the women of Saraguro who, according to Picq, were victims of gender violence. She referred to the persecution and censorship of the press; the criminalization of social protest, particularly of indigenous peoples; and the restriction of academic freedom, noting the particular case of the Simon Bolivar Andean University, which has been threatened with expulsion from the country.
Prior to any free trade agreement between the European Union and Ecuador, Picq has requested a ruling by the European Parliament in support of academic freedom and expression in the country; an on-site visit by a delegation; and ongoing consultation with Ecuadorian civil organizations. She finished her testimony by asserting that a coup is not the only way to kill democracy; it also dies through the slow erosion of freedoms. The MEPs reacted with shock and solidarity to Picq’s allegations against the Correa-ist authoritarian regime, further discrediting the increasingly cracked image of a Government that presents itself in the international arena as ‘democratic’ and ‘left’.