Ecuador | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Ratings Change:

Ecuador’s civil liberties rating declined from 3 to 4 due to the government’s decision to order the closure of a major teachers’ union as well as regulatory actions and legislation that threatened the sustainability of two graduate universities.


Ecuador transitioned to democracy from a military regime in 1979, and since then has experienced the ouster of three presidents under popular or military pressure. Elections take place regularly amid a highly fragmented party system. A leftist government has ruled the country for the past decade, and has introduced a new constitution that guarantees the rights of women and minorities, among other improvements. However, the government has a poor record regarding respect for civil liberties, particularly freedom of expression. 

Key Developments: 
  • Journalistic coverage of the leaked documents dubbed the Panama Papers, which appeared in the international press beginning in April, triggered authorities to launch corruption investigations into Ecuadorian entities mentioned in the leak.
  • In July, close to 150 Cuban nationals were detained and deported while trying to obtain authorization to seek asylum in the United States or Ecuador; human rights watchdogs decried due process violations during the deportation proceedings.
  • In August, the government ordered the dissolution of the largest teachers’ union in the country, claiming that the group had failed to fully disclose information about its leadership.
  • In December, the National Assembly passed legislation eliminating public funding for research at universities that operate under international agreements; the legislation has the potential to undermine the sustainability of two graduate universities, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar and FLACSO Ecuador.
Executive Summary: 

The administration of Rafael Correa, who has held presidential office since 2007, maintained pressures on the media environment and civil society in 2016. In August, the Ministry of Education declared the dissolution of the National Union of Teachers (UNE), the largest trade association for teachers in the country. The ministry claimed that UNE had failed to submit all information about its leadership as part of its state registration, and was in violation of regulations for the functioning of social organizations. Domestic and international rights groups, among them the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), protested the decision, finding it a politically motivated violation of freedom of association. Academic freedom also faced threats in legislative amendments passed in December that cut research funding for universities operating under international agreements. The legislation, which affects two graduate universities in particular, followed vocal criticism of public funding for such institutions by Correa.

The government has increasingly cracked down on social media and other internet activity in recent years, leading some online outlets to disable public comment sections out of fear of reprisal. The local press watchdog Fundamedios reported that in 2016, officials continued monitoring speech on the social-media platform Twitter and filing complaints against accounts that are critical of the Correa administration.

In July, authorities detained and deported around 150 Cuban nationals who had established an encampment in a Quito park while attempting to gain asylum in the United States or Ecuador. Human rights watchdogs decried the move, claiming that the judicial proceedings involved in the deportations violated due process rights. Ecuador is the largest recipient of refugees in Latin America, and in 2016, the government continued to struggle to uphold refugees’ rights.

Tensions between the presidency and the military surfaced in February, when Correa dismissed the military high command amid allegations that the Social Security Institute of the Armed Forces had overcharged the Ministry of the Environment in a land deal. Correa announced plans to withhold the overpaid sum, sparking popular protests over concerns about the impact on military pensions. The disagreement also led to the resignation of the minister of defense and prompted a cabinet reshuffle in March. Separately, international journalistic coverage of the Panama Papers, which made headlines beginning in April, triggered authorities to launch corruption investigations into Ecuadorian entities mentioned in the leaked documents. 

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

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