By Samuel Petrequin
Former Ecuador president Rafael Correa said the political asylum he has been granted in Belgium is proof he is persecuted by his country’s authorities and did not rule out a return to politics in an interview with the Associated Press last week.
Correa, who in 2020 was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia, has been living in his wife’s native Belgium since 2017.
Though Ecuadorian authorities have demanded his arrest and extradition previously, thus far he has been allowed to stay in Belgium.
Ecuador’s National Court of Justice sent a new extradition request for Correa last week, but it has since emerged that the Belgian Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons granted the former head of state asylum, with the status of refugee. The agency has issued a certificate dated April 15 that has been seen by the AP.
Correa said he can now travel safely across the world, except in Ecuador. “I give conferences, I give economic advice, so I have to travel to work, to get an earning,” he said.
Correa said the only way for him to stop what he perceives as political persecution would be to hold an elected position again. “So if I need to return to my country to win the election, I should do that,” he said.
Even if he is allowed to return, it is unlikely Correa could run for president again. In 2018, Ecuadorian voters overwhelmingly authorized a change to the country’s constitution limiting presidents to two 4-year terms, which Correa has already served.
Ecuador’s National Court of Justice president Iván Saquicela said last week that he signed the order initiating the extradition process in relation with Correa’s sentencing in the corruption case. At the time, prosecutors said the former president oversaw a plot in which foreign and local businesses made cash payments to his now defunct Alianza Pais political party in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.
Correa continues to deny any wrongdoing and presents himself as the victim of political witch hunt. “We are persecuted people, not corrupted people,” Correa said, adding that he and his family have been harassed since he moved to Belgium.
In the short term, prospects of returning to Ecuador for the former president hinge on efforts by supporters in the country’s National Assembly to establish a “truth commission” that would review and overturn his convictions.
Correa, who identifies with the Latin American left-wing movement, left power in May 2017 after a decade at the helm of the Andean country. He has since been wanted for extradition three times, once after being found guilty in a kidnapping case of one of his opponents and twice for the same bribery case.
Correa’s lawyer, Christophe Marchand, said the asylum application was filed because the former head of State was targeted for political reasons. “It’s not easy to get the status of political refugee for a former head of state,” Marchand said. “We had to convince them that we were confronted to an utterly serious problem related to justice independence in Ecuador.”
Credit: Associated Press