On April 22, an Ecuadorian high court requested the extradition of former leftist President Rafael Correa from his current residence in Belgium. Correa, who has lived in Belgium since the end of his presidency in 2017, was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for the alleged acceptance of bribes to finance his political endeavors between 2012 and 2016 in exchange for state contracts worth around $7 million.
The Ecuadorian judiciary is confident in the strength of their case against Correa. The judiciary believes they have “a solid conviction,” a statement that has infuriated Correa, according to Barron’s. Correa responded to the allegations against him by calling the president of Ecuador’s court of justice a “clown” and a “government puppet.”
Despite the Ecuadorian judiciary’s confidence in their case against Correa, the Belgian government decided to grant Correa political asylum on April 15. According to France 24, Correa argues that his political asylum was conceded in the framework of the Geneva Conventions which establish, in his words, “that asylum cannot be granted to the corrupt.” The former president maintains his innocence, accusing the current Ecuadorian government of corruption. By initiating judicial processes against him and stopping him from returning to his home country, Correa believes the current Ecuadorian government is attempting to prevent him from participating in Ecuadorian politics.
According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Correa was required by Belgium, a notoriously difficult country to receive asylum from, to provide punctual documentation proving the political persecution he claims victimizes him. Belgium later granted him asylum; a status that is rarely granted to former heads of state. Correa’s sentence also removed his political rights in Ecuador for 25 years, further fueling his claims against the Ecuadorian government.
According to Al Jazeera, the Belgian foreign ministry has yet to make a statement on the matter; however, Correa’s extradition to Ecuador seems unlikely given his status as a refugee– a status which the Ecuadorian government had no knowledge of prior to requesting extradition. The Associated Press reports that due to his refugee status, Correa may still return to political activity, suggesting that the only way to stop his political persecution is to once again hold an elected position.
Correa remains popular on social media, with his Twitter account amassing 3.1 million followers. The ex-president remains vocally critical of the current Ecuadorian government, with his most popular post being a video denouncing current President Lasso’s involvement in the Pandora Papers scandal. He has also brought attention to his perceived persecution of the left in South America, expressing sympathy for Brazilian leftist former President Lula da Silva.
As the political paradigm in South America once again shifts towards the left; with the recent election of Chilean leftist candidate Gabriel Boric to the Chilean presidency, and the strong campaigns of fellow leftist candidates Gustavo Petro and Lula da Silva in Colombia and Brazil respectively, Correa could garner enough support to further his political ambitions in Ecuador. For the time being, however, Correa remains essentially exiled from his home country.