Emilio Palacio: Ecuadorean Journalist Jailed for Truth

Emilio Palacio is hiding out in a tiny, tree-shrouded house in west Coconut Grove. Had the 57-year-old not fled his native Ecuador this past Wednesday, he'd be behind bars -- jailed for the truth.

Instead, he's staring out a shattered window in his brother's home onto an overgrown yard and trashing his nemesis, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. "He is a monster without ethics," Palacio says. "He looks good and shows around his university degrees, but from the start he has been a totalitarian like... Idi Amin."

Until recently, this gnome-like gentleman was one of the most powerful journalists in South America, brother to a former president, and page editor of one of the continent's largest and best-known newspapers, El Universo. His departure and his words mark perhaps the most egregious attack on media in the Western Hemisphere in years.

In his first interview since jumping a plane and leaving his native Guayaquil, Palacio described his decade-long war with Correa, the University of Illinois Economics Ph.D. who has grabbed the mantle of ailing Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez and strong-armed his nation toward socialism.

Palacio's war with Correa began in 2005. In an El Universo column, he chided the then finance minister's criticism of the country's economy. "I said he should shut up," Palacio recalls. "His bombast scared people."

The president responded by calling Palacio a traitor. That was a pattern that would repeat.

In 2007, after his election to president, Correa invited Palacio to the presidential palace for a debate on free speech and then chased him out by egging on a crowd in a crude chant that essentially termed the opinion-page editor a "prick."

Three years later came what Correa termed a coup and Palacio (along with 51 percent of Ecuadoreans) calls a "fraud." After cutting police salaries and causing a protest, the president wandered into the fray. The cops weren't happy. Correa had to be rescued and eventually, according to a piece Palacio penned -- then later recanted -- ordered his forces to fire on a hospital that "was full of civilians and innocent people."

That piece, "No to Lies," published this past February 6, became the subject of a lawsuit filed several months later. Correa accused Palacio and three El Universo board members of defamation and demanded they pay $80 million and spend three years in jail. A judge whom the president appointed -- he has packed the courts -- awarded the Correa $40 and ordered the four to spend three years in jail.

More recently, Correa also pushed a narrowly passed national referendum that has limited media ownership and press coverage.

Palacio's case came to a head last week, though, when prosecutors demanded to know the source of a videotape that Palacio had obtained, showing the president calling the police traitors. "I knew if they called me in, I would have to give up my sources or go to jail," he says. "So I jumped on a plane and came to Miami as a tourist."

He left behind his wife Luisa and two teenage sons. He has no idea when he will see them next. "Correa calls everyone who's not on his side a traitor," Palacio says. "That's what he does to enemies."

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