Why pay attention to a mid-level diplomatic visit to a banana republic? Because if you want to know what Honduras avoided by refusing to kowtow to the U.S. last year, Ecuador is it. Moreover, Mr. Valenzuela's visit demonstrates how little the U.S. is willing or able to do for people who fall victim to left-wing tyranny.
After taking office in 2007, Mr. Correa decided that his popularity put him above Congress and the law. A solid majority of Ecuadorians wanted a new constitution. But he decreed that the constituent assembly, which would write the new document, should also have broad powers, including the power to dissolve Congress. That set off a constitutional crisis that was resolved in Mr. Correa's favor when he used the power of the state and his supporters used mob violence. Had the Ecuadorian military responded with the courage and patriotism displayed by its Honduran counterpart, the nation might still have a fighting chance for democracy.
Now that Mr. Correa has consolidated his power, he is employing state intimidation to destroy his opponents. The press is under constant threat, critics are being driven into exile, the economy is in shambles, and it has come out that Colombia's FARC rebels consider Mr. Correa's government an ally. Iran is a good friend.
Consider how things got to this point. When the Ecuadorian Congress told Mr. Correa it would not grant the constituent assembly the powers he wanted it to have, the electoral court, which he controls, fired the opposition congressmen. They were replaced with more compliant members.
The constitutional court then stepped in to say that the fired congressmen had to be reinstated. In response, according to Gabriela Calderón de Burgos, a columnist for the Guayaquil daily El Universo, "Mr. Correa went on radio and TV to say that despite the court's decision, the fired congressmen would not come back."
Ms. Calderón de Burgos added in a telephone interview with me last week: "On the same day, police forces under the authority of the government and with the duty to protect the court, were not reinforced and easily outnumbered by an angry mob that made its way in. Former members of the court claim to have proof to show that the police let the mob in. This was never investigated. Some of the individuals, who were members of the constituent assembly and are in our Congress today, took part in this violent takeover of the court. We saw on TV members of the court running away from the building while people from the streets threw things at them."
Using these methods, it didn't take Mr. Correa long to destroy the institutional checks and balances in government that stood in the way of his becoming Ecuador's very own Juan Perón.
The press has been a more difficult problem. Last June, when I reported on previously unreleased FARC documents seized by Colombia in a raid on a rebel camp that told of complicity between the FARC and members of the Correa government, the Ecuadorian president hit the roof. On a trip to New York the next month he threatened to "sue" The Wall Street Journal for my piece because, he said, "we are sick of their lies." Days later a videotape emerged showing FARC honcho Mono Jojoy talking to his troops about how the rebels had supported Mr. Correa's campaign. The lawsuit has yet to materialize.
Today Mr. Correa is making life hell for Ecuadorian journalists. Since coming to power his government has taken over four privately held television stations and created one of its own. Mr. Correa regularly uses his bully pulpit to insult journalists and attack the character of his opponents. He likes to sue people.
When a mob gathered outside El Universo's offices last August to intimidate employees because of a story the paper ran, Emilio Palacio, a left-of-center columnist for the paper, blamed a Correa henchman. Mr. Correa went on television to say Mr. Palacio should be sued. The columnist was subsequently tried for libel under the criminal code and sentenced to three years in prison.
During Tuesday's meeting before television cameras, Mr. Valenzuela expressed concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions and its budding relationship with Ecuador. According to Reuters, Mr. Correa told him: "We don't want to get involved in that discussion. But what does it have to do with selling bananas to Iran or with Iran financing our hydroelectric plants?" Translation: Ahmadinejad is my friend. You butt out.
The U.S. response? Mr. Valenzuela would not rule out a meeting between Mr. Correa and Barack Obama. If that happens, prepare for a redux of the Obama embrace of Hugo Chávez in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in April 2009—more humiliation for Americans who used to think of their government as a noble defender of liberty against despots.