Yaku Perez Manuela Picq letter censorship
Ecuador's coup-supporting presidential candidate Yaku Pérez with his wife Manuela Picq (left); Pérez with US Ambassador Michael J. Fitzpatrick (right)

Coup-supporting academics spread lies to censor The Grayzone reporting exposing Ecuador’s pseudo-left candidate Yaku Pérez

A group of academics have circulated a lie-filled open letter aimed at censoring The Grayzone’s reporting on Ecuador’s pseudo-progressive candidate Yaku Pérez. Several of its signatories supported the far-right military coup in Bolivia in 2019 and backed Venezuela’s US-appointed proxy Juan Guaidó.

A collection of coup-supporting academics are lobbying to censor The Grayzone’s factual journalism exposing Ecuador’s presidential candidate Yaku Pérez. Pérez is a self-declared environmentalist from a US government-backed party who has supported numerous right-wing coups in Latin America, advanced xenophobic conspiracies, and demonized poor people in his country.

The academics have published a deceptive and distortion-laden open letter that egregiously misrepresents my factual reporting and absurdly smears me as “racist and misogynist,” based on absurd insinuations and outright falsehoods.

Besides deploying a litany of baseless ad hominem smears, the academics resorted to a wild array of demonstrably false claims that were contradicted by the very same article they are seeking to censor.

The academics’ open letter called on the left-wing website Monthly Review to retract a report that it posted on February 10. The story was a reprint of an article initially published at The Grayzone a few days before, titled “How Ecuador’s US-backed, coup-supporting ‘ecosocialist’ candidate Yaku Pérez aids the right-wing.”

Monthly Review promptly succumbed to the censorship campaign, removing the article from its website.

In addition to targeting my reporting, the open letter attacks The Grayzone contributor Denis Rogatyuk, calling on Jacobin Magazine to censor an article that he published documenting Pérez’s reactionary views and political record.

The academics’ diatribe represents a desperate defense of Yaku Pérez, flagrantly whitewashing the candidate and leaving out all of the inconvenient facts that my reporting revealed, such as Pérez’s support for the 2019 military coup in Bolivia, his endorsement of the soft coup against Brazil’s Workers’ Party government, his cheering for violent US-backed coup attempts against leftist governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua, his classist deprecation of poor people in his country, his racist incitement against Venezuelan immigrants, and his repeated echoing of a debunked right-wing conspiracy theory targeting Ecuador’s leading socialist candidate.

Further, it constitutes a full-frontal attack on the popular leftist movement founded by Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa, a socialist and anti-imperialist who launched a progressive and inclusive “Citizens’ Revolution,” and whose former minister, Andrés Arauz, is the top candidate in the country’s presidential elections, having won the first round in a landslide.

Yaku Pérez’s wife and campaign advisor, Manuela Picq, is a prominent French-Brazilian academic with close links to some of the very same scholars who signed the letter. In fact, Picq’s own mother, Lena Lavinas, is a signatory, and was involved in a similar denunciatory open letter a week before that featured high-profile supporters of the 2016 soft coup that toppled Brazil’s democratically elected left-wing government.

Like her partner Pérez, Picq cheered on the 2019 coup against Bolivian President Evo Morales, spreading absurd disinformation demonizing his Indigenous-led Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party and popular movements, echoing racist stereotypes that outlandishly portrayed Evo’s primarily Indigenous supporters as violent rapists.

In a highly sympathetic softball interview on CNN on February 10, Picq smeared anti-imperialist socialist movements that support the Bolivarian project of Latin American integration as “Stalinist” and “authoritarian,” resorting to Cold War-era anti-communist McCarthyite propaganda. Arrogantly appointing herself a spokesperson for Indigenous communities, Picq proclaimed, “Evo Morales is not a guide for Indigenous peoples, and he has in fact repressed his own people.”

Several of the academics who signed the censorial open letter openly supported the November 2019 military coup that overthrew Bolivia’s democratically elected socialist President Evo Morales, the first Indigenous head of state in the country’s history, in a violent putsch led by racist, anti-Indigenous Christian extremists and sponsored by the governments of the United States, Brazil, and Colombia.

Coup-supporting academics lobby to silence anti-coup journalists

Dozens of academics signed the lie-filled open letter that smeared me with demonstrably false claims.

The most high-profile signatory is gender theorist Judith Butler. As I have reported, Butler supported self-declared “top cop” Kamala Harris, a neoliberal Democrat now serving as US vice president, who earned a notorious reputation for imprisoning Californians, disproportionately poor people of color, on minor charges.

Butler also signed an open letter in 2018 in the New York Review of Books that defended the US military occupation of Syria’s oil-rich northeastern region. That document demanded that the United States “continue military support for the SDF,” a reference to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia that was created immediately after a US general asked Syrian Kurdish militants to “change your brand.”

Another signatory of the open letter defaming me, US anthropologist Devin Beaulieu, staunchly supported the far-right US-backed military coup in Bolivia in 2019, after having spent years vilifying Indigenous President Evo Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism party.

Beaulieu followed the putsch writing numerous articles attacking critics of the coup, disparaging anyone as a “conspiracy theorist” if they believed Bolivia’s massive lithium reserves might have played a role (billionaire oligarch Elon Musk’s revealing comment “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it,” was played down, naturally). Beaulieu even wrote a blog post adamantly insisting that the coup was not in fact a coup.

When several The Grayzone reporters were serving as electoral observers in Bolivia in October 2020, as part of a delegation organized by peace group CODEPINK, Beaulieu actively lobbied to get our credentials revoked, encouraging an unelected right-wing regime whose notoriously extreme and draconian interior minister had openly threatened to jail us for our political views.

Joining Beaulieu as a signatory is fellow coup-supporter Pablo Solón. Solón is a former politician who runs a foundation in Bolivia. He formerly served in the government of President Evo Morales, but later became a hardline critic. Solón aggressively defended the 2019 coup that overthrew Morales, writing numerous articles insisting that it in fact was not a coup, but rather a popular rebellion – ignoring the role of the United States, Brazil, and Colombia in backing treasonous military officers and police and overseeing the putsch.

While the factually challenged, barely coherent open letter purports to speak on behalf of “an exciting and emergent new left comprised of Indigenous organizations, eco-socialist politics, feminist and LGBTQ+ activists, anti-racist movements, and anti-extractivist causes,” it also features an academic who works with the publicity arm of a right-wing corporate lobby group.

Fellow signatory Javier Corrales is a member of the editorial board of Americas Quarterly, the media arm of the Americas Society / Council of the Americas (AS/COA). AS/COA is a lobby organization that aggressively supports right-wing governments and pushes for neoliberal policies in Latin America.

As I noted in my reporting on Yaku Pérez — who has also been heavily promoted by AS/COA’s publicity arm — AS/COA’s list of corporate members is a Who’s Who of the world’s most powerful corporations, such as Amazon, Apple, BlackRock, Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, Chiquita, Exxon Mobil, Ford, GE, Goldman Sachs, Google, JP Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Walmart.

Council of the Americas ASCOA member corporations
AS/COA’s corporate members

Back in 2016, Corrales demonized the government of Venezuela’s elected President Nicolás Maduro as a “dictatorship,” and called for a “major [international] diplomatic effort … to help the opposition pressure the government.” Less than three years later, Corrales threw his weight behind US-designated coup leader Juan Guaidó, heroizing the proxy of Washington as a beneficent “democrat,” “constitutional strategist,” and “groomed politician.” Corrales curiously ignored Guaidó’s extreme corruption and his extensive ties to drug cartels and death squads in Colombia.

Another prominent signatory of the open letter, Patrick Bond, is a distinguished Trotskyite political economist who has spent the last decade leading a campaign to destroy the BRICS, a political and economic framework led by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that sought to provide the Global South with an alternative to the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which many Latin American left-wing leaders have condemned as neocolonial institutions.

Bond, who harshly criticized Brazil’s leftist leader Lula da Silva, edited an entire anti-BRICS book for Haymarket, the former publishing arm of the US Trotskyite group the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which also supported US-backed coups and regime-change operations targeting Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, China, Syria, Libya, Iran, the former Soviet Union, and former Yugoslavia.

On social media, the lie-filled open letter was aggressively promoted by Alexander Reid Ross, an anarchist academic who obsessively smears anti-imperialist journalists. The Grayzone exposed how Ross collaborated with a UK government- and NATO-backed information warfare project targeting the anti-war left, called the Integrity Initiative.

Ross was thoroughly discredited when he published a lie-filled screed defaming The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal and this present reporter, Ben Norton, at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC promptly removed Reid’s libelous blog post. The SPLC subsequently erased all of Reid’s conspiratorial blog posts from its website and issued an effusive apology to his targets.

Ignoring Indigenous support for the Correista Citizens’ Revolution

The academics’ open letter defaming me for my factual reporting on Yaku Pérez also regurgitates demonstrable falsehoods to demonize Ecuador’s socialist, anti-imperialist former President Correa, the most popular leader in the country, smearing him as anti-Indigenous, sexist, and anti-environmentalist.

In fact, there are prominent Indigenous leaders in Ecuador who support the leftist Correista movement, and its presidential candidate Andrés Arauz and vice presidential candidate Carlos Rabascall. Among them is Indigenous politician Ricardo Ulcuango, Ecuador’s former ambassador to Bolivia under Correa, a former president of the Indigenous Parliament of America and ex-vice president of Ecuadorian Indigenous confederation CONAIE.

Ulcuango is a harsh critic and steadfast opponent of Yaku Pérez, whom he has characterized him as a “pawn” of the US embassy. Ulcuango strongly supports the Correista movement, and is a National Assembly candidate from its party.

I interviewed Ulcuango when I was in Ecuador reporting on the first round of the election in February.

“Historically, we have been people who have fought, people who have been present in the streets and in the plazas, against the oligarchy, against the model of neoliberalism, against the imposition of the US government,” Ulcuango told me. “So these are the principles of the Indigenous movement. Therefore, the participation in this electoral battle demands that Indigenous peoples be present, accompanying comrade Andrés Arauz and Carlos Rabascall.”

Ricardo Ulcuango interview Ecuador
Ecuador’s Indigenous leader Ricardo Ulcuango, a staunch supporter of the socialist Correista movement and opponent of Yaku Pérez, interviewed by The Grayzone’s Ben Norton in February 2021

Fact-checking the lie-filled censorial open letter

The open letter, directed to the editors of Jacobin Magazine and Monthly Review, was published on February 26, under the title, “Stop Racist and Misogynist Attacks on the Emergent Indigenous, Eco-Feminist Left in Latin America, and Address the Crisis in Today’s Ecuador.”

The letter is part of an international campaign to disparage Ecuador’s socialist Correista movement and its candidate Andrés Arauz, who won the first found of the February 7 election in a landslide. Ecuador’s corrupt right-wing leader Lenín Moreno has sought to steal Arauz’s clear 13-point victory and prevent him from contesting the April run-off election, with the help of the US and Colombian governments and Organization of American States (OAS), which have openly meddled in Ecuador’s internal affairs.

Instead of defending Ecuadorian democracy against a blatant attempt at electoral theft and foreign meddling, dozens of academics drafted an open letter to attack me for exposing Yaku Pérez’s complicity in the plot.

It is noteworthy that the academics’ letter does not contest a single fact I reported. Instead, it resorted to ad hominem attacks, bad-faith distortions, and severe omissions, failing to acknowledge any of the following:

  • Yaku Pérez’s repeated support for US-backed right-wing coups in Latin America
  • Pérez’s comments that the government should not give checks to poor people in Ecuador because they would spend it all in one night on beer
  • Pérez’s pledge to “not think twice” in signing a free trade agreement with the United States
  • Pérez’s xenophobic scapegoating of Venezuelan migrants
  • training that leaders of Pérez’s political party Pachakutik received from the US government’s CIA-linked National Democratic Institute (NDI)
  • the work that Pérez’s wife and campaign advisor, Manuela Picq, previously did for Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush
  • the EU member state funding for Picq’s anti-Correista activism

In fact, on the very same day that the open letter was published, Yaku Pérez enthusiastically echoed a baseless right-wing conspiracy theory being promoted by the government of Colombia and Ecuador’s corrupt US-backed leader Moreno, accusing Arauz of taking money from drug traffickers and socialist guerrillas in the revolutionary armed group the ELN.

Rather than acknowledge these inconvenient facts, the authors of the letter claimed without evidence that my article has been used “to discredit and damage a candidate of the eco-socialist/Indigenous/feminist left.” In reality, my factual reporting shows that Pérez is far from an ecosocialist, and is in fact a deeply reactionary candidate who is trying to prevent the socialist Correista movement from returning to power.

Pérez zealously celebrated the soft coup that overthrew Brazil’s first and only female president, Dilma Rousseff, of the progressive Workers’ Party. This CIA-backed parliamentary coup ultimately led to the rise of Brazil’s far-right anti-environmental leader Jair Bolsonaro.

In the same tweet, Pérez also attacked Argentina’s first elected female president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, while calling for overthrowing Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa and Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolás Maduro.

In another tweet that I discovered, curiously left out of the open letter, Pérez demonized Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, Evo Morales, with bigoted rhetoric, claiming, “His ignorance is encyclopedic. Evo is biologically Indigenous; in terms of his identity he whitewashed and colonized himself and doesn’t feel or understand the Native cosmovision.”

The academics’ letter spread another demonstrable falsehood in its complaint that my “article does not mention the historic October 2019 uprising or CONAIE and Pérez’s roles in it.” In fact, Yaku Pérez was noticeably not a leader of Ecuador’s October 2019 uprising. The main organizers of those protests against Lenín Moreno’s neoliberal policies were Leonidas Iza and Jaime Vargas, and prominent Ecuadorian analysts have stressed Pérez’s absence.

Moreover, I did point out in my article that other leaders from Ecuador’s Indigenous confederation CONAIE, namely Leonidas Iza, have gone out of their way to criticize Pérez, warning that figures from banker Guillermo Lasso’s right-wing CREO party are in his inner circle. A screenshot of the archived version of the censored Monthly Review reprint of my article offers clear evidence.

Monthly Review Yaku Perez Leonidas Iza

The open letter also misrepresents my factual reporting on Yaku Pérez’s wife, the high-profile academic Manuela Picq, ludicrously depicting me as “sexist.” By this logic, any journalist who reports critically on a female public figure, whether it is Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Manuela Picq, risks being labeled a misogynist.

In another blatant lie, the letter claims, “Most tellingly, the author does not mention that Picq was arrested and deported from Ecuador by the Correa government.”

As the following screenshot from the Monthly Review article shows, I have an entire section about Picq’s arrest and deportation. I wrote the following:

Picq played a significant role in 2015 protests against President Correa, which were often very violent. She was arrested at a demonstration in August, and her visa was cancelled and she was deported from Ecuador.

With support from the European Union and billionaire-funded NGOs, Picq turned her deportation case into a scandal, portraying herself as a victim and using it to attack Correa and demonize his elected socialist government as a chronic human rights violator.

Picq was allowed to return in Ecuador in 2018, under the right-wing US-backed government of Lenín Moreno.

Monthly Review Yaku Perez Manuela Picq arrested

The letter continues by claiming, “Generating absurd conspiracy narratives, this article designates her body as evidence of Pérez’s imperialist complicity.”

Curiously, the academics’ diatribe left out some of the more  facts that I reported, such as Picq’s previous work as a “foreign affairs specialist” in the Office of International Relations for Florida’s Republican Governor Jeb Bush — a fact that she boasts on her publicly available CV.

Also absent from the letter was the tweet I discovered that shows Picq spreading racist fake news about Bolivia’s Indigenous President Evo Morales and his largely Indigenous supporters.

In the middle of the US-backed far-right coup attempt, Picq tweeted the following: “Sisters from the Indigenous base in Bolivia are denouncing massive violence by groups from the MAS [ruling Movement Toward Socialism party] — not only houses of the opposition being burnt, there is also a network and rapes in the streets. There is fear that Evo is launching a civil war with his militias.”

The letter also ignored my thorough documentation of the fact that Picq’s anti-Correista work has been funded by organizations that are soft-power arms bankrolled by the European Union and numerous Western European governments.

In one of the most outrageous lies, the letter claims that I accused Picq of “being a ‘CIA cutout’ and an agent of ‘billionaire George Soros,’ a familiar anti-Semitic accusation.”

For a group of academics boasting expensive PhDs, the authors of the letter demonstrate serious deficiencies in reading comprehension. What I wrote was that the Ford Foundation, not Picq, is a traditional CIA cutout — a fact that is well established by scholar Frances Stonor Saunders in her book The Cultural Cold War. I mentioned the Ford Foundation because it bankrolls some of the organizations that fund Picq’s anti-Correista work in Ecuador, a highly relevant point.

Moreover, the letter veers into the realm of sheer fabrication with its false claim that I accused Picq of being “an agent of ‘billionaire George Soros.'” I did nothing of the such. I mentioned Soros one time in an over 6,000-word article, as one of several funders of one of the NGOs that has bankrolled Picq’s anti-Correista activism.

My full sentence, which the letter misrepresented, follows: “According to her CV, Picq has worked since 2015 with Front Line Defenders, an NGO funded by the European Union, numerous Western European governments, Taiwan, anti-communist billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, and the CIA cutout the Ford Foundation.”

Given Soros’ deep, longstanding involvement in US government-backed, CIA-linked regime-change operations, his funding is relevant. In a 1991 Washington Post article boasting of the wave of Washington-backed capitalist coups in Eastern Europe, columnist David Ignatius, himself a close ally of the CIA, listed Soros as “one of many overt operatives who helped prepare the way for the” overthrow of the former communist governments, working in alliance with National Endowment for Democracy (NED) founder Allen Weinstein, who boasted, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

The fact that Soros is Jewish is simply irrelevant. The preposterous accusation of anti-Semitism is clearly just another censorial tactic meant to silence criticism of an avowedly anti-communist billionaire oligarch who helps finance Washington’s imperial crimes abroad.

While smearing me with lies, the letter also outlandishly accused me of smearing Picq in a “misogynist and homophobic diatribe that mocks and attacks her feminist, queer studies, and eco-social politics.”

I did nothing of the such. All I did was list some of the titles of Picq’s books, a common practice when introducing a professor. If she and her academic friends and colleagues who signed the letter think listing the titles of some of her books is “misogynist and homophobic,” perhaps it is a reflection of their own internal prejudices, or insecurities about their own work.

If listing some of Picq’s book titles in one sentence in an over 6,000-word article makes one “misogynist and homophobic,” anyone who dares to author an academic bio of Picq is doomed to be dubbed an ardent bigot.

The letter goes on to allege, “The author [Norton] claims that because Picq teaches ‘Latinx Studies’ and ‘Queering Notions of Modernity,’ she is an enemy of global class struggle and complicit with imperialism.” Yet I did not write anything remotely like this; it is a complete fabrication.

Second, Picq does not, as the letter alleges, teach classes called “Queering Notions of Modernity”; rather, she wrote a a book called “Queering Narratives of Modernity” – narratives, not notions; a book, not a class. With so many obvious errors like this, one cannot help but question the reliability of any of the letter’s accusations.

If the authors of the letter could not even get these basic facts about Picq right, as they sought to reflexively defend their colleague, how could anyone expect them to get facts about me right?

Another fallacious line in the letter indicates that the authors should sharpen their elementary reading comprehension skills. It claimed that my report “stinks of rumor-mongering, noting that she [Picq] took classes at Princeton in a building named after Ronald Reagan, as if this would prove that she was a stooge of the Reagan administration.”

What I actually wrote in the report was the following: “Picq got her start as a postdoctoral fellow in the ‘Study of Democracy in Latin America’ at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a US government-funded think tank that has a revolving door with the State Department and intelligence agencies, and is physically located in the US government’s Ronald Reagan Building.”

The fact that a US government-financed think tank that is notorious for its close ties to government agencies and has a lengthy track record obsessively demonizing socialist governments in Latin America helped to launch Picq’s academic career is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, given her future work obsessively demonizing those very same socialist governments in Latin America that have been targeted by the US government for regime change and destabilization.

In another absurd manipulation of reality, the letter claims that I “rage[d] against the language of ‘decoloniality.'” But no examples are provided. In fact, I did not use the word “decolonial” or any of its grammatical iterations once in my article. Ironically, it is Yaku Pérez’s supporters who use “decolonial” academic buzzwords while actively helping to whitewash and strengthen US neocolonialism in Latin America.

At no point did the academics’ diatribe against my article puncture its core revelation: that Pérez is a pro-imperialist candidate who has supported right-wing coups, and that US imperialism and the European Union have exploited his Pachakutik party and the NGOs they fund in Ecuador in order to try to re-colonize the country, destroy anti-imperialist institutions like the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and prevent the anti-imperialist Correista movement from returning to power.

In another example of its refusal to acknowledge basic facts, the letter claimed that this present journalist “singles out ‘Extinction Rebellion’ as a right-wing tool.” It failed to mention how I documented Extinction Rebellion joining right-wing Bolivian groups to propel early stages of the coup against President Evo Morales, pinning blame on him for Amazon forest fires in a series of protests outside Bolivian embassies in the UK and US. The letter also ignored an article published by Extinction Rebellion that slammed the leftist Correista movement while lavishing Yaku Pérez with praise. Whether or not these decisions were made wittingly is debatable, but that they happened is an undeniable fact.

The ultimate irony of the academics’ open letter is how, behind its liberal identitarian framing, it actually helps to reinforce and perpetuate a long history of racist neocolonial discourse that demonizes popular leftist, anti-imperialist political leaders in the Global South with stereotypes like “oriental despotism.”

The letter clearly reflects the anarchist politics of its signatories with the use of language like “authoritarian statism” and “statist leaders,” betraying a perspective that sees the state as an institution that is inherently evil, even when it is controlled by democratically elected socialist and anti-imperialist leaders who seek to defend national sovereignty from foreign aggression and who use their nation’s natural resources to benefit poor and working-class citizens.

A lie-filled, deeply deceptive letter by a collection of Western academics with links to billionaire-backed NGOs and a record of support for regime-change campaigns may have convinced Monthly Review to remove my article, but it has only drawn further attention to the inconvenient facts it sought to suppress.