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Exiled Ecuadorean journalist ordered to pay $42 million

QUITO -- Ecuadorean newspaper columnist Emilio Palacio spends his days at the Cocowalk Starbucks — far from the Guayaquil newsroom where he worked for 14 years.

Palacio, 57, has been writing from this far-flung satellite office – where the Internet is free and the lattes run strong – since August, when he fled Ecuador in a long-running dispute with the president. According to that nation’s courts, Palacio and three directors of his former El Universo newspaper owe President Rafael Correa $42 million and three years of their lives for publishing a scathing editorial about him in February.

On Tuesday, El Universo lost its appeal, but vowed to fight the case in national court or seek international arbitration.

If the ruling is upheld, it would likely bankrupt one of the nation’s oldest and largest newspapers. It would also make the company a powerful symbol of what some say are deteriorating press freedoms in Ecuador, where the administration has dusted off little-used libel laws to target critics with multi-million dollar lawsuits and jail terms.

It’s only now that he is in Miami — dodging an expected subpoena that would require him to reveal a source — that Palacio said he can write what he really thinks.

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