The government's attacks on the press increased in intensity and frequency during the most recent period. The media have been accused of orchestrating and leading opposition to the government. The regulations issued by the executive branch for the Law on Transparency and Freedom of Information, which had been considered a major achievement, have now come into question because they are viewed as an unconstitutional threat to freedom of information. According to analysts, the regulations are fundamentally flawed and therefore unenforceable. President Lucio Gutiérrez issued the regulations on January 12 for the law, which had gone into effect on May 18, 2004. Earlier he had asked the Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Publishers (AEDEP) to submit a draft, which he then ignored. The regulations have been criticized mainly because they could become the primary obstacle to accessing information. They include unconstitutional exceptions to freedom of information that are not established under the law or in the Constitution. According to the text, the exceptions must be specified as such by government officials based on the damage that, in their judgment, the release of the information in question could potentially cause the government. Under the Constitution, regulations may not contradict the content of their corresponding law. There are two ways to amend regulations: 1) the president may change them; or 2) the Constitutional Court , which is controlled by the government, can declare them unconstitutional. In a meeting with President Gutiérrez, the AEDEP requested that the problems in the regulations be corrected. The president stated that he was prepared to do so, and requested that the relevant comments be sent to him. In the past six months the government has escalated its verbal hostility against the press and the opposition. In December President Gutiérrez described press freedom in Ecuador as ?excessive? and denied that any journalists were being persecuted. On January 30, the President called several journalists ?nasty, rotten, shameless, childish stooges.? He later claimed that ? Ecuador has freedom of speech. We haven't shut down any radio stations or arrested any journalists.? Aside from the president's actions, the most visible bearers of verbal hostility against the press are government officials Carlos Arboleda and Bolívar González. They regularly accuse journalists and the media of trying to blackmail the government through contracts, radio frequencies, advertising, and other means. The presidential press secretary, Iván Oña, announced the decision to set up a State Media Consortium, to be based at a television station and at the newly created Ecuadorean National Radio. In February the government began a public campaign of sorts to collect on debts allegedly owed by journalists to the government's Deposit Guaranty Agency (AGD). AGD director Carlos Arboleda levied charges against editor Jaime Mantilla of the Quito newspaper Hoy over a security deposit granted to a third party. Arboleda also targeted Carlos Vera, an on-air interviewer for Ecuavisa in Guayaquil , over the lease contract for his residence, which was signed with a third party. Despite these accusations, the AGD has made no attempt to collect on the alleged debts. Arboleda later sent a written request to the government agency overseeing the private sector that it investigate all companies for which Mantilla is registered as a stockholder, officer, executive or employee. As part of his request, he asked that these companies have their books audited. President Gutiérrez called a meeting to discuss the issue with media executives. Mantilla, who felt he was being persecuted politically, did not go to the meeting; attending in his place was the managing editor of Hoy , who read a letter from Mantilla showing, with documents attached, that he was being persecuted. The president agreed to investigate the matter and give a written response, but he has not yet done so. On January 16, Andrés Mendoza Paladines, news director for the Atalaya radio station, charged that the Office Public Safety had attempted to carry out an ?act of censorship.? An agent under the command of Col. Carlos Velastegui Basantes started asking employees whether the radio station belonged to the Ecuadorean Roldosista Party or the Social Christian Party. Under the pretext that it was a political radio station, the agent also tried to edit press bulletins, but was prevented from doing so by the news director. According to the agent, the visit was to protect the radio station from potential attacks. Orlando Pérez, investigative reporting editor at Hoy , was attacked as he was leaving his home by hooded individuals who warned him at gunpoint that he would be killed if he continued writing unfavorably about government bodies. Pérez filed his complaint immediately, but, according to the newspaper, no investigation has been conducted thus far. The newspaper La Hora Manabita of Portoviejo reported that journalist Jeovanny Benavides was verbally and physically assaulted on Wednesday, December 22 by the bodyguard of Frank Vargas, executive director of the Water Management Regulatory Agency of Manabí (CRM). On January 26 and February 16, the minister of governmental affairs banned charter helicopters from flying over the cities of Guayaquil and Quito , respectively, to cover the marches being carried out against the regime by various opposition groups and society at large. This ban is unprecedented. In turn, the government organized ?countermarches? in support of the president. According to the government's aeronautics authorities, the ban was a technical matter, as the air space was to be used by government security aircraft. In a publicity campaign the government did show its aerial photographs, presumably taken from security aircraft. Journalist and news anchor Carlos Vera of Ecuavisa , in Guayaquil , reported on February 3 that the military had issued a warrant for his arrest for allegedly violating the regulations of the National Radio and Television Council (CONARTEL). However, this action is not provided for under the law. In the early morning of Friday, February 4, an explosive device was set off at the entrance to Canela radio station in Macas, Morona Santiago. The station was partially destroyed. Wilson Cabrera, the radio station's news director, accused the government of carrying out the attack. Employees reported that they had been threatened. The radio station had been critical during recent developments in national politics, such as the change in the Supreme Court made by the Ecudorean Congress with the president's support, as well as the structure of the Constitutional Court and Electoral Council. On February 12 President Gutiérrez described himself as a ?dictocrat,? which he defines as one who is a dictator for the oligarchy and a democrat for the people. President Lucio Gutiérrez effectively controls all three branches of government. In addition to having a majority in Congress based on a coalition of three political parties, he used this body to engineer a complete change in the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and the Board of Elections. Almost all media outlets have claimed that Ecuador is outside the bounds of the Constitution. During this period several politicians have accused the government of ordering physical attacks against them or their families as a way of curtailing their freedom of speech. These attacks include the following: On December 15, shots were fired at the offices of the company owned by Blasco Peñaherrera, the president of the Ecuadorean Federation of Chambers of Commerce and a critic of the administration. On January 12, shots were fired at the residence of opposition legislator Alfonso Harb by individuals who have yet to be identified. A member of his security team was wounded. On January 26 Vice President León Roldós Aguilera was punched and kicked, even after he was down, on the campus of the Central University of Ecuador in Quito , after he gave a talk where he gave his opinion on the signature collection drive led by him to change the court, and where he also expressed strong criticism of the administration. On February 2 shots were fired at the home of the mother of Quito city councilman Antonio Ricuarte, also an opponent of the administration. There are no clues to identity of the perpetrators. In early February, Patricio Acosta, a former minister under the regime, said that the was a victim of political persecution, charging the president with ordering that he be kept under vigilance. He showed photographs as proof. The secretary of information showed videos to prove that these accusations were false, but he could not answer questions about their origin. Acosta himself later said that the government maintains a spy network. On March 4, the director of the Deposit Guaranty Agency (AGD) announced the restructuring of the Guayaquil newspaper El Telégrafo , which was seized by the agency in 2002 from its former owner in order to sell it and pay what he owed to depositors in his failed bank. Carlos Navarrete, the current editor, claims that he owns a majority of the shares in the newspaper, while the government has him registered as owning 15 percent. On March 5, legislator Enrique Ayala, a columnist for El Comercio of Quito , was unharmed after two vehicles cut him off on the road and fired shots at him. The police have no leads in the case. On March 7, the Zero Corruption Front, which is linked to the administration, attacked the offices of Citizen Participation, a nongovernmental organization devoted to defending the Constitution. They painted insulting graffiti against the organization's director, César Montúfar, who is also a columnist for El Comercio in Quito . Several media contributors have reported receiving frequent threats over stories they have written in opposition to the court appointed by Congress. The country is experiencing a wave of violence and intimidation. In the judicial arena, Diego Orellana, co-editor of the magazine El Observador in Cuenca , was ordered by the courts in August 2004 to pay a fine of $20,000 in a libel case brought by the mayor of that city, Fernando Cordero Cueva. Orellana rejected the decision because he feels that his constitutional right to critical opposition was not honored. The government's National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) has prepared the draft telecommunications bill. While the bill has not yet been submitted to Congress, it has already been rejected in part. In the face of widespread criticism of the draft legislation, the bill's authors have stated their willingness to discuss it and insisted that it is merely a draft. The bill would establish that in the event of a national emergency the Armed Forces Joint Command should take over all electronic media outlets and telecommunications services. Among other provisions, the bill would prohibit the use of radio and televisión against the interests of state security, public order, morality, and proper customs. It would also create a Content Committee, which would be responsible for monitoring anything published or broadcast by the media.