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Ecuador President Rafael Correa threatens to abolish print newspapers

The decision comes soon after the president was challenged in the press for abandoning a plan to keep Yasuni National Park off limits for oil drilling.

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Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks during a press conference in Quevedo, 200km southeast of Quito on June 27, 2013. (RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has threatened to force the country’s newspapers to go digital-only to "save paper."

The decision comes soon after the president was challenged in the press for abandoning a plan to keep Yasuni National Park off limits for oil drilling in exchange for a $3.6 billion payment from international donors, Fox News reported.

Not enough donors came forward to fund the initiative, so Correa announced last week that he will now ask congress to back oil drilling in the Yasuni, an Amazonian park with tremendous biodiversity, Sky News said.

The leftist president says that in the absence of foreign money, expanding the country’s oil production is necessary to fund his government’s heavy spending on welfare, health, education and infrastructure projects.

Ecuador’s newspapers, owned by Correa’s political opponents, criticized the about-face. In addition to his digital threat, Correa has responded to critics with aggressive sarcasm.

"Now the big 'environmentalists' are the newspaper businesses,” Correa tweeted in Spanish on Aug. 19, Politico reported. “Well, if it goes to a popular referendum, we also propose the newspapers go solely digital to save paper and avoid so much indiscriminate cutting of trees. We'll see who is who."

"Do not be fooled,” he continued on Twitter. “There are groups that are politicizing the Yasuní-ITT to finally 'beat' the government, and manipulate the young, especially.”

GlobalPost senior South America correspondent, Simeon Tegel, said in a country where many newspaper readers don’t have access to computers or smartphones, “the move, if Correa fulfills his threat, would likely be the end of Ecuador's free press.”

“It is vintage Correa,” Tegel said from Lima, Peru. “Shooting the messenger whenever there is negative media coverage of his government — in this case responding to journalistic questioning of his green credentials by accusing the papers of being even more unsustainable.

"The Yasuni plan was never likely to fly — who, after all, is about to give away billions in return for a bit of green kudos? — but has helped shield Correa from accusations of plundering Ecuador's rainforests for oil, albeit not sufficiently for the touchy president's liking.”

More from GlobalPost: Ecuador libel case pits Correa against the press

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/130821/ecuador-president-rafael-correa-threatens-abolish-print-newspa