Author Topic: What Happened When I Joked About the President of Ecuador  (Read 969 times)

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Offline mayya

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What Happened When I Joked About the President of Ecuador
« on: May 02, 2015, 08:16:57 AM »
What Happened When I Joked About the President of Ecuador

MAY 1, 2015

CreditIllustration by Melinda Josie
President Rafael Correa delivers thesabatina, his address, every Saturday. But I had something else to do that morning. By the time I got home at noon, people had written to me on Twitter, saying that I was going to jail. There was a photo of the president during the sabatina, and on the screen behind him was my logo and a photo of my memes. I’ve always posted satirical political memes on my Facebook page, about the government, about the opposition.

On YouTube, I watched the sabatina. The president said that I was a full-time employee of an opposition political party, paid to work on my Facebook page. He said I had intelligence software similar to the kind used to find Osama bin Laden. He said I was part of the “conservative restoration,” that I was a hater.
A lot of people think I hate the president, but that’s not true. I always used to comment on news sites, but then the president said that there were too many insults in the comments, and instead of hiring a moderator, Ecuadorean news sites just removed the comments section. So I said, “O.K., I’m going to create my own Facebook page, where I can give my opinion; and I’m going to do it differently, with images, with memes.” I decided to make it anonymous.

I came up with a name that was easy to remember. Crudo Ecuador. Raw Ecuador. I created a logo, I bought the domain, I reserved the name on Twitter. And then I started making these satirical memes.
The meme that got me in trouble showed two Ecuadorean immigrants who’d asked the president to take a picture with them in a mall in Amsterdam. In the image you see the president holding a bag with the logo of a store where he was shopping, and the two immigrants are smiling. Behind them you can see the Chanel brand.

I was trying to show the president’s double standard. Months earlier he was talking about the pelucones — that’s what he calls people with money — who buy things online and have a negative impact on national production. So what was the president doing shopping abroad?

After the president’s sabatina, I had thousands of new followers on the Crudo Ecuador Facebook page. I thought everything would blow over soon, but then the president, in a second sabatina, showed the meme again. I was beginning to worry.

A few months before, I registered the Crudo Ecuador brand with the Ecuadorean Institute of Intellectual Property. The I.E.P.I. published the Gaceta, a booklet that shows all the brands that are being registered, including mine.

That’s when things took a dark turn. Some Twitter users began posting I.E.P.I. documents. These documents are supposed to be confidential; they showed my telephone number, my address, my ID number. Then they started posting information from the civil registry. And then, a photo of me in a mall. When I showed my wife the picture, she said, “Hey, this was taken three days ago.” So they’d been following us.

We decided to leave the city. We went to a relative’s house, and while we were there, the guard rang; someone had delivered a bouquet of flowers. Our hostess asked, “For whom?” and the guard said my name. How did they know I was there? The bouquet came with a letter, letting me know that wherever I went, they would be following me. The letter mentioned my children and my wife, by their first and last names.
I decided to stop updating the Facebook page. But things didn’t end there. I kept getting messages with threats, saying things like, “You’ll hear from us soon,” or “I think you’re waiting for another bouquet.”
On Twitter, I called out the minister of the interior, sending him screen shots of the threats. People also started pressuring him, retweeting me. A few days later, he said that there would be an investigation. But nothing happened. In an interview, a Ministry official said that it was harder to guarantee my safety if I was adamant about remaining anonymous. So I decided to go public.

If the government would guarantee my safety, I would start updating the page again. But the authorities just avoid the issue. I haven’t updated the page since February. Freedom of expression is increasingly controlled. We’re losing space where we can speak our minds, whether we are wrong or right.

A lot of people who used to harass me through internal messages on the page support me now. They’ve realized that I’m a normal person and not the dangerous and destabilizing person the president said I was. I used to think that this government was the lesser of two evils. But I can’t say that anymore.

Gabriel González, 31, is the creator of Crudo Ecuador, a Facebook page with satirical memes. This story was told in Spanish and adapted from a Radio Ambulante podcast to be broadcast this month.

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A version of this article appears in print on May 3, 2015, on page MM42 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Sabado Gigante . Today's Paper|Subscribe