Translation: Correa vs. Crudo
Daniel Alarcón: Did you know NPR has an app? It’s called NPR One and it offers the best from public radio and beyond. News, local stories, and your favorite podcasts. NPR One joins you this Thanksgiving while you travel or wait in line or wait for a friend. Find us on NPR One in your app store.
Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Now that we’re part of NPR, we want to present our new audience some of our favorite stories. Let’s start with this one…
Journalists: President Cristina Fernández has fired up social media with a tweet sent from Pekín…Where she joked about Chinese citizens’ accent when they speak Spanish…She says the following: “more than a 1000 assisted to the event, could they be from the Cámpola? And they just came for the aloz (rice) and the petloleo (oil)?” and well…
Daniel Alarcón: Maybe you remember this news report, about a racist tweet by the Argentinean president Cristina Fernández. It went around the world and everyone was shocked, for obvious reasons…Around those days I was talking to a friend about the strange phenomenon of Latin American presidents in social media.
It’s strange, because it’s so different in other parts of the world…It’s hard to imagine, let’s say, Barack Obama, with his cellphone in his pocket, sending tweets. Obama’s account is professional, diplomatic. And very boring. Official statements in 140 characters. But you read the barbarity that Cristina wrote…and well, it’s obvious that she wrote it herself.
That’s because politicians in our countries, compared to most in the rest of the world, use their own voice in social media.
“Santos can leave us for decades between the Farc, Maduro and Castro”, from Álvaro Uribe Vélez
“It seems that there is more care and concern about the wellbeing of pets than for the life and dignity of children that are about to be born” Sebastián Piñera
“Please abstain from the headline “Waterfall of tweets from CFK”, more creativity guys, 2015 just begun. Sorry, and ladies too,” Cristina Fernández.
“At a meeting that lasted almost 5 hours, I listened closely to the demands and concerns from the relatives of the Ayotzinapa students,” Enrique Peña Nieto.
“If you only knew the great fish soup that I had for lunch, and sweet plantains with rice. Forgive me if some of you haven’t had lunch yet,” Hugo Chávez.
So we started to look into this. We wanted to understand this phenomenon and Silvia Viñas, an editor at Radio Ambulante, found an interesting case in Ecuador…
Rafael Correa: What a joy to start this new work year! It’s been so long…we’re back. What a joy!
Silvia Viñas: Look, this is one of the videos that I found of President Rafael Correa. He’s in one of his Saturday addresses, or “Citizen Link” (Enlace Ciudadano), which is basically a report of what the government is doing that president Correa delivers every Saturday. It’s transmitted by radio and television.
And during his address on Saturday, January 17, 2015, Correa starts talking about an internet personality called Crudo Ecuador. During that time, Crudo had almost 300 thousand followers in Facebook and he made fun of the country’s politics, but it seems that the president didn’t like those jokes so much. Here Correa refers him, even though he makes a mistake, and calls him Cruel Ecuador.
Rafael Correa: For instance, this Cruel Ecuador, he’s paid, right? He is part of…we are now investigating. He is linked to a political party and all that, and systematically he works on this, he lives for this. Yeah, this guy is paid full-time.
Silvia Viñas: What president Correa said there, is that Crudo was part media attack, coordinated by his political enemies.
Daniel Alarcón: And to hear his side of the story…
Silvia Viñas: We decided to call him…
Crudo Ecuador: Hello?
Daniel Alarcón: Welcome to Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Silvia Viñas: And I’m Silvia Viñas.
Daniel Alarcón: Today: Correa vs. Crudo. The strange story of a virtual fight between a the creator of a Facebook page and his president, a fight that became too real.
Silvia Viñas: This is how Crudo describes himself:
Crudo Ecuador: I am a man, you can say, somewhat young, I’m around 30 years old; I have a family, married, with two children. I think I’m a very traditional person. Very calm, very quiet also…
Silvia Viñas: He might be calm and quiet, but his personality online was the opposite. His page, Crudo Ecuador, is a satirical page with memes that he started on Facebook in 2012.
Daniel Alarcón: For those who don’t know what a meme is, it is difficult to define, but it is basically a funny image that becomes viral. If you use Facebook or Twitter, you have seen many memes, for sure, like the ones that Crudo Ecuador makes: Edited images, with a funny text, or somewhat funny, that criticizes or makes fun of situations or well-known personalities.
Silvia Viñas: Before starting his page of memes, Crudo liked to comment in Ecuadorian news sites. His comments were polemic. People would respond and start debating, and—yes—they would fight.
Daniel Alarcón: It’s a basic reality of Ecuadorian and Latin American politics, of course—that people are always fighting. In the Ecuadorian case, the fight circles around one question: are you in favor of President Rafael Correa, or are you against.
Crudo Ecuador: Are you a correista or not a correista. You are white or black, there is no “I like this, but I don’t like that”. You or are you’re not and if you’re not, you attack the other.
Silvia Viñas: And Crudo knows these attacks very well. Before he started his page, he would comment in news sites using his Facebook profile. Anyone could see his name and see his pictures, at least the ones that are public: the profile and cover photo.
Crudo Ecuador: But there was always someone that was kind of out of place that would come out and say: “Well, now I know who you are”, and would see my pictures, “Ah, and then I know that you work here. You’ll see, one of these days I’m going to find you, and I’ll hit you…”
Daniel Alarcón: In internet slang, these users are called “trolls”, people who comment or send tweets with the intention, basically, to annoy people. They provoke you so that you respond and start a fight, with them, or between you and other users. They are like Internet bullies, or cyberbullies. The more you feed them, or, the more you respond, the more they bother you. For Crudo this was simply part of the political discussion, a risk that he assumed when he left comments. But it was all good.
Silvia: Until something changed in June of 2013, when a controversial Communications Law was passed:
Journalists: The bill for the Communications Law was approved after 4 years of polemic and intense debate inside the National Assembly…The initiative, pushed by Rafael Correa’s government, seeks to end what they consider a media monopoly, which they accuse of being used by national sectors like an instrument of abuse…
Daniel Alarcón: The law has several controversial points and is very complex—it has more than 100 articles. Supporters say the law democratizes the media space, and the critics say exactly the opposite: that it’s a gag law that persecutes journalists.
Silvia Viñas: And well, for the purposes of our story, the law also refers to the comments left on news sites. If someone leaves anonymous comments that slander someone, for instance, now the media outlets is responsible for those comments and can get in trouble with the government.
So, as Crudo tells us:
Crudo Ecuador: Instead of hiring a moderator, what newspapers did was remove the comments section and people can’t comment in the news site.
Daniel Alarcón: They took away what Crudo liked the most: the ability to comment. So he decided to do something.
Crudo Ecuador: So I said, “Well, I’m going to create my own page where I can comment, and give my opinion, and I am going to do it in a different way…with images
Daniel Alarcón: And to avoid exposing himself like before, he decided to make it anonymous. This is where you can see his background with computers, because he started to build a digital media strategy: he found a name that was easy to remember. He researched if the url and email were available, designed a logo, and reserved the username in several social networks.
Silvia Viñas: During the first day he published around 15 memes in his new Facebook page. And that’s how, on July 28, 2012, Crudo Ecuador was born.
Daniel Alarcón: In the page you can find a little bit of everything: memes about Valentine’s Day, memes about the police, about football, about politics…
Silvia Viñas: Even about public health, like a meme from last year with a picture that someone sent him with a document.
Crudo Ecuador: Which showed that a citizen was given a medical appointment at the Social Security Hospital for 2020.
Daniel Alarcón: A medical appointment for 5 years later!
Silvia Viñas: Crudo verified that the picture of the document was official—from the Ecuadorian Institute for Social Security, the public entity that administers the hospital—and researching a little, he found in Facebook the man that who had asked for the appointment. And it was true.
Daniel Alarcón: The funniest thing was: for this medical appointment that was so far away, the paper from the IESS asked the patient to come in 15 minutes early.
Crudo Ecuador: So I decided to make a meme with the medical appointment that was given to this man.
Silvia Viñas: At this point, November of 2014, Crudo already had over 250,000 followers.
Daniel Alarcón: The meme shows a stock photo of a random man grabbing his chest, like he’s having a heart attack. Below there is a picture of the document for the appointment in the IESS. The meme says: “Calm down heart…I already asked for a medical appointment at the IESS…for February 21 of 2020!”
Silvia Viñas: This meme—making fun of the system and its deficiency—went viral in a matter of minutes.
Crudo Ecuador: The next day the same man writes and asks me to remove that meme, saying that everything got fixed, and that it had just been an inconvenience, and all that. And I told him that was strange, what had happened?
Daniel Alarcón: Apparently someone from the Institute saw the commotion that Crudo’s meme caused.
Crudo Ecuador: They call this man, they tell him to go to the Institute of Social Security, and they give him an appointment for two hours later. What he had for 5 years later, they gave him for two hours later.
Silvia Viñas: And with situations like this one, Crudo realized that his Facebook page actually had some influence, and he says that this gave him a sense of satisfaction. But he also says that for him the page was always like a hobby. He gave it his spare time. He would read the news in the morning while he had breakfast and later publish a meme about a headline that he saw. He would create a new meme every 2 to 3 days.
Daniel Alarcón: But he says that what he liked the most, more than doing memes, was to read the comments that they would generate.
Crudo Ecuador: Of course, for instance there was an image that had one thousand comments, two thousand comments, and that’s where the debate started, right? If something told me: “Hey, why are you so stupid? You put this, why would you think this way?” I didn’t delete it, I didn’t block it, I just left it there. I would even ‘like’ the insult the person left.
Daniel Alarcón: Because of his previous experiences commenting on news sites, and because of this polarized environment we talked about earlier, Crudo decided to be cautious. He wanted to avoid trouble, so every meme included this disclaimer:
Crudo Ecuador: The images shown here don’t represent reality. Everything is fictitious. Anything that is close to reality is a mere coincidence. It’s recommended for people with a formed opinion. If you don’t like the content of the page, please don’t look at it. Crudo Ecuador is not responsible for the comments and opinions of the users in this page. If you feel wronged by this image, write to email@example.com. God, homeland and liberty”.
Daniel Alarcón: But it seems that not everyone took the liberty to read this warning. Or maybe not everyone shared the same sense of humor.
Silvia Viñas: Crudo had already published memes about Correa and other politicians, but he had never gotten in trouble. Until a particular meme caught the President’s attention…
Crudo chose a picture he found in the Internet…
Crudo Ecuador: The picture showed two Ecuadorian migrants who had asked the president to take a picture with them in a mall in Amsterdam.
Daniel Alarcón: In the picture you can see Correa with a serious face, and a big bag, filled with things he bought and a logo of a store. The two Ecuadorians, next to the President, were all smiles.
Crudo Ecuador: Behind you can see…signs with discounts and the logo for the Chanel store.
Silvia Viñas: Well, I don’t think we need to explain why the picture of the Latin American leftist president, on vacation in a European mall, is perfect material for a meme.
Daniel Alarcón: And for Correa, the meme that Crudo made with this picture, wasn’t funny at all. Here he is during his Saturday address, reading the text that Crudo added in the picture.
Correa: SoThen, “for the big shots (pelucones) who buy from the internet and are affecting national production, Tax: 42 dollars. They are pelucones who bring things from abroad. We will not allow it. But to be found shopping in a luxurious mall in Europe is priceless”.
Silvia Viñas: Ok, here we have to explain some things. First: “Pelucones” is like saying “pitucos” or “gomelos” or “fresas” –in other words: people with money.
Daniel Alarcón: Secondly: in 2014 in Ecuador they started charging $42 dollar tax for things online from abroad.
Crudo Ecuador: In the meme what I was trying to point out was the doublespeak, right? I mean, whether the president buys things abroad doesn’t really matter.
Daniel Alarcón: Correa obviously defended himself. He said that the mall wasn’t luxurious; that he didn’t go in to go shopping, but instead to escape the Dutch cold, and that he bought a gift for his daughter’s friend.
Rafael Correa: Some migrants found me, “President! A picture!” perfect. There they put “Correa shopping in a luxurious mall”. It wasn’t a luxurious mall and I wasn’t shopping. And people who know me start laughing because they know that what I hate the most is to go shopping, right?
Do not kid yourselves with all of these infamous media campaigns. But we have to confront them and we are already getting prepared for it. If they are a thousand, we are a hundred thousand, we are more, many more!
Daniel Alarcón: Generally Crudo listened the Saturday addresses, but he didn’t listen to this one. When he got on Twitter, he had messages like “Crudo, now you’re going to jail”.
Crudo Ecuador: So I said, “What happened?” and they had put the picture from the Saturday address and on the screen behind you could see my logo and an image of my pictures.
Slvia Viñas: Crudo is referring to a picture of one of his memes, not a picture of himself.
Crudo Ecuador: So I got really worried, because I said: “the president talked about me, what’s going on?”
Daniel Alarcón: But When Crudo heard the recording from the Saturday addresses, he calmed down a little bit…
Crudo Ecuador: …because I didn’t hear anything from the president saying that I will go to jail or something like that, but simply…
Rafael Correa: Here, we need the support from the people, because we are more, many more…
Crudo Ecuador: He called on people to go to my page to tell me that I am a liar.
Rafael Correa: “Enough! We are here to support the president and the citizen’s revolution”.
Crudo Ecuador: So I felt better, confident…
Rafael Correa: Maybe in the next Citizen Link I will tell you about it. We will have many actors in social media…
Crudo Ecuador: I said, “Well, then nothing else is going to happen, people from social media are going to come to attack my page…and…and it won’t go further than that.”
Rafael Correa: So the people…it’s the people who need to refute so many lies and abuse from social media.
Silvia Viñas: The impact was immediate. Crudo says that normally on Facebook he had a growth of 10,000 monthly followers. But during the week of the Saturday talk, it grew to a 100,000 more followers.
Daniel Alarcón: And he assumed that it would amount to anything. A few more followers, a little bit of attention from the Saturday address, and that’s it. He decided to continue with his page.
Silvia Viñas: Crudo apologized to Correa, but in his own way…with another meme that included a very ironic apology. And he recalled that text that always accompanies his memes clearly explains that everything is a joke…
Crudo Ecuador: “The images shown do not represent reality”
Silvia Viñas:…that what the memes say is not reality.
Crudo Ecuador: How could he say that I’m lying when I’m saying that I’m lying. So no…it didn’t make sense to accuse me of defamation.
Daniel Alarcón: During that week people kept commenting about the issue on social media. Crudo received threats from those who defended Correa, but also messages supporting him. His case made national news, but Crudo thought that attention wouldn’t last too long, and like it usually happens, the media focus would soon change to something else…
Rafael Correa: A lie is not a joke! Only the truth will set us free, and you can’t insult…
Silvia Viñas: But during the Saturday address on January 24, so, a week after the first time he mentions him, Correa scolds some Twitter users who had insulted him—but this time he shows their pictures and personal information—like where they live…
Rafael Correa: …22 years old, and lives in Guayaquil. Let’s see the tweet the she sent to the president of the republic…
Silvia Viñas: Their age and their full name.
Rafael Correa: Let’s continue, we identified another Twitter user…
Daniel Alarcón: He did it with several users…
Silvia Viñas: And after that, the president dedicates more time to Crudo…
Rafael Correa: Let’s see this little angel with his ironies, satire and “Correa can’t stand it!” They want to confuse, defame us, slander, lie, with satire, etc. A systematic campaign to smear our reputation with satire and irony. No dear friends, they aren’t going to lie to us, we are not such idiots for this.
Daniel Alarcón: The president again talks about the meme with his picture in the mall in Amsterdam, and again says that it’s slander and a lie. But this time he is more direct, and he calls on citizens to identify the person behind Crudo Ecuador.
Rafael Correa: We are going to identify this person, to see if he is so funny when we find out who he is.
We have our Communications Law. Not only the government, the president; each of you can defend the truth, can defend the honor, the dignity of the people.
Let’s see if when we find the name of this person, if he’s going to continue to be funny! Or if he’s a simple coward that hides in anonymity to insult and to vent his hate…We’re more! We’re many more! And here we are going to lead the honest, not some scoundrels.
Daniel Alarcón: Silvia, I have to interrupt you here. There’s something I don’t understand. Why does he respond? Why doesn’t he have a little bit of a sense of humor? Isn’t there someone that can counsel him and tell him, “Mashi, dear friend, calm down. Don’t get involved in this, you are the president!”
Silvia Viñas: Well, I asked that same question to Christian Espinosa, an Ecuadorian journalist who is an expert in social media and who for many years has followed how Correa uses social media.
Christian Espinosa: The president reacts in the heat of the moment, and I don’t know, I think he needs advice so that he realizes that by making a big deal out of things like that he’s just hurting himself.
Silvia Viñas: Do people talk about how much tolerance the Ecuadorian president has? Is it like an issue…?
Christian Espinosa: Constantly, since he started his presidency. It is an old issue and people are already tired of talking about that.
Silvia Viñas: Correa started to use his Twitter account @mashirafael in July of 2011, although he opened it a year earlier. In May 2013, he had over a million followers, and now he has over 2 million.
Christian Espinosa: Well, the first thing that drew attention was that he dedicated his time to respond to people, and this is something that normally presidents when they use Twitter don’t do.
Daniel Alarcón: Of course, Obama doesn’t do that, and Merkel doesn’t either. But @MashiRafael does. And he does it…
Christian Espinosa: …with a phrase that has become well known, which is “please take care of it”
Daniel Alarcón: If a citizen writes to Correa with a problem or a complaint, the president answers with “please take care of it”, naming the public servant who can help this person. It looks like in Correa’s government everyone uses Twitter.
Silvia Viñas: Christian pointed me to a study from 2014 that shows Correa as the third world leader that interacts the most with his followers. Only the presidents of Rwanda and Ugandan do it more. More than 80% of the tweets that Correa sends are answers to other Twitter users.
Christian Espinosa: By having a direct interaction with the users, if you notice, today in Ecuador there is a positive phenomenon that doesn’t happen in other countries, or that I haven’t seen.
Silvia Viñas: Yes, of course it’s something positive. The problem, according to Christian, is that Correa has never known how to distinguish between a troll and a user that’s making an argument. Or between a troll and someone using satire.
Daniel Alarcón: And it becomes inevitable to go into the topic of censorship and freedom of expression.
Christian Espinosa: So this is where people complain, right? Because they say, “why is he fighting with a meme account?”
So to ask people to uncover who he is is to make the problem bigger than it is, it’s to make people believe that you are censoring him, it gives wings to the opposition, and that is what happened. A page that had 200,000 followers made the national media’s agenda.
Silvia Viñas: And a few days later, the case of Correa vs. Crudo Ecuador was not only a national issue; media like Aljazeera or El País from Spanish covered it too.
Daniel Alarcón: And well, in fact, it got to the United States…
John Oliver: Finally tonight, a quick word about Ecuador. Ecuador’s president is Rafael Correa a charismatic leader who once a week…
Daniel Alarcón: That’s John Oliver, a British comedian who hosts one of most popular comedy news shows in The United States.
John Oliver: Stop googling yourself, you’re the president of Ecuador!
Silvia Viñas: The video where John Oliver makes fun of Correa and his reaction to Crudo and to the other Twitter users went viral. In YouTube there are several subtitled versions in Spanish—and it’s very funny.
Daniel Alarcón: But—oh what a surprise—Correa didn’t think it was funny, and he responded to Oliver with several tweets, that said things like:
“Subject John Oliver: too much noise for so little nuts. Those American “talk shows” are as obnoxious as a diuretic, and an English comedian is an oxymoron.”
And another tweet: “They are making famous someone who probably thinks that the capital of Ecuador is Kuala Lumpur. He doesn’t deserve a second of our time. Hugs for everyone”
Silvia Viñas: And a campaign on Twitter was started, inviting John Oliver to visit Ecuador with the hashtag #JohnYouAreInvited, so that the comedian can see all the positive things the country has to offer.
Daniel Alarcón: It seems president Correa can’t resist it. He has a need to respond to all of his critics, whether they’re Ecuadorian citizens that make memes or British comedians with TV shows.
Daniel Alarcón: You’re listening to Radio Ambulante, I’m Daniel Alarcon.
Silvia Viñas: And I’m Silvia Viñas. Today we’re talking about a virtual war between an anonymous citizen, whose alias was Crudo Ecuador, and his president, Rafael Correa.
Daniel Alarcón: While all this happened with John Oliver, Correa’s sympathizers, like he had asked them, were mobilizing to identify who was the person behind Crudo Ecuador.
Silvia Viñas: Yes, and Crudo started to receive even more threats than he was used to: that they were going to find him, that they were going for all his family…But, to understand what happened next, we have to go back a little bit.
Daniel Alarcón: In November 2014—months before what happened with Correa—Crudo already had more 200,000 followers in Facebook, he was making quite a few enemies, and someone had created a fake Facebook page using the same name. So Facebook started asking Crudo for documents that demonstrated that Crudo Ecuador was his brand. Crudo wasn’t registered officially; so he hired a lawyer to do the paperwork with the Ecuadorian Intellectual Property Institute.
Crudo Ecuador: And it was just my bad luck that after the government starts this battle against my page, the Gaceta is published, which is a booklet that makes public the brands that are being registered. And my brand and those who are registering it appear there. So among those that were registering it was the lawyer I had hired for this.
Silvia Viñas: And to make things worse, the lawyer that he had hired, an expert in intellectual property, his name was Pablo Solines—he is the brother of Juan Carlos Solines, a politician from the political party CREO, from the opposition, who was a vice presidential candidate. So, of course, Correa’s supporters who were investigating Crudo immediately made their conclusions:
Crudo Ecuador: So because of that they started saying that I was being paid by that political party, that this proved I was linked to that party, when it didn’t have anything to do with that, because all of the services were invoiced, they charged me ahead of time, meaning that I paid them, they didn’t pay me anything.
SV: People started tweeting “#CrudoesCREO”, referring to the political party that the brother of Crudo’s lawyer belonged to.
Daniel Alarcón: In a polarized country like Ecuador, it’s easy to see why this connection between Crudo and his lawyer looks bad. But you know what? Maybe that’s not even the point. Crudo says that he doesn’t work for CREO, and after these months investigating this story, we haven’t found reason to not believe him. But let’ suppose he did work for a political party. So what? A political party can’t make satire about the president on Facebook?
On the hand. Crudo was convinced that whoever was behind these efforts to find him were not common citizens:
Crudo Ecuador: Well you see, this is kind of funny, right? Because according to the government, Internet users were going to find me, as if they were psychics and said “ah no, I know who it is”, and it was the government who had a hand in this.
Silvia Viñas: Immediately after the extract of the Crudo Ecuador brand registration came out in the Gaceta, on Twitter people started publishing documents that Pablo Solines—Crudo’s lawyer—had uploaded to the Intellectual Property Institute website. They were published by an anonymous Twitter account called @elpatriotaec, clearly a pro-government account.
Crudo Ecuador: That shows my phone numbers, address, my ID number and things like that. Then they start to publish information from the civil registry: the names of my parents… And that’s where they started to violate my rights.
Daniel Alarcón: And they got to this information even though Crudo had registered the brand under his wife’s name, not his…
Silvia Viñas: I tried to speak to a government official to ask them for their version of everything that happened with Crudo. But I only got Fernando Alvarado, who is the Secretary of Communication, to answer some questions via email. When I asked him what the government says against the accusation that they were involved in this type of witch-hunt to see who was behind Crudo Ecuador, Alvarado answered with one word: “False”.
We don’t know how they got the information that was registered in the Intellectual Property Institute. To know that, the government would have to carry out an investigation. But I talked to the lawyer Crudo hired to do the paperwork, Pablo Solines. He told me that for him, the most grave and worrisome of it all is that only he and the Intellectual Property Institute have access to those documents he uploaded –he uploaded them with a username and password that only he knows.
Daniel Alarcón: But they didn’t only publish personal information. They also posted a picture of Crudo, and it wasn’t a picture that they could’ve gotten from a Facebook profile or something like that…it was something more macabre.
Silvia Viñas: Ironically—or maybe on purpose—it’s a picture in a mall…
Crudo Ecuador: So you can tell that they were following me to take a picture of me. So that’s when I get scared, right? You start looking out to window, seeing if there’s a strange car or something, right? And my family also starts to get scared, because I was supposedly confident that this was not going to happen, because the president had said that I hadn’t committed a crime.
Daniel Alarcón: After all that, Crudo decided to leave the city with his family to be far away from everything.
Silvia Viñas: And he continued to get threats on Twitter, but also messages from people who supported him, Internet users who were appalled by everything that was happening.
Daniel Alarcón: Until at noon on February 19, a month after president Correa had mentioned Crudo for the first time in his Saturday address…
Crudo Ecuador: The security guard from the complex where we were staying rings the doorbell and says that there’s flowers…
Daniel Alarcón: A big bouquet of flower with a letter directed to Crudo…But with his real name, his legal name…
Crudo Ecuador: So obviously at that moment we imagined the worst, right? Like, how come? I was supposed to be hiding there. How did they get there where I was?
Silvia Viñas: The letter that came with the flowers mentions Crudo’s wife, with her first and last names, and the names of his children too.
We asked Crudo to read it…
Crudo Ecuador: With satisfaction I have to confess that for me it is a pleasure to find you in the province of Guyas, enjoying your well-deserved vacation, which will bring a moment of relaxation and a break from all the stress that comes from your–in quotations and in bold it said “not so righteous activities”. Then it said: “Believe me that you will always count with our interest while your courage lasts. Sincerely,” – and they put the logo from the Crudo Ecuador page.
Daniel Alarcón: A few hours later, Crudo published a picture with the letter and the flowers, and then an image with a black background, with white and yellow letters saying “Dear President – #YouWon”. And that day he published his last post in the Crudo Ecuador page.
Silvia Viñas: Crudo went to a prosecutor to file a complaint, but it wasn’t accepted. They told him that the flowers and the letter were not threatening. Two days later, on February 21, Correa mentioned Crudo for the last time in his Saturday address:
Rafael Correa: I’m sorry if there were excess, and we completely reject that, right? but the excesses have come from another side. And be careful, if it’s true what they say about the flowers, etc, it’s probably people that want to damage the government, but the excesses came from somewhere else, right?
Daniel Alarcón: For Crudo it was clear that the campaign against him continued. Even though he had stopped posting memes, he kept getting threats. And although these threats were supposedly being investigated, according to the Ministry of Interior, as long as Crudo remained anonymous, it was hard to move forward.
Silvia Viñas: Of course, the names, last names and much more were already being shared in social media. But Crudo had never publicly confirmed his identity. Actually, when we started to investigate this story and we talked to him for the first time, he asked us not to used his real name…But on March 22, while were researching his story, this news broke:
Journalist: After being anonymous for the last years, today, exclusively for Día a Día, he shows his face to tell us about Crudo Ecuador…
Silvia Viñas: So I called him again.
Crudo Ecuador: Hello.
Silvia Viñas: Hello.
Crudo Ecuador: Hi, how are you Silvia?
Silvia Viñas: Good and you?
Crudo Ecuador: I am good too thank you…
Silvia Viñas: I talked to him a few days after he gave that interview on television, in Teleamazonas. We wanted to know why he had decided to go public, now officially.
Crudo Ecuador: Once I decided to leave the page, there, without updating it, things didn’t end there, because I continued to receive threats, saying, “very soon you’ll hear from us”, “I think you’re waiting to get another bouquet”. So that started to bother me. And, I mean, things were already like…the damage was already done, you know?
Daniel Alarcón: So he talked it over with his wife, and when the channel Teleamazonas contacted him to do an interview, he accepted.
Journalist: Why have you decided to show your face now. Why expose yourself to the public? Why did you decided to do this?
Crudo Ecuador: It’s not that I decided to expose myself…
Silvia Viñas: In the interview he says a lot of the things that we mention here. But on Skype he told me that to leave behind his anonymity in such a public way had a positive effect that he didn’t expect.
Crudo Ecuador: It was better after I appeared there. I saw comments from many people that maybe didn’t understand before what happened and just now realized how things went down. Many people had the image that the president had created of me, that I was a dangerous destabilizer, almost a secret agent or something like that. So they realized that I’m just a normal and common citizen.
Hi, I’m Gabriel Gonzales, I am 32 years old, and here in Ecuador they know me more as Crudo Ecuador.
Silvia Viñas: Since the last time I spoke to him, Gabriel hadn’t received any messages from the Ministry of Interior about that alleged investigation on the threats. So I contacted the Ministry of Interior, to ask them to give me any updates about the state of that investigation. Today, when we were recording this, they still haven’t responded.
Daniel Alarcón: And, how can we understand this? Well, the Internet is an ideal platform for freedom of expression, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. In Russia, for example, president Putin recently prohibited the use of memes that use public figures. And in Ecuador, it’s not that they’ve been prohibited, exactly…But when the president uses his position to intimidate his critics, let’s say that is not an ideal situation for humor, and much less for dialogue…
Without a doubt, Crudo sees it this way.
Crudo Ecuador: It wasn’t just against my page, but in reality the president is winning through the fear he is instilling in people. And if we let this continue, we are going to have less places to say what we think, whether we are wrong or not wrong, right?
Silvia Viñas: For now, Gabriel says that he will keep his Crudo Ecuador page closed—meaning, without any updates.