Correa’s Cyberwar

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“It’s true. Not only are your jokes known all over the world, but you are becoming known all over the world as a joke.” John Oliver’s response to Rafael Correa, February 15, 2015.

The self-styled ”revolutionary” Government of Ecuador began its cyber war in 2011, when bloggers and tweeters started to question state-level corruption and lies. That year, a public prosecutor became the war’s first protagonist by jailing a blogger. Subsequent dissenting cyber voices faced the Ecuadoran President himself, who responded with insults, deemed them ‘insolent’ and ordered operatives to track them down.

Read in Spanish in:www.planv.com.ec

Blogger detained (April 3, 2011). In 2011, Ecuador’s Government held a referendum with the aim of approving a constitutional assembly. Víctor Vizcaíno Luzuriaga was a member of Movimiento Libertario, an organization which campaigned for the public to reject the proposed assembly. As he left his Guayaquil home on April 3, Vizcaíno was arrested for presumed offenses written in his blog against the Attorney General of the State, Pesántez Washington.

On May 4, Vizcaino was released on the conditions that he must not approach Pesántez or his family; must not initiate any acts of intimidation; and must present himself to the Prosecutor of Guayas every ten days. It seemed the story would end there, but a warrant for Vizcaino’s arrest was issued on November 30 because “he did not comply with the precautionary measures ordered by the Public Prosecutor”.

Tweeter threatened (November 19, 2011). Fernando Cordero, then President of the National Assembly, issued a warning to tweeter Betty Escobar, a columnist for the newspaper El Universo. Escobar, an Ecuadoran residing in the US, had tweeted about Cordera “you are inept, you break laws and support a dictator! You should be jailed, you and Correa, for corruption! You have no principles! Double standard.” Cordero responded, “Read Article 18 of the Constitution, try to understand what liability means, change your language or regret your licentiousness”.

Insults and death of a journalist (July 10, 2010). Guayaquileño television journalist Fausto Valdiviezo had been critical of the way TC Television was managed after it passed into State control. Instead of investigating Valdiviezo’s complaint, President Rafael Correa mocked the journalist, saying “there’s a disruptive little dwarf … I don’t know why they haven’t taken him off (the channel). He is a bad element …”. On April 11, 2013, a channel executive asked Valdiviezo to resign. Two days later, he was shot and murdered by three hooded men as he left his mother’s home in the Atarazana neighborhood of Guayaquil.

Threat reaches the US (April 11, 2014). On April 7, Betty Escobar (@basoledispa on Twitter) received a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates, delivered to her New York residence. With the gifts was a printed message: “Your friends in Ecuador will visit you soon.” That same day, similar messages were delivered to the homes of Escobar’s parents and aunt in Guayaquil. In response, on April 11, Escobar denounced the Public Prosecutor of Guayas, through attorney Joffre Campaña.

Tweeter arrested (November 24, 2011). On November 19, President Rafael Correa claimed to have received death threats via Twitter. As an example, he mentioned tweeter @wacker600, who had written: “Hail Caesar, whom we will kill! Hail MashiRafael, whom we will kill, we salute you!”. Five days later Javier Genovez Solano, 44 years old, was arrested in Cuenca. At the Flagrancy Control hearing, he admitted writing the messages and publicly apologized to the President. “It was an outburst, an error on my part,” he said. Almost 24 hours later, he was released.

Brought to trial (August 22, 2012). In response to @GSanAndres’s tweet, “@MashiRafael you are immoral! You want to take over the assembly! Pathological liar and thief,” Correa ordered the National Intelligence Secretary to “please investigate these insults to the President and take legal action.” The tweeter was spared a jail sentence because “the account had already been deleted by its owner”.  

Detained (November 30, 2012). Blogger Paul Moreno, known on Twitter as @PaulCoyote, had demonstrated vulnerabilities in the Registry of Public Data, a system managed by the State. Instead of the Government congratulating and rewarding Moreno for pointing out the security flaw, he was arrested in Riobamba, Chimborazo, and charged with “fraudulent access to information systems & databases”.

Further accusations (May 28, 2013). President Rafael Correa asked the Public Prosecutor to investigate a tweet sent by Danny Ayala (@DayalaEc) on March 5. The text read: “RT now if you want Correa to die.” Correa stated “the message could be considered by any user of the said social network as incitement to make an attempt against my life. In view of my current duties, this would clearly constitute an assassination”.

US channel & Colombian journalist censored (November 23, 2012). The Ecuadoran Government prevented a documentary by Colombian-American journalist Santiago Villa from being aired in the US. The documentary, ‘Rafael Correa: Portrait of a Nation’s Father’ exposed issues such as the FARC’s alleged financial contributions to Correa’s presidential campaign; the events of September 30, 2010; and the Government’s war against freedom of expression. However, despite the Government’s interference, the documentary was available to view on the website Bananaleaks.com. The same site also published a report on several high ranking officials who shared a doctoral thesis to obtain a PhD.

Program closure (November 24, 2012). Journalist Andrés Carrión interviewed Santiago Villa as part of his show “Going back with Andrés Carrión” on the Armónica de Quito radio station. This was inconvenient for station owner Jorge Yunda, a candidate for Congress in Correa’s Alianza País party. After the interview, Yunda called Carrión to cancel the show, telling him “that we could not continue; the program had to close, that it was better to leave without further tensions and difficulties …”.

“Bananaleaks” is sabotaged (January 28, 2013). The information portal ‘BananaLeaks.com’ exposed the alleged existence of two Swiss bank accounts belonging to President Rafael Correa. Hackers immediately took steps to close the portal. On January 28, Bananaleaks announced via Twitter, “The BananaLeaks website was down this morning. We will keep you informed.” The next day it was reported that “BananaLeaks.com was functioning again at dawn, but was immediately sabotaged by the Government of Ecuador with a DDoS attack”.

Documentary filmmaker censored (October 9, 2013). “Invasion of Intag” is a Pocho Álvarez documentary about a small community 90km north of Quito. The film chronicles the pollution and harassment suffered by Intag residents, who have been resisting a mega-mining project in their area. On October 9, 2013, “Invasion of Intag” was removed from Álvarez’s personal Youtube account, and the Intag community blog, by Ares Rights, the same Spanish company who censored Santiago Villa’s portrait of Correa.

As well as working for Ecuador’s Government, Ares Rights is similarly employed by the Government of Argentina. Blogger and technology expert Adam Steinbaugh revealed on his blog that Ares Rights has on several occasions removed material from the internet on behalf of both governments, with a clear intention of eliminating or hiding certain situations, rather than for legitimate copyright claims.

Youtube closes cannel (January 13, 2014). Following a notification of copyright infringement, raised by Ares Rights on behalf of the State television station Ecuador TV, digital news portal www.LaRepública.ec reported the closure of one of its two Youtube channels.

Twitter account suspended (April 10, 2014). The Twitter account of Diana Amores (@Diana_Amores) was suspended indefinitely after Twitter received a copyright infringement claim, again from Ares Rights, on behalf of the ruling party Alianza PAIS. On April 11, after a 24-hour suspension, Twitter reinstated the account with a warning.

Suspension of digital portal (May 29, 2014). In response to a complaint of intellectual property infringement by Ares Rights, the LaRepública.ec website was suspended by its host server in the US for nearly four hours. The complaint concerned a photograph of a check that was exhibited in the Press Room of the National Assembly by former Congressmember Galo Lara. Two years previously, Lara had publicly denounced an alleged improper transfer of funds from the National Intelligence Secretariat to private accounts.

Plan V receives a complaint (August 2014). The investigative journalism portal Plan V received a copyright infringement complaint from Ares Rights for publishing the logo of a company it was investigating. Plan V withdrew the image when Ares Rights threatened to have its website suspended by the host server.

Five Twitter accounts suspended (July 23 & 24, 2014). Twitter suspended five accounts of Ecuadoran citizens known to have high numbers of followers and a critical stance on the Government. The accounts of @polificcion, @carlitosrugrats, @carlitoswayec, @Diana_Amores and @JJOLMEDO_ were suspended and then reinstated without explanation on July 25.

Infuriated by Crudoecuador (January 13, 2014). President Correa’s latest victim is the Facebook page Crudoecuador. For the New Year holiday, the President visited his wife’s native country of Belgium. During a side trip to Holland, someone had snapped a photo of Correa at an Amsterdam shopping center, holding a bag outside the famous Chanel shop, accompanied by two men. The photo was posted on the Crudoecuador Facebook page as a ‘meme’ (an image used on social media to make jokes), mocking Correa’s purchases in Europe.

The President denied he was at the mall for shopping, but rather to shelter from the cold, whereupon he took the opportunity to buy some gifts for his daughter’s friends. He added that he would activate “10,000 volunteers” (trolls) to form the social platform “Somos más” (“We are more”) to counter pages such as Crudoecuador. In response, Crudoecuador announced that, thanks to the President, their number of followers on Facebook and Twitter had increased to 302,000. The chapter ended with an anonymous bouquet of flowers, sent to Crudoecuador on February 19, with a note that said. “How good to have the opportunity to greet you and congratulate you on such a beautiful family (…) with satisfaction I must confess my pleasure that you find yourselves in the beloved province of Guayas, enjoying a well-deserved holiday and a moment of relaxation, a diversion from the stress of your “not so successful activities”. Believe me, you can always count on our interest and attention, while your courage lasts….” Days after these threats, the administrator of Crudoecuador closed its social media accounts.

Ridiculed by John Oliver (February 8, 2015). Correa’s cyberwar came to the attention of English comedian John Oliver, whose program on the US HBO channel sometimes receives eight million views on Youtube. As part of his show, Oliver sent a message to the Ecuadoran president, “Look, look, President Correa, if you are very sensitive, then Twitter and Facebook are not for you and, to be honest, being a world leader may not be for you, unless you can raise your tolerance level for personal abuse”.

More threats. (February 26, 2015). The administrator of the Ecuadoran political satire page Ecuatoriano hasta las huevas reported that he’d received a message from a Facebook user: “you’ll be next.” The text was sent on February 22 by a John M., who claimed to know the administrator’s identity and address. “Don’t publish anything about the Government, or we will send you flowers too, we know you live at xxx, you’ll be next.” The next day, the site administrator received another message. In it, the sender clarifies that it is not he who means the administrator harm, “They pay me to see you dead. You know that the administrator of Crudoecuador ran into trouble (…) Don’t publish anything more about the Government and that’s it”.

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