Rafael Correa under a hailstorm of nuts

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Rafael Correa never learns. Ridiculed mercilessly by Oliver and further mocked for his own unfortunate declarations on Twitter, the President has become a laughing stock on social networks across three continents. Seemingly, he’s learned nothing from this. On Thursday the 12th February 2015, he attempted to close the matter once and for all, with four Tweets in his signature style: pompous and brash. “On the subject of John Oliver: so much noise for so few nuts” he began (a Spanish phrase meaning ‘much ado about nothing’). He concluded with “this matter doesn’t deserve a second more of our time.” Case closed. Here, he committed a double error. Firstly, the ‘nuts’ were many and substantial, as you will discover in this article. Secondly, through his own continuation of the ‘John Oliver subject’, he only proved that on social networks – this nut is hefty – the president closes nothing. In the world of social media, Rafael Correa has no authority over who has the last word. If he still hasn’t realized this, it is due to his worrying inability to understand contemporary global society, whose most spontaneous expressions are channeled into social networks. An understandable inability, for the global, the contemporary, the expressive and the spontaneous are not his style.

The first nut hit the president full in the face. “Nobody wins a war on Twitter,” Oliver remarked in the unforgettable four minutes he dedicated to Correa in his program (08/02/2015) Last Week Tonight. Beautifully expressed, his words were fulfilled instantly and to the letter: defeat of state propaganda on all fronts. On day one of the battle with Oliver, the President made a puerile attempt to remove the subtitled video from Youtube. Here, he may have mobilized the Ares Rights dogs, on the pretext that the video infringed copyright law by using footage of Correa’s weekly public address. The plan failed spectacularly, as identical subtitled copies instantly appeared across the internet. This nut hit hard, disabling the President’s left hand. The subsequent attempt to create Twitter trends in support of the President were thrown back at him like a boomerang, or a big fat nut in the back of the head. The hashtag #EcuatorianoHastalaMedula, launched by the Communications Secretary Fernando Alvarado to counter the onslaught of a “gringo clown” and the “wannabes” who support him, provoked only taunts against him. The same happened with other tags trending in the week’s top 5, such as #JohnYouAreInvited and #TicoTico.

Meanwhile, as the President and his Communications Secretary were scorned and ridiculed in memes and devastating comments, the famous army of ten thousand trolls, in a retreat worthy of Xenophon, disappeared from the map. What happened to the “more, many more”? Where did they go? For a government planning an offensive against its critics in cyberspace, and a president who personally identified its first targets, this week events were a definitive and humiliating defeat. This nut broke some teeth. The president was defeated on social media, and will remain so, because of the stated purpose of these networks as forums for spontaneous expression, i.e., spaces where people are free to be as they are, live as they choose and say what they want. It was shown that a government strategy of calling the masses to fight on its behalf, armed with a slogan created by unintelligent officials, simply does not work.

Humor won the day. Perhaps the Ecuadorians needed an outsider with no interests in the country and no fear of reprisals, a person free of suspicion of belonging to the conservative restoration, someone with the prestige and audacity of John Oliver, to submerge us in such a bath of truth. And the truth is, the king is naked. The humor served its purpose: it refreshed our minds, renewed our perspective and opened the door to catharsis. John Oliver’s four minutes on Rafael Correa were felt in the country as a relief, a medicine, a breath of fresh air. Or rather, as a hailstorm of nuts thrown from a medium distance at the head of power.

In the face of this, the President’s response, and that of his government, was distressingly poor. Everything he said to counter John Oliver’s onslaught fell between solemn nonsense and offensive arrogance. Solemn nonsense on behalf of those Ecuadorians offended by a foreigner’s joke, including Tico Tico himself. (The famous children’s entertainer received this exquisite message from Tweeter Diana Loves: “The last straw for a clown is not understanding the joke”.) Offensive arrogance, as Fernando Alvarado derogatorily used the term “gringo” and claimed that the English and gringos are “of the same mold”. More offensive arrogance from Rafael Correa, who in his final messages disparaged John Oliver as a common idiot (a low Oliver did not sink to), someone who “probably believes that Ecuador’s capital is Kuala Lumpur.”

If Rafael Correa is a smart guy, as he is reputed to be, he didn’t let us see it this week. His parting shot at British comedy, which spans Shakespeare to Monty Python and is probably the best in the world, was shame inducing: “Do British comedians exist? Are you sure?” It’s as bad as asking “Are there really any footballers in Argentina?” A person posing this question would not only reveal himself as totally ignorant about football, but would cause people to ask of him “What planet does this guy live on?” The President of Ecuador is putting himself in the same position. José Hernández, in his blog, already asked some key questions: what books did the President read while studying in Europe? What movies did he see at the cinema? Did he go to the theater? Did he take in the galleries? The issue concerns not only his training as the academic he claims and wants to be, but the formation of his sensitivity and spirit. Dark resentments nourished by twisted arrogance produce insufferable fatuities in uncultivated minds like his. So it ends, with him denying the ball skills of Maradona. And looking foolish. It seems he threw this sack of nuts over his own head.

Note: On 15/02/2015, John Oliver responded to Rafael Correa in a second program broadcast by HBO. To this, the Ecuadorian President responded with his now familiar sense of humor.

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