Sunday, July 30, 2017

Asylum Realothetical: Crudo Ecuador

Here's a tale from 2015 that would make an excellent exam question or in-class realothetical (a hypothetical plucked from real life). It's about Twitter, memes, and the former president of Ecuador.

Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado served as the president of Ecuador from 2007-2017. He was unusually available to his public on Twitter. That may not strike you as terribly uncommon given our current president's Twitter predilections, but think back a few years and consider whether you'd have been surprised to find a political leader reachable so directly.

Correa was known to respond to citizen problems raised via Twitter by tagging the person(s) or group(s) capable of addressing the issue and including this hashtag: #favoratender. That is, the president basically called other officials out and said "take care of this."

Pretty cool, right? You've got a problem, you raise it with the president. It gets handled.

There was a flip side to this accessibility.

Consider Crudo Ecuador ("Raw Ecuador") - an anonymous Facebook page that offered memes with scathing political commentary. The site had hundreds of thousands of followers.

The site's fatal mistake? Taking aim at the president with the meme replicated on the right. Ecuador had imposed a $42 tax on all online and overseas purchases. But, lo and behold, some Ecuadorians ran into the president in a mall in Holland and snapped a selfie. Crudo Ecuador turned the whole thing into a meme reminiscent of old MasterCard ads: "For the bigwigs that buy on the internet and impact the national product... a tax: $42 dollars. But getting caught at a luxurious mall in Europe shopping... priceless."

The president did not find this amusing.

On his weekly TV show, the president said "Let's see if it's so funny when we know his name." And then Crudo Ecuador was unmasked as a man by the name of Gabriel Gonzalez. His address, phone number, kids names and ages, even a disturbingly recent photograph were all published online.

He took his family and fled to another Ecuadorian city. He didn't tell anyone where he'd gone. But he received a floral delivery at this place of temporary refuge with this accompanying note:

I confess that it gives me great satisfaction and a great pleasure to know that you are passing some much deserved vacations here in the province of Guyas, which will give you a moment of relaxation after your not so appropriate activities.

At this point, Gonzalez relented. He posted this:

Usted copy

It's a thoroughly fascinating set up. What if instead of relenting, Gonazlez had fled to the US - would he be eligible for asylum? What if he fled to the US after his declaration of defeat - same result?

This story came to me from the podcast Reply All, Episode 25 Favor Atender. There is an accompanying article on Digg titled Ecuador's President Will Respond To You On Twitter. I encourage you to read the full coverage.


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