As Penny Lane said in "Almost Famous", it’s all happening. And here in Ecuador, I’m disappointed in the tepid reaction. My friend and colleague Dr. Santiago Basabe Serrano, a PhD and professor of Political Science, recently appeared on a radio program and asked a legitimate question of a newly established commission. His comments were then taken out of context by the president of the country, who repeatedly called him "swine" and "mediocre" while discrediting his professional formation and expertise, and then imitated him to a laughing public. By any stretch of the imagination this is petty and bullying behavior, a disproportionate reaction to public comments by a university professor. Yet few have stepped up to publicly support Santiago.
Almost exactly one year after taking in a wanted Julian Assange, Ecuador has managed to grab international headlines again after offering—and perhaps now revoking?—asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden. The irony of Correa and the Ecuadorian government potentially granting political asylum to second leaker/publisher of classified intelligence in the wake of the country’s Media Law (Ley de Comunicación) has not been lost on the Ecuadorian media or government opposition forces. In broad terms, the law establishes regulation of editorial content and gives authorities the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press. Perhaps the most controversial provision is the prohibition of so-called "media lynching" (linchamiento mediático), defined as "the dissemination of concerted and reiterative information, either directly or by third parties, through media outlets, with the purpose of undermining the prestige" of a person or legal entity or "reducing credibility." This allows authorities to order an offending media outlet to issue a public apology for any perceived offensive commentary, while subjecting it to criminal and civil sanctions.
The Inter-American Press Association characterizes it as "the most serious setback for freedom of the press and of expression in the recent history of Latin America", and it has been denounced by Freedom House, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador (perhaps unwisely, from a U.S. perspective), all Ecuadorian newspapers, media outlets from Argentina to Spain to Uruguay and the U.S. (including a controversial op-ed in the Washington Post), as well as international publication such as The Economist.
This muzzling of the media and critics represents a worrisome restriction on freedom of expression that has grown over time. Correa famously pursued libel charges against journalist Emilio Palacio and three directors of the Guayaquil daily El Universo in 2011 after Palacio published a controversial opinion column critical of the president. The three directors were fined 40 million USD, and all four were assessed three-years in prison. Correa later pursued similar charges against two journalists who wrote a book critical of business negotiations between the president’s brother, Fabricio Correa, and the government. It is evident that Correa has used his bully pulpit, to, well, bully anyone with the temerity to criticize him. I was recently witness to one of these episodes.
My friend Santiago is a Professor of Political Science at the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Quito. As part of his routine as a public intellectual, he regularly comments on national political issues in the media, from local stations to the BBC. On June 4, Santiago appeared on the "Good Morning" radio program with host Diego Oquendo (full interview here). Asked to comment on the establishment of a commission to establish culpability in the 30-S police uprising, Santiago acknowledged its perceived lack of impartiality—it is composed of ex-government officials and political allies—and challenged it to investigate an unresolved doubt: who ordered the army to open fire during President Correa's rescue operation, an action that ultimately resulted in bloodshed?
"Who ordered the first shots... in the police hospital? I would love to know: who ordered the shots? Because someone ordered the first shots. Someone ordered shooting. Because the junior command of the armed forces does not make that decision by itself. Someone ordered them to shoot. The country also wants to know. And if we are in a process of transparency, of investigating what exactly happened, well then, let’s know everything. Let's find out who the responsible soldiers are, who the responsible policemen are, and above all, that they answer the question in a million: who ordered them to open fire against civilians...?"
The host, Oquendo, intimates that Santiago is implicating President Correa as the responsible party. Santiago categorically denies this, responding: "I don't think it was the President of the Republic. And my comment was not meant to insinuate in some biased way that President Correa was the person who-, who directly ordered that." Instead, Santiago wonders if it was someone within the military hierarchy.
The damage, however unwittingly, had already been done. The statements were apparently so newsworthy that President Correa felt the need to address Santiago on his weekly public television broadcast, Enlace Ciudadano. As befitting his governing style, he is quite confrontational. At the three-hour mark of the broadcast, the president pontificates on the 30-S crisis while Santiago's image flashes on the screen. He says:
"We will not allow swine, through ignorance or bad blood, to trick our pueblo. Each time that they tell an atrocious lie, with the misery of their souls —'Who ordered the first shots?' 'Where are the videos?' and all that— we will respond with the historical truth. We will not permit these mediocre people, who search for any type of relevance to escape the anonymity to which their mediocrity... has sunk them, try to manipulate the truth regarding the 30 of September. Play with whatever you want, except the 30 of September. We will not permit it!"
Thus begins a five-minute video presenting the government’s account of 30-S. In it, the narrator accuses Santiago, ex-congressional deputy Andrés Páez, and noted jurist Julio Cesar Trujillo of lying to the Ecuadorian people. The narrator presents "the pseudo-analyst, Santiago Basabe" and plays the radio recording of Santiago asking, "Who ordered the first shots?" No context is given. As the video ends, the screen dissolves to the president who shakes his head incredulously and smiles. After some words, Correa's face hardens and he begins to imitate Santiago in an effeminate tone: "What I want to know is, who ordered the first shots?'." He smirks. In the reaction shot, the audience claps and laughs. The president goes on:
"Poor mediocre people; so much human misery. They end up looking ridiculous for denying the truth. Any mediocre person who wants to escape anonymity… and because they say so many stupid things, the media interviews them. [.....] And while they try to deny the undeniable and the crimes that occurred that day—and the guilty parties of those crimes—they only demonstrate the misery of their soul. And each time these swine try to trick us, we will turn to the historical truth. Play with whatever you want—except September 30! Did you hear me, mediocre people? Play with whatever you want—except 30-S!"
Supporters may say that this is not a direct threat. They are right. But it is certainly a measure of intimidation: the president of a country is imitating a private citizen and besmirching his professional reputation on a public broadcast.
Shocked at this offensive against my friend, I posted the radio interview and television clip on social media, beginning on Twitter (where admittedly, I have few followers) and then on Facebook. I anticipated incredulous reactions. Alas, few were forthcoming save Santiago's wife and an ex-student of Santiago's. I found the lack of commentary curious. At the same time, throughout the week people who had seen the post approached me to express incredulity. "Correa really went overboard, didn't he?" they confided. Yet none of them had commented on Facebook. Another friend, a Correa supporter, suggested I talk to Santiago to have him stop voicing his opinions, since it could only lead to other incommensurate reactions from the president. Instead of comforting me, I found these reactions troubling. Why weren't people more outraged? And why weren't those outraged people open in their criticism? Apparently, a de facto Ley de Comunicación is already in effect.
Recently, I have heard a lot of Ecuadorians voice support for Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Well, as the Ley de Comunicación passes the president's desk for any last-second vetoes and Rafael Correa decides whether or not to allow Snowden into his country, I would like to know: where are the supporters of free speech, and where are the supporters of all the Santiago Basabes?
 The 30-S crisis was a violent confrontation between the president and the national police on 30 September 2010. A bill to eliminate medals and bonuses with promotions for the national police caused nationwide protests by the service. Correa publicly addressed them at their headquarters in Quito, but the speech quickly turned rancorous, as he verbally challenged them to kill him. One officer discharged a tear-gas canister that nearly hit Correa and the president was immediately taken to the police hospital. Tensions escalated after police surrounded the hospital and an elite commando squad was employed to rescue the president. Eight people throughout the country were killed during protests.
 ¿Quién ordenó disparar, pues? En el hospital mili--, en el hospital de la policía. A mí me encantaría saber eso: ¿quién ordenó disparar? Porque alguien ordenó disparar ahí. Alguien ordenó disparar ahí. Porque las--, los mandos medios de las fuerzas armadas no toman el--, esa decisión por sí mismas. Alguien ordenó disparar. El país también quiere saber eso. Y si es que estamos en un proceso de transparencia, de abrirnos a saber que mismo pasó, bueno pues, que sepamos todo. Sepamos quiénes son los responsables militares, quienes son los responsables policiales, y sobre todo, que contesten a la gran pregunta de millón: ¿Quién ordenó abrir fuego contra civiles y militares en el hospital de la policía el 30 de septiembre?
 Yo no creo que haya sido el President de la República, efectivamente. Y mi comentario no era insinuando tendenciosamente que el President Correa haya sido directamente el que, el que ordenó eso.
 No permiteremos que canallas, por ignorancia o mala fé, engañen a nuestro pueblo. Cada vez, con su miseria de alma, digan una mentira tan atroz, '¿Quién ordenó disparar? ¿Dónde están los videos?' y todo eso, le responderemos con la verdad histórica. No permiteremos que estos mediocres, que buscan por cualquier medio algo de relevancia, salir del anonimato donde su mediocredad—con mucha justicia—los ha hundido, traten de manipular la verdad con respecto al 30 de septiembre. Juegen con lo que quieren; menos que el 30 de septiembre. ¡No lo vamos a permitir!
 Esta gente tiene tanta miseria humana, y son tan mediocres- quieren negar hasta lo evidente. Pero no permiteremos que canallas trastornen la verdad histórica. 'Que fue una simple insuborinación policial en un cuartel' [….] Cuanta miseria humana, y cuanta canallada. [imitando Santiago] 'Yo lo que quiero saber es ¿quién ordenó disparar?' [risas de la audiencia] Pobres mediocres, ¿no? Cuánta miseria humana. Quedan en ridículo por tratar de negar lo evidente, ¿no? Cualquier mediocre que quiere salir del anonimato, y como habla tantas estupideces, entonces lo entrevistan en todos los medios. Pero … en todos los medios, seguirá siendo un mediocre. Y mientras traten de negar lo innegable y los crimenes que ocurrieron ese día, y los culpables de esos crimenes, tan solo demostrarán su miseria de alma. Y cada vez que estos canallas traten de engañar, sacaremos nuevamente la verdad histórica. Juegen con lo que sea—menos el 30 de septiembre. ¿Me escucharon, mediocres? ¡Juegen con lo que sea—menos el 30-S!
Political scientist, Latin Americanist, Minnesota Twins fan, World's #1 dad