...And I don't mean Gladwell's 2005 book about how ideas spread. I'm referring to Rafael Correa's decree of last Thursday, which forbids the dissemination/broadcasting of any video tapes which his government has made, without the permission of the tapers or tapees, if I may invent some new words.
Correa's decree came out just as one of the fired PRIAN diputadas, Gloria Gallardo, was going to release long parts of the famous, first "Pativideo" of conversations between Finance Minister Ricardo Patino and some financial consultants (including an ex-Minister of Finance from the Palacio government) regarding the ins and outs of bond market manipulation and how one might benefit from it.
In fact, from the parts of the first tape that have already been released, plus public statements of the Patino's Vice(!)-Minister, it's clear that Patino y cia sought to bring down Government of Ecuador bond prices in February by having the VMin say that the GOE wouldn't make interest payments on the bonds. Venezuelan banks then came in bought the bonds at artifically reduced prices and then a few days later Patino said that the GOE would/would pay interest, at which point, bond prices jumped out and the Venezuelans sold out, realizing a nice fat profit in the space of less than a week.
Since the first Pativideo came out, a second one has emerged showing Patino with Jorge Cevallos, President of the Congress, discussing exchange of pork projects for Manabi Province in exchange for votes in favor of the Constituent Assembly. In that tape, the two men are almost comedic in their overacted, winking, "I don't know you, you don't know me", style of negotiating political favors. Again, the tape shows Patino engaging in sleazy conversations, this time with a guy who's widely viewed as weak and politically pliable by the government.
The media and cocktail chatter is that there are many more video tapes out there, made by Patino and possibly others in the Correa government. It was made clear some time ago that the first two tapes were made without judicial authorization and without the knowledge of the other (non-Patino) participants, which is a crime in this country as far as I can tell.
Patino brushes off the legal aspects of video recordings, saying that he himself was trying corrupt bankers and creditors and that the conversations were all hypothical, and besides, he had President Correa's approval to make the tapes. I'm not a lawyer, but my guess is that if I'm right in that the video-recordings were illegal to begin with, Correa's ok of the whole thing makes him an accomplice to a crime.
Whatever the legalities of the whole thing, Patino comes across as corrupt and sleazy in the tapes, and his clumsy defense of the tapes show that he's not only corrupt, he's incompetently corrupt.
There's also been growing talk, as I say, that there are many more tapes floating around showing other political figures, in government and outside of it, engaging in questionable conversations and/or activities. This whole thing has been simmering for weeks now, and now, just as Congress moved to enjuiciar (impeach, or move to censure) Patino, and Gallardo prepared to release more of the first tape, Correa comes out with his decree that's clearly intended to muzzle the media and his political enemies while protecting Patino and himself.
Correa's moves are so transparently motivated that in other circumstances, he simply might be viewed as idiotic and/or amusing. The fact is, though, that he's the President of the country, and the decree represents his first overt move toward censoring the media here. Correa issued the decree last Thursday during a trip to Spain, wherein he took every opportunity to attack the Ecuadorian media as lying and corrupt. That same week, he attacked the Spanish media for criticizing him ( the usual: You're liars, infringing on Ecuadorian sovereignty, etc.) and said as well that if any Ecuadorian tv station came out against him like RCTV came out against Chavez, he'd shut the tv station down. Correa clarified that he meant if any station committed seditious acts, he shut them down, but the clarification didn't make Ecuadorian media folks feel any better.
I've mentioned Correa's antipathy to the media in earlier postings. His conflicts with the press (and it's much more Correa attacking the press; the press, in the main, has been pretty temperate in its responses) are much more than personal ire. Rather, there's a method to his madness. His attacks have resulted in a general decline in the public's opinion of the media (to be fair, public opinion of the press was never that high), and that's just what Correa wants because he wants to neutralize another institution - the press - that stands between him and control of the country.
Correa has managed to compromise the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Constitutional Tribunal, key actors in govenance and democracy in Ecuador. He thought he had the Congress in hand as a result of the firing of 57 opposition deputies, but some of the replacement deps have voted their conscience and against Correa on several of his key initiatives, so his response is to argue that the Constituent Assembly can and should dissolve the Congress as soon as the CA is convened. Correa has been very clear that he expects to control the CA and that he expects the CA will restructure governmental insitutions and the economy itself so as to give control over these systems to "the people".
Among other things, Correa and his first Press Officer, Monica Chuji, have opined that the media system needs to be revamped so as to give "the people" more of a voice in what's said in public print and over the airwaves. Various media and press reps have not taken kindly
to that kind of talk but as I say, the overall media response to Correa has been relatively muted.
Muted until last week's decree banning publication of more videos, that is, and that's where we come to the crux of the matter: Has Correa become so powerful that he'll be able to cow the media into doing what he wants? Or will the press publish/release tapes that could very well bring down the Correa government?
Briefly, it's a little bit like when Richard Nixon stonewalled on releasing White House tapes. Everyone knew that if he got away with stonewalling, he'd be able to do anything. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to release the tapes and that was the end of Nixon.
Here in Ecuador, the talk is that there are tapes out there that are just as dangerous to Correa as Nixon's tapes were to him. Correa's sudden ban on releasing those tapes have alerted people here just as happened 30 years ago in the States; everyone realizes that there must be something terribly important in those tapes to Correa. Just as important is what the press will do about them.
The press has come out (at least some of them; they're not a monolithic group, that's for sure) totally against the decree and they say they'll challenge the decree in courts, although since the Tribunal Constitutional is in Correa's pocket it seems, it's doubtful that such a challenge would go anywhere.
And that's where we stand right now, on the afternoon of July 17.
So the tipping point is this: Will the press blink and accept the decree or not? If they do, then in my opinion, they've started down the slope to censorship here in Ecuador, and Correa will have won the ballgame. If the press really is serious about opposing the ban, though, they (in my opinion) should get as many tapes out as widely as possible, as soon as possible, whatever the consequences.
Whichever way it is, though, censorship (perhaps self censorship is better phrase) or full disclosure, we need to know and we need to know soon.