Never let it be claimed that we don't give credit where credit's due. Ramen Noodle Nation congratulates Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, on his painless cruise to a new four-year term. With Venezuela's longtime strongman, Hugo Chavez, effectively sidelined by cancer, it falls to you, Mr. Correa, to stand as Latin America's leading anti-American voice. Not even the combined might of seven opposition candidates could halt your latest journey to greatness...when you're visiting the Cognitive Dissonance Hall of Fame, at any rate.
How proud you must have felt, as you told your supporters: "Nobody can stop this revolution. We are making history, we are building our homeland which is Ecuador and the great homeland which is Latin America." We look forward to seeing you give four more years of hell to the capitalist dogs, wherever they roam, far and near...right, then....this little joke's gone just about far enough!
In reality, we at Ramen Noodle Nation look forward to mining four years of satire out of another Correa term. (Undoubtedly, though, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has to feel more relieved than anybody; he's got four more years of guaranteed pizza deliveries to the Ecuadoran embassy, in London, where he remains in semi-permanent limbo...but we've already covered that subject.)
As expected, Corrrea's latest electoral campaign passed largely unchallenged in a cloud of bluster, intimidation and continuing threats to press freedom. Now, we wouldn't say that Mr. Correa is thin-skinned, but this is the country where he broke into a broadcast by the Telemazonas TV network to refute a story about...what he'd eaten for breakfast that morning.
According to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which monitors these abuses, the dispute centered on the venue where the president ate -- hardly the stuff of scandal, but nevertheless, one that he felt compelled to address, at great length. Under Ecuador's constitution, anyone who feels "slandered by the media" has a right to reply -- and the network has to broadcast it, no matter how flimsy or trumped-up the charge.
Ironically, according to CPJ's report, these official responses, or cadenas, date back to 1974, when the ruling military government discovered -- to its equally great chagrin, no doubt -- that it had no obvious method of getting its pronouncements on the air, because it didn't own any radio or TV stations. Now that Correa has discovered this technique, he's milked it more than any of his predecessors (1,365 times, or 11,793 minutes, amounting to eight days of airtime). As the cliche goes: old habits die hard, those routines may take quite a bit longer to burn themselves out, in Mr. Correa's case.
Of course, as CPJ's three-part report explains, in painstaking detail, all of Mr. Correa's populist bluster against "dogs" and "assassins" hasn't prevented him from building an empire of 21 newspapers, radio and TV stations that serve largely to reflect his views. "Do as I say, not as I do" is an old, unhappy tradition in Latin America, as the people have often learned, to their lasting dsmay. (Remember all the "Marxist Yuppie" jibes directed against Nicaragua's ex-president, Daniel Ortega?) At the same time, the government spends large amounts of money on advertising, when it's not filing multiple defamation suits against media outlets that dare to criticize Mr. Correa or his government in some way.
Needless to say, all this concerted pressure exerts a chilling effect. An analysis by the press freedom group Fundamedios found that 93 percent of stories published about the election in January 2013 were short, descriptive articles that contained little in the way of analysis, or commentary. And it's not just Mr. Correa who escapes the scrutiny, apparently; so will many of his parliamentary allies running with him, since many papers have decided to put off the risk of publishing any compromising disclosures until after the election. (For the uninitiated...this is the equivalent of viewing pornographic pictures after an orgasm, or whatever metaphor you want to plug in here.) You can view the whole document here, though it's in Spanish:
And, for those who want the whole story, here's part one of CPJ's report...just follow the bouncing ball of repression from here:
Why, then, does Mr. Correa spend so much time and energy discrediting an enemy whose power seems increasingly constrained, anyway? Well, partly, because such charges resonate with the man on the street; add a dash of insecurity, a pinch of hubris, and you get the total picture. Of course, it's equally worth remembering that the Correa government's popularity is largely fueled by oil money, which is always subject to the whims of the marketplace.
What will happen to Mr. Correa's populist appeal, once all the oil revenues starts to dry up? He might do well to give that issue some thought, especially when efforts to promote other industries -- notably, mining -- have yet to get off the ground. That's one reading of the situation; we invite readers from South America (in general) and Ecuador (in particular) to weigh in.
So what lies ahead for Mr. Correa and his relentless cheering section? We here at Ramen Noodle Nation can only speculate. However, when they do something spectacularly foolish, rest assured, we'll be here to comment on it -- why? Because the joke's always funny...when it's at their expense. --The Reckoner