For years, authoritarian Latin American presidents have censored in-country publications critical of their actions. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa is no exception.
Correa, who has a Masters and a PhD from the University of Illinois, goes much further. He has companies and government officials going after anyone who publishes or airs anything anywhere in the world that he considers disparaging.
In simple terms: Correa wants to control what the world media has to say about his government.
While most nations have embassies to monitor the foreign media. Correa has hired a small Brooklyn-based public relations firm called McSquared to respond aggressively to anything Correa finds offensive. Ares Rights, a Spanish firm, takes care of what is published in the digital world.
Ecuador refused to give out the information of its $6.4 million contract with McSquared. The terms of it became public, however, when the U.S. Justice Department published it on its web page. The contract was made public because the United States made McSquared register as an agent of a foreign government.
One of the things McSquared has already done is hire people to attend and disrupt the annual shareholders meeting of Chevron, which is contesting in courts suits filed by the Ecuadorian government alleging it had not cleaned up the Lago Agrio oil field near the Colombian border. These false protesters were paid $85. Those who spoke up were paid $150. The idea was to do a documentary of how Chevron shareholders were critical of the company’s actions.
All this has been going on for months. Two things are new: the name of the public relations firm became public and that a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about how McSquared had staged the fake protests at the May Chevron shareholder meeting.
Much more disturbing is what Ares Rights is doing.
The Spanish firm has been targeting Internet websites, Youtube and Twitter accounts critical of Correa or of his government. It bases many of its actions on the Digital Millenium Copyrights Acts. This has allowed Ares Rights to request that Youtube and Twitter take down articles or documentaries critical of Correa.
Juan Carlos Calderón, who heads a news web page called Plan V, said Ares Rights on May 25, 2014 gave them 24 hours to take down several articles and pictures or it would block the site’s access to its server.
The Spanish firm was also successful in getting Youtube to take down a short documentary done by Pocho Alvarez because “it had used images that belonged to the government’s public television network and had been used without permission.”
There are more, many more examples of the Spanish firm’s censorship efforts. : Many successful, at least temporarily.
Now the battle has been joined. Electronic Frontier Foundation, a site whose mission is to defend “your rights in the digital world,” described what Ares Rights was trying to do to intimidate government opponents.
“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” said an article by Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Ares Rights has been sending Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices on behalf of several Ecuadorian state officials, targeting documentaries, tweets, and search results that include images of those officials, alleging copyright infringement.
“Most of the companies receiving these requests, including Google, Twitter, and Vimeo, have unfortunately responded by automatically removing the content. Some have re-instated removed works after a successful counter-notice was filed by the uploaders,” the article said.
It added that since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed into law, Ares Rights has found a way to take advantage of US law in order to remove content that originated in Ecuador.
“This is a clear example of that kind of abuse,” said the article by Maira Sutton. She adds that state publications in Ecuador say there is no relationship between Ecuadorian officials and Ares Rights.
“Yet the firm continues to send these notices on behalf of those individuals and agencies. It seems that either Ares Rights or the Ecuadorian government is lying about what’s actually going on,” Sutton said in her article.
All this is clear evidence of how modern Latin American authoritarian regimes are trying — and many times successfully – to control what is said about them. One must be prepared for a “Brave New World”.