Ecuador’s president demands respect from his constituents

Rafael Correa attacks the press for reporting a presidential run-in with a young protestor

President Rafael Correa during a May 1 celebration in Quito.
President Rafael Correa during a May 1 celebration in Quito.AFP

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has once again found himself in a battle with the local media after press reports surfaced that the leftist leader “roughed up” a young man who gestured at his presidential motorcade as it passed by.

The incident occurred on May 1, when a 17-year-old youth gave the passing president a thumbs-down and then the finger.

According to the young man, the motorcade stopped and Correa quickly emerged from one of the vehicles.

“Learn some respect, you spoiled little brat. I am your president,” the protestor said Correa told him

“His security detail grabbed me from behind and he approached me and grabbed my chest and said: ‘Learn some respect, you spoiled little brat. I am your president’,” the protestor told the local media later.

“Then they put me inside a police vehicle – with a lot of officers – like I was some kind of criminal.”

When the media reported the young man’s version of events over the weekend, Correa became livid.

Correa has taken cartoonists and newspaper editors to court for criticizing his administration

He wrote on his Twitter account on Monday: “As usual, the corrupt press is quick to make a show out of this, without getting the other side of the story […] That I grabbed a boy’s chest for making obscene gestures, and that my eyes were full of angry tears? It’s all a lie.”

Over the years, Correa has taken journalists, cartoonists and newspaper editors to court for criticizing his administration. In 2011, several editors and a columnist from El Universo fled the country after the president ordered their arrests for the “moral harm” they caused him.

Correa’s press team (Secom) later released a video that showed the president getting out of his vehicle and approaching the boy. But the video was edited and the audio deleted so that the conversation between Correa and the protestor could not be heard.

Nevertheless, the audio returns when the boy’s mother starts beating officers and screaming at them as they try to calm her down.

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In a public statement, Secom tried to deliver a moral message to parents.

“Do parents agree with their children making obscene gestures at their teachers, authority figures, or just regular citizens? We think not,” the press release stated.

“President Correa did get out of his vehicle and – as a citizen, husband and president – scolded the youth for his actions, and asked him: ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you disrespectful to the president?” continued the statement.

Meanwhile, the young protestor, who has been caught up in a press controversy over the events, has apologized for his actions but said nothing further.

In the past, the president has branded protestors as “idiots,” “snobs,” “bitter people” and “haters”

During a brief trial this week, he was sentenced to 15 to 30 days in jail for dishonoring the president. But because he is a juvenile, his sentence was commuted to 20 hours of community work.

This is not the first time that Correa has fired back at citizens who have insulted or made obscene gestures at him. In the past, the president has branded them “idiots,” “snobs,” “bitter people” and “haters.”

Since 2007, at least 20 people have been arrested for making the president uncomfortable with gestures or words, according to the Ecuadorian press.

In his speeches, Correa has made it clear that everyone must “respect the majesty of the president of the republic.”

One of the most famous cases involved Irma Parra, a businesswoman from Riobamba who came out against Correa’s 2011 plans to hold a constitutional referendum.

Parra said she used her index finger to express “no” to the referendum, but Correa maintained that she made “an obscene gesture.” She was later arrested.

Correa had to correct himself after he called a popular singer who suffers from epilepsy  “a drunkard”

Secom went into action, bringing out witnesses who sided with the president. At the same time, the press team released a video in which a former employee of Parra’s said she saw her ex-boss make obscene gestures at the president that day.

Another notorious case from 2013 featured popular singer-songwriter Jaime Guevara, who also gave the finger to the presidential motorcade. He was protesting the government’s repression of demonstrators who objected to Correa’s plans to drill for oil in Yasuní National Park.

Correa jumped out of his vehicle and, after calling Guevara a “drunkard” and “drug addict,” had him arrested.

Soon after the incident, it was reported on many social networks that Guevara does not drink alcohol and suffers from epilepsy.

After Correa took to the airwaves to browbeat Guevara, he later had to correct himself: “He wasn’t drunk but he sure looked like it.”

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