December 21, 2014
#62 President vs. Freelancer
The President of Ecuador spent his state TV broadcast decrying a 26 year-old Canadian journalist. Then his operatives bullied her out of the country. Now, Bethany Horne tells her story.

Here is Bethany’s Newsweek story on the Taromenane massacre. (link)

Episode Rundown

[00:00:32] “That is the sound of the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa denouncing  a young Canadian freelance journalist for a story that she wrote that appeared in Newsweek magazine last January. In his 12 minute diatribe against this journalist on state tv, President Correa calls the journalist, her name is Bethany Horne. He calls her a right wing operative, a liar, a capitalist, propagandist, a permanent hater of Ecuador who he suggests may have never even been to Ecuador. In fact she largely grew up there… I spoke to Bethany Horne in the basement of her parents house in Cambridge, Ontario. She will be with me in a moment to tell her incredible story. Wait for it.” Jesse

[00:01:59] “I am a patron of Canadaland, although I haven’t gotten my t-shirt yet.” Horne

“It’s coming, thank you for that. Thank you for supporting the show. Lets start from the beginning. What brought you to Ecuador? ” Jesse

“My family moved there when I was six. I grew up there and I moved back in 2012 to try to be a journalist there.” Horne

“What brought you there in the first place? Why did your parents move there?” Jesse

“They were missionaries. My whole family moved in. I did my university here.” Horne

“J school at Kings college. And you were involved in Open File.” Jesse

“I was. I was one of their first interns in Toronto. Then I was their first two hires in Halifax.” Horne

“So you go to Ecuador when?” Jesse

“After Open File folded.” Horne

So how long ago?” Jesse

“It was in 2011-2012, and I took some months off after Open File closed. Then with my savings I always wanted to go back to Ecuador to work, so I did it.” Horne

“Did you have a job lined up?” Jesse

“No. I just went back. My family has a lot of friends and my cousin lived there at the time. So I stayed with people and sort of looked for work.” Horne

“So you were a freelance journalist looking for work in the Spanish press?” Jesse

“I wasn’t freelancing at that point. I was looking for work in the local media. I kind of wanted to learn more about the country as a journalist can learn about stuff. I mean I grew up there, I had a certain circle of people I was close to but I hadn’t seen it from the perspective of the media. I’d read the media but I haven’t been inside of any media organization so I wanted to understand Ecuador from that vantage point. I got hired at the El Telegrafo in early 2013.” Horne

“Is that an independent paper?” Jesse

“It was independent if you can call being owned by bankers that run the country independent. It went broke in 2007 or something like that and then the government bought (it) and (it) has been around as the only state run newspaper since 2007.” Horne

“So give me some context. I don’t know anything about Ecuador or what’s happening politically there.” Jesse

“Sure. Well when I was a kid, it was sort of a joke. The political system was a joke because every so often the President would get overthrown by a popular coup or a military coup. But the military always called elections. There was never a dictatorship during the 90’s. It was very unstable, it was sort of a joke. Ten years like seven different presidents (Actually eight presidents) . There was one day when there were four (Actually about 3) different presidents during the day and there was no stability. There wasn’t really any powerful institutions or parties. Then in 2006 the broad left joined together and promoted this candidate who was new. He never ran for office before. He was sort of unknown … and that was Rafael Correa. It was his first election in 2006 and immediately disbanded congress and called constitutional assembly to rewrite the constitution. (He) promised to be super democratic and everybody voted for their representatives to sent to this brand new constituent assembly to write a new constitution from scratch. Everybody was happy because the country had this new stability, everyone was behind this new constitution. There was a referendum to approve it and everything. Now it’s been seven going on eight years that he’s been president and…It gets old. Power corrupts and his left wing friends have left the party, he’s become the institution that he hated…He’s different from his predecessors in that he has invested the profits from oil into social programs so that has maintained his support even though he’s not really true to his initial promises. But he’s putting money into hospitals, he’s putting money into schools and he’s very proud of the money he’s putting into roads but that’s kind of the only difference from the populace leaders that came before him that didn’t really have a really strong guiding ideology but very fond of power.” Horne

“What was your initial take of him? Did you have a political affiliation for what he represented?” Jesse

“I remeber that was the year I left and came back for University. So I was there during the campaign and the people that are my friends in Ecuador are in very poor neighbourhoods. He had a lot of support from the people that I know and so it was encouraging that he got elected especially considering his competition at the time. So I didn’t live there during the early years, my friends would send me the little paper copy of the constitution that they were very excited about. I read it all from afar and it sounded great. I like democracy, I like people getting a chance to write their constitutions. This constitution was also pretty revolutionary in it’s environmental clauses and giving nature rights for the first time in a  constitution. Talking about plural nationalism and having indigenous tribes having the right to self determination within their territories. It was a very inspiring constitution.” Horne

“What was his agenda when it came to the media?” Jesse

“His agenda when it came to the media was confrontational from the beginning.” Horne

“What was the media like before him?” Jesse

“I think it was pretty bad from my journalism school shaped media criticism perspective. I thought it was pretty bad. Anytime they covered something I actually knew something about, I noticed errors, basic misspelling, no care for the news and Rafael Correa has a point when he says that. When he says the newspapers and the television stations were more so platforms for the economic elite of the country to shape public opinion in their favour. He’s definitely right, the president is definitely right when before him the media owned by very very rich people and it represented their interests and it wasn’t a public service at all.” Horne

[00:10:02] “In 1998 and 1999 Ecuador had a really severe financial crisis. Million of people lost all their savings. The banks collapsed, it was a banking crisis. Hundred of thousands of people had to leave the country to find work illegally. Correa could blame the bad guys that caused the financial crash on everybodies ills that still remained when he got to power. So when he started confiscating the media that belonged to the bankers who had caused all this pain in your lives. People supported him.” Horne

[00:12:17] “So you enter the scene and you go to work for this state newspaper. Did you just get that this was going to be a take it’s orders from government.” Jesse

“I wanted to see what it was like because reading that newspaper there was a least some information. The private newspapers because the president had developed this confrontational relationship with them. So they sort of pushed it and were very keen to confront him directly. They didn’t get much information from institutions, ministers, and politicians who were writing laws. So you read them and it’s still not a good news source because you’re not finding out what’s really happening. I don’t know who to blame for that. Do you want the private newspapers that don’t kowtow to the government but also have no information in them and aren’t really a public service. Or do you go on to the public between quotation marks media that has access to ministers and can find out what laws are being written and what resources are being dedicated to. I wasn’t super hopeful but I was curious, I wanted to see what the editorial process was like on the inside in one of these supposed public media institutions.” Horne

“What was it like and what did you write about?” Jesse

“I was picking news stories from the spanish coverage that were maybe relevant to a bigger audience and I was translating them into english and publishing my own sort of english blog that I inserted stuff into the translations. Nobody edited me and it was for the paper. At the same time I was coordinated their online news room.” Horne

[00:15:19] “Eventually I did get a few stories into the print paper which were after the Snowden revelations and more technologically oriented. We actually were a wikileaks partner prepublication of spy files 3.” Horne

[00:15:43] “So when I was still working at the state newspaper, there was a day, actually my first day on the job. Chaves died, Hugo Chavez, who is Ecuador’s bigger brother in terms of their political ideology. The whole print newsroom was focused on that but on the same day there was this massacre of indigenous people in the jungle that got way less attention. Because it wasn’t as politically convenient as talking about Chaves. I was very interested in it because you don’t hear about uncontacted tribes very often and I’m very interested in technology and this is sort of the opposite of that and maybe I’m into extremes. This tribe of people had lived in the Amazon jungle as long as anybody had records for and they had no trade with outside tribes. They had no friendly relationships or communication. They had a totally separate language from any amazon jungle tribes for hundreds of thousands of years.” Horne

“What were they called?” Jesse

“They were called Auca which was the initial thing that people called them when didn’t know what to call themselves and that was up until the 50’s… That word meant savages in the language of a neighbouring tribe. Then once we learned what they called themselves, which is Huaorani. In the 50’s there was this split between the Huaorani that wanted contact with outsiders, (with missionaries) and Huaorani that didn’t and went deeper into the jungle…That tribe that split from Huaorani, they are still Huaorani, they still speak a similar language. They are now known as Taromenane. There is a few different tribes of them. A few different family groups. They probably share a language, we don’t know, they just share this sort of shrinking space of independent jungle in Ecuador.” Horne

[00:18:26] “The history of conflict between this split Huaorani tribe is long and very bloody. So there has been a lot of confrontations between the Taromenane and the people that surround them over the years. This most recent one began March last year when the uncontacted tribe killed a couple of elders from the Huaorani tribe. They pierced them with spears, it was interesting because the Huaorani tribe has cellphones… so they filmed their elders dyings, and their last gasping breaths they were stuck with wooden spears” Horne

“The tribe was doing like citizen journalism coverage?” Jesse

“Yes. So these videos of dying Huaorani elders got posted to the internet shortly after they happened. The Huaorani tribe was really upset because these old people who weren’t doing anything supposedly, they just got killed by these savages. So I was in the state newspaper newsroom and we were prohibited from showing these photos of this violence.” Horne

“Why were you prohibited from showing the photo’s of the violence?” Jesse

“Because it’s not, I don’t know. You couldn’t print a photo of somebody that was shot in the head in the front page of the Globe and Mail, that wouldn’t be cool. So it was sort of an interesting social media story for me to try to find these photo’s that were not being publicized, the video was actually hard to find but I was a social media editor and person in charge of an online newsroom.” Horne

“So you found it.” Jesse

“Oh yeah, I have it on my computer. So this is happening and it was traumatic for the tribe. So a few men in the Huaorani tribe who had lost their elders to this violence started plotting to get revenge. Revenge is a cultural concept to that tribe that is pretty violent and has a lot of history. They were buying rifles which is the difference. When you are attacked by spears and your immediate instinct is to go buy fire power and gasoline.” Horne

“This tribe that knows what a gun is and has cellphones, what is their level of contact with the developed world?” Jesse

“They have a lot of contact and a lot of support from the government. They work for oil companies, they work for all sorts of industry that is moving into the Amazon rain forest on the Ecuadorian side. They leave, they go move to cities, they learn Spanish. They’ve been contact since the 50’s-60’s and sort of adapted. So this group of maybe a dozen men. They start buying weapons and start planning a hunting party to go find the uncontacted tribe and get revenge. This whole process takes about fours weeks/three weeks and they find a family of Taromenane, uncontacted tribe in the greater Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and then the story gets confused. So they shoot them, Did they use guns? Did they use spears? The story that I wrote in my Newsweek article was based on the best sources that I could find. Which was a book written by a clergyman who had been a missionary among the Huaorani for decades, now lives in Spain. He wrote his account based on audio recordings of interviews of the killers. He interviewed the killers themselves.” Horne

“They weren’t hiding anything? They were boastful.” Jesse

“They were boastful initially. So they kill probably around 20 people including many women and children. It’s pretty horrible. I don’t describe the worst things that these men have described. They describe very bloody things, killing children, killing mother in front of their children. So they come back and they travel through the jungle three or four days to get back to the city and they start going on national television boasting they got revenge. Not on state channels, not in my newspaper.” Horne

[00:24:27] “The constitution that was written and approved in 2008 provides extraordinary protections for the uncontacted tribes. Any attack on their land and water and on them according to the constitution is to be considered genocide.” Horne

[00:24:56] “The reality is that the Ecuadorian government has ignored this problem for many years. This conflict that brews between the Huaorani and Taromenane.” Horne

“What is the government’s interest? You mentioned oil earlier.” Jesse

“So they just launched oil drilling into this part of the jungle. It’s sort of the last part of the jungle that they haven’t sold for oil rights. They actually had the oil rights for it they were not just not drilling. They did this massive media campaign to say ‘lets protect this chunk of the jungle because it’s so beautiful and because uncontacted people live there and it’s their only habitat in the world’. They did this huge PR campaign to get people from Ecuador to support protecting this but mainly to convince foreign governments to give money to save that piece of jungle.” Horne

[00:27:29] “Every saturday the president talks to the nation and it’s very put together and he has hired a whole team of people to put together the saturday broadcast. It’s sort of every week we hear from the president who he hates this week and what’s been going on.” Horne

“Ecuadorian version of Stephen Harper’s 24/7 I guess. Is this on youtube or on state television?” Jesse

“It goes on all of the channels usually for a few hours on a saturday. It’s an institution, now they’ve done four hundred episodes of it. So I was tense, I was expecting something to be said because my article had  even been translated in Spanish by that point and published in Mexico Newsweek…I was exposing something they didn’t want to talk about. The article was discussed for about thirteen (twelve) minutes. Correa’s does this hilarious thing where he’s sitting at his little table being broadcasted to the nation and he says ‘let’s send a tweet.’ He types a tweet in and sent a very mean tweet to Newsweek’s live on television about this article calling me a liar.” Horne

“You are watching the President of Ecuador spending thirteen (twelve) minutes decrying your article and calling you a liar.” Jesse

“He says I probably never even been to Ecuador which was personally very hurtful.” Horne

[00:30:40] “It’s because the internet is this place where anybody can say anything. Which in a government that likes to control information is very dangerous. So they hire more people to give more messages to have equal weight with actual humans that are tweeting or on facebook. so it’s very similar to the Russian situation. You know it when you start getting insulted by a twitter account that has twelve followers and twenty thousand tweets that you are probably being a target of one of these trolls. Except I was a target of bunch of them at once.” Horne

“What was that like? What kind of things were being said privately? What kind of things were said publicly?” Jesse

“I believe there was a death threat. but I kind of provoked it. Because I wanted to be able to say there was a death threat.” Horne

“How do you provoke a death threat? You probably want to kill me, don’t you?” Jesse

[00:32:55] “People from my previous workplace. I was still in touch with them and they were telling me they’re these intelligence officers in our office asking about you. We got a phone call from the minister to tell us to fire you even though you are not here anymore.” Horne

[00:34:21] “Newsweek was cool because when the Ambassador of Ecuador to the US wrote them a very stern letter signaling errors in my piece. They sent it to me first and they were like is she crazy? They let me respond to it before they publish it. Before they published it, they published my response simultaneously and they were very interested in supporting me if they needed support, I didn’t ask for a lot of support.” Horne

“How did this all end?” Jesse

“I was bullied out of the country. I was scared about the government wanting to know a lot about me. Sending their spies to my workplace to ask about me. I had wanted to stay there, I would of loved to stay there but it was just too hard.” Horne

“You going to go back?” Jesse

“Yeah. Yes Correa, I’m going to come back. I have to, I grew up there. I love it, it’s my home. It’s an amazingly fascinating country. I know way too much about it, I could never be a journalist anywhere else and know the context of the place I was reporting on. I mean Canada is up there but I love reporting from Ecuador and I love writing about what goes on there.” Horne

[00:39:01] “I mean the Globe and Mail has one person for all of South America. They have Stephanie Nolen whose great. Who I talk with sometimes but it’s a lot of land, that’s a lot of people and it’s really close to us. It’s a lot of news.” Horne

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