At the beginning of his book, Plastic Words, Uwe Poerksen recalls a conference, within which one of the lectures consists of perhaps no more than 100 words. Surprisingly, one of his colleagues replies: “No way, there were barely 50. With 100 words he could become president.”
Unfortunately, Ecuadorian citizens know this is not far from reality. President Rafael Correa carries the banner as the best example, as he evades detail and utilizes plastic terminology in his daily rhetoric to frame economic, social, and political issues.
This plastic terminology consists of hollow words, altered in their meaning and content. They are flexible enough to act like building blocks and fit any kind of problem, explanation, or solution — but without expressing any clear meaning. Instead, they conceal, distort, and blur the consciousness of the citizenry, leading them to social conformity.
During the old Soviet era, the Orwellian concept of time domestication was central to their planned economy, since it gave them the illusion of progress. When they failed to achieve the desired outcomes, Soviet officials merely had to adjust the previous goals to make them fit.
Of course, Rafael Correa has his own Orwellian ploys. For him, faux language is the magic wand that dignifies sordid policies and justifies the farcical reforms to Ecuador’s government sector. He can then dress it all up with an air of efficiency, progress, and development — the “Ecuadorian Miracle” advertisement for the rest of the world.
Through the paradoxical term, “obligatory-voluntary resignation,” he fired thousands of public servants. Later, his government passed a law for “labor justice and domestic-work recognition,” while eliminating the state’s 40 percent contribution to the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (IESS). Similarly, given “certain irregularities that have been found in a technical intervention analysis,” his government took over the Ecuadorian Teachers Severance Funds.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Communications Law that sought to “democratize the media and promote good press” helped Correa to muzzle Ecuadorian speech. Correa has also created the “Agency of Health-Quality Assurance and Pre-Paid Medicine,” with a series of laws for absolute control, and the destruction of the private medical sector.
Unfortunately, we do not have new laws in Ecuador, but rather feelings of resentment and envy that become legislation. Consider the controversial “Inheritance Tax Bill,” which aims to “democratize property.” Correa’s dream will “destroy family businesses,” as even he exposed during an interview.
As a matter of fact, the unmasking of his true intentions sparked the mass demonstrations that climaxed this past week. His plans have discouraged private investment, and thousands of people have turned out to protest throughout the country.
Correa may have temporarily withdrawn the proposal, but the marches didn’t end. Meanwhile, the economy is still in shock, so now Correa is inviting Ecuadorians to a “national dialogue on social justice based on the truth and ethics.”
However, “dialogue” will never be easy with someone who invents his own definitions of words and changes them from time to time to meet his needs. As Orwell wrote, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” It is inescapable: thoughts affect the way we feel and behave.
Hence, one need not stretch his imagination to understand why Correa declared a state of emergency in Ecuador, amid growing fears over the increased activity of the Cotopaxi volcano. Then the following day he was celebrating the “world championship” of our local typical dish encebollado.
Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article.