Bolivia: Tweeting with Senator Centa Rek

Bolivian blogger Pablo Andrés Rivero recently wrote a post [es] that analyzed how social media may help public officials be more responsive to the needs of citizens. He asked “whether Twitter is a tool that helps bring politicians closer to citizens or an elitist and restrictive trend?” Little did he know that two weeks later, a real-life scenario of interaction between a Bolivian Senator and hundreds of members of the Bolivian Twitter community would help demonstrate that many public officials have a long way to go in understanding how social media works.

It started with a tweet on May 30 from Senator Centa Rek of the political organization Plan Progreso Para Bolivia – Convergencia Nacional (PPB-APB) representing the Department of Santa Cruz. Rek was criticizing a recent decision by the Bolivian Congress to approve full amnesty for unregistered cars, many of which would enter from neighboring Chile. She tweeted:

Oficialismo promueve legalizacion de autos ingresados de contrabando y lavado del narcotrafico. Donde iremos a parar??

The ruling party promotes the legalization of cars that entered through contraband and [money] laundering from drug trafficking. Where will we end up?

The tweet led to a response by blogger Mario Durán (@mrduranch), who was not about to let such an accusation go without a request for clarification. He asked:

@rcenta que evidencia tiene sobre el “lavado del narcotrafico” ?

@rcenta, what evidence do you have about the “[money] laundering from drug trafficking”?

His tweet led to an unfavorable reaction from Senator Rek, who responded to Durán:

@mrduranch las que usted tambien tiene, me va a amenazar ahora??? Muy masista la estrategia. Matonaje.

@mrduranch, the [evidence] that you also have, are you going to threaten me now??? This is such a MAS-like [the ruling political party] strategy. Bullying.

It was here that Rek started to link any criticism of her accusation with being a supporter of the government. Durán then asked when and where did he threaten her [es], and once again asked for evidence to back up her claims. Rek then followed with a string of insults calling Durán a “repressor” and “harrasser,” repeating her claim that Durán was threatening her. It was that short exchange and her use of the word “matoncito” [es] (little bully) in reference to Durán that led to an outpouring of support for Durán by many in the Bolivian Twitter community, who said that Rek was overreacting and should not resort to insults.

In addition, many Twitter users joined in the debate when Rek tweeted that she was responding to government “intelligence services” in reference to Duran's question about her claims of money laundering and drug trafficking. This led many to start internet memes, cartoons, photoshopped images, and even a sub-titled Adolf Hitler clip [es] as a way to mock Rek's misread of the situation. The hashtag #holarcenta (hello, rcenta) soon experienced heavy activity during the two days of back-and-forth, in which Rek claimed she was being a victim of relentless persecution [es]. All of which, as Andrea Guzmán of the blog Lo Digo Yo [es] wrote Rek “was unable to understand, and led her to becoming more defensive.”

Fake movie poster. "A film by @rcenta and Robert Rodríguez. Mario Durán in Little Bully" Artwork by Alvaro Guzmán @alvarocker

However, it was not all fun and games, as some Twitterers attempted to reason with Rek and provide a thoughtful explanation of why so many had turned against her and why her accusations were out of line. A collaborative open-letter [es] was drafted, and sent to Rek:

Creemos que es necesario que la Senadora Reck entienda que no son agentes infiltrados del gobierno boliviano quienes le responden sino ciudadanos bolivianos con acceso a internet, personas independientes y libres, que respetamos la libertad de expresion pero sancionamos el insulto, la falta de valoración de la ciudadanía por parte de una representante nacional electa y las difamaciones y calumnias que usted ha realizado contra varios ciudadanos.

We believe that it is necessary for Senator Rek to understand that those who responded were not infiltrated agents of the Bolivian government, but rather independent and free Bolivian citizens with internet access, who respect freedom of speech, but who sanction those who insult, as well as elected national representatives who have a lack of appreciation for citizens, and that defamation and slander that you made against various citizens.

Even one of her supporters came out to say that she was overreacting. Luis Sergio (@luissergioCB) wrote that he voted for Rek and shares her ideology, but that she should take a look back at what had happened [es]. He also mentioned that even though Rek was certain that those attacking her were members of the MAS party or government agents, that most Bolivian Twitterers are actually in opposition [es] to the government, as well.

Hugo Miranda of the blog Angel Caido [es] wonders how it got to this point and what it says about Rek's role as an elected representative:

Uno se pregunta con tanto asesor que hay por ahi, por que la Senadora no investigo bien que estaba pasando, por que las reacciones, que es lo que hizo mal, el Twitter es una minimicrocomunidad en Bolivia era facil desentrañar que estaba pasando.. pero no lo hizo… y pues.. empezo a cometer error tras error.. y bueno yo me pregunto si no escucha a solo solo menos de 200 twitteros.. como es que es representante de casi un millon de Bolivianos….

One wonders that with so many advisers, how the Senator did not investigate what was happening, why the reactions, what she did that was so wrong, Twitter is a mini-microcommunity in Bolivia, and it was easy to find out what was happening.. but she didn't.. and well, she started to commit error after error.. and I ask myself that if she does not listen to less than 200 twitterers .. how is she a representative to approximately 1 million Bolivians…

Some thought the jokes went too far and that the opportunity could have been used more positively. Enrique of the blog Voz Boliviana [es] left a comment on the blog post by Dog Punto Cero [es].

Seamos más maduros dejemos los dramas novelescos a la televisión y la falta de ideas a nuestra clase política y hagamos de las redes sociales verdaderos instrumentos de información y no de simple chismoseo.

Let's be more mature, and leave the novelistic dramas for the television and the lack of ideas to our political class and let's make social networking real instruments of information and not simply for gossip.

Finally, Rivero returns after the start of the interaction between the Bolivian Twitter community and Senator Rek with some hopes that something positive can come from the series of events. He reflects [es]:

Espero, finalmente, que el evento protagonizado por la senadora Rek (desafortunado quizá para ella, pero aleccionador para muchos) no desincentive el uso de la herramienta en la política, sino más bien aliente un empleo con mensajes mejor elaborados, así sean estos espontáneos, pero sin perder de vista el criterio táctico

Finally, I hope that the events involving Senator Rek (unfortunately, maybe for her, but instructive for many others) do not discourage the use of the tool in politics, rather it encourages the use of better developed messages, so that these remain spontaneous, but without losing sight of the tactical approach


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