Be Careful What You Tweet

In Guatemala, at least. Various commenters on this blog have, at one time or another, recommended pulling your money out of those “too big to fail” banks that are getting so much government support. In Guatemala, Jean Anleu Fernandez was arrested and jailed for sending this out on Twitter:

First concrete action should be remove cash from Banrural and bankrupt the bank of the corrupt.

I guess he also said the bank was corrupt. Well, people have said that around here, too.

More broadly, the government is in crisis, with frequent popular protests, over allegations that Rodrigo Rosenberg was assassinated on the orders of the president because he uncovered evidence of murder and corruption by the government. 

Here’s a request from a friend:

One of the things keeping our friends out in the streets safe is that the international community is paying attention to what´s going on. If you could take a few minutes and send an email to your country´s ambassador in Guatemala – if from the US it’s Mr. Stephen G. McFarland at – letting him or her know that you are concerned about what´s going on in Guatemala and hope your country is doing its best in assuring people´s right to peacefully protest against the violence in Guatemala, and to help investigate the murders, it would really go a long way. If you have another nationality then writing to your Ambassador in Guatemala would also be of great importance.

Gracias de todo corazón!

By James Kwak

25 thoughts on “Be Careful What You Tweet

  1. Prior to this outrageous story, I had assumed that Guatemala was a democracy. Obviously not.

    Scary stuff.

    @jeanfer is officially the first person ever arrested for sending a tweet. Completely insane.

  2. Interesting. CR posts a creepy video of what looks like a mobster torture chamber or drug lab, and now this.

    Why would we send a note to the US Ambassador in Guatemala? American ambassadors in Central America –aren’t those the sort of people involved with death squads and drug smuggling arms sales and other evil?

  3. I already sent my email to the Ambassador. One would hope that our American representative down there would have some pull and would be an advocate for democracy.

    I mean, asking not to be arrested for sending a 96 character twitter message isn’t exactly too much to hope for – is it? We are the country that wrote the Declaration for Independence. I think we can help a brother out that wants to send a tweet? Right?

  4. It’s a minority group -the wealthy elite, with the help of the US government- that has a history of assassinations and death squads in Guatemala. This story turns the tables and accuses the majority -Mayan and latino campesinos- of using the same kind of tactics.

    The Truth and Reconciliation Commision found that the vast majority (93%) of massacres and human rights violations were performed by military and paramilitary groups associated with the right wing business class in Guatemala.

  5. With a total school population of over 10,000 year after year (Yale was founded over 300 years ago), consipiracy theories of Yalies helping Yalies doesn’t really hold water.
    In other words, so what?

  6. Zoinks: Guatemala IS a democracy; the legislature passed the law which criminalized the revolutionary tactic of creating a run on the central bank. @jeanfer knew this and violated it anyway.

    I’m no fan of a center-left government, but every indication is that this is an attempt to overthrow the regime, which is precisely what the President has claimed.

  7. “the legislature passed the law which criminalized the revolutionary tactic of creating a run on the central bank.”


  8. Fail, eh? Nothing more substantial?

    As for Jefferson, his notions of states’ rights and limited government served the US well for 70 years or so. Not working so well now, is it?

    However regrettable it might seem to you, this is a different culture with a very different history than that of late 18th century, protestant English colonies in North America. The truth, as it often is with history and as it was with the Boston Massacre in Jefferson’s own time, is much more than the headlines.

  9. There’s always going to be an informal power structure in any society, including ours. Even if we don’t believe that JFK got taken out because he dared to challenge the informal power structure in THIS country, does that necessarily mean that nobody ever would? Does that mean that the informal power structure does not exist? I choose not to make that assumption.

    We really need to break free from the shackles of debt and boom-bust economics. We really need to stand up to the banks and let them know that this life is too temporary to be spent helping to make rich people even richer. That’s what it comes down to. Are we going to have our economy work for us or are we going to let the banks tell us what kind of economy we should have?

  10. Mark, if you’re asking me to side with an imperfect Thomas Jefferson or a government that will put you in jail if it doesn’t like what you tweet – I’ll stick with Thomas.

    I was really appealing to the ideas put forth in the Declaration of Independence. Interesting you choose not to address them. Also, Jefferson wasn’t a Protestant (not that his religion has anything to do with the concepts of liberty).

  11. Zoinks, Jefferson is long-dead and his ideas were stamped out generations ago. If you believe otherwise, compare his principles with the scope of the central government today and tell me what you think he would approve of.

    If you think the US or any nation in Europe won’t put you in jail for what you express, you’ve somehow managed to miss all the people currently held in US custody for expressing opinions contrary to the government line. Google Sami al Haj or Bilal Hussein as examples of how you can be held in jail, without trial and for taking pictures or asking the wrong questions. It’s a starting point.

    The Declaration is, of course, a wonderfully written document but it is not the governing basis of the US; that’s the Constitution, as interpreted by the federal courts. While Jefferson was not a protestant, the English colonies certainly were, as was their mother government, and several states (including Virginia), had state-sponsored Protestant religions. This region has been dominated by Catholic culture and the spanish speaking Europeans, rather than England, for 400 years.

    FYI: I assume you know the twitter we’ve referenced was released over the weekend.



  12. Mark,

    I’m taken by the beauty of the Declaration of Independence, too. The following from the text is an observation about ALL people:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    I am not naive enough to think that there are those that disagree with the above, but for those that DO agree with it – I am perplexed as to how anyone could agree with the above and not think that the arrest of a man for sending a 96 character tweet was not a gross violation of any human being’s basic civil liberty?

    I don’t understand your thinking that a region dominated by Catholicism would seem to think this was ok? As far as I know, the Republic of Ireland is one of the most historically Catholic dominated regions in the world. I don’t think this would pass the laugh test there. Not this this is funny. It’s alarming and sad.

    I know next to nothing about your country and I ask you to forgive my ignorance and cultural bias. You are obviously very well educated and your English is probably better than mine.

    Can you help me understand where you’re going with your remarks on a Catholic dominated region and how that has relevance on a human being’s civil liberty and rights to free speech? I doubt the Pope would agree to this? I realize the gentleman has been released from prison. I suspect it’s largely because of international outrage as seen on sites like this.

  13. Zoinks, remember there is a difference between human rights and civil rights. Jefferson advanced the notion that certain rights were God-given, but he does not list unlimited rights to free speech among these, nor does the US constitution (or any I’m familiar with), guarantee you may say anything you wish without fear of consequences.

    The old cliche, “You have the right to free speech but not to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” is appropriate. Government regulates speech all the time, in the US the examples include what is considered profane, or pornographic, who you may donate money to and under what limits, how many businesses you may own and in what industries, and what you may say about the government or its leaders. Of course, even life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are curtailed by governments, when they deem it necessary. Ask anyone convicted of a crime, or anyone held without due process under the Patriot Act. Your life and liberty may be human rights in Jefferson’s mind, but don’t think governments don’t infringe upon these when they feel a threat.

    In Catholic circles, freedom and liberty are understood differently than they are in reformation circles.

    We don’t have the space here for a full treatment of it, but Catholic theology demands that all ‘rights’ be subordinated to a higher principle, viz., the service of God. Therefore your freedom and liberty are good things so long as they are put to good use, but they are not considered good if they are put to evil use. In countries dominated by this theology, you won’t find the unabridged exercise of any act or thought you might be capable of expressing as an inherently good thing worthy of protection. Keep in mind that freedom of religion, as you know it in the US, didn’t exist here until 40 years ago. Now about half the country is non-Catholic.

    Therefore the American notion of, “I fight for your right to do/say things I believe are wrong” is not something that Catholicism would advance, in fact, it would be condemned as ‘relativism’. This is how they justify, quite logically, suppression of ideas deemed dangerous, throughout the hemisphere. From the Rio Grande all the way south, this different understanding of liberty permeates the legal system and culture. (Don’t forget their legal system is not based on English common law either, so the way the law works is different than in the US, Canada and England).

    This is a backdrop to a different culture. As far as this particular situation, what you’re seeing is a government under siege enforcing the law in a situation that otherwise might not merit a second thought, only to make an example so that one twitter user doesn’t become 100 and set a precedent that the laws can be broken with impunity. I truly believe this government is under threat from Marxists who want to craft it in the form of Bolivia, Venezuela or Cuba.

    Ireland is a bad example because they are a banking center and have very strong banking institutions that cannot be threatened with a few juvenile internet users. Guatemala is a small, poor country with fraarrogant gile infrastructure, and therefore they take it very seriously because a run on the bank could devastate the nation, plunging already poor people into a death spiral. It seems prudent to me that a nation with few resources and a vast, weak populace would be more sensitive to protecting what they have than a large, wealthy nation like the US with strong and diversified resources.

    @jeanfer was released because he met bail. Guatemala, like many small countries, doesn’t take too kindly to external pressure when it comes to domestic matters. Even those here who are outraged by his arrest don’t like the idea of arrogant gringos or Europeans calling them idiots for having laws or enforcing them. I have to tread lightly discussing these things, even if I’m agreeing with the sentiment expressed.

    P.S. I’m from the US, I just live here now.

  14. To make things more interesting, I also went to Harvard, where I overlapped with Matt Damon, who plays a secret government agent in the Bourne trilogy. I also went to high school with Bill Ackman (and helped him get through calculus, if I recall correctly).

  15. (Not sure if this will post under JK’s response.)

    No matter. Economists are spookier than spies, especially after they get their law degrees. If it matters, don’t get me wrong — I love what you’re doing; just not sure why yet. This blog has become influential and has earned cred very quickly. With Peter “Petros” Peterson’s Institute lurking in the background, Yale’s long history with our “foreign intelligence” agency, SJ’s connection to the IMF world (say hi to Hank Paulson who’s repping us now), and Mr. Boone’s affiliation with UBS-Moscow, LSE, and the Foreign Ministry — it all very curious.

  16. i hear you james kwak. very sad day today. learned that bush (GQ article) was duped just as i suspected. rumsfeld quoted the bible before important meetings. rummy was not religious. bush was played like a boob by rummy and cheney AND not to mention the whack job economists. bush was and is currently arrogant and self absorbed….good pickens for the career washington folk. always good to see james kwak write about diff topics besides what the bank execs get in bonuses. listen,,,,don’t be too hard on the govn’t….they have a difficult job to do. AND do not criticize them. sick and tired of reading posts about corruption. it’s all a final working plan in view folks for the better of the country. thanks james for the dialouge.

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