Last Week Tonight with John Oliver came back for its second season on HBO. But this time, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was on top of the British comedian’s hit list.
Oliver called out the Andean president for his habit of singling out social media critics and their identities during his weekly state address. Most recently, Correa railed against an 18-year-old student then outing him by name, address and published images of his Facebook page.
“Oh, 18, so young, so immature—unlike me the 51-year-old head of state who is currently attacking him in public,” Oliver said of Correa.
Behind Oliver’s sarcasm, however, was a classic case of dish-and-take for the emboldened leftist leader.
After all, Correa’s administration has tightened state control over media and civil society. In 2014, tactics included criminal defamation prosecutions, administrative sanctions against critical journalists, and aggressive efforts to discredit human rights advocates according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.
In the past, Correa also forced a top political cartoonist Javier Bonilla to “correct” his work and secured a $42 million libel award against the country’s top opposition paper.
“You need more abuse to tip you over the edge,” Oliver said. “Allow me to help you right now.” Then, urged for users to troll Correa on his handle @MashiRafael. He took another jab, asking the leader not to take the comments personally, “because if you’re skin were any thinner, you’d be a taint.”
Overnight, Correa critics hailed the comedian.
And supporters also came to his defense.
Some, presumably from the Ecuadoran government’s viral community called Somos Mas, which translates to “There are more of us,” created last month to attack Correa critics. Watchdog organizations saw the president’s decision to marshal a digital counteroffensive as the latest attempt to curtail press freedom.
But as to be expected, there was no way Correa would go quietly into the night. He tweeted back “are there even any English comedians?”
“In Latin America, we are proud to have citizens and not subjects,” Correa ranted “They’re making someone famous who probably thinks the capital of Ecuador is Kuala Lampur.”
Then again, it could have been much worse for Correa. Oliver could have taken a punch below the waist at the University of Illinois alumnus’ English.